Nothing gives me joy like seeing more great representation for teens in various letters of the rainbow, especially when we get past the same old narratives in the same old genres with the same old rep. The first half of the year was rife with great LGBTQIAP+ reads—you can see 15 of them here, to which I’d add three more I hadn’t known were LGBTQIAP+ when I wrote that post: This Song is (Not) For You, by Laura Nowlin (strongest asexual representation I’ve seen in YA); Seven Ways We Lie, by Riley Redgate (first on-page pansexual representation I’ve seen in YA, plus exploration of aromatic asexuality); and Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley (great mental health gay YA). Now check out all the awesome the the second half of the year has in store!
And I Darken, by Kiersten White (June 28)
Sneaking this one in a little under the autumnal wire, for two reasons: 1) this is definitely an “under the gaydar” read, and 2) I loved it so much, and I’ll take pretty much any opportunity to blather about it. Lada and Radu are the children of cruel royalty, abandoned by their father to the Ottoman courts as part of a political deal. She’s a bloodthirsty princess with no use for anyone who can’t help her achieve her ultimate goal: the throne of their homeland of Wallachia. But Radu is a gentler soul, and while his sister can’t wait to return home, he’s slowly falling in love with everything the Ottomans have to offer, especially Islam and, unfortunately, Mehmed, the son of the sultan and closest confidante of both him and Lada.
Hardcover $16.68 | $17.99
Whatever., by S.J. Goslee (August 2)
Mike Tate is pretty cool with life as he knows it, including his band, his girlfriend, and his animosity toward the kid who hit him years ago and still holds the position of archnemesis in his life. But when his girlfriend breaks up with him and informs him that his drunkenly making out with a guy at party was the last straw, he realizes things aren’t as simple as he thought. Especially since Lisa isn’t exactly the only one who was privy to the hookup he doesn’t even remember. As roles in his life shift around, Mike comes to terms with the fact that he’s actually super into guys, and one guy in particular he never expected. I’ve been dying for a fun bi-boy book to recommend, and this one totally fits the bill with cuteness, hotness, a heavy emphasis on friendship, and yes, on-page bisexual self-identification.
Three Truths and a Lie, by Brett Hartinger (August 2)
When four friends gather for a weekend at a remote cabin, it should be a fun time for bonding. After all, Rob’s there with his boyfriend, Liam; Liam’s best friend, Mia; and Mia’s boyfriend, Galen—how better to prove he can fit in with the whole crowd? But someone in the area is trying to send the foursome (or at least someone in it) a message, terrorizing them and cutting off their contact with the outside world. As they struggle to make do with their increasingly uncomfortable surroundings, uncomfortable truths emerge, too, and no one is truly safe in this psychological thriller.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, by Jaye Robin Brown (August 30)
It’s one thing for Jo to be out in Atlanta, but small-town southern life is a whole other world. So when her father remarries and moves them to Rome, Georgia, it comes with a rule she wasn’t expecting from her otherwise supportive dad: Get back in the closet for the last year of high school. It doesn’t help that he’s an evangelical radio preacher, but it does help Jo find a reason to comply—if she behaves, he’ll let her have her own radio show, where she can talk to other Christian teens about the very real, relevant issues that affect them, including meshing religion with queerness. It’d be bearable for the year, maybe, until Jo falls in love with an actually closeted Christian lesbian who’s done keeping her feelings quiet. Sweet, funny, thoughtful, romantic, sensitive, and, yep, pretty hot, this book is everything I love in f/f YA Romance.
Been Here All Along, by Sandy Hall (August 30)
Gideon and Kyle are the best of BFFs, and that didn’t change one iota when Kyle came out to Gideon as bi. But now Kyle’s taking the risk of coming out to other people, including his girlfriend of six months, and things are starting to grow a little strained between them. But it isn’t discomfort with Kyle’s bisexuality that’s throwing Gideon; it’s the fact that he’s attracted to his best friend, and while Kyle was figuring out his own bisexuality, Gideon was somehow missing the fact that he himself is gay. But Kyle’s girlfriend, Ruby, has noticed chemistry between the boys that they’ve both been working hard to ignore, and when Gideon accidentally leaves out some evidence of trying to work out his feelings, things get messier than any of them know how to handle. This book is so cute, I literally kicked my legs in the air in joy when the two boys finally get their act together.
As I Descended, by Robin Talley (September 6)
I don’t even know what I could possibly say to further sell you on this book than that it’s a paranormal f/f boarding school Macbeth; if you don’t need it from that alone, we are extremely different people. But I can tell you that this book lives up to everything you want it to be: it’s super chilling, ghostly, and bloody, and all four POVs are somewhere under the rainbow (a bi girl, a gay girl, and two gay boys). If Talley’s not already on your instabuy list like she has been on mine since Lies We Tell Ourselves, this should help!
It Looks Like This, by Rafi Mittelfehldt (September 6)
Mike has made a couple of friends in his new home in Virginia, and some of his classes are okay, but it’s hard to enjoy much when his dad wants him to be someone he isn’t and a bully seems intent on making him miserable. But Sean joining his French class is the green-eyed bright spot in his life, and when they end up working on a project together, Mike finally feels like he’s found happiness in his new life. But how long can it last in a town of zero tolerance?
Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova (September 6)
Alejandra, aka Alex, comes from a long line of brujas, all of whom are just waiting for her powers to kick in so they can commence her Deathday celebration. But when her abilities do come, they do so with a vengeance, and all Alex wants is to give them up and live normally. Unfortunately, normal isn’t in the cards, and sending away her powers turns into sending away her family. Now Alex has to fight to hell and back to bring her mother and sisters home, and it’ll take a death-defying trek through a Wonderland-esque purgatory full of monsters and demons to do it. The only partner she has in her quest is a guy she barely knows and trusts even less…at least until she’s surprised by another form of support, and her feelings for said support. A seriously fascinating work of fantasy, deeply and wonderfully infused with Latin culture.
Girl Mans Up, by M-E Girard (September 6)
Pen Oliveira may look like a dude, but she’s not confused about her gender identity, though everyone else seems to be. All she wants is to dress how she likes, play video games with her friends, and maybe find a hot girl, too. But between her strict Portuguese parents and getting mixed up in the complicated relationship between her best friend and his ex, it’s becoming a struggle to just be. Which is especially unfortunate now that the hot girl has materialized, in the form of bold and beautiful gamer and musician Blake. I have to admit to not realizing how necessary this book was until I read it, not just for featuring a solid, healthy, romantic relationship between two girls for about the longest stretch I’ve ever seen in a YA novel, but as a study of gender and sexuality and how they meet and clash in ways I haven’t seen on the page before.
Not Your Sidekick, by C.B. Lee (September 6)
Jessica Tran is surrounded by superheroes (including her parents), but she’s not one of them. And since powers aren’t going to get her ahead in life, her college application had better do the trick. Enter the most perfect internship, which Jess is determined to land. Or at least she is until she learns it involves working for a supervillain. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, and Jess ends up taking the job…a proposition made a whole lot sweeter by the promise of working with her crush, Abby. But when she uncovers potential for another romance and a dangerous plot, she’ll have to channel some serious super strength to survive.
Radical, by E.M. Kokie (September 13)
Everything Bex does is with survival in mind, including the intense gun training that has become a borderline obsession. After all, she needs to be prepared for inevitable crisis. So when she finds a group with the same drive, passion, and goals she has, she knows it’s where she’s meant to be. But then she meets Lucy, who’s sweet and pretty and not remotely into firearms. If Bleeding Earth was your favorite LGBTQ YA from the first half of the year, this should be at the top of your to-read list for the second half.
When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore (October 4)
McLemore’s gorgeous, lyrical writing is back in another romance steeped in magical realism, this time featuring Miel, a girl who sprouts roses from her wrist and is cared for by a bruja, and Sam, the South Asian boy whose past no one knows. Both Miel and Sam have reason to fear the Bonner girls, sisters with the power to lure men to their knees. Or at least they had that magic once upon a time. But now that control is ebbing, and their desperation to get it back means they’ll do anything to get the roses growing from Miel, which they think will return it—even if it means pressuring her with threats to everything she holds dear, including the deepest secret of the boy she loves. This is a beautiful exploration of claiming your gender and identity, your body, and your name, and how best to support a loved one going through that process.
Last Seen Leaving, by Caleb Roehrig (October 4)
Things were already complicated between Flynn and his girlfriend (well, ex-girlfriend, as of a few days ago), but when she disappears, it’s the start of everything getting a whole lot worse. Not only has Flynn lost his very best friend, but he’s a suspect in what’s looking increasingly like a homicide. But how can he talk about what broke them up before she disappeared without revealing that she thought he had no sexual interest in her because he was gay? Especially when she’s right? As Flynn balances dealing with his truth while finding hers, twists and turns and villains abound until only one thing is actually certain—Roehrig is a debut author to watch, and this book is a must-read for thriller fans. Okay, maybe that’s two things.
Look Past, by Eric Devine (October 4)
First, Mary—the daughter of a conservative pastor—is found murdered. Then Avery starts receiving messages, missives of deep hatred that put Mary’s murder squarely on his shoulders as being revenge for daring to have a relationship with her while being transgender. The killer gives Avery a “choice”: repent for his transition and disavow his identity…or become the next murder victim.
Beast, by Brie Spangler (October 11)
Dylan’s hirsute, bulky physique hasn’t garnered him much kindness from others in high school, and it doesn’t help when a fall lands him in a self-harm therapy group. But the group is where he meets Jamie, who’s funny and beautiful and doesn’t take Dylan’s self-pity. As the two get closer, their connection evolves beyond friendship into something more, and only then does Dylan learn he missed out on Jamie sharing with the group that she’s transgender. This contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast is one of the few on this list I haven’t gotten my hands on yet, but by every account I’ve seen and heard, it’s also one of the best.
No Holding Back, by Kate Evangelista (October 18)
Nathan and Preston are best friends, but while Preston is singularly focused on his swimming career, Nathan’s focus is on Preston. So when Preston actually needs to direct his attention elsewhere, it’s Nathan to the rescue…with a romantic trip to Europe. But just when it seems like Preston might finally be open to life beyond the pool, everything crumbles, and it’s up to Nathan to put it back together and get the guy he loves to realize they’re meant to be.
A Darkly Beating Heart, by Lindsay Smith (October 25)
Reiko is angry, with the kind of rage that lives deep within your bones. After a bad breakup with her ex-girlfriend followed by some seriously poor coping mechanisms, she’s sent to Japan to live with family until she learns to better control her emotions. But spending time with her self-centered cousin only stokes the fire inside Reiko, and when a mystifying incident sends her back in time into the body of a nineteenth-century Japanese girl named Miyu who has her own ax to grind, she relishes the opportunity to carry out someone else’s ugly revenge. Jumping smoothly between two interweaving timelines, Reiko uses the present to aid Miyu’s quest in the past. But darkness and betrayal surround her no matter what era she’s in, and she’s walking a very fine line of keeping her sanity intact. If she fails, she may not have a future at all. Brutal, unique, and one of the most page-turningly compelling books I’ve read in a long time.
Timekeeper, by Tara Sim (November 1)
As an exceptionally talented clock mechanic, Danny knows all there is to know about thr importance of keeping clocks in perfect condition. Otherwise you run the risk of fracturing time—something he experienced far too close to home when his father got trapped in a stopped town three years ago. When his obsession with rescuing his dad becomes problematic, he’s given a new assignment—one that will take him away from town but keep him plenty busy in the meantime. But what keeps him the busiest is his new apprentice…who also turns out to be a clock spirit. Though he’s off limits to Danny, the heart wants what it wants—but when terror strikes, Danny may lose both his father and the boy he’s come to love.
Marian, by Ella Lyons (November 3)
Moving to Nottingham means Marian’s days of running around the countryside are over, replaced by a formal life of gowns and dances. But when she meets a girl named Robin Hood, who dreams of being a knight, suddenly her new life doesn’t seem all that bad. Marian and Robin become fast friends, and then, eventually, more than friends. But when Marian’s father is killed in royal service, the king himself suddenly takes note of her…and wants her for himself.
Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity, by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (November 8)
Jess hasn’t seen her father since she was still presenting as male, but she damn well plans to show up at his wedding to her mom’s ex-best friend, even if he doesn’t know it. Armed with the perfect dress, her best friend (the titular Chunk, aka Chuck), and a car that may or may not get them safely to their destination halfway across the country, Jess isn’t sure exactly what she expects to get out of this trip. But the journey’s biggest surprise of all might be the feelings she’s forced to acknowledge along the way.
Boy Robot, by Simon Curtis (November 15)
Isaak doesn’t know what he is, but he knows he’s different and that he’s in a hell of a lot of danger. His adoptive parents have been killed, he has been rescued by a girl, and he doesn’t even know this is happening all over the place, with others like him being hunted down as they turn 18. As he eventually learns, he’s a robot, and a seriously powerful one, bred to be a weapon of destruction. As he and his kind run and fight to survive, he has to wrestle with the question of his own humanity—now that he knows he isn’t human, does he take advantage of that and use his power against those who would see him dead? Or does he grasp on to the very human existence he’s always known, and feels even more strongly now that he’s fallen for the guy helping to keep him safe?
Of Fire and Stars, by Audrey Coulthurst (November 22)
Dennaleia’s been prepared her entire life to marry the prince of Mynaria and seal the alliance between their people. But Mynaria is a dangerous place for those with magic, and it’s Denna’s biggest secret that she possesses it. Desperate to fit in and be the princess her new people deserve, Denna allows her future sister-in-law, Mare, to teach her the ways of horse-riding, a skill that wasn’t part of her old life. But the biggest lesson Denna’s getting from Mare isn’t how to canter properly, it’s why she has no feelings for the man she’s supposed to marry—because she’s falling in love with his sister.