It’s the most wonderful time of (this half of) the year! Normally I take some time to observe trends and firsts and all that, but in truth, the most glaring thing I see about this semester’s curriculum is that…they’re just books. And I mean that in the very best way. These titles aren’t queer angst and one-note coming out stories. They’re full of complicated questioning, nuanced representation, a plethora of genres from horror to historical, great romantic tropes, and just generally 2.0 storylines, whether they hinge on intersectionality, queerness not being a marginalizing factor, or examining queer history in new ways. It’s a wonderful new wave, and I could not be more excited.
For even more new rainbow goodness, check out the sequels post for continuations of queer-helmed series by Audrey Coulthurst (Of Ice and Shadows, August 13), Alex London (Red Skies Falling, September 3), L.L. McKinney (A Dream so Dark, September 24), Rainbow Rowell (Wayward Son, September 24), F.T. Lukens (Monster of the Week, October 15), and Natasha Ngan (Girls of Storm and Shadow, November 5), and check out this year’s anthologies for lots more queer content!
Destroy All Monsters, by Sam J. Miller (July 2)
We lost Miller back to adult SFF for a minute so he could get nominated for a whole bunch of awards for Blackfish City. But now he’s back for his first YA since debuting with the stunning The Art of Starving, and I for one am thrilled to see him return. Keeping with his genre-bending roots, this sophomore YA follows best friends Ash and Solomon, who used to share the memory of a traumatic event until a fall took Ash’s memory. Now Solomon (who’s gay), is left to cope alone, and he does it by crawling into his brain more and more deeply until he threatens to lose himself entirely. Ash knows she has to pull herself out this by confronting the memory of what she’s been lucky enough to forget, and to face it together with Solomon, head-on.
Me Myself & Him, by Chris Tebbetts (July 9)
A seriously poor decision involving whippets and an ER visit kicks off this brilliantly crafted YA debut that’s bursting with so much personality, I honestly forgot for a minute that I wasn’t friends with the characters. When (openly gay) Chris Schweitzer falls on his face after huffing from whipped cream cans, he makes the mistake of spilling the truth about what happened to his nurse. From there, the story spins off into two different directions: one in which the truth came out and he’s shipped off to spend the summer with the father who abandoned him, and the other in which it didn’t, but he spends the summer in his hometown of Green River, Ohio, living under the threat that it might. The two tracks share constants—time is spent with his father regardless, as dear old Dad is getting remarried that summer, and, more importantly, Chris’s two best friends are taking their relationship to another level, leaving him a sad third wheel—but each story line has its own memorable major characters, fleshed-out setting, and secrets revealed, and getting to see both options of “what if?” feels like the cherry on top of the sundae.
Wilder Girls, by Rory Power (July 9)
I’m big enough to admit that this book utterly terrified me, and if that’s a selling point for you, get this on your to-read list immediately. Power nails the horror of her survival story debut, about a school of girls who’ve been quarantined after contracting a disease that presents in all different gory, debilitating, and generally fatal ways. Hetty is one of those girls, surviving on airdropped deliveries to the school and the two best friends who keep her sane. Then one goes missing, and Hetty is determined to find her, no matter how much danger she may face. But the secrets of their quarantine are so dark, and the more Hetty learns, the more she wishes she hadn’t. On the bright side, there is absolutely kissing.
The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World, by Amy Reed (July 9)
Billy and Lydia are both down-on-their-luck loners, an optimist and a cynic who balance each other out and keep each other sane in a world that threatens to swallow them whole. As things get weirder and weirder, their friendship becomes an anchor as they deal with the difficulties in their lives, the whirlwind around them, and the secrets that haunt them. (Lydia also happens to be a lesbian, in a sweet f/f romance.)
Please Send Help, by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin (July 16)
This followup to I Hate Everyone But You revisits best friends Ava and Gen years after the first book, bypassing the usual YA years to show them in post-college lives that are every bit as messy and confusing as they were back in their early days. Once again, there’s an examination of their changing lives and changing friendship, and the eternal question: can a friendship this close survive growing up?
Shatter the Sky, by Rebecca Kim Wells (July 30)
Do you love dragons? Do you love bisexual heroines in fantasy? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then good: you’re breathing. And you also need to get on this debut ASAP, so you can fall into the immersive worldbuilding and wish you had a dragon egg of your very own. It stars Maren, whose plans for a quiet life spent with her girlfriend Kaia are shattered when the latter is kidnapped by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to become one of them. The only way Maren can think to save her is become an apprentice to the emperor’s dragon trainer, so she can steal one of the dragons and rescue Kaia. But there are so many secrets in the world Maren is only just getting to know, and so much power she has yet to tap, and so many unknowns about what lies ahead….
Swipe Right for Murder, by Derek Milman (August 6)
Bring me alllll the thrillers! Including this sophomore novel about a gay boy whose attempt to find a hookup through an app leads him to a dead body and a mysterious flash drive. What’s worse, a case of mistaken identity means a terrorist group that targets anti-LGBTQ politicians has Aidan in their sights, and so does the FBI. Now he’s on the run from both friends and enemies, doing his best to dig further into the terrorist group’s agenda…and finding he doesn’t hate it all as much as he wished he did. It’s an impossible situation that only gets messier and messier as Aidan struggles to get out alive and do the right thing, whatever that may be.
Ziggy, Stardust and Me, by James Brandon (August 6)
Historical might be the slowest-growing of all YA genres for queer lit, so I’m extra psyched when a new voice dives right in. Such is the case in Brandon’s debut, set in 1973 against the backdrop of Vietnam and Watergate, when homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. Jonathan is sixteen, anxious, asthmatic, and a frequent target of bullies, with few places to go for solace. His favorite of all is his own imagination, complete with a hero in the form of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and conversations with dead relatives, including his mother, that help get him through. As he undergoes treatment to “fix” his being gay, Jonathan hopes for success that’ll finally make him feel normal. That is, until he meets the mysterious Web, who makes him want to be similarly fearless, and who makes him want to be exactly who he is.
The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart, by R. Zamora Linmark (August 13)
Fans of books that go above and beyond with creative storytelling had best flock to Linmark’s debut, set in a fictional developing Pacific Island nation called South Kristol and starring seventeen-year-old Ken Z, who meets a boy named Ran from the fancier side of the tracks in a shopping mall. What follows is a whirlwind courtship of first kisses, first love, and first devastation as Ran disappears, leaving Ken Z to wonder what happened, where Ran’s gone, and where he goes from here. Told through a mix of media, including haikus and lists, this is a love letter to both Oscar Wilde and to love itself.
All the Bad Apples, by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (August 27)
You may already know Fowley-Doyle’s skill with queer YA from Spellbook of the Lost and Found, but whether she’s a familiar fave or new to you, this book about women’s sexual and reproductive rights promises to make its mark. When Mandy disappears, her younger sister Deena knows she isn’t dead like everyone thinks she is; how could letters from Mandy herself keep showing up if she was? The letters contain information about a curse handed down through generations of women in their family, Mandy claims, and she’s taken off to find the source before it takes hold of Deena, too. Deena sets off on a cross-country hunt, determined to find her missing sister and guided by mysterious notes. But what’s at the end of this journey? And what if it’s something Deena really doesn’t want to know?
Stage Dreams, by Melanie Gillman (September 3)
You know what’s been missing from your life? I’m willing to bet “a queer Western graphic novel with a trans girl main character by a Stonewall honoree” is the answer. Luckily, Melanie Gillman is here to provide just that, with the story of Flor and Grace, an outlaw and a runaway who team up to take down a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. Their meeting isn’t the most conventional, given it’s a result of Flor robbing the very stagecoach Grace is using to run away, but when Grace hears of Flor’s plan of most necessary theft and destruction, it doesn’t take long before she’s on board.
The Truth Is, by NoNieqa Ramos (September 3)
Verdad may be brilliant, but she’s also a girl with a lot of questions, like “What am I?”, “What gender is that new kid?”, and “How do I go on and figure this stuff out when my best friend is gone?” It’s been just about a year since the movie theater shooting that changed Verdad’s life forever, and she’s still seeing her best friend, Blanca, everywhere she goes. It’s a comfort, really, especially as she clashes with another girl at school and finds herself questioning her sexuality more deeply than ever before when Danny comes into her life. Danny has his own traumas; he’s faced with a constant barrage of transphobia and scrutiny, and he and his entire friend group are comprised of queer kids who were kicked out of their homes. Verdad can’t relate to that part…until her mom catches her with Danny and Verdad finds herself moving in with her father instead. As Verdad struggles to acclimate to her new life, relationship, lessons, and identity, it may also be time for to finally let Blanca go so she can start moving forward. The voice is strong in this complex sophomore novel, but that’ll come as no surprise to anyone who lost themselves in Ramos’s The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.
We Are Lost and Found, by Helene Dunbar (September 3)
No stranger to queer YA, Dunbar (Boomerang) is back with her first historical, set during the AIDS Crisis in the 1980s. Michael’s already watched his brother, Connor, get kicked out of their house for being gay. He knows if he wants to escape the same fate, he’ll have to keep his mouth shut about his identity. But he’s already feeling completely wrung out between living in a homophobic house, being overshadowed by his best friend, and constantly worrying about AIDS, and he needs an escape. He finds it in The Echo, a club where he can dance away his feelings. But then he meets Gabriel, and he has consider whether his silence is worth the cost of the boy who might become his first love.
Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi (September 10)
The author of the massively critically acclaimed adult novel Freshwater brings their talents to YA with this story of a Black trans girl named Jam, who’s selectively nonverbal and growing up in the town of Lucille, where children are raised to believe that monsters no longer exist. But then how to explain Pet, a colorful horned creature that comes right out of a painting in Jam’s house with a drop of her blood? When Pet proclaims it has arrived to help get a rid of a human monster in Jam’s best friend Redemption’s home, the three set forth on a quest to get rid whoever inspired Pet’s arrival. But who is the lurking monster, what have they done, and how can they get anyone else to help them if all of Lucille keeps insisting its monsters are gone? In a major note of relevance, I believe this is the first mainstream-published YA starring a trans girl of color, so let’s hope we start seeing more to follow.
How to Be Remy Cameron, by Julian Winters (September 10)
You already know how delightfully Winters delivers cuteness from his debut, Running With Lions. Now you can watch him up his game with his sophomore novel, a rom com that explores the labels people put on us and how it affects the way we understand who we are. Remy is popular, out as gay, one of five Black kids in school, and adopted into a wonderful family. But when an AP Lit assignment forces him to describe who he is, he draws a blank. He knows what labels others put on him, but how does he see himself? The unexpected return of a very cute classmate and an even more unexpected message from his past just may be the first steps on his journey to finding out.
The Prom, by Saundra Mitchell, Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar (September 10)
Based on the Tony-nominated musical, this romance stars seventeen-year-old Emma, a lesbian who wants nothing more than to bring her secret girlfriend to prom. But said secret girlfriend, Alyssa (who’s a lesbian in the musical, but pansexual in this novelization), is firmly in the closet, as she has to be to maintain her seriously A-list status in their homophobic Indiana town. When the news spreads that Emma wants to bring a girl, the PTA (led by its president, who happens to be Alyssa’s mom) starts a crusade to cancel prom in order to cut her off at the pass. But then a couple of Broadway stars intervene and set everything awry, creating a huge publicity mess that isn’t good for anyone, except maybe themselves. They’ll all have to learn to work together to bring happiness to the couple and to the town, to make it safe for Alyssa to come out if she so chooses, and to make it a prom to remember.
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junauda Petrus (September 17)
Mabel is a sixteen-year-old girl living in Minneapolis, confused about her ex-boyfriend and the feelings she has for a girl. Then her father makes an announcement that’s about to rock her world: his best friend and said friend’s daughter, who’s been living in Trinidad until now, are coming for dinner. The daughter in question is Audre, who’s been shipped off to live with her dad since her religious mother caught her with the pastor’s daughter, who happens to have been her secret girlfriend. While she’s hopeful that her grandmother’s right that Audre won’t lose her roots, even in Minnesota, she has no idea what she’s in for in her new home. And neither of them is prepared for how strongly they feel about each other, or the trials they’re about to face together.
The Infinite Noise, by Lauren Shippen (September 24)
The host of the award-winning The Bright Sessions podcast is debuting in YA with a series by the same name, about three teenagers with supernatural abilities who all see the mysterious Dr. Bright, a therapist who specifically works with “atypicals.” One of those atypicals is Caleb, a champion running back dealing with extreme mood swings as the result of being an empath. Complicating things is Adam, one of Caleb’s classmates, who feels things hugely and somehow seems like a perfect fit for Caleb himself. What is there behind their connection, and why is Dr. Bright so in favor of it? Just one of the many mysteries running through this series that explores what would happen if the X-Men explored therapy instead of superheroism.
Rules for Vanishing, by Kate Alice Marshall (September 24)
How can you not love books where even the little description makes you shiver down to your bones? Told in the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project, this creeptastic tale follows a bi girl named Sara who must face down a ghost in order to find her missing sister. It’s been a year since Becca vanished while searching for the ghost of Lucy Gallows, an ill-advised game the bravest locals dare to play on the lone day a year a certain road appears in the forest. It’s supposed to be nothing more than a story, but Sara knows it’s real, and knows she has no choice but to follow the path to search for Becca. With her friends joining her, Sara begins the journey, but it’s far more terrifying and treacherous than any of them expected, and even if Sara does find Becca, there’s no guarantee that she herself will ever be able to return.
High School, by Tegan & Sara (September 24)
Why yes, that is a memoir from queer pop icons Tegan & Sara about their high school years. It goes back to their years as teens in Calgary, Alberta, growing up during the grunge era of the nineties and emerging as the icons they are now through a journey of identity and sexuality exploration, dealing with their parents’ divorce, academic pressures, questions about the future, struggles with drugs and alcohol, celebrations of love and friendship, and so much more.
The Last True Poets of the Sea, by Julia Drake (October 1)
This debut is a straight-up stunner that creeps up on you with every page until it’s completely consumed your heart and soul. It follows Violet Larkin, who’s spending the summer with her uncle in Lyric, the coastal Maine town founded by her famous ancestor, Fidelia, who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck. The summer is intended to put some space between wild, hard-partying Violet and her family, which feels more necessary than ever following her brother Sam’s suicide attempt. Wracked with guilt for ignoring signs of Sam’s deep depression, Violet becomes obsessed with the idea of finding the wreck, a dream the two of them had had as children. She enlists her new friends—including her sweet and gorgeous coworker, Orion, and the intensely brilliant Liv, who has her own fixation on the wreck—to hunt it down, but lands in a complicated love triangle that threatens to drown them all, if their mission doesn’t do it first.
Crier’s War, by Nina Varela (October 1)
Look, I can and will tell you the plot of this debut series opener, but can we all be honest about the fact that “slow burn enemies-to-lovers f/f fantasy” is all we really need to know? Or that you probably didn’t even to look past that stunning cover to know you’d sell an organ for it? Okay, now that we’ve been up front about that, meet Ayla, the human handmaiden to the Automae Crier, who plots to avenge the destruction of her family and people by killing the very princess she serves. And meet Crier, who was designed to be beautiful and perfect, but there’s a problem in her design, one she’d do anything to keep hidden. As Ayla learns there’s more good to Crier than she’d thought, and Crier learns there’s more evil to her father than she’d thought, the two are drawn together. But as war wages between humans and Automae, falling in love might just be the most dangerous act either could commit.
Now Entering Adamsville, by Francesca Zappia (October 1)
I happen to be of the opinion that Zappia is one of YA’s most brilliant and underrated authors (please go read Eliza and Her Monsters and tell me there is any arguing with that), so I am extremely thrilled to be able to include her in this preview for the first time. Her third book stars Zora, an asexual girl who’s framed for a crime she didn’t commit when someone sets fire to the school janitor’s house and kills him in the blaze. Zora’s innocent, but she has no idea who the real killer is, and in a town with a ghostly past, she only has so much time to solve the mystery before she becomes the killer’s next victim.
By Any Means Necessary, by Candice Montgomery (October 8)
For my money, Montgomery (who debuted with Home and Away) is rocking one of the very best voices in YA right now, and I fell in love with gay Black beekeeping college (yes, college) freshman Torrey from page one of this sophomore novel. It’s impossible not to feel for him immediately, when he gets a phone call while still in orientation that his beloved bee farm, left to him by a family member who meant so much to him, is in danger of foreclosure. Now Torrey’s thinking of picking up and moving home to fix things, but he doesn’t want to leave college, his new friends, or his new potential boyfriend behind. Can he handle it all? And should he even try, for a community that doesn’t seem to love him back?
Orpheus Girl, by Brynne Rebele-Henry (October 8)
Retellings of Greek mythology have made up some of queer YA’s most interesting offerings, and this debut take on Orpheus from award-winning poet Rebele-Henry promises to join their ranks. It’s set in a small, Conservative town in rural Texas, where myth-obsessed Raya lives with her grandmother and pines for her best friend, Sarah. Then Raya and Sarah are caught in a compromising position and sent to a re-education camp, setting Raya on a mission to save them both, regardless of the risk.
Tarnished Are the Stars, by Rosiee Thor (October 15)
Anna’s an outlaw with a secret: she’s the Technician, providing illegal medical technology to the sick and injured, despite the Commissioner forbidding it. Her newest patient, Nathaniel, has a big secret, too: he’s the Commissioner’s son, on a mission to capture the Technician. (He’s also discovering he’s aroace, by the way.) It’s a dangerous game, especially when Eliza, a deadly lesbian spy, enters the mix, looking for information on the Commissioner. But as she and Anna get closer, she begins to question everything, including where her allegiances lie. Soon, a tenuous alliance is formed between them, and when they discover a secret about a lethal epidemic, they’ll have to work together against the Commissioner powerful enough to end them all.
The Never Tilting World, by Rin Chupeco (October 15)
It’s getting almost impossible to keep track of all of Chupeco’s outstanding series, but vivid worlds, an intense magic system, well-drawn main characters, and queer girls in complicated love should ensure this duology opener stays on your radar. This fantasy, billed as Frozen meets Mad Max: Fury Road, is set in a world where twin goddesses have ruled for centuries, until one sister betrayed it all. Now there are two realms, one in which it’s forever night and one that’s a perpetual sunny desert, and each has a daughter…who doesn’t know the other daughter exists. When each one sets out toward the Great Abyss in order to repair their broken world, they face unimaginable dangers and romantic surprises. But that’s nothing compared to what awaits them if they finally complete their respective journeys….
Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (October 15)
It’s been a fantastic year for queer YA witches, and I can’t imagine a better way to bring in the spooky season than with a graphic novel about them! The star of this one is Nova Huang, who spends lots of time around spell books while working at her grandmothers’ New England bookshop. When Nova follows a tip on a white wolf into the woods, she finds the werewolf is none other than Tam Lang, her childhood crush. Tam needs help, and who better than Nova to provide it, especially if it helps bring them closer and find their feelings are as strong as ever?
Beyond the Black Door, by AdriAnne Strickland (October 29)
Ace fantasy alert! Kamai is a soulwalker, just like her mom, which means they can visit other people’s souls while they sleep. And while souls take on different forms, some of which are gorgeous and some of which are terrifying, there’s one constant for Kamai: the black door. It’s in every soul she sees, and she has no idea what’s behind it, because she’s always listened to her mother when she said to leave it be. Until now. When Kamai makes the mistake of touching and listening at the door, she’s lured into doing the only thing she’s forever been told not to, and she is not prepared for the dangers that await her and her soul on the other side.
Full Disclosure, by Camryn Garrett (October 29)
If ever there were a debut to watch, it’s this young author who’s been making a name for herself since she was firmly in YA territory herself. (Not that she’s too far out of it now!) This story, about an adopted HIV-positive girl falling in love and wanting to learn about sex for the first time, while also questioning her bisexuality as she reflects on the girl who broke both her trust and her heart, feels like it was written by a (brilliant, insightful) teen in all the best ways: it’s sharp, authentic, funny, romantic, real, and bursting with personality. Simone Garcia-Hampton has walked on eggshells as much as anyone with her directorial talent and bold personality can, but now she’s at a new school and she’s tired of putting life on hold, even if she has to work harder than ever to keep being positive a secret. When sparks ignite between her and Miles, Simone is thrilled to finally get to experience romance again for the first time since she was betrayed by someone she trusted. Then it threatens to happen all over again as a blackmailer warns Simone that if she doesn’t tell Miles about her status soon, they will. Now Simone has to decide who she can trust, what relationships are worth saving, and when it’s time to let go and live on your own terms.
All the Things We Do in the Dark, by Saundra Mitchell (October 29)
No, you’re not seeing double—that is the illustrious All Out editor with two books in this post, and yes, both have pansexual rep. This thriller centers around Ava, a girl who’s a lot of things: pansexual, a rape survivor, a girl who seems to be losing her best friend, and someone who’s falling in love for the first time. Unfortunately, the object of her affection is is the daughter of the cop next door, who can’t know that Ava’s found a woman’s body in the woods and decided to solve the murder by herself, rather than going to police.
I’m a Gay Wizard, by V.S. Santoni (October 29)
Don’t you just love when books can completely sell you with their title alone? Gay wizards are shockingly underdone in YA for how many exist in Harry Potter fanfiction, so seeing Santoni’s debut among the very first Wattpad Books is thrilling on several levels. Johnny is the titular gay wizard, a boy so into the idea of magic that he and his best friend, Alison, spend the summer messing with it. But when what should be a harmless pastime leads to them unleashing an earthquake, it stops being fun and games and starts drawing the attention of the Marduk Institute. Johnny and Alison look like perfect candidates for an organization that molds young wizards, and they don’t exactly have a choice; there’s no returning to normal life. Now Johnny and Alison have to get used to a life of monsters, magic, mayhem, and mayhaps even a couple of cute fellow students.
Call Down the Hawk, by Maggie Stiefvater (November 5)
Pynch fans, rejoice! Your faves are back in this new series, which kicks off with Ronan and his two brothers traveling to meet up with Adam at school. The focus of the series, though, is Dreaming, that powerful and dangerous skill possessed by Ronan that allows him to pull things from dreams into reality. Carmen’s brother was also a Dreamer, and she knows just how messed-up and deadly it can be. And then there’s Jordan, an art forger and a thief who’s chasing a Dream object. When their lives intersect, nothing will ever be the same again.
Dear Twin, by Addie Tsai (November 15)
When Poppy’s twin Lola disappeared, it was like losing part of herself; that’s how alike they looked. And now, with Lola gone, Poppy’s losing even more, because her father won’t let her out of his sight, no matter how badly she wants to go to college and just fit in. Poppy’s forced to reach out with her last hope: a series of letters to Lola, one for each year of their lives. If eighteen letters can’t bring Lola home, Poppy may as well kiss her own future goodbye.