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LGBTQ+ young adult literature has come a long way since I’ll Get There, It Better be Worth the Trip by John Donovan was published in 1969. I’ll Get There is widely considered the first young adult book to specifically focus on gay characters, and after its publication, gay characters slowly trickled into mainstream literature. Young LGBTQ+ readers are now, more than ever, able to see themselves in the literature they are reading, showing them that they are not alone.
The list below is a sampling of positive portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community in young adult literature, including gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, gender fluid, and asexual characters. Because of their variety and sincerity, these books make excellent reading material for Pride Month!
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
In his debut novel, Adam Silvera creates a layered story dealing with depression, suicide, and homophobia and features a highly diverse cast of characters. As Adam Soto, the main character, struggles to find happiness again after his father’s suicide, he finds solace in a new friend, Thomas, when his girlfriend goes away for the summer. But as his feelings grow more complex and confusing, he thinks the only way he can truly find happiness is by erasing his memories of Thomas to make himself straight and rid himself of his pain. Moving and heart-wrenching, More Happy Than Not is definitely a must read.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
When one of Simon Spier’s classmates gets his hands on a string of Simon’s private e-mails, he threatens to reveal Simon’s biggest secret to the entire school: he’s gay. Simon now has to navigate the dating world while keeping his blackmailer happy so he isn’t outed before he’s ready. What I find most appealing about this novel is the very real fear that Simon feels about being outed without his consent, a fear that many LGBTQ+ individuals experience, but is not often portrayed in fiction.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
After her parents die in a car crash, Cameron is forced to move in with her conservative aunt and her grandmother. Cameron befriends Coley Taylor, and the two form an intense friendship that is on the verge of becoming something more—until Cameron’s aunt tries to “fix” her and forces her to go to a “conversion camp.” Beautifully written, Danforth’s exploration of homophobia, non-accepting family members, and “conversion camps” will resonate with a variety of readers. This book is especially timely given the current political climate—California Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) recently introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Act which would ban so-called “conversion therapy” in the United States, despite having a Vice President who is openly anti-LGBTQ+ and who supports “conversion therapy.”
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
This is probably one of the earlier depictions of bisexual characters in young adult literature, and when it was published, it was famously banned from a school in Oklahoma for “lesbian content.” The book deals with a group of three girls, Mel, Avery, and Nina, who have been friends since they were young. Nina returns from a summer trip and catches Mel and Avery kissing; now, the three friends have to navigate new territory. Johnson creates a realistic situation, depicting the fluidity of the sexuality spectrum despite the very real threat of bi-erasure.
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
This book is the most recent (it was published just this last week), but I had first heard about it while working at Booklist. Natasha “Tash” Zelenka goes viral when her series, “Unhappy Families” (a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina), gets a shout-out from another famous vlogger. When she’s nominated for an award, her cyber romance with fellow vlogger Thom Causer might become real—if she can figure out how to tell him that she’s asexual. What caught my eye was the fact that the main character is asexual. Asexuality is one of the least represented identities from the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and this book even identifies Tash as asexual right in the description. Ormsbee’s novel gives hope that more portrayals of asexual individuals will make their way into mainstream media.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills
Since coming out as transgender, Gabe has found that not many people understand or are accepting of his identity, a situation many transgender teens find themselves in. The only solace that Gabe finds is in the radio show he runs, and is able to connect to other teens like him. Though many are hesitant to read this at first because the author is cisgender, Kristin Cronn-Mills has been praised by some transgender readers on Goodreads for her realistic portrayal, giving Gabe, and many other teens, a voice.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
I believe that I may have included this book in another article I wrote, but it’s one of the best (and only) representations of gender fluidity I have read, and represents the expanding language of the LGBTQ+ community. Garvin refrains from ever giving Riley a gender identity outside of being gender fluid, and gives readers a positive representation of dealing with mental illness, especially anxiety disorders.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Whereas a lot of LGBTQ+ fiction deals with the main character coming out and coming to terms with their identity, this book is different in that Henry Denton is out, and has the acceptance of most of his family. Most of his struggles come from his mental illness, including hallucinations of alien abductions. Henry’s journey and struggle with depression, anxiety, and self-acceptance is realistically portrayed and envelopes the reader for the entirety of the novel.
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block made her mark in the young adult world by publishing the Weetzie Bat series back in the late 1980s. In this novel, Block uses her talents to once again create a captivating world and featuring a strong female hero not afraid to take on the world. After the city of Los Angeles was destroyed, Pen sets out into what is now wasteland in order to find her family, guided by her tattered copy of The Odyssey. What follows is a fantastical and surreal journey, showing Pen her own strength. Block’s dystopian retelling of The Odyssey is all engrossing, and her portrayal of diverse sexual identities, especially bisexuality, is equally brilliant.
I am J by Cris Beam
Beam’s book features the transition of a transgender boy who is biracial—something that also doesn’t happen often in young adult literature. Beam’s story is realistic and also captures what it’s like to be transgender in the foster system. At the core, I am J is about the complexity of identity, reinforced by the time and effort Beam put into creating an authentic story.
These books just give a brief snippet of what is available within the genre. More resources can be found from the American Library Association, the Lambda Literary Awards, and the Stonewall Book Awards.