The 10 LGBT YA Books You Need to Read This Year
Growing up and reading young adult books in the ‘90s, I can’t remember many (if any) that featured secondary lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters—let alone a protagonist who wasn’t heterosexual. A surprising and progressive trend I’ve noticed recently is that LGBT characters are popping up in more mainstream fiction as friends and other secondary characters. Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead, Leigh Bardugo’s Ruin and Rising, and Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club are just a few books out this year with supporting LGBT characters.
The trend that’s even more promising is the blossoming of the LGBT genre and LGBT protagonists within YA fiction. From contemporary coming-out stories to those who have already left the closet, from the questioning and confused to the sci-fi revolutionaries who don’t have time to figure it out, LGBT characters are becoming more common, more diverse, and more accessible to readers, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity may be. Here are 10 LGBT books published this year that are well-worth exploring.
Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can
Retellings are all the rage in YA these days, from Tiger Lily to Cinder. Though while many authors are finding inspiration in fairy tales, Sara Benincasa took hers straight from the Jazz Age. Part-genderswap and part-reimagining, Great boldly takes its cues from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In Benincasa’s retelling, Jay Gatsby transforms into Jacinta, a mysterious fashion blogger with a sole obsession: Delilah. As narrator Naomi (Nick Carraway) leads readers down an all-too-familiar path, the relationship between Delilah and Jacinta adds a modern and fresh spark to the classic tale of scandal, parties, and glorified love.
A picture's worth a thousand words
With the hurdle of coming out to his family overcome, some might think that the worst of Jamie’s problems are over, but really, they’re just beginning. With prom around the corner and his best friend Mason already lined up to take a girl, Jamie is forced to confront overwhelming jealousy and the knowledge that his growing feelings for Mason aren’t going away anytime soon. All of the support in the world from home can’t quell the fear he feels when he thinks about outing himself at school and the risk of losing his childhood best friend in one fell swoop. Infused with an artistic element sure to please any readers with an eye for design, Sarah Tregay’s Fan Art is a sweet story about friendship, first love, and what happens when we face down our fears.
When all else fails, join the circus
Runaway Micah Gray returns in Shadowplay, sequel to Laura Lam’s steampunk debut. In Pantomime, intersex Micah literally ran away to join the circus when his mother arranged a non-consensual genital reassignment surgery. Passing as a boy, though at times identifying as a boyish girl, Micah finds a freedom in the circus that was lacking at home. Able to present himself as he pleases, Micah begins finding his own way and comfortably spends time romancing both men and women without fear of repercussions. The circus doesn’t remain safe for long, though. Shadowplay leaves the circus behind and finds Micah learning magic from Jasper, a once-great magician, as he attempts to outsmart those from his past who are still searching for him.
After a painful car accident led to a dangerous OxyContin addiction, Sophie’s fought every day to get and remain clean. She knows that it’s been nine months, two weeks, and six days since she last used, but no one believes her. When someone plants drugs on Sophie after the death of her best friend Mina, everyone assumes that Sophie fell back into her destructive habits and took Mina down with her. Only she knows that Mina’s murder wasn’t a drug deal gone wrong, and only she can stop the killer. A fast-paced debut thriller, Tess Sharpe’s heroine not only struggles with staying clean, but with her conflicting feelings for both Mina and Mina’s brother, Trev. Though the crux of the story doesn’t hinge on Sophie’s sexuality, her character provides insight into how many bisexual teens feel, all while struggling to tackle addiction, a disability, and a killer hell-bent on finding her. Just a normal day in the life.
Guess who’s coming to dinner
Aleksander Khederian doesn’t need (or want) summer school, but his strict Armenian-American parents think it’s the best way for him to stay on the honor track. Just when he thinks his summer couldn’t get any worse, he meets Ethan. Cool, confident, and adventurous, Ethan is everything Alek wishes he could be. As he’s drawn closer to Ethan’s alluring persona, Alek realizes that he might want to be a bit more than “just friends” with the attractive skateboarder. But how will his family, so embedded in their culture and traditional ideals, react when he breaks the news?
Just passing through
Hilarious, raunchy, and wicked smart, Ariel Schrag takes readers down the YA rabbit hole to an LGBT wonderland. Awkward and woefully inexperienced, Adam flees the sanctuary of California to spend the summer with his closeted older sister, Casey. As she draws him deeper and deeper into the exciting lesbian subculture she calls home, he finds that many of the beautiful women surrounding him believe he’s trans. Why else would a fresh-faced, wide-eyed boy be wandering around in their inner circles? When he falls head-over-heels for the gorgeous Gillian, he begins to wonder if playing trans can work in his favor. A multi-faceted look at love and finding yourself, Schrag’s Adam is an entertaining debut with depth and heart. Fans of concealed identity and secrets may also enjoy Julie Anne Peters' Lies My Girlfriend Told Me.
Fighting a flawed system
Taking a leaf from Katniss Everdeen’s book, Syd is a bit too busy starting a revolution to really be concerned about falling in love. As you can imagine, it manages to find him anyway. Proxy introduced readers to the dystopian world that Syd inhabited, a world where he was a Proxy, a second class citizen meant to serve. Syd’s homosexuality is revealed while he and Knox, the boy he once served, attempt to rebel against the system. Though Syd’s crushes remain unrequited, Alex London’s sequel Guardian introduces bodyguard Liam, who’s willing to do anything to stay at Syd’s side. Syd struggles to let anyone close enough to get hurt, and while the romantic tension is palpable, it never distractions from this action-packed adventure.
All roads lead to love
Hold Still author Nina LaCour often writes romance into her stories, but this is her first foray into writing a love story. Inspired by a meeting with a Minnesota high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance where she became aware of the need for “affirming and happy stories” about love, LaCour set out to write about two girls falling for each other. Everything Leads to You tells the story of Emi, a girl who knows how to design a film set like no one else, but finds her love life far from cinematic. Stuck in a hot-and-cold pattern with the same girl, she begins to break the cycle when a mysterious letter from an acting legend leads her to the beautiful and unconventional Ava.
Trans like me
This powerful and groundbreaking work of nonfiction focuses on the lives of six transgender teens at various stages on their journey to their true selves. Some identify fully with one gender, others as neither, and one as intersex, though all deliver passionate and honest reflections on the challenges they’ve faced in the transition process and their hopes for the future. Portraits, family photographs, and candid snapshots reveal the teens in both poised and intimate moments, giving the reader a greater glimpse into their lives and identities. Those who enjoy this book can also look forward to the September release of Some Assembly Required, a memoir by 17-year-old Arin Andrews on his decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery as a high school junior.
A forbidden love
Everytime Nolan blinks, he sees another world. He blinks and finds himself looking through the eyes of Amara, a mute servant and protector of a cursed princess in a fantasy realm far from his Arizona home. Amara lives without knowledge of Nolan until the day he learns to control her. To be free of each other they must work together, though neither can anticipate the consequences of Nolan’s breakthrough. When she isn’t struggling to free herself from Nolan, Amara finds herself once again torn in two. Along on her journey is Maart, a fellow servant whom she loves, and Cilla, the princess that she must protect. A romance between them would be forbidden, but Amara can’t help but find herself wondering, “What if?”