It’s hard to match the excellence of 2015’s excellent LGBTQI YA offerings, from the bold bi pride of Hannah Moskowitz’s Not Otherwise Specified, to the gorgeous gut punch of Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not, to I.W. Gregorio’s groundbreaking None of the Above, to the heart-melting delight of Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but if any year possesses the possibility of doing so, it’s this coming one. Fantastic and much-needed books about characters on the transgender spectrum are already two of my favorites of the year, and non-contemp YA is getting a much needed infusion of queer leads in multiple genres.
Possibly the coolest part? The infusion of new voices—over half the below titles are debuts. (Keep an eye out for our fall preview later in the year, which will feature more titles by recognized names, including sophomores Jaye Robin Brown and Morris Award–nominated Anna-Marie McLemore, and perennial fave Robin Talley.) For now, these are the YAs pinging our gaydar in the first half of 2016.
See all our 2016 previews here.
This is Where it Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp (January 5)
Fifty-four minutes, one high school shooter, and four points of view, two of which belong to Autumn and Sylv, girlfriends stuck in the auditorium along with the shooter. This powerful, brutal debut is unfortunately incredibly timely, and innovative in the way it approaches these all-too-common events from different perspectives—two present in the room, two with loved ones who are and seek to help from the outside, and all victims in different ways with different connections to the shooter. This book will shatter your soul right up until it provides a modicum of faith in the human spirit.
We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson (January 19)
In a list of authors new to LGBTQ YA, Hutchinson made his mark last year with searing hybrid novel The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. He returns this year with another unique tale, about a boy with the power to save the world from its impending implosion…who isn’t sure he wants to. Life hasn’t been great for Henry, and with his family falling apart and his boyfriend dead by his own hand, he doesn’t see much of a reason to keep going. But there are upsides too, including a potential new romance, and, of course, other people and the actual planet to consider, making for a journey full of complex decisions and heartbreaking realities.
Shallow Graves, by Kali Wallace (January 26)
Breezy Lin can breathe…but she doesn’t have to. She’s a reanimated dead girl, and how she got that way is a mystery to her. As she journeys to find answers to both how she died and what she is, she makes some hilarious and badass friends, and also adds to her memories of who she was when she was alive: one of three sisters, a daughter of hippies, a girl who liked both boys and girls, a girl whose feelings for another may have complicated matters… Breezy’s not sure how much she wants to know about what she left in the past, and she has no idea what’s ahead for her future, but neither do readers, and that’s so much of the fun of this debut.
Symptoms of Being Human, by Jeff Garvin (February 2)
When your father’s a politician, it means getting thrust into the spotlight a decent amount—a less than ideal situation when you’re genderfluid and your family’s politics are on the conservative side. For Riley Cavanaugh, that means desperately needing an outlet. Enter—of course—the internet, and Riley’s blog, which is used authentically and fabulously throughout the book to relate and explain the experience of being a genderfluid teen without ever feeling didactic. As Riley finds a well-deserved huge following online, and a potential romance at school, things finally seem to be falling into place…at least until an anonymous commenter on the blog discovers Riley’s identity and threatens to blow it all.
The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie (February 8)
Cassandra Leung trains sea monsters to attack pirate ships. Santa Elena is a pirate queen who wants power over those monsters and needs a trainer to do it. When Cas falls prey to Santa Elena’s attack, she ends up kidnapped, living on a ship, and expected to train a monster pup. But she is nothing if not resourceful, and though she may be fulfilling her expected duties (and possibly falling in love with a girl loyal to the enemy) while under the pirate queen’s nose, she’s also a badass determined to get her life back.
Bleeding Earth, by Kaitlin Ward (February 9)
All Lea wants is to spend more time with her girlfriend, Aracely, but the earth has other plans. Specifically, it’s bleeding, and no one knows why, what it means, or when it’ll stop. Soon it’s in the water, it’s sprouting bones and hair…and as the planet’s condition gets worse, so do things at Lea’s home. Now, her number one priority is just to survive, whatever that takes, and whoever that leaves by her side. This actually might be the only YA I’ve read where two girls in the central couple are romantically involved since before the book began, and although they’re not both Out (Lea is, but Aracely is not), that alone is worth a significant mention.
The Great American Whatever, by Tim Federle (March 29)
Federle’s first foray into YA after authoring middle grade’s biggest gay titles brings all the same charm and humor of Nate, packed into the touching story of a gay teenage boy named Quinn who’s grieving the loss of his sister. After a summer of sad lethargy, communicating with pretty much no one but his struggling mother, Quinn lets his best friend drags him out of the house and to a college party…where his new life begins when he meets a sexy guy who gives him a reason to get back to living. But being back in reality also starts him on the path to uncovering all the truths he’d been blind to about the relationships in his life up until now, and lands a couple of solid gut-punchy moments between the laughs.
South of Sunshine, by Dana Elmendorf (April 1)
Kaycee knows better than to tell anyone in her bigoted town of Sunshine that she’s a lesbian, but when new girl Bren moves in and Kaycee falls hard and fast, she can’t quite hide it anymore. In a town where where racist slurs and slut-shaming fly like dandelion seeds, it’s a risk every time the two girls kiss. And when they get caught, the consequences may alter not just their relationship but their lives.
Gena/Finn, by Kat Helgeson and Hannah Moskowitz (April 5)
Gena writes fanfic, Finn draws fan art, and when they meet through fandom, it’s love at first chat. But what kind of love? That gets fuzzier and fuzzier the more they talk, especially when they start talking all day, every day. For Gena, this is familiar; she’s had more than an inkling that she’s bisexual since she was young. For Finn, who’s in a long-term relationship potentially on the verge of engagement, this is especially torturous; is she in love with two people at once, and what does it mean if she is?
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo (May 3)
One of the most noticeable gaps in LGBTQ YA is that of books with transgender main characters authored by transgender authors. Russo’s 2016 debut is the first by a major house, with a beautiful trans model on the cover, no less. It’s also excellent, in its exploration of Amanda’s experience at a new school in a new town, and dealing with falling in love for the first time with a guy she doesn’t know whether or how to tell she used to be called Andrew. Excellently crafted in a non-linear timeline that travels between present day and different points of relevance along the timeline of her transition, this book is everything I wanted it to be and everything I want transgender teens to have, right down to the beautiful and important author’s note that opens it.
Without Annette, by Jane B. Mason (May 31)
Brookwood Academy has long been a dream for Josie, especially since her girlfriend, Annette, already attends the prestigious boarding school. But the environment there is nothing like what Josie had expected, and neither is Annette, who insists on keeping their relationship a secret. With the distance between them, Josie can only watch helplessly as her girlfriend self-destructs, and it doesn’t help matters that a boy at the school who has been there for her all along has worked his way into her heart.
True Letters From a Fictional Life, by Kenneth Logan (June 7)
The James everyone sees appears to have a pretty great life—athletic skills, decent grades, and a cute girl. But outward appearances are fiction, and it’s his writing—in the form of unsent letters—that reflects his truth: it’s a boy, and not his girlfriend, who’s occupying his romantic thoughts. The letters are never meant to find recipients, but somehow, they do, and James’s deepest secrets are suddenly everywhere.
You Know Me Well, by David Levithan and Nina LaCour (June 7)
When authors of some of LGBTQ YA’s biggest titles come together in coauthorship, you know it’s gonna be good, especially since I can’t personally recall a YA that has given a gay guy and a gay girl equal weight. Levithan and LaCour alternate POVs in this tale of two classmates who have nothing to do with each other until they meet up during a wild night of adventure. Mark’s in love with his best friend, who may or may not reciprocate. Kate’s just bailed on the opportunity to meet the girl she has been falling for from a distance. Together, they’ll work through the painful truths of their hearts and lives and become closer than two near-strangers could’ve imagined possible.
Look Both Ways, by Alison Cherry (June 14)
Brooklyn’s new internship is the stuff theatre geek dreams are made of, and her new roommate, Zoe, isn’t too bad, either. Sure, Zoe has a boyfriend, but she’s also in an open relationship, and the more Brooklyn opens herself up to new feelings and experiences, the more feasible going beyond friendship with Zoe seems. The two girls connect over their passion for the arts, but when passion spills over into other areas, Brooklyn has to evaluate where she really stands, with Zoe, her sexuality in general, and the world of the dramatic arts.
Run, by Kody Keplinger (June 28)
Bo and Agnes couldn’t have less in common. The former is from a troubled family, a loner, lives by her own rules, likes both guys and girls, and has a capital-R Reputation. The latter is legally blind, has a “best friend” (though she pretty much sucks), and has no social life to speak of outside of church, thanks to her extremely restrictive parents. But the two click hard and fast (as friends! but yeah, my mind went there too, and so will my inevitable fanfic), and while Agnes’s half of the narration details how the two became close, Bo’s covers the here and now, with the two on the run, Thelma-and-Louise style, from their oppressive small town.