Please welcome Laura Ashlee Graves from That Librarian Lady, who has provided a wonderful list of LGBT YA books that she recommends, as well as a giveaway following the post! Thank you, Ashlee! (I just added a bunch of books to my TBR Pile!)
When I began my first year at my school library, I immediately noticed that there was a huge lack of GLBT representation. I think the previous librarian was hesitant to purchase books with queer characters because my school is in a pretty conservative community. That may seem funny since I live in Alabama, but I grew up pretty progressive in the South and I’ve been lucky enough to live in areas of the state that are more inclusive and culturally diverse. I also noticed quickly that I had quite a few queer students growing up in this conservative community. Now, I would have made it a point to purchase more books with queer characters anyway because I truly believe that diverse collections can help students develop empathy.
Still, knowing I had students who needed these books in their lives made it a really important task. I haven’t read every book in my library (because I’m not a superhero). I also haven’t read every book with queer characters that I’ve bought. Like most librarians, I rely on reviews and recommendations for the bulk of my book buying. I do have several books in my library that I constantly recommend, though. I thought I would share them.
When I originally made my list, there were twenty-six books on it. I’ve managed to choose my favorite twelve from that list. These are books I’ve read and recommend and they’re all pretty recent releases. These are also young adult books, since I purchase A LOT of young adult for my library. I love it when I see students get excited over these books. I buy them because I know my kids need them in their lives and I want them to have easy access to them.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Aristotle, or Ari, is angsty and confused. He’s angry that his parents won’t talk to him about his brother, who’s in prison. He’s also a loner, never feeling like he quite fits in with other boys. Dante is a brilliant boy who tries to look on the brighter side of life. The two seem to have nothing in common, but learn a lot about themselves through their friendship. Ari struggles a lot with what it is that makes him feel different and being friends with Dante helps him with that. Dante is also figuring it out but he is unapologetic about who he is. They’re also figuring out where they fit in as Mexican Americans and that added another layer to the story that I really appreciated. I loved their friendship. It’s not a perfect book, in my opinion, but I think it’s worthy of the praise it’s gotten.
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Astrid feels like she has no one to she can talk to. Her mother is overbearing, her father is disinterested, and her little town is too conservative to understand her. She’s been having a secret relationship with her female coworker and the only people she’s telling are the people in the planes that fly over her back yard. This novel is about self-discovery and challenging the boxes society puts us in. This book affected me on a very deep level when I first read it and it remains one of my favorites. It’s the book that turned A.S. King into one of my favorite authors.
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Nate Foster wants nothing more than to star in a Broadway show, but he feels held back by his small New Jersey town and his disapproving parents. When a casting call goes out for a musical version of E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Nate knows he has to get to New York and audition for the part of Elliot. This book is a little more fun than the previous two. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but still has its serious moments. While Nate’s runaway trip to New York is fun and hilarious, he’s also dealing with his own self-discovery. It’s meant for younger reads (around middle school age), but it’s still a fun read for older readers. To get the full story, you’ll also have to pick up it’s sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
This novel centers on two teenage boys who attempt to kiss for 32 hours to set a new Guinness World Record. Their kiss is partly a political statement they’re inspired to perform after their friend, Tariq, is jumped one night. It’s not only about Harry and Craig’s kiss, though. The story also follows several other boys. Peter and Neil have been together for a year, even though Neil’s family never talks about it. Avery and Ryan only met the night before at a gay prom, but immediately hit it off. Cooper feels completely and utterly alone. No one knows that he’s gay until his father reads a chat session with another guy on his laptop. All these stories and perspectives are narrated by a generation of gay men who lived in a different time, when AIDS was a terror that seemed to pick them off one by one. This is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful YA novels I’ve ever read. It was a favorite before I even finished. There’s a nice balance of the historical view of gay men and boys and the contemporary lives of these particular gay boys. This is a very emotional book and it will make you cry, but it’s worth it.
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Brendan has a great life. He’s popular and has a girlfriend he really loves. So, why does he feel wrong in his own body? Why does he dream of looking like a girl? When the feelings become too much, Brendan puts on some of the clothes he wishes he could wear to feel closer to being the person he wishes he were. When he’s caught by one of his best friends, his life begins to fray. Maybe the girl at the LGBT Youth Center can help him find some answers. This book takes a look at the struggle that come with being on the transgender spectrum with raw truth. Brendan’s friends can’t understand what he’s going through and offer him very little empathy. Angel is almost like a representation of what Brendan’s life could be in the future. She’s in a different place in her own life as a transgender girl and possibly on a different place in the spectrum. The novel is written in beautiful verse and it’s a pretty quick read.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin
Susan Kuklin compiles the stories of six transgender teens. Most of the book is their own words from interviews and she includes a lot of pictures of the teens throughout. I loved this book because it offers so many perspectives and experiences from real trans teens. Some of the stories these teens share are hard to read, but Kuklin puts them on the page with a “take it or leave it” attitude. I think it’s an important book for every library to own and it also may be great for anyone interested in understanding different gender identities and the experiences of trans teens.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Leila feels different enough due to her Persian descent. She doesn’t want people to find out she also likes girls. When Saskia moves to her school, things get complicated. Leila starts developing a crush and it seems like Saskia might return those feelings. I love this book for its simplicity. It’s a sweet book about crushes, bad relationships, and overlooking the person who’s right in front of you. I remember reading it in one sitting and closing it with a good feeling and smile on my face.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
When a classmate finds Simon’s emails with a boy names Blue on the school computers, he decides to blackmail him for some help asking out one of Simon’s friends. Suddenly the budding romance between Simon and Blue is affecting every part of his life, including his friendships. This is another pretty simple YA book that I adore with all my heart. It’s about high school bullshit, friendship drama, and embarrassing families. I’ve read it four times and loved it every time. It’s charming, funny, and so sweet. I just want to melt into my couch from happiness every time I read it.
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Aaron has been struggling to stay happy since his father committed suicide. His mother and his girlfriend help, but it still feels like something’s missing. When a new boy names Thomas shows up in his life, he can’t help but notice the feelings he’s developing for Thomas. Adam Silvera adds a nice speculative twist to this book that can really throw the reader for a loop. It’s one of those books you can only read for the first time once. Also, if you don’t know who Adam Silvera is, what are you doing with your life? Go follow him on all your social media. Despite his sad books, he’s a hilarious human being.
George by Alex Gino
George may have been born a boy, but she knows she’s really a girl. When she’s told by her teacher that she can’t play Charlotte in their classes play of Charlotte’s Web, George and her friend Kelly devise a plan to get her on stage. This book is written for an elementary audience, but you’re never too old for a fantastic children’s book. Gino did such a good job with George’s voice. I felt all of her disappointments and triumphs. It’s a beautiful, quick read. I recommend to everyone, period.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Riley knows people don’t know what to think about them. For the most part, Riley manages to fly under the radar and let people wonder. That is, until Riley starts a Tumblr blog about their life as a gender fluid teen. The blog starts to go viral and someone at school knows it’s Riley. With Riley’s father going through a congress reelection, things are getting a little out of hand. This is a bit of a coming out novel, but it’s the first one I know of that’s about a gender fluid teen. I think Garvin did a really great job with it. He also included some awesome music. Riley’s a pretty bad ass, punk rock kid.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
After an awful incident, Amanda moves to live with her dad in a small town in Tennessee. She makes friends and starts to find her place in her little town. When she starts falling for sweet, honest Grant, she begins to doubt herself. She wants to tell him everything about herself, but she’s afraid he won’t accept her past. Russo hits on so many issues in this book: secrets, ignorance, friendship, first love, family dynamics. She writes about all this beautifully and sometimes with heartbreaking honesty. Though Russo has spoken about how this isn’t quite the trans book she wants to write, it’s still an important book. It’s a book about a trans girl written by a trans woman with a trans model on the cover. That’s huge and it could pave the way for even more honest trans books with more intersectionality. Also, it’s a really great book.
Note: You might notice there are no books about bisexual characters in my list. The truth is that I have yet to read one I felt was good. I have certainly not read everything, so I know I’ve missed a few and I hope to get to those books soon. However, I do think there’s a big need for YA books about bisexuality.
Thanks again, Laura! These are such wonderful suggestions. I think you’re right that bisexual characters are much less common in literature, YA or otherwise! Two books that come to mind off the top of my head, for those who are interested, include Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.
Laura is generously giving away TWO ARCS to one lucky winner! The books are The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson and Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. To enter, please leave a comment on this post saying you’d love to win. Giveaway will end October 20th at 11:59PM CT.