Pride and Less Prejudice:
10 LGBTQ Books for Teens

by Laura Lambert

We’ve come a long way from the hubbub over Heather Has Two Mommies — the 1989 picture book about lesbian moms that became one of the most challenged books of the 1990s. Books no longer simply assert that gay parents — or gay people, for that matter — merely exist.

In our post-DOMA, Caitlyn Jenner landscape, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning kids star in stories of all kinds — and kids of all kinds are seeking them out, to see a reflection of their own lived experience, in all its diverse glory. These YA novels are a beautiful batch of rainbow stories — with those characters front and center (i.e. decidedly not the stereotypical sidekick) or queer characters that do things above and beyond being gay.

You know, more like real life.

  • Felix Yz

    by Lisa Bunker

    Felix Yz is silly in tone and sci-fi in genre. The main character, Felix, is, incidentally, gay. His grandparent is, incidentally, gender fluid — and goes by the neutral name Grandy. The plot centers on a scientific mishap. But the LGBTQ characters in this book are by design.

    The author, Lisa Bunker, is herself a trans woman. She detailed her transition on her website, genderbendy.com, where she shares her thoughts on gender — and details about her middle grade debut. Bunker recently wrote, “Felix represents the start of my long-term project as an author to create good stories featuring LGBTQ characters without that being The Point, in hopes of expanding readers’ definition of the word ‘normal’ in an empowering and inclusive way.”

  • The Love Interest

    by Cale Dietrich

    The Love Interest is a new take on an old storyline: the love triangle. Except those involved are teenage secret agents and the backdrop isn’t so much romance novel as quasi-dystopian nightmare. Caden and Dylan, the two boys vying for the girl, Juliet, instead discover each other — but given their spy training, and their insidious employer, it’s a life and death situation. There’s a Hunger Games vibe, a wry take on the tropes of the YA genre, some commentary on various constructions of masculinity, with a matter-of-fact queer love story at the center.

  • Carry On

    by Rainbow Rowell

    This New York Times bestseller has been called the gay Harry Potter. The main characters, British wizards Simon and Baz, reference Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy — and this is their fully formed, in-your-face love story. As Rowell told Vanity Fair, “This is not some cheesy, will-they-won’t-they, subtext-y thing. That’s not a game I’m interested in playing… I do think in our culture there was a time when this had to be subtext, but I don’t think that time is now… It’s text. Don’t watch it for the subtext... As a culture, we are ready for text.”

  • We Are Okay

    by Nina LaCour

    This quiet, poetic book is a moody meditation on grief and friendship, with serious queer undertones. LaCour is no newcomer to LGBTQ themes — Everything Leads to You and You Know Me Well were about queer relationships — but We Are Okay didn’t start out with a queer story line. As LaCour told Pop Sugar, “Once it was in there, then I really enjoyed exploring it, especially Mabel's sexuality because it is really fluid. I don't define them in the story. I don't label them. Personally, I like ‘queer’ the best because many people are very fluid and that's the term that I feel most comfortable with. I think it's a really inclusive term. That Mabel is currently in a relationship with a guy and has been in a relationship with Marin, I wanted to really explore how both of those relationships matter a lot to her and they were both equally as valid.”

  • History Is All You Left Me

    by Adam Silvera

    Another beautifully written heartbreaker on love and loss, this YA novel by Adam Silvera (his second) will give readers all the feels. The main character, Griffin, has lost his ex-boyfriend, Theo, in a terrible accident — and is piecing his life together in the aftermath, on top of his OCD. Silvera has crafted a nuanced gay love story. He told Entertainment Weekly, “I wanted to just show that bisexuals exist. If [Theo]’s not 100 percent sure, that’s also important. He’s at the age where he’s figuring out his sexuality, and he’s just currently identifying as bisexual. Maybe at 20, if he’d been around to be alive, he would have identified as just gay.”

  • Dreadnought

    by April Daniels

    Fifteen-year-old Danny Tozer has been in the closet about being trans, but when the superhero Dreadnought dies at Danny’s feet, and Danny takes up the mantle, it’s transformative. All of a sudden, Danny isn’t just a superhero, she is finally in the body that feels right to her. But all is not immediately well — in fact, Danny faces a good deal of trans-phobia, which may or may not be a turn-off for some readers. This is Daniels’s debut book, and she draws up the kind of rich, diverse superhero universe that teens, queer and otherwise, love.

  • 10 Things I Can See From Here

    by Carrie Mac

    This is summer love, with a twist or two. The main character, Maeve, is managing serious anxiety when she learns that she has to make an unwelcome move to Vancouver to live with her father, an alcoholic, for several months. Once there, Maeve also meets and falls for Salix, who is anything but anxious. The dynamics in Maeve’s new life are complicated to say the least. Kirkus puts it thusly: “Her story provides a much needed mirror for anxious queer girls everywhere.”

  • It's Not Like It's a Secret

    by Misa Sugiura

    Moving to California transforms the life of 16-year-old Sana Kiyohara. She says goodbye to being the only Japanese girl in her Wisconsin hometown and hello to a diverse group of new friends, many of whom understand her strict upbringing, as they come from different flavors of Asian immigrant families themselves. It’s in California that Sana also meets a Mexican-American teen/poet/nerd named Jamie Ramirez, who she falls for. It’s a queer coming-of-age story that also tackles big topics like adultery, racism, and the cultural conflicts of immigrant families.

  • Ramona Blue

    by Julie Murphy

    In a wonderful, complicated way, Ramona Blue turns the queer coming-of-age trope on its head. Ramona, of the title, has always liked girls — but now she finds herself with feelings for a childhood friend, Freddie, who is decidedly not a girl. What does that mean in terms of her sexual identity — and what does it mean to the various people around her? It’s a shift that Murphy knows well. As she told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ve always been bisexual or pansexual or queer or whatever label you want to put on it. I’ve always dated both guys and girls, and when I married my husband, I experienced this really weird thing that I didn’t expect to experience in that I kind of felt like I wasn’t straight enough for all the straight community and I wasn’t gay enough anymore for the queer community.”

  • A Line in the Dark

    by Malinda Lo

    A queer YA mystery-thriller by three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award Malinda Lo, who is perhaps best known for her lesbian retelling of Cinderella, Ash. A Line in the Dark centers on three queer girls — Jess Wong, Angie Redmond, and Margot Adams — and the blurry lines between friendship, love, and obsession. It’s a dark, dramatic tale that Lo pursues readily. And she told the queer women’s blog Autostraddle, “I know that in the past (and sadly sometimes now), lesbians have been written stereotypically as predatory and villainous. Those stereotypes are decidedly harmful, but I believe it’s important to reject them not by writing solely morally pure and good queer characters in response, but by showing queer characters in all their human complexity.”

What other books would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments below.