Even as queer characters have begun to proliferate in YA literature, LGBTQ+ teens of color continue to be underserved—these characters are mostly gay and overwhelmingly white. In honor of Pride Month, and to shine a light on books often missing from recommendation lists, here’s a short (and by no means complete) list of excellent LGBTQ YA novels featuring protagonists of color.
Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera
Juliet, a gay Puerto Rican girl living in the Bronx, has just come out to her parents, and it didn’t go so well. So when she lands an internship in Oregon with a white hippie author who’s an expert on feminism, Juliet moves across the country, excited to make sense of who she is and how she fits into society. What follows is, to say the least, disappointing. In a fresh, hilarious voice, Juliet describes the ignorance she faces as a person who belongs to multiple marginalized identities—ignorance that comes both from the author she is interning with and from the academic world at large. Always witty, Juliet Takes a Breath explores the intersections of being a woman, queer, and brown.
More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera
After his father commits suicide, Aaron finds a support system in his mom and girlfriend. But when his mom becomes overwhelmed with work and his girlfriend leaves town for a few weeks, Aaron begins spending all of his time with a new boy, Thomas. The two grow close, and Aaron starts to develop feelings for him—feelings that transcend friendship, feelings that aren’t acceptable where he’s from. To forget he isn’t straight, Aaron longs to turn to a cutting-edge procedure known as Leteo, which promises to erase his memories—and maybe even his sexuality. Set in the Bronx, with a predominantly Latinx, low-income cast of characters, More Happy Than Not is all at once nerdy (see: the characters’ love of comics and Star Wars) and emotionally devastating (see: mostly everything else).
Ascension, by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Alana is financially struggling. As an engineer who repairs starships, she has limited cash flow now that few vessels need fixing. The fact that she suffers from a chronic illness, which requires many expensive pills, only exacerbates her money problems. So when a cargo ship stops by, and the crew asks about the whereabouts of Alana’s sister, Alana stows away with them—if nothing else, she figures, the captain will find her fearlessness impressive and offer her a job on board. But the crew is, to say the least, unconventional. The engineer is convinced he is a wolf; the pilot isn’t always there; and the captain…well, Alana is attracted to her. Centered on a black, queer, disabled protagonist, Ascension is perfect for fans of clever speculative fiction.
Huntress, by Malinda Lo
What happens when two people on a quest to save the world fall in love? Well, a lot of things. In the world of Huntress, winter is neverending—the sun has been gone for a years, and citizens have begun starving as their crops fail. Worse, monsters have become rampant. In order to end the long winter, Kaede and Taisin are sent, along with a few others, to enlist the help of the Fairy Queen on the other side of the world. But during their long and dangerous journey, Kaede and Taisin start to fall for each other—which becomes problematic when they are told only one of them can save their kingdom.
If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan
If You Could Be Mine centers on two girls in Iran, Nasrin and Sahar. Over the years, their friendship has blurred into a clandestine romance, and the two resolve to spend their lives together. But when Nasrin turns 17, her parents announce they’ve found her a husband, a wealthy doctor. Though Nasrin insists this won’t be the end of their relationship, Sahar refuses to continue loving Nasrin in secret. Desperate, Sahar turns to the possibility of sex reassignment—in Iran, homosexuality is illegal, but gender reaffirming surgery is not.
Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel, by Sara Farizan
In Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, Leila is alienated from her classmates because of her Persian heritage, and she fears coming out of the closet will only alienate her further. But when an enigmatic new girl arrives at her school, and Leila immediately develops a crush, she takes risks that weeks earlier she never would have dared to. Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel, like If You Could Be Mine, weaves Persian culture and examinations of family, friendships, and religion into a powerful read.
The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie
Discussing The Abyss Surrounds Us is an exercise in ship puns. Not only is it set on a pirate ship, but it contains a slow-burn, hate-to-love f/f romance that is impossible not to…ship. As the actual pirate ship cruises forward, so will your romantic ship. And when neither meet a fatal end, you might say you avoided being shipwrecked. (Okay, I’ll stop.) But there’s more to The Abyss Surrounds Us than its romantic tension and wonderful, de facto puns. When Cassandra Leung, a girl who trains sea monsters designed to protect cargo ships from pirates, is kidnapped on her first solo mission, she’s forced to train a sea monster for the enemy pirates. This goes against everything her parents and country have taught her to do, and she finds herself questioning her loyalties. The feelings she’s developing for the pirate girl charged with keeping her prisoner only complicates things further.
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Aristotle and Dante, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante can easily be retitled “FEELS FEELS FEELS.” Ari is angry, and perhaps rightfully so—his brother is in prison, and he doesn’t have any friends. When he meets Dante at a swimming pool, he’s charmed. Dante may also be a loner, but he’s upbeat in a way Ari doesn’t feel he can ever be. Over the course of the summer, the two form an intimate friendship—a friendship that frequently oscillates between adorable and tragic and that seems to climax when Dante tells Ari he’s gay. A slow, gorgeously written novel following two Latino boys, Aristotle and Dante is the best kind of contemporary novel: the kind that will sweep you away, absorb you, and make you see something beautiful in the world around you.
The Necessary Hunger, by Nina Revoyr
On the court, Nancy and Raina are rivals. Star basketball players eyeing college recruitment, they’re competing for the few scholarships colleges are willing to give out. But when their parents move in together, they become friends—and soon, their feelings intensify. They fall in love. But the fact that they’re both only a few months away from leaving for college—and are both looking to get recruited—complicates their budding relationship. Set in a predominantly black neighborhood of L.A., The Necessary Hunger explores the racial tension between Asian Americans (like Nancy) and black Americans (like Raina) in urban America at the end of the 20th century.
Not Otherwise Specified, by Hannah Moskowitz
Etta feels like an outcast in all of the communities she belongs to. A black Nebraskan, she’s rejected by her lesbian friends when she starts dating a boy (Etta is bi), and she frequently feels alienated as a ballerina because she isn’t white. Then she meets Bianca, a girl in her therapy group who’s auditioning for the same theater school as Etta and who makes her feel less alone. Not Otherwise Specified explores eating disorders, biphobia, and the erasure that comes with being at the intersection of multiple social identities.
The Culling, by Steven Dos Santos
In the dystopian world of The Culling, five people are selected to participate in the Trials, a series of brutal military training exercises with only one ultimate winner. If a participant fails, their loved one is killed. Lucky, a participant in the Trials, is set on succeeding—if he doesn’t, his only living family member, his four-year-old cousin, will die. But Lucky’s plan is complicated when he falls for another recruit, a boy named Digory.
The House You Pass on the Way, by Jacqueline Woodson
Fourteen-year-old Staggerlee is navigating the complexities of identity. She is, in many ways, different from everyone around her: she’s a biracial girl in a nearly all black town, the granddaughter of martyred entertainers, and a girl who is struggling with her sexuality. She develops a crush on her best friend, Hazel—but when Staggerlee kisses Hazel, Hazel shuns her, and Staggerlee is left alone. Then Staggerlee’s cousin Trout visits, and Staggerlee realizes she might have more in common with Trout than anyone else in her life.
When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore (coming October 4)
Miel and Sam are best friends, but neither is normal: Sam paints moons and hangs out of trees, and roses bud off of Miel’s wrists. Slowly, they are also falling in love: Sam, who is trans, has been crushing on Miel (and vice versa), and as they draw closer together, the two of them navigate how to define themselves and their relationship. But when a group of sisters who are thought to be witches try to steal the roses on Miel’s wrists, all of Miel’s and Sam’s secrets could be exposed—and with that, their relationship is thrown into jeopardy.
A Darkly Beating Heart, by Lindsay Smith (coming October 25)
Reiko is angry. She’s angry at her ex-girlfriend, at her brother, her parents, her cousins, her friends. Having been wronged by so many people in her life, Reiko is plotting revenge. Reiko also wants to die, and after a failed suicide attempt, she’s sent to live in Japan with her uncle and cousin. There, she visits a remote village, Kuramagi, where she travels back in time to Japan’s nineteenth-century Edo period. She’s thrust into the body of Miyu, who is even more angry and more revenge-driven than Reiko herself. But her fascination with Miyu is cut short when she uncovers the secrets of the village, and has to grapple with Miyu’s past as well as her own.