In 2017 when the same-sex marriage debate came about, it turned very nasty very quickly. I had been slowly making my way through an old list of ‘50 Books to Read Before You Die’, and while more often than not they were excellent reads (Jane Eyre never seemed to want to end but by the time it did I didn’t want it to), the content was almost consistently bleak and exhausting. Escaping one cruel world just to dive straight into yet another cruel world just wasn’t working for me anymore. So I turned to YA.
It felt nice to leave a reality (where a man could go on the radio and praise Hitler for incarcerating gays) to enter another where it was completely accepted that two boys would be kissing for 32 hours to break a record (Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, FYI). I devoured all of the queer YA I could at my local library, then packed my bags and disappeared overseas, physically escaping as well as mentally.
On my travels I could take my time—read some more and find more worlds while treading the tracks of fresh ground on my own. It felt healing.
I was gone for months. Upon returning home, the climate had changed with the political win, but that didn’t mean the dust that had been kicked up was settled. It’s now over a year on, but the debates about the rights of the marginalised continue to flow on. I’d check my phone upon waking and see the latest slew of deeply homophobic things the opposing side had said overnight. I’d walk down the street and see the posters displaying the slogan ‘Stop the Fags’. I’d have endless conversations with people about the validity of my emotions. The real world outside of all of this negativity was a bit better, but the other worlds out there still promised both escapism and what reality has yet to deliver. Having burned through everything the Melbourne Library Service had to offer, however, I started doing some research and began to place orders at my local library.
When the society we live in is being cruel, I love that I can disengage and retreat—at least for a short while—to another, more accepting one. The Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers creates a world so fully realised it feels like a holiday. Gender and sexuality are so normal that when mentioned in passing it bears no more brunt than discussing meal prep. It’s refreshing. Young Adult fiction often gets dismissed as trash for young minds, but their beauty is in how uncomplicated and accessible they can be. They need to grab the attention of a teenager, so an adult who has suffered his way through War and Peace should have absolutely no trouble clicking in.
Because I do a lot of work from home, I need to make myself go for a walk to get out at least once a day. A habit I taught myself as a kid was to read and walk at the same time, something I still do to this day. People get annoyed that you can’t see where you’re going, sure, but as it turns out they are more interested in passing judgement on what you’re reading rather than the way you’re reading it. When I used to walk around the streets of Fitzroy reading a Penguin classic or something well known, I would attract scorn from passers. ‘Poser’, ‘hipster’, etc were all thrown my way, and I kind of get it, even though I wasn’t doing it to be seen—I was just mobilising my lazy corpse. Reading YA seems far less sceney than say The Picture of Dorian Gray, so now I just get ‘nerd!’ hurled my way, which I’m far more okay with.
As I near the end of the third Wayfarer book, I get an email from my library informing me that Adam Silvera and Becky Albertallii’s collaborative new book, What If It’s Us, is out and ready for me to pick up. It’s sad leaving a universe I’ve been so deeply immersed in for the last couple of months, but the best thing is that there are always more worlds to dive into, each more diverse than the last. And, unlike the one we inhabit, if you don’t like it you can always put it down and grab another one. The world can be a cruel place—it’s nice to know what pockets you can retreat into if you need them. If someone shouts hateful obscenities at you while you’re out buying cheap red wine at 10am, one can simply reach into ones bag, pull out the tome of the moment and let the bullshittery wash over you like water off a ducks back, or rather, like dust off a jacket cover.
It can be exhausting living in a world that constantly seems to be throwing tiny daggers your way. The politically green bubble that I have found myself within in Melbourne is great, but it also means endless conversations that just go in circles because change seems to be happening so slowly. It can get tiring. I recognise that same look of exhaustion on people’s faces and to them, I want to say that I know a place we can go, just for a spell. I know a safe space where you can unravel for a few hours at a time, to get away. A space where everyone lays down their political weapons and your universe gets shaken about as you’re thrown into another. Books are a lot like dance floors—safe spaces to escape into just for a little while, just long enough to be able to re-emerge and say, ‘okay, I’m ready’.
H.D. Thompson is a humourist and writer bubbling out from the gutters of Melbourne with stories of both fiction and non found in publications all over. Can usually be found desperately clutching a glass of red wine.