22 YAs That Get it Right: LGBTQA Edition

LGBTQ YAWelcome to another edition of YAs That Get it Right, which is all about YAs that truly nail an element of the teen experience. In honor of Pride Month, today is all about LGBTQIAP+ YA, brought to you by those who know it best. A few of these were pulled from earlier posts to make sure we’ve got all the best of the best in here, so if you’re looking to fill your LGBTQA YA collection, here’s the perfect place to start. Happy Pride Month!

Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley
No one aspect of our identities exists in a vacuum, and as a queer woman of color, I look for books that reflect the intersectionality of our lives. Two mainstays on my shelf: Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves and Dahlia Adler’s Under the LightsLies We Tell Ourselves shows us a pivotal moment in history, the desegregation of American schools, and the often brutal path students like Sarah Dunbar walked as they moved their communities closer to equality while also just trying to live their lives. Under the Lights takes us inside an industry that helps define what our society considers beautiful, and the process of how actor Vanessa Park comes to embrace all aspects of who she is. Both offer emotionally vivid portrayals of racism meeting homophobia, external and internalized, and of racial identity intersecting with queer identity.
–Anna-Marie McLemore, author of When the Moon Was Ours

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
I can’t say enough great things about Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. Although the magical school aspect was a great hook, it was the budding, volatile relationship between Baz and Simon that pulled at my heart and kept me up late reading. The love or hate, hero or villain, kill or kiss dynamic worked perfectly, and made me fall in love with the characters over and over again.
–Alex Kahler, author of Shades of Darkness

Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
Ever been in love with a closeted girl? Well, I have. And I can tell you for a fact that Tess Sharpe’s Far From You captures perfectly the peculiar blend of elation and anguish unique to that particular experience. Add to it the bitter grief of violent loss and the protagonist’s struggle with chronic pain and drug addiction, and you have a murder mystery so rich with character depth that you feel as if the events are close and real. And to top it off, Sharpe’s writing style is a joy to read. Just make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy.
–Mary Elizabeth Summer, author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and Trust Me, I’m Trouble

More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera
I find most stories about cisgender gay guys relentlessly tedious, but More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera is not most stories. Set in the Bronx and filled with an almost completely black and Latin@ cast, it’s a gut-wrenching examination of the complications, compromises, and rough edges of life as a queer boy that the traditional white, middle-class gay male narrative glosses over. There is a place in queer literature for unrealistic hopefulness (I’d be out of a job if there weren’t!), but stories as raw, visceral, and real as this one are also incredibly necessary.
–Meredith Russo, author of If I Was Your Girl

Under the Lights, by Dahlia Adler
When I think about LGBTQ YA books that get it right, I always come back to Dahlia Adler’s Under the Lights. Not only does it feature a lovely, nuanced bisexual/lesbian relationship and deal with the complex emotions of coming out, but it’s one of the first books I read with an on the page sex scene between two girls. I can’t express how much I could have benefited from seeing a healthy sexual encounter between two girls in a book when I was a teen. Even as an adult, it was personally groundbreaking. It affirmed that queer girls, just as much as straight girls, deserve to experience sex in a way that is comfortable and safe and where they feel loved and desired. For queer girls of all ages, that is a priceless representation.
–Ashley Herring Blake, author of Suffer Love and the upcoming How to Make a Wish

More Than This, by Patrick Ness
In More Than This, Patrick Ness gives the reader a puzzle box to sort through. It begins simply enough with the drowning of a young man in America, who later wakes up in the house he grew up in as a child, an ocean away in England, where it seems as though the world has come to an end and he may be the lone survivor. Throughout the novel, though, what’s real and what isn’t is revealed by carefully rediscovered pieces of authentic memory, which put together a terrible portrait of loneliness and alienation, and the truth behind the drowning. Has the world ended? In a way. What Patrick Ness narrates in this novel is the experience of discovering you’re gay, and how you can be abandoned or alienated when others discover that as well. While the novel explores the harsh emotional realities of coming to grips with a world that hasn’t been entirely friendly to LGBTQ people by way of its metaphors, it’s a necessary dash of cold water to be reminded how difficult being different—and vulnerable—really can be.
–Christopher Barzak, author of Wonders of the Invisible World

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth
This is the book I wish I’d had growing up as a closeted teenage lesbian in a decidedly non-progressive part of the United States. This novel is so realistic in its portrayal of what Cameron’s life is like, and what it simply feels like to be Cameron, that reading it feels like reading a really honest, really articulate teenage girl’s diary. (Maybe that’s why some parents have tried to ban it in schools, actually—the book is “dangerous” because it’s so full of truth.)
–Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves, What We Left Behind, and As I Descended

I know I’ve talked about this book before, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post got romance right between the narrator and the reader. I could tell even though the main character grew up in a different time, place, circumstance than me, she understood feelings that I thought only I had. It is a queer book by a queer writer and feels so authentic because of that. A beautiful love letter of a book.
–Sara Farizan, author of If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Hold Me Closer, by David Levithan
I’ve noticed a pattern in which stories centered on queer boys stray from stereotypes. By this I mean that gay, bisexual, and pansexual male protagonists rarely have high-pitched voices, rarely are flamboyant, rarely love fashion, and so on. I think this is because masculine queer boys are seen as more “palatable” to the general public, but I worry that others are being neglected and even shamed because of it. That’s why I love Hold Me Closer: its protagonist Tiny Cooper (of Will Grayson, Will Grayson) is loud and musical and calls himself a “big gay butterfly.” He doesn’t treat his sexuality as a small part of who he is. He fits some stereotypes, but they are a natural part of his personality. Yes, stereotypes can be harmful when lazily applied to a whole group, but in many cases they are not inherently bad. They should be engaged with, not hidden. Hold Me Closer does exactly this.
–Michael Waters, blogger at the B&N Teen Blog

This Song Is (Not) For You, by Laura Nowlin
This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin is what I’ve been waiting for ever since I first learned there was a term for asexuality—a warmhearted, fun contemporary read that shows an asexual character who can form great relationships with people and has the support of those around him. I loved it, wished it had been around years ago when I was a teen, and am extremely happy that ace teens can read about a character like this.
–Jim, blogger at YA Yeah Yeah

Honor Girl, by Maggie Thrash
Honor Girl, Maggie Thrash’s graphic memoir, perfectly captures the excitement and anxiety of a first queer crush. Set in 2000, in a Southern camp for girls—a camp with daily prayer and vague civil war reenactment exercises, in addition to the traditional activities of camp—the memoir explores female friendship in a variety of ways, but what I loved most was the sense memory of what it feels like to have your first crush. At turns awkward and sweet, Thrash recounts the moments of thrill and insecurity as she struggles to figure out how she feels, at the same time as she tries to decipher if cool, older camp counselor Erin is actually interested in her romantically. The budding crush is tender and painful in all the ways first crushes are, and Thrash nails the confusion of a 15-year-old trying to read the intentions and interest of an older girl. Thrash deftly explores the fear of discovery that can accompany the first steps toward coming out, even to one’s self, but tempers it with enthusiastic and supportive reactions from true friends. For another fresh exploration of first relationships and being true to yourself, check out Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, and her main character, Esme Rockett, aka MC Ferocious, a Jewish lesbian lyricist in an all-girl hip-hop crew, in love with her beautiful Desi co-MC, MC Rohini.
–EM Kokie, author of Radical

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
One of my favorite LGBTQ+ YA novels is I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. A magnificent and moving tale of twins trapped in a love-hate relationship—with each other, with their parents, and frequently with themselves—it is nothing short of triumphant. Nelson’s prose is lyrical, her imagery sublime, and her depiction of a sensitive, artistic, and emotionally driven gay teenager negotiating his way through first love is beautifully and thoughtfully rendered. Nelson portrays the unfolding romance, a delicate give and take of coded acts and hidden meanings, with intimacy and a pitch-perfect sensibility for her characters. The representation is spot-on, and the novel as a whole exquisite.
–Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving

Lizard Radio, by Pat Schmatz
Set in a futuristic, gov-controlled camp designed to control and unify its charges (something that may feel familiar to many of us), Pat Schmatz’s Lizard Radio cleverly explores the non-binary experience. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to finding my transmasculine, genderfluid self on the page; the sense of queerness and otherness and rejection of the binary even whilst you’re stuck existing within it is spot on. Add in fierce crushes, friends willing to accept you for whoever you are, sticking it to the man, and some truly beautiful language, and you can see why I’ll be recommending this one for a long time to come.
–Fox Benwell, author of The Last Leaves Falling and the upcoming Kaleidoscope Song

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King
Other people might need your label more than you. In A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers, Astrid is dealing with the wallop of being in love, while the rest of the world—including her parents and closest friends—are aggravated that she hasn’t come out to them. Is she a lesbian? Bi? How long has she been this way? Oh heavens, what box to put her in! Astrid is flat out annoyed by everyone’s preoccupation—she’s just trying to figure out if she’s in love. And for me, that hits the nail right on the head.
–Cori McCarthy, author of Breaking Sky

About a Girl, by Sarah McCarry
About a Girl by Sarah McCarry is beautifully unapologetic—in its mythic scope, brash lyrical loveliness, and depiction of two girls falling for each other in an epic way. McCarry brings dizzy-perfect gravity to descriptions of Maddy and Tally’s relationship, using a brew of science, mythology, and perfectly grounded real world details. For those looking for f/f stories with sex scenes that don’t fade to black, welcome to your new favorite book. Also: that cover.
–Amy Rose Capetta, author of Entangled and the upcoming Kiss/Kill

Not Otherwise Specified, by Hannah Moskowitz
Hannah Moskowitz isn’t just one of my favorite authors, she’s also the author of Not Otherwise Specified, one of the few books I feel really nails what it means to be queer.  In Not Otherwise Specified, Etta is a bisexual girl who’s ostracized by her lesbian friends for not being “gay enough,” and yet doesn’t seem to fit in with her straight friends, either. With this book, Hannah painfully and accurately depicts the questioning, confusing part of being a queer teenager in a way few authors have managed to do, and it’s also one of the few books that tackles bisexuality honestly instead of treating it as a transitory state between straight and gay.  If you’re serious about queer YA, you need to read this book.
–Shaun David Hutchinson, author of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley and We Are the Ants

Anything Could Happen, by Will Walton
“When I first read Will Walton’s debut Anything Could Happen, I was blown away. Immediately, I recognized in the narrator Tretch Farm the hope, anguish, and considerable energy that defined my own teenage years. As Tretch searches for belonging as a gay teen in a small Southern town, he comes up against something I think anyone can relate to: unrequited love. And yet, even as the book tackles universal themes, Tretch is such a specific character: he’s endlessly optimistic, ready to bust a move to any pop song, and has strong opinions on the sexual subtext in The Great Gatsby. He’s that rare character I want to hang out with—and probably someone I would’ve had a massive crush on in high school.”
–Peter Knapp, agent, New Leaf Literary & Media

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, by Sara Farizan
What I love about this book is that it’s insightful, charming, and extremely validating for someone like me. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is about being torn between identities and feeling like an outsider—Leila, being the only Iranian and the only lesbian at her school (as far as she knows; she admits her gaydar is terrible), doesn’t quite feel like she fits in anywhere—but it’s also about friendship; family; love and its depths; Iranian culture; the headache that is high school; and, most importantly, how people are so much fuller, so much more complex, than you could ever imagine.
–Marilla Mirak, Blogger at Gay YA and Editorial Intern at Entangled

Wonders of the Invisible World, by Christopher Barzak
For me, growing up gay in a family of straight people (a funny way of phrasing it, but that’s the heart of the matter) meant trying to find myself in precedents—in previous generations, in fiction. Christopher Barzak’s Wonders of the Invisible World—a gay love story, magical and wise—nails the scary but empowering moment when you realize you might be unprecedented, but your history is no less a part of you for that.
–Andrew Harwell, Senior Editor at HarperCollins

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
The beauty of Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is in its honesty. It’s a remarkably accurate book about what coming out looks and feels like, but just as we queer teens have more to contend with than coming out, so does Simon—flirtatious, grammatically correct emails with an anonymous boy from school and theatre and Oreos and blackmail and friendships. This is the book that prompted me to come out to my mom; this is the book that will help so many people, teenagers or not, prepare for life outside the closet; this is the book that first made me comfortable, proud, and happy to be gay.
–Mark O’Brien, Editorial Intern at Entangled

Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith
I’ve never read anything quite like Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle—but not because it’s about the end of the world or giant man-eating, sex-crazed humanoid bugs. It’s because in the midst of all that chaos, Smith manages to dissect and explore the confusion and heartache of teenage questioning. Is our main character bisexual? Is he gay? Straight? I think what this book does best, what Smith does best, is eventually makes the reader stop caring one way or another and consider the idea that love overrides it all. Even during the apocalypse.
–John Corey Whaley, author of Highly Illogical Behavior

Brooklyn, Burning, by Steve Brezenoff
When I say Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff saved my life, I don’t say that lightly or metaphorically. When I was 16, I was just figuring out I was nonbinary, trans, and queer, and I wanted to die. Brooklyn, Burning, on more than one occasion, stopped me from making a plan to kill myself. Brooklyn, Burning is a love story in which neither of the characters are ever gendered. (In my mind, they are quite clearly both nonbinary, based on things said in the book. However, others have read it differently!) Before I read it, I thought I was too freakish for anyone to love or respect. I wasn’t even sure if people like me deserved to exist. And then along came this book: a physical thing I could hold in my hands and say here—here I am. I exist, I’m worthy of love, I do deserve respect. And ya know what else? People like me get to have happy endings. Not only do we get to live, it’s also possible for us to live happily. And if I just hold on long enough, maybe I’ll get that happy ending, too.
–Vee S., Founder of Gay YA

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