Pride and Less Prejudice:
LGBTQIA+ 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 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 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.”
We Are Okay
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
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.”
10 Things I Can See From Here
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.”
A Line in the Dark
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.”
Her Royal HighnessAvailable from:
Millie Quint has had enough of Texas. Or perhaps more specifically, she’s had enough of her sort-of-girlfriend making out with someone else. Understandably, Millie jumps at the chance to attend an elite Scottish boarding school, where she’s assigned a room with Flora, an actual Scottish princess who’s a total snob and paparazzi magnet. But as the two begrudgingly get to know each other, they realize their first impressions were mistaken, and Millie starts to wonder if there might be a happily ever after in her future after all.Available from:
Odd One Out
Nic Stone crafts a complicated and empathetic love triangle between Cooper and Jupiter, childhood best friends, and Rae, the new girl in town. Told through each character’s point of view, Odd One Out reminds readers that sexual identities and desires are completely individual to each person. In an interview with PBS Books, Stone says she wrote Odd One Out because it’s a book she could have used in her teens: “I’ve encountered a lot of kids who were dealing with these questions of attraction and romance ... How do you deal with wanting to kiss your best friend but not knowing if your best friend wants to kiss you back? What about consent? There are so many things kids are dealing with, especially in high school. So, it’s a love letter to a younger me.”
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
Darius, a lonely half-Persian boy with an affinity for Star Trek, travels to Iran to meet his mother’s family for the first time. There, he falls in love: with the city of Yazd, his grandparents, and his new friend, Sohrab. Darius is just beginning to ask questions about his identity, including living with depression, and the meaningful connections he makes with others helps him understand himself. In an interview with LGBTQ Reads, author Adib Khorram spoke about the intentionality of these platonic relationships: “All of my most important relationships in life have been non-romantic love, and that was even more true when I was a teenager. I think it’s important and true to show that the love between two friends, or the love between a son and his grandmother, can be as life-shattering as a romance.”
These Witches Don’t Burn
Rather than the beginning of a new relationship or the start of questioning one’s sexual identity and preferences, Isabel Sterling offers up a story about the aftermath of a queer relationship — set to the backdrop of a thrilling, witchy mystery. “Many YA novels tackle falling in love for the first time,” Sterling writes, “but far fewer (especially at the time I was drafting back in 2015) deal with breakups, particularly for queer girls. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins was one of the first YA novels I read where an established couple breaks up, and I really loved that. When it came time to write These Witches Don’t Burn, it was really satisfying to explore the messiness of a breakup.” Even as exes, Hannah and Veronica work well together, protecting Salem from the dark magic of a Blood Witch.
Hot Dog Girl
A delightfully entertaining read, this coming-of-age queer romance features the highs of first love, the lows of first jobs, and a group of costumed teens determined to save their amusement-park workplace. Jennifer Dugan crafts a fully realized, complex bi character in Lou Parker — AKA “the hotdog girl” of Magic Castle Playland — and the rest of the crew (including a pirate, a princess, and a carousel operator) are equally charming. Becky Albertalli, author of the beloved YA rainbow read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, called herself “wrecked with love for this funny, joyful, bighearted book.”