Award-winning non-binary author was told their trans teen romance ‘would never sell’. They proved all their doubters wrong
Mason Deaver is the proud winner of the PinkNews Awards’ Young Adult Book of the Year with their heartwarming queer love story, I Wish You All The Best.
Their debut novel is a painfully-real celebration of life and love that follows the story of non-binary student Ben, who is rejected by their parents but finds refuge in the arms of a friend.
It’s been roundly praised by critics as “heartfelt, romantic, and quietly groundbreaking”, and was voted Young Adult Book of the Year by readers as part of the PinkNews Awards 2020, in association with Amazon.
But in the early stages Deaver was warned it would never even get off the ground.
“It was rough at some points,” they told PinkNews. “I remember two agents specifically telling me that a book about a non-binary teen would never sell, that it didn’t have readership.”
Deaver, who is non-binary, was pleased to prove them wrong when I Wish You All The Best went on to debut at number eight on the Indie Bestseller list – but they haven’t forgotten that early experience of rejection.
“In all seriousness though, publishing… isn’t great for trans people,” they admit. “Whether it’s coming from the actual publisher, an agent, or even readers, it can be rough.
“I’ve had people tell me that I Wish You All the Best isn’t realistic in its portrayal of transness, which is ironic because it’s very close to my own transness, so do that math!
“I’ve been lucky to have a team behind me that believes in my dream to tell trans stories, who have supported my decisions and respected and trusted what I write,” they added.
Like many non-binary kids, Mason Deaver didn’t have anything close to that kind of support growing up.
They were raised in a small North Carolina town by a family who believed being queer was inherently “wrong”, and books were the only escape they had.
“It was scary, honestly,” they said. “Reading books with gay main characters was the first time I felt like what I am was truly accepted. Though the same couldn’t be said for trans books.
“Trans characters were always relegated to side-characters; or, if the story did star a trans main character, there was forced outing or stereotypes that just… weren’t accurate at all.
“As much as it hurts to say, my own book was the first time I got to see myself. Which is never what a reader should have to do, you shouldn’t have to make the content that you want to see yourself in, but publishing is publishing.”
So many trans stories are still ‘waiting to be told’.
A book like I Wish You All The Best would’ve “meant everything” to Deaver as a queer young adult, and now as an author they’re determined to fill that gap in the market.
They’ve been encouraged by the sharp turn the publishing industry’s taken in recent years, noting several books with trans protagonists slated for release in 2021 – but they’re aware that there are still so many stories that just aren’t being heard.
“We’re missing so much. Even from trans stories, it’s predominantly white,” they explained. “I can name three books by Black authors with Black trans main characters. I can name one with a Latinx main character.
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“We’ve come so far in just the past year alone, but there are still so many stories waiting to be told from other perspectives, even outside of trans storytelling.
“I think the biggest hole that needs to be filled is BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and other people of colour] authors getting to write nice, light, fluffy stories about romance and friendships and summer and family. Stories where the stakes are low, the feelings are high.”
High emotions are what Deaver aims to deliver with their next book, The Ghosts We Keep, which was inspired by their own father’s death in 2017.
It’s a personal, poignant story that grapples with grief, depression and family bereavement – themes that have been covered in young adult fiction before, but rarely through a queer lens.
“It’s the hardest book that I’ll ever have to write,” Deaver said, “and in all honesty, I hope it is, because it’s a book I’m extremely proud of. I hope readers will enjoy it.”
The Young Adult Book of the Year award is presented in conjunction with the LGBT+ Reading Roadshow, an initiative by Just Like Us, Amazon and PinkNews that delivers LGBT+ diversity and inclusion workshops to secondary schools around the country.