After Sora, a Japanese boy, is diagnosed with ALS, he turns to the internet for escape. He meets friends who value him for who he is—a lover of baseball and an aspiring professor—and who see him as something more than his illness. A beautifully honest novel, it examines in particular the objectifying tendency of able-bodied people to project pity onto members of the disabled community. In this way, Benwell’s first foray into the YA book world embodies his own hopes: to ignite discussion, to spread awareness, and to make the world better for the next generation.
He describes his forthcoming sophomore novel, Kaleidoscope Song, as “a South African LGBTQ music narrative, set in a township, all rhythm and first loves and finding your voice.” The novel, he says, has helped him discover who he is. “There’s attraction which looks a little like mine, and actual queer culture. There’s a non-binary character and a bi character and gay characters, and one who really doesn’t know how she identifies yet, except in love with the girl.”
He is also working on a middle grade novel, which he tells me is about “a genderfluid main character, their disabled best friend, 17 motorbiking dads, a crow, and all things pirate.”
Clearly, Benwell’s mission to create a more accommodating, understanding world is well underway.
Benwell’s LGBTQ+ book recs:
George follows Melissa, a trans girl whose gender is either not known or not acknowledged by her family members and many of her classmates. But when Melissa’s fourth-grade class puts on a theater production of Charlotte’s Web, she finds a way to make them all see who she really is.
From Benwell: “Everyone should have Alex Gino’s in their life. Middle grade trans representation, written by a trans author? Where the character is not misgendered through the narration, and it feels entirely real? Yesssss.”
Set in a futuristic world that takes cues from our own, Lizard Radio follows Kivali, who is thrust into a camp where teens are forced to choose who they are (boy or girl, leader or follower) in order to become adults. It examines binaries of all kinds, but especially the gender binary.
From Benwell: “Right now, I’m pushing Pat Schmatz’s Lizard Radio into everybody’s hands. It’s brilliant and weird, and the closest I’ve ever come to seeing myself on the page. It’s not me, but no book can ever represent everyone, and the sense of queerness and otherness and rejection of the binary even while you’re stuck existing within it is spot on.”