LGBT teens often don’t see themselves in the coming-of-age books that are taught in schools. Here are 15 YA novels that fix that:
1. When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid
For Jude, life is one big movie set. Using his mother’s heels and make-up, he’s ready for his part. He’s got the love interest, the best friend, and the antagonist all in place. All that’s left is to watch the drama unfold. Jude is a feel-good character set in an authentically gritty world. Publisher’s Weekly calls the book “a no-holds-barred view of teenage sexuality and bullying.” The novel has been optioned for a movie, so read it before you see it!
2. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Hazel and her brother Ben grew up in a town deep in a haunted forest, where humans live alongside faeries, monsters, and a horned boy asleep in a glass coffin. The love interests within The Darkest Part of the Forest are meant to be a surprise, but the solid love that works throughout this novel is the strong sibling bond between Hazel and Ben. Black balances serious topics using realistically cruel or caring, scared and courageous characters with fantastic elements that make the novel a fun and worthwhile read. “What begins as a freewheeling romp becomes, in Black’s capable hands, a genuinely moving meditation on grief, falling in love and growing up,” writes the New York Times.
3. This is Not a Love Story by Suki Fleet
At fifteen, Romeo is homeless, mute, and bullied by older kids. Julian, a seventeen-year-old runaway addict, gets by selling himself in the red light district. He’s not any better off than Romeo, but he vows to take care of him anyway. But as they attempt to get off the street together, they both have to be strong.
4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kulin
Using interviews and family photos, author and photographer Susan Kulin brings us the true stories of six transgender and gender neutral teens with uniquely different backgrounds and multifaceted identities. This is the perfect read for those wanting to know how it feels to be a gender minority youth in this country.
5. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash
This funny and heartfelt memoir follows fifteen-year-old Maggie during one momentous summer at a Christian summer camp for girls when she develops feelings for a slightly older female counselor. “Honor Girl” is an award bestowed upon a camper who embodies the spirit of the camp. Maggie wants this honor, but has to decide what kind of example she really wants to set. Also check out Rookie, for which Thrash is a regular contributor.
6. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Meet Leila Azadi, a self-described “Persian scaredy-cat” who knows she likes girls, but isn’t ready to come out to her peers or her conservative Iranian-American family. But a crush on the new girl at school challenges Leila’s resolve to stay quiet about who she really is and what she really wants. Booklist recommends this “empowering romance featuring a lovable, awkward protagonist who just needs a little nudge of confidence to totally claim her multifaceted identity.”
7. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
More Happy Than Not is a New York Times bestseller set in the near-future Bronx. Sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto is tempted by a memory-erasing procedure that could help him forget his father’s suicide and the confusion brought about by his new friend Thomas.
8. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
From the author of Fangirl comes a Harry Potter-like story about Simon Snow and Baz, his vampire roommate, who are both attending the Watford School of Magicks. And one (or both) of them just might have a crush on the other. Enjoy this LGBTQ-positive, fun, and magical read named one of the best books of 2015 by Time magazine, Barnes & Noble and NPR, among others.
9. Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall
Alyx is an intersex fifteen-year-old who was raised as a boy, but identifies as a girl. When she earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, she has to prove her gender or else her team will be disqualified from competing in the state championships. According to Kirkus Review, Double Exposure is “informative without being either dry or sensationalistic” in handling the complicated issues surrounding intersexuality.
10. Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
This is the sequal to Better Nate than Ever, recommended for a younger audience—ages 10-14—about a small-town theater kid who gets his shot on Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, says, “The Nate series by Tim Federle is a wonderful evocation of what it’s like to be a theater kid. Highly recommended.”
11. What We Left Behind by Robin Talley
High school sweethearts Toni and Gretchen head off to two different colleges where, of course, everything changes. While in high school, Toni identified as genderqueer, and the two still considered theirs a lesbian relationship. At Harvard, transgender friends lead Toni in a new direction, and Gretchen wonders if she’s being left behind. The Guardian raves, “The book truly does confront the issue of sexuality in a groundbreaking way that isn’t weird, it isn’t taboo, it’s just life.”
12. For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu
Before he was born, Peter Huang’s parents immigrated from China to Canada and attempted to shed their old country’s traditions while starting a family. Peter’s father wanted a son, and after two daughters, he finally got one. Except, Peter wants to be a girl. This quiet but epic coming-of-age tale about immigration and gender expectations goes off in surprisingly adult directions that include sex and violence. It’s a recommended read for older teens and adults to explore the influence of family, culture, and one’s community and what follows you when you try to run away.
13.The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson
This is a tear-jerker partial graphic novel about a boy who loses his family in an accident which leaves him injured. He lives in a hospital and falls for another patient. The title refers to the five stages of grief, which Andrew undertakes as he mourns the loss of his family. It would be surprising if this doesn’t make it onto the big screen.
14. Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler
Ash Walker is rather bored by her own life and disinterested in school and the pending question of what to do after she graduates. Even her boyfriend doesn’t excite her the way she thinks he should. Then, a replacement English teacher, fresh from college, prods Ash to actually start caring about something, but it’s more than just the subject matter she takes an interest in.
15. Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton
Megan inflicts silence on herself after an accident involving a friend. If she speaks, the truth might come out, and she can’t risk it. So she takes the bullying, the taunting chants of “freak” by classmates as well as the internal voice assaulting her with blame. When positive and pretty Jasmine starts to lure her out of her isolation, she worries what will happen if her secret is revealed? From first time novelist Abbie Rushton comes a tale of trauma, love, and what it means to have a voice.
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