Literature with transgender main characters is undergoing a much-needed evolution. Gone are the days when the only trans lit you could find in YA still had cisgender main characters, and all the books were by cis authors. And now, not only are we seeing trans main characters and trans authors in the spotlight and winning Stonewall Awards, but with great resources like Gay YA, we’re also getting a much better idea of which books have good representation that should be in every library possible.
Of course, if you’re shopping in Middle Grade, George, by Alex Gino, is the number one Can’t Miss, and for nonfiction, check out memoirs Being Jazz, by Jazz Jennings, Some Assembly Required, by Arin Andrews, and Rethinking Normal, by Katie Rain Hill. But for YA fiction, here are ten favorites with main characters who ID as trans girls or boys, genderfluid, genderqueer, or nonbinary. (And you can find a bunch more in our own Michael Waters’s post for the Guardian here!)
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo
There’s a reason it was rousing news when this book leapt onto the scene: it was the first YA at a major house to be written by a trans woman, starring a trans girl, and featuring a trans girl on the cover, too. But it’s also just a damn good book. Russo takes you into Amanda’s life at her new school, navigating her new living arrangement with her father and making friends among classmates who don’t know she was assigned male at birth. Between flashbacks that mark milestones in her transition, Amanda finds a new life and a new love, but when she’s outed, she stands to lose everything. This one is a must for every YA collection, whether in homes, schools, or libraries, and if you usually skip a book’s Author’s Note, trust me: Don’t.
Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz
What do you get when you take a nonbinary main character, put her in a thoroughly binary society, tell her she might be descended from a lizard people, and surround her with intense rules and regulations? If you’re dying for the answer, Schmatz’s dystopian/sci-fi is where you’ll find it, while meeting fifteen-year-old Kavali. Kavali is thriving socially at CropCamp, but the demand that she pick a gender is closing in. The more the director pushes her to do so, and the more weirdness she notices at CropCamp, the more certain Kavali becomes that something shady is going on. Lizard radio is her own internal escape, but it may not be enough to help her survive.
Dreadnought, by April Daniels
Depending on how you look at it, Danny Tozer was either in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time, but the end result is the same: she inherited superhero Dreadnought’s powers when she was killed in front of her, and now she’s got a whole lot of responsibility and some skeptical new coworkers to deal with. She’s also got the body she’s always wanted, and the perfect inroad to tell her family she has no desire to change it, because it’s the right one. But not everyone is as enthused for Danny as she is, and the fact that she’s a minor doesn’t endear her to the other superheroes. But most dangerous of all is that Dreadnought’s killer is still out there, and she’s on the team that’s got to stop them.
Spy Stuff, by Matthew J. Metzger
Looking for a trans guy MC written by a trans guy, and with a male-male romance to boot? This is your book, and as a bonus, the author writes the same pairing in adult romance, too. Anton’s in a new school, and at this one, pretty much no one knows he’s a trans guy. Passing feels great, but gets a little more complicated when it turns out that Jude, the guy he likes, likes him back. How does he proceed with a guy who doesn’t know he wears a binder? Can he bring Jude home when his father still hasn’t acknowledged his name and male identity?
When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore
McLemore’s sophomore novel is one of the most highly decorated of 2016, between being a National Book Award finalist, a Stonewall Honor, and a Tiptree winner, and I cannot emphasize enough how well deserved that is. Her trademark gorgeous magical realism surrounds Miel and Samir, who’s a bacha posh—a child assigned female at birth selected to live as a boy until puberty. Only Sam’s come to realize he’s not “living as a boy,” he is a boy, and has no desire to go back to his initially designated gender…a secret a set of neighborhood sisters gladly use against him in order to blackmail the girl with whom he’s falling in love.
Brooklyn, Burning, by Steve Brezenoff
“Girl” and “Boy” can be extremely fraught and powerful labels for those who don’t identify with the ones they were given at birth, or the ones assigned to them by others every day, based on their appearance. What’s so lovely about this book (in addition to the wonderful sense of found family) is the way it follows the main character’s questioning lead and completely eschews them, giving the protagonist no on-page gender labels or pronouns at all. Mostly it’s about a kid named Kid who’s working through a heartbreak, taking needed space from a verbally abusive home, and maybe even learning to get close to someone again.
Not Your Villain, by C.B. Lee
Bells first made his appearance as a secondary character in Not Your Sidekick, but in the series’ second book, he and his powers are taking center stage. Having the ability to shapeshift is great for Bells; it allows him to easily express himself however he feels, including skipping wearing a binder. But it also comes with some serious responsibility now that he and his friends have discovered there’s some serious shadiness going on among the supposed League of Heroes. As they embark on a journey to find the Resistance, Bells and his friends are facing a whole lot of danger. But maybe, just maybe, there’s time for a little romance in there, too.
Symptoms of Being Human, by Jeff Garvin
Riley is genderfluid, a fact that doesn’t mesh super well with having a conservative congressman for a father. Thankfully, the internet is a respite for working out all the thoughts and feelings Riley can’t be open about at home or at school, and as it turns out, there are plenty of others out there who sincerely appreciate the thoughts and voice of a funny, articulate, and bold blogger. But when someone threatens to expose Riley as the person behind the blog, it forces the choice between coming out and losing an emotional lifeline.
Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller
Sal is a thief by necessity; since their family was killed, they have no other way to survive. Then an opening surfaces in the Left Hand, i.e. the Queen’s personal group of assassins, and survival becomes secondary to Sal’s ultimate goal: Revenge. As they fight their way through a Hunger Games-esque battle against other auditioners for the role, moral boundaries go out the window as Kill or Be Killed is the law of the land. But Sal’s still got a little softness to their heart, in the form of feelings for noblewoman Elise. Now they’ve got more to live for than simply revenge…but will that stop them from risking everything to get it? This was one of my most enjoyable reads of 2017 so far, and I anxiously await revisiting my new favorite genderfluid assassin come the sequel!
The Unintentional Time Traveler, by Everett Maroon
Jack’s epilepsy has taken over his life, so when he’s offered a shot at a clinical trial to find new treatments, he takes it. But no one could’ve anticipated side effects this extreme: he travels in time and wakes up in the body of Jacqueline, a girl living in the 1920s. Waiting out what’s ostensibly another hallucination, Jacqueline goes ahead and lives life…and falls for a boy named Lucas in the process. What now? And what happens when there’s another jump and it’s Jack who’s in love with Lucas? And which body is the one that truly feels right? Or can they both be?