Welcome to the first BUST installment of Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian! This is a column I’ve been running on my book blog for about a year, and I am really excited to move it to BUST and a larger audience! Basically, how it works is readers—just like you—send me an email (or tweet) asking for help finding your next favourite LGBTQ+ books. Then, I write you up a whole post with suggestions just for you! I’ve helped people find lesbian and bisexual dystopian YA, fat-positive LGBTQ+ books, novels with asexual characters, YA about trans characters that doesn’t focus on transition, books that are similar to Mariko Tamaki’s, and lots more! If you want to see what I’ve already done, have a look here. Here’s my latest request, one I’m pretty excited to share with you:
I have a 15-year-old daughter who seems to have a crush on one of her teachers. I sense that she feels very confused about it. Of course, I can't let her know that I know about this, but I can't stand that she is feeling so confused and possibly bad about it. I've managed to slyly get in a few comments here and there, but I don't want her to suspect that I know all about it. I thought maybe if I found a book dealing with this issue it would help. We have always been very open about any sexual orientation our kids might have, but it's probably a whole different thing when you begin to suspect that you might have different preferences than most of your peers. Anyway, I thought maybe you might be able to help think of a book that might touch on this topic (keeping in mind that she is a young 15). Thanks so much for your help!
Dear best mom ever,
Do you mind if I call you that? This was such an exciting request to get; it’s so heartening to hear of parents working so hard to support their LGBTQ+ kids! So kudos to you! Your daughter is lucky to have such an awesome mom. I was also super pumped to get this question because this is definitely a ripe area in queer teenage girl books: teacher crushes. Here are some suggestions:
So the book I immediately thought of when you emailed me was Skim by superstar cousin team Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. It’s a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about many things, one of which is that Kim, a.k.a. Skim, has a crush on her quirky, hippie English teacher Ms. Archer. Skim sounds heavy when you describe the issues it addresses—depression, teen suicide, angst—but it’s really an enjoyable, magical book that is never preachy and is wonderfully nuanced with the way it deals with, well, everything (including, spoiler, a brief kiss between teacher and student that is handled very well). The star in this book really is Jillian Tamaki’s utterly gorgeous, emotional, and intimate artwork. They communicate things words just cannot, and this is especially true even though Mariko Tamaki is truly gifted at writing teens who really sound like real teens, as well as dropping simple, poetic revelations about life. Winner of quite a few literary awards, Skim is unequivocally a beautiful and significant graphic novel.
Between You & Me by Marisa Calin sounds like quite an unusual book: It’s written in the format of a screenplay and often addresses a genderless "you" that is the main character Phyre’s best friend. The story, however, is totally familiar: when Phyre meets her new drama teacher Mia, she knows there is something special about her and starts to feel like she’s never felt before, for a teacher or a woman. Mia doesn’t understand her student Phyre’s feelings, but similarly Phyre doesn’t understand her best friend’s feelings for her, which are slowly revealed over the course of the novel—unlike the best friend’s gender, however, which is never disclosed. A mysterious book about adoring a teacher and finding love in unexpected places, Between You & Me definitely sounds worth your daughter’s time.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan features a young Persian lesbian named Leila who hasn’t told anyone that she’s gay. She hides her crush on her English teacher Ms. Taylor and doesn’t tell her friends that she doesn’t find the male science teacher every other girl likes very exciting. Everything changes when a mysterious new girl Saskia who doesn’t look like anyone else at her school arrives at her school, and in contrast to all Leila’s expectations, seems to like her back. But is Saskia all that she appears? And will Leila ever come out to her friends and family? Full of humour, a lovable protagonist, and a supportive teacher, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is a feel-good, readable coming-out book. Some readers have commented that this book sometimes feels more like a middle grade novel (preteen level), so it might be especially fitting for your daughter, as you say she’s a “young” 15.
Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler is a brand-new British YA book about Ashleigh, a girl who’s totally in love, just like in the movies: heart-stopping, all-consuming. She wondering, however, why she’s feeling this way about her English teacher, Miss Murray, instead of her actual boyfriend. In addition to coming out, this book also takes on tanking your final exams, falling out with your best friend, and some of the other stressful stuff regular teens have to deal with. Many readers praise the authenticity of the teen voice and the relationships, and the light-hearted comedy that balances some of the heavier issues.
Here are two kind of maybe recommendations, because they’re about students and teachers where the women are closer and in age and where the relationships actually turn romantic. Both sound very good in their own ways, though! Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger is the sequel to the much beloved YA classic Hard Love. Love & Lies follows lesbian character Marisol as she embarks on a gap year before college, intending to write a novel. She signs up for a novel-writing class, she falls instantly for her stunning teacher. But their eventual romance isn’t as storybook as Marisol hoped it would be, and she’s forced to wonder if love has been clouding her vision all along.
The only fantasy novel on this list, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, isn’t coming out until this fall, but it sounds really awesome. The student-teacher relationship is pretty loose in this one, the teacher being the main character Princess Denna’s fiancé’s intimidating older sister who is teaching Denna to ride warhorses in preparation for her coronation in her new homeland. Following a shocking assassination, though, Denna is forced to join forces with her teacher, turning their uneasy relationship to friendship and maybe something more. As conflicts escalate, the two girls wonder if they can save both their kingdom and each other. Doesn’t this sound amazing?
Also, just in case, here are a few suggestions of just general high quality, optimistic, affirming YA books with lesbian/bisexual girl characters. With the exception of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Robin Talley’s books, none of these are focused on being gay/bi and they also include straight characters, so they might be a nice gentle introduction to lesbian/bi themes. Again, except for The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Robin Talley’s novels, you could hand any of these to your daughter and she would have no idea it was a gay book until she was in the middle of it! These should all be very easy to get a hold of.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
Anything by Malinda Lo (she writes fantasy and science fiction)
Some of Libba Bray’s books: the Gemma Doyle trilogy and Beauty Queens
Lumberjanes comic book series by Noelle Stevenson & others
Anything by Robin Talley
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian is a Book Advice Column where you can send Casey your LGBTQ+ book related questions and recommendation requests. Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian” in the subject line.
Top photo: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
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Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian student who holds an MA in English literature and is currently studying for an MLIS in Vancouver, BC. Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Book Riot. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.