8 Great LGBTQ Characters in Young Adult Lit

Benjamin Alire Seanz' Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Young adult fiction is constantly evolving, but when it comes to including more diversity, sometimes it feels like it’s moving at a glacial pace. Authors like David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, Two Boys Kissing) and Malinda Lo (Ash, Huntress) are always reliable sources of diversity in YA characters, and here are 8 other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning characters that’ll have you on the front lines demanding more.

Astrid from Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King

Astrid Jones is all about putting love into the world, sending it up the planes that fly over her house. Unfortunately, she has a hard time getting it back in equal measure, whether from her family, the friends who don’t quite understand her, or the girl she’s seeing who can’t quite seem to respectfully grasp her boundaries. It’s especially difficult to figure out her own love life when she’s struggling not to let anyone else define who she is or what she wants. But Astrid neither gives up nor gives in, nor surrenders the love that makes her so uniquely her. Throw in some beautiful vignettes that blur that lines of magical realism and show the effect of Astrid’s love on the strangers flying overhead, and you have a truly special character.

Rafe from Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg

Rafe is hilarious. That’s the first thing you notice about him, and he’s probably just fine with that. Because frankly, he’s sick of being “the gay kid” since he came out. And now, he’s just not gonna be. He’s not stepping back into the closet, mind you; he’s just going to Be. Be a teenage boy. Be someone who isn’t defined by his sexual identity. Just. Freaking. Be. And although reality doesn’t always mesh with his expectations, watching him navigate backward from the post–coming out period and then into something else entirely is a unique YA experience worth reading.

Petra from Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

The book itself is a satire, but the awesomeness of Petra West, a boy band star–turned–female beauty contestant is very, very real. Petra asserts herself and her identity as a transwoman against the backdrop of that most iconically feminine of events—the beauty pageant—and makes herself a very real contender for coolest character in a cast packed with teenage girls breaking stereotypes all over the island.

Dante from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Nothing against Ari, the narrator of this gorgeous, award-winning YA about two boys whose friendship evolves into something deeper as they maintain a friendship through adolescence, but Dante stole my heart from his very first appearance. He’s the kind of open, honest, nearly unguarded soul we seldom get to see in proud teenage male characters, and yes, I fell in love with him the moment he admitted to thinking his parents were awesome.

Anthem from Coda, by Emma Trevayne

In a dystopian society where music is a drug that both sustains and kills, Anthem is a conduit, charged with helping power the grid that delivers the tracks. He’s also bisexual, balancing friendships with both his ex-boyfriend and the girl he loves, and trying to save his younger siblings from meeting his same addictive fate, and trying to fix the ruling government’s hold on society…oh, and he sings in a band. Did I mention he sings in a band?

Luna from Luna, by Julie Anne Peters

Peters is one of the most well-rounded writers of solid LGBT YA, and this novel of a transgender teen named Luna (born Liam), told from the perspective of her sister, is no exception. Luna is struggling, and lost, and trying, and effervescent, and endlessly longing. Transgender characters are woefully underrepresented in YA, and the portrayal of Luna’s particular evolution from desperate and suicidal to taking ownership of her identity is not to be missed.

Oliver from The Art of Wishing, by Lindsay Ribar

The genie love interest in Ribar’s debut definitely has a more interesting and colorful past than most teen boys…especially given just how long he’s been a teen. I’m not sure what’s rarer in YA, a love interest who can grant wishes or one who’s bisexual, but either way, Oliver’s definitely near the top of my list of faves, and he only gets better when he rocks the gender-bend in the upcoming sequel, The Fourth Wish.

Nicola from Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan

Far more emphatic on characters than story, this book had me falling in love with bisexual Nicola as hard and fast as she does for the aptly named Battle. Nic never really freaks out about the fact that she’s suddenly into a girl, nor feels the need to defend or explain it. Though she’s endlessly analytical in everything she does (not like anyone else I know who might have written this blog post), this is one arena in which she doesn’t need a million lists to understand what matters—a solid and often necessary reminder that love is about the person who makes you happy, regardless of semantics, norms, or expectations.

Have you read a great LGBTQ character in YA?

  • Brenda

    Thank you for highlighting some wonderful LGBTQ books! The world is made up of different people and I love how B&N respects this diversity.

  • miriamjoywrites

    Hmm, other great LGBTQ YA characters … Fever Crumb, who falls in love with a girl in the third book of her series by Philip Reeve, is fantastic. She’s unusual, in that she’s a female engineer and also the last remnant of a genetically modified race, but she’s wonderful. Her experience was stunningly similar to mine, in a way I’ve never read before.

    Ronan Lynch, who is ambiguously confirmed as gay in The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (okay, it’s not ambiguous if you’re paying attention, and she’s confirmed it multiple times, but it doesn’t explicitly use the word), is one of my all-time favourite characters.

    I love Alec and his journey in The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare (he’s not the only LGBTQ character in the series, and it does a pretty good job of conveying the day-to-day difficulties of being queer in a non-accepting family even when it’s not like they disowned you or anything).

    But the first book I ever read with a queer character, which will always have a special place in my heart, was Tithe by Holly Black. Admittedly Corny gets a pretty raw deal, but when I was twelve and I came across that, it was something of a revelation — even if I was pretty sure I was straight at that point. Ahahaha. How wrong I was.

    Of this list, though, I’d say Fever’s the only one who’s the protagonist, and even then it doesn’t come in until the third book. Still, I was super glad it did. :)

  • Leah

    I was slightly upset that neither will grayson (lowercase for a reason) or Tiny Cooper were on this list. That’s fine, though because Astrid is, and my friend keeps telling me to read that book