We connect through stories. We share our experiences, build bonds with others, and validate our emotions and feelings. LGBTQ youth who are exploring their sexuality often turn to their peers, to media, and to books to feel understood.
Fortunately, there has been an explosion in quality young adult books featuring LGBTQ characters and telling their stories. There are nonfiction anthologies featuring the lives of gay people and creative prose exploring what it means to be gay as a teen. Here are our top eight picks for YA books for LGBTQ teens that are essential for your reading list.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth tells the story of a gay teen growing up in Montana. When her parents die, Cameron’s conservative aunt Ruth moves in, and Cameron is eventually sent to a Christian gay conversion center. This book was adapted to a film that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018.
“Much of the movie has a warm, surprisingly gentle summer-camp vibe considering the searing subject matter,” David Sims writes in the Atlantic. “It’s less interested in active rebellion and more in Cameron understanding her own emotional well-being.”
The themes around self-discovery are valuable for both LGBTQ students and teens coping with the loss of their parents.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was also developed in a major motion picture called Love, Simon. This book follows sixteen-year-old Simon who isn’t openly gay. He accidentally sends an email that risks putting him and his sexuality into the spotlight. Simon is pushed out of his comfort zone as he tries to navigate high school while attempting to maintain the level of anonymity he had previously enjoyed.
Fans who like this book will also enjoy Leah on the Offbeat, the sequel which follows Simon’s BFF Leah.
Meredith Russo is a transgender woman and author of the book If I Was Your Girl, the story of a trans student finishing up their senior year of highschool. Russo wrote this book for trans and cisgender readers alike. She even states in the authors note that she intentionally removed barriers for the cisgendered audiences and explained that “trans representation is not a monolith and there are as many different types of trans men and women as there are cis men and women and all are worthy and beautiful just as they are.” as the team at Dear Author reviews.
If I Was Your Girl follows the story of Amanda Hardy, who moves to Lambertville and leaves her past identity as Andrew Hardy behind. Amanda develops a strong group of girl friends and attracts the attention of a few boys. The year is spent trying to balance her desire to be anonymous with feelings toward one boy, Grant Everett.
Unlike Amanda Hardy in Russo’s book, Bill Konigsberg introduces his main character, Rafe Goldberg, as a token gay kid. His parents have always been supportive and he is active in the LGBTQ community. However, when he leaves for the prestigious Natick Academy in Massachusetts during his junior year, Goldberg takes on the identity of a straight kid in order to better connect with the other students.
Openly Straight reverses the traditional coming out story, but follows similar themes of feeling comfortable in your skin and learning what makes you happy.
In Let’s Talk About Love, Alice’s girlfriend leaves her when she finds out she’s asexual. Alice swears off dating, but then she meets Takumi and can’t stop thinking about him.
“When Alice came to me, she had already known she was biromantic asexual but didn’t know those specific words existed,” author Claire Kann tells YAPride. “I decided to set the story after that tumultuous period of discovery and self-acceptance because it definitely shaped how she interacted with the people she was romantically interested in.”
This book does a great job of bringing bisexuality and asexuality to light in a fun, rom-com-esque setting.
When Sarah Mitchell approached authors to create an anthology, the first thing she said was “tell me the story you wish you had when you were sixteen and write that story for me.” Additionally, all stories needed to take place before 1999 and the main characters had to identify as queer. The result is a collection of stories of LGBTQ people across all races, backgrounds, genders, and lifestyles.
“As a bisexual Latina, I am seeing a growing number of characters that represent one aspect of my identity, but never both,” Macey Lavoie writes in BUST. But the first story tells the story about a young Mexican woman who is queer.
This book is a #1 Amazon bestseller in the LGBT Issues category and voted the best nonfiction book for teens by both the New York Public Library and the Chicago Public Library. Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World shares stories of 23 LGBTQ people throughout history. There are some you might have heard of and others who are less common.
Sarah Prager, author of this book, uses it to bring light to queer stories and highlight LGBTQ heroes, many of whom had to downplay their sexuality in their time.
There’s sure to be a story you connect with in All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages.
Sassafras Lowrey created an anthology of stories of current and formerly homeless LGBTQ youth as a way to bring light to the realities of homelessness. These stories are meant to create a haven for survivors so they can tell their stories and help people understand that they need to heal.
Sassafras says this book is for those who “lost their friends, families and homes because of whom they love or how they define their gender.”
Kicked Out book is also an important read for allies who need to better understand the weight their LGBTQ friends and loved ones experience when coming out.
These are just a few YA books for LGBTQ teens and their allies to explore the different experience of various young adults across the country. Once you start flipping through these pages, you won’t want to put any of the books down!
Images via Amazon