'On some precipice in a dream'

representations of guilt in contemporary young adult gay and lesbian fiction

Kate Norbury

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This article explores the representation of guilt in six recent young adult novels, in which it is suggested that teen protagonists still experience guilt in relation to their emerging non-normative sexual identities. The experience of guilt may take several different forms, but all dealt with here are characterised by guilt without agency - that is, the protagonist has not deliberately said or done anything to cause harm to another. In a first pair of novels, guilt is depicted as a consequence of internalised homophobia, with which protagonists must at least partly identify. In a second group, protagonists seem to experience a form of separation guilt from an early age because they fail to conform to the norms of the family. Certain events external to the teen protagonist, and for which they cannot be held responsible, then trigger serious depressive episodes, which jeopardise the protagonist's positive identity development. Finally, characters are depicted as experiencing a form of survivor guilt. A gay protagonist survives the events of 9/11 but endures a breakdown, and, in a second novel, a lesbian protagonist narrates her coming to terms with the death of her best friend.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-194
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Research in Children's Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Gay and lesbian
  • Guilt
  • Homophobia
  • Selfhood
  • Young adult fiction

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