"The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers," reads the last line of VOYA magazine's review of Run, a young adult novel by Kody Keplinger. This single sentence, originally printed in the publication aimed at YA librarians in March 2016, set off a controversy among young adult authors and readers who believe that referencing sexual preferences along the LGBT spectrum doesn't mean a book is inappropriate for younger readers.
Keplinger, best known for her novel The Duff, on which Mae Whitman's movie is based, told Refinery29, "When I first received the VOYA review several months ago, the last line stood out to me. It was more than just lumping a character's bisexuality with curse words — it was that her sexuality would contribute at all to the 'mature' themes. The book does contain some mature themes — including a heterosexual sex scene — but the references to Bo's bisexuality are literally just that: references."
The Run author went on to explain, "She says she is attracted to both boys and girls, but she doesn't even share an on-screen kiss with anyone. As a queer woman myself, I was baffled and upset by that line in the review. I didn't feel like I could speak up back then, so for the rest of the YA community to come together to support Run — as well as LGBTQIA+ readers — really means a lot to me. I hope this conversation leads to some positive change in how we think about and discuss queer characters and real teens."
VOYA released a formal apology on Facebook after a protracted battle with critics on social media, writing, "The review was offensive, and VOYA’s response to the criticism was even more offensive. This is an honest, sincere apology for both the offensive and insensitive review and our response to the rightful criticism of it." Still, young adult author Hannah Moskowitz and youth services librarian Anna Elizabeth Mitchell have created a Change.org petition calling for a boycott of the magazine, writing, "The information industry can no longer trust VOYA or the Kurdyla publishing company. This marginalization and bigotry must end."
In honor of Banned Books Week this week, the American Libraries Association's list of the top 10 most challenged books of 2015 has been making the rounds. Three titles on the list are books that deal with LGBT identity and were written explicitly for teens and children. Labeling a teen character's bisexuality as "mature" isn't just offensive semantics. It could actively keep books out of the hands of young readers who are bi or questioning their sexuality and want to see themselves on the page. It's important that this instance was called out, and that those who act as gatekeepers (or those advising gatekeepers) really listen to LGBT readers and allies to understand the truth — that LGBT identities are not inherently rated R.