This morning, I got an email from a children's librarian. She had read the book. She liked the book. She wanted to be able to recommend it to her fifth graders. But in order to do that, she felt there were two necessary changes that would need to happen for the next edition. First, she didn't like that I had Hanneke, my main character, flirt with a German soldier to get past his checkpoint. And second [And SPOILER ALERT for those of you who care about such things]:
"Regarding Hanneke finding out that her friend was a homosexual should be omitted in order to make this book readable for 5th grade. By omitting these passages, it would not hurt the flow of the story at all. It would be a wonderful book for 5th grade, [but] the adult theme of mentioning homosexual attraction is not necessary to the story line.
"Dear Ms. _____
Thank you so much for writing to me -- it means the world to hear from librarians, who are truly my heroes. And I'm so glad you enjoyed "Girl in the Blue Coat." I love hearing from readers what worked and didn't work for them in the book, and I respect the knowledge and perspective that someone in your position brings to her reading experience.
While I think it would be great if younger, mature kids like your students read my book, I did write it specifically with high schoolers (and older readers) in mind. I realize that might make a scene in which my main character flirts with a German soldier as part of her resistance work a little too mature for fifth graders. I respectfully disagree, however, with your opinion that another character disclosing he is gay makes the the book inappropriate for younger readers. His relationship is not explicit or sexual in any way, it is loving and committed. It takes up a very small part of the plot (as you note, a single page), but it is a large part of who the character is, and removing it would not be fair to him. Gay people exist. They always have. And now that same sex marriage is legal in all of the United States, and it's nothing to see LGBT celebrities out with their partners or spouses, I don't think that homosexuality is something fifth graders need to be shielded from. If their parents or educators believe otherwise, I absolutely support their right to parent and teach as they see fit. But my character is gay, and so he'll stay that way in all editions of the book.