Young Adult (YA) novels have always been some of my favourite books to read. Sometimes I’ve pretended that my book choices have been for the sake of research, since I’ve always been involved in youth work with teenagers, but the truth is I genuinely love this genre. I love the intensity of the drama, I love the character development, and I love the ability to tell diverse stories for real human teens. So naturally when I was coming out at the age of 30, I delved heavily into YA media with queer representation. I’ve tried to keep up with the new stuff, although over even the past 5 years, there has been so much more than ever before.
Last summer, our intern Lyds and an amazing volunteer, Jeanette, worked hard to help me annotate the books that we had read and add them to our “Youth and Children” library section. As we created this bibliography, we asked for suggestions and reviews from youth in our online GS group, but never fully highlighted this sweet resource until now. What better time than August to narrow down some choices for your summer reading? Here are our top 10 choices for YA fiction with LGBTQ+ representation.
Note: The books below represent a wide variety of queer and racial identities, and are recommended to diverse age groups within the “Youth/YA” category. Some of the books deal with heavy themes and content, so please watch for trigger warnings.
10. I’ll Give You the Sun
The point of view in I’ll Give You the Sun pivots between two twins – Jude and Noah – who were once as close as best friends, but grew apart to the point of not speaking. As the story jumps between voices and time, we begin to piece together the whole story, and realize the importance of multiple perspectives outside of our own. This novel has been a favourite among many of the avid queer youth/YA fiction fans in our community.
This was the first novel I ever came across that featured an intersex character. Since reading None of the Above, I have made a list of a handful of others, but it remains a unique and necessary story of Krissy, a 17-year-old who discovers she is intersex at her first pap smear. Gregorio, the author of this novel, is a surgeon who wanted to represent an intersex experience and educate youth and YA about sex, gender, and the existence of intersex community and resources. This book does exactly that without losing its narrative flow. Trigger warnings for some very serious betrayal, sexism, misogyny, and transphobia.
Gabe is a trans boy who only presents his true self on radio airwaves, so it makes sense that his story of self-discovery, friendship, fandom, and discrimination is woven together through musical analogies and references. It’s refreshing to not only have trans teen representation, but also a lead character who is a hopeful role model for young readers of every gender.
This is a fast and easy read; it’s an adorable romance that also manages to explore a number of important themes such as sexuality, fidelity, racism, identity, and family. The characters in this novel strike a balance between flawed and loveable, inviting readers to see themselves also as loveable people with different perspectives who make horrible mistakes.
6. Happy Families
Tanita S. Davis
In Davis’ Happy Families, twins Ysabel and Justin are both given voice as they process and come to terms with their father’s coming out as a transwoman. In youth/YA fiction in particular, it is unique to have the younger characters in the story come to understand sexuality and gender identity through their parent’s experience. The family in this story is African American, making it a unique tale that avoids the common tropes of popular LGBTQ fiction. This book does indeed try to tackle a lot, but Davis manages to make it both accessible and appropriate for a wide range of readers and families. I think that this would make an especially good book for a family to read together and spark conversations.
Emily M. Danforth
This is my absolute favourite queer YA novel, but it’s down at #5 because some of Danforth’s themes and content are a bit heavy for some of our readers. Some of the youth and young adults who read this also complained about wishing there was some clarity around the ending of the book, but I don’t want to say more about that because of spoiler potential. What makes this book so enjoyable is the way the that the setting and characters are so richly described. What makes it important is the way that Danforth does not shy away from difficult themes, such as conversion therapy, grief, and self-harm.
Albertalli has a real gift for writing from the perspective of a teenager. Simon is a thoughtful and hilarious character who is a joy to read, as he navigates an online relationship, being blackmailed by someone who threatens to “out” him, and the inevitable drama of a tight-knit friend group in high school coming to terms with their differences. While this book is certainly an engaging gay romance with an element of mystery, it is also just as much about the complexities and beauties of friendship. I would confidently recommend this novel to nearly anyone at any age.
George is a easy-to-read chapter book that makes a gentle and fantastic introduction to transgender realities for young readers. It is a sweet story of a trans girl who discovers some truths about herself, and builds the courage within to show the world her true self. I particularly love that this story has relatively little drama, and for the most part is a simple story full of hope, empathy, and self-discovery.
Juliet Takes a Breath is the story of a young Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx who navigates some massive culture shock when she moves to the ultra-white, feminist land of Portland. This book tackles Juliet’s realizations/processing of sexuality, gender, independence, culture, race, values, and relationships, giving the reader a chance to do the same. It is an incredibly engaging novel with a diverse cast of characters who easily come to life off the pages.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This was an easy choice for our #1 pick because when I asked the Generous Space Youth for queer reading suggestions, this was the most agreed upon book. What is especially interesting about this choice is that Aristotle and Dante is relatively slow-moving. There is a plot, but it often takes a backseat to Aristotle’s internal dialogue, shown to us through his journal, which reflects a richly believable teenage boy with so many questions and issues. This is a beautifully written story about two outsiders who feel enough at home in their friendship to learn and grow together.
Check out the Books for Children and Youth section of our library for more recommendations, searchable by themes and age-appropriateness, and watch for new additions in the future! We’d love to hear your suggestions too – please comment below or tweet @generousspace with your favourite LGBTQ+ themed books for children and youth using #LGBTbooks.