Queer lit is my favorite category of YA lit. Even as a heterosexual, cisgender woman, I still relate to these characters and am often moved by their stories. I think it’s important for queer readers to be able to find stories that reflect them, but I also think it’s important for all readers to seek out books with characters from backgrounds different from their own, too.
These are some of my recent favorites. There are lots of great older YA novels that feature queer characters—written by authors like Alex Sanchez, Ellen Wittlinger, and David Leviathan—but I wanted to feature books that had been published in 2012 or 2013 (listed in no particular order).
Winger by Andrew Smith
Though Ryan Dean West, the “loser” hero and title character of Winger, is definitely not gay (he spend a lot of time thinking about “hot” girls), his best friend Joey is. But Joey isn’t your stereotypical gay sidekick friend and his character arc isn’t typical. He’s rugby player who’s out, even though it earns him some flack from certain teammates. I highly recommend this book—see my review here.
Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie
Matt is struggling with the death of his brother TJ and living with his strict military father when TJ’s personal effects arrive. While his older brother was serving in the military, he was also in a relationship that Matt and his father knew nothing about, and Matt takes it upon himself to deliver the last letter TJ wrote to his lover, only to discover it was a man, not a woman. This novel features an authentic teen guy voice yet still had me teary throughout. You can read my full review here.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
Guys, I love this book so much. Cameron’s parents die in a car accident the same day she first kisses a girl, and so she is raised by her born-again Evangelical Christian aunt. When Cam’s aunt discovers she’s kissing girls, she’s sent to a conversion therapy camp. I reviewed this book on my blog here, but also posted a photo essay at The Hub when it was nominated for a Morris Award.
Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed
This is a soap-y, drama-filled story with a large cast of characters that is like Downton Abbey for YA. One of those characters is gay. Though this isn’t perhaps the best example of queer YA, I did have a lot of fun reading this book and it was the first time I’d read a historical YA with a queer character (though it figures less into the overall story, Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys also features a gay character). You can read my review here.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
This is going to be released this fall and has been promoted heavily (Featured both at ALA Midwinter in January and BEA last week). I finished it while on a plane, and the flight attendant said, “that must have been good,” because I was all weepy. I told her it was about a girl in Tehran in love with her best friend who considers having sex reassignment surgery because while loving someone of your own sex is illegal and punishable by death, sex reassignment surgery is sanctioned and even funded by the state. She was very intrigued by the story, as was the bartender at the airport bar and the person I sat next to on the plane, who all asked about it. I loved being able to spread the word about this book, because I really loved it. I’ll review it closer to the publication date.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This is just a beautiful love story. Read my review here. Actually, just go read the book.
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
Astrid sends love to the passengers of planes flying over her house because she doesn’t know what else to do with it. I haven’t yet reviewed this book because it’s hard to put into words how awesome it is.
The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick
This book had my heart racing. The unreliable narrator and ambiguous ending were fascinating to me. This is different than other queer YA novels because it isn’t about coming out and it isn’t a romance. This is one of two 5 star reviews I’ve given on Goodreads this year and that’s out of over a hundred books (I’ve had lots of 4 star reviews , but only this and Dark Triumph earned 5 from me, because 4 = great read, 5 = mind blown). See my full review here.
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman
This is a moving collection of poetry about the hate crime perpetrated against Matthew Shepard in 1998. I reviewed it here.
Drama by Raina Telegemeier
A middle grade graphic novel about a girl with crushes on boys and a musical theater obsession. What’s not to love? It’s nice to see a book suitable for younger readers that deals with coming out. See my review here.
There are some notable novels I haven’t included because I haven’t yet read them, and some that have supporting gay characters even if queer issues aren’t at the forefront of the story, like Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore or Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta.
What are your favorite LGBTQ YA novels?
8 thoughts on “10 YA Novels with LGBTQ Characters”
Mine came out last fall. It’s a historical adventure featuring a biracial trans character and his sweetheart. “Jack” by Shannon LC Cate, from Musa publishing.
Fab list! I recently picked up Winger and Aristotle & Dante so I’m glad to see them represented here. Loved Ask the Passengers too. Adding The Sin-Eaters Confession to my TBR right now!
Have you read J.H. Trumble’s books? There’s a series of three companion books beginning with Don’t Let Me Go that are wonderful. (oops! leaving this in but I see Estelle rec’d them to you too) Openly Straight is another one I’m reading now that’s really good.
Levithan is one of my fave authors but yes, he could have a list all to himself :)
I really need to read Winger. Really. I would say my favorite book for this topic would be Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz. It doesn’t come out straight-up as a LGBTQ book, but it’s pretty obvious if you stop to think about it. Moskowitz seems to have this as a recurring theme in her books.
Oh my goodness! I didn’t know some of these had LGBT themes, and now I definitely want them more. The ones I’ve read I loved. Hadn’t heard of October Mourning, but I’m adding that to my to-read list!
Here’s a recommendation: Golden Boy by Audrey Tarttelin. Reading it now and it’s amazing. About an intersex boy. Just so, so good.
October Mourning is just soooooo moving and beautiful. I hadn’t heard of Golden Boy, but I totally put it on hold at the library! It hadn’t popped up on my radar because it was ordered for the adult collection, but it sounds like it has major crossover appeal. I loved Middlesex, but it sounds like a different take. Thanks for mentioning it!
I LOVED Winger, Drama, and Aristotle & Dante… all fantastic books.
So glad you made this list! Absolutely fantastic. When I was younger I don’t remember any LGBT books and I’ve come to so appreciate them. One of my favorites from last year was “The Difference Between You and Me” by Madeleine George, and there’s also: “Between You and Me” by Marisa Calin where you don’t know the sex of the one of characters. ALSO I just tweeted this to you but I am in love with JH Trumble’s work. So connected to her characters and addicted to her stories.
I don’t think I realized LGBT themes were in Winger and Ask the Passengers. These are two books I’ve just bought/received that I am dying to get to soon. Thanks again for doing this. So excited to see these books get more attention.
(Oh wait, I forgot Beautiful Music for Ugly Children… that came out last year and it’s a favorite.)
Thanks for sharing JH Trumble — hadn’t heard of them!
I don’t think it’s obvious from the jacket copy or marketing that WINGER and ASK THE PASSENGERS have queer characters/themes. Which is great, since many people might not be looking for queer books but will find and enjoy those titles, but I also like to promote those titles and make them easier for those who are looking for queer books to find them.