Pride and Less Prejudice: LGBTQ+ Books for Teens

We’ve come a long way from the hubbub over Heather Has Two Mommies— the 1989 picture book about lesbian moms that became one of the most challenged books of the 1990s. Books no longer simply assert that gay parents — or gay people, for that matter — merely exist.

In our post-DOMA, Caitlyn Jenner landscape, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning kids star in stories of all kinds — and kids of all kinds are seeking them out, to see a reflection of their own lived experiences, in all its diverse glory. These YA LGBTQ+ books are a beautiful batch of rainbow stories — with those characters front and center (i.e. decidedly not the stereotypical sidekick) or queer characters that do things above and beyond being gay.

You know, more like real life.

no no 9780593616390 The Breakup List by Adib Khorram

Jackson Ghasnavi, a non-romantic stage manager, finds himself grappling with unexpected feelings for Liam, the leading man of the school musical. But isn’t Liam straight? Should he be having feelings for the same guy his sister does? Despite all this, Jackson can’t help feeling like there’s a connection. This is a slow burn romance like you’ve never read before!

9780593530498 Just Another Epic Love Poem by Parisa Akhbari

Best friends Mitra and Bea share a diary where they write their deepest secrets. That is until Mitra’s emotions for Bea evolve from friendship to something more. This beautifully crafted and poetic love story is ideal for those who adore poetry and believe in the power of romance.

RELATED: Queer YA Romance Reads Teens Will Love

9780425288504 Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz is silly in tone and sci-fi in genre. The main character, Felix, is, incidentally, gay. His grandparent is, incidentally, gender fluid — and goes by the neutral name Grandy. The plot centers on a scientific mishap. But the LGBTQ characters in this book are by design.

The author, Lisa Bunker, is herself a trans woman. She wrote, “Felix represents the start of my long-term project as an author to create good stories featuring LGBTQ characters without that being The Point, in hopes of expanding readers’ definition of the word ‘normal’ in an empowering and inclusive way.”

9780593354599 The Quiet and the Loud by Helena Fox

George puts herself last and everyone else first. Through the story, she tries to juggle the weight of healing from the abuse her father caused her, having a best friend who’s about to become a mother, and caring for her family, all while her city, Sydney, Australia, goes up in flames due to climate change. A healing, cathartic story with lyrical writing and a message of hope that readers will surely adore.

9780525425892 We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

This quiet, poetic book is a moody meditation on grief and friendship with serious queer undertones. LaCour is no newcomer to LGBTQ themes — Everything Leads to You and You Know Me Well were about queer relationships — but We Are Okay didn’t start out with a queer story line. As LaCour told Pop Sugar, “Once it was in there, then I really enjoyed exploring it, especially Mabel’s sexuality because it is really fluid. I don’t define them in the story. I don’t label them. Personally, I like ‘queer’ the best because many people are very fluid and that’s the term that I feel most comfortable with. I think it’s a really inclusive term. That Mabel is currently in a relationship with a guy and has been in a relationship with Marin, I wanted to really explore how both of those relationships matter a lot to her and they were both equally as valid.”

9781616956929 History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Another beautifully written heartbreaker on love and loss, this YA novel by Adam Silvera (his second) will give readers all the feels. The main character, Griffin, has lost his ex-boyfriend, Theo, in a terrible accident — and is piecing his life together in the aftermath, on top of his OCD. Silvera has crafted a nuanced gay love story. He told Entertainment Weekly, “I wanted to just show that bisexuals exist. If [Theo]’s not 100 percent sure, that’s also important. He’s at the age where he’s figuring out his sexuality, and he’s just currently identifying as bisexual. Maybe at 20, if he’d been around to be alive, he would have identified as just gay.”

9780399556258 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

This is summer love, with a twist or two. The main character, Maeve, is managing serious anxiety when she learns that she has to make an unwelcome move to Vancouver to live with her father, an alcoholic, for several months. Once there, Maeve also meets and falls for Salix, who is anything but anxious. The dynamics in Maeve’s new life are complicated to say the least. Kirkus puts it thusly: “Her story provides a much needed mirror for anxious queer girls everywhere.”

9781524738266 Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

Millie Quint has had enough of Texas. Or perhaps more specifically, she’s had enough of her sort-of-girlfriend making out with someone else. Understandably, Millie jumps at the chance to attend an elite Scottish boarding school, where she’s assigned a room with Flora, an actual Scottish princess who’s a total snob and paparazzi magnet. But as the two begrudgingly get to know each other, they realize their first impressions were mistaken, and Millie starts to wonder if there might be a happily ever after in her future after all.

9780735227422 A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

A queer YA mystery-thriller by three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award Malinda Lo, who is perhaps best known for her lesbian retelling of Cinderella, Ash. A Line in the Dark centers on three queer girls — Jess Wong, Angie Redmond, and Margot Adams — and the blurry lines between friendship, love, and obsession. It’s a dark, dramatic tale that Lo pursues readily. And she told the queer women’s blog Autostraddle, “I know that in the past (and sadly sometimes now), lesbians have been written stereotypically as predatory and villainous. Those stereotypes are decidedly harmful, but I believe it’s important to reject them not by writing solely morally pure and good queer characters in response, but by showing queer characters in all their human complexity.”

RELATED: Captivating YA Thrillers To Read This Summer

9781101939536 Odd One Out by Nic Stone

Nic Stone crafts a complicated and empathetic love triangle between Cooper and Jupiter, childhood best friends, and Rae, the new girl in town. Told through each character’s point of view, Odd One Out reminds readers that sexual identities and desires are completely individual to each person. In an interview with PBS Books, Stone says she wrote Odd One Out because it’s a book she could have used in her teens: “I’ve encountered a lot of kids who were dealing with these questions of attraction and romance … How do you deal with wanting to kiss your best friend but not knowing if your best friend wants to kiss you back? What about consent? There are so many things kids are dealing with, especially in high school. So, it’s a love letter to a younger me.”

9780525516255 Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

A delightfully entertaining read, this coming-of-age queer romance features the highs of first love, the lows of first jobs, and a group of costumed teens determined to save their amusement-park workplace. Jennifer Dugan crafts a fully realized, complex bi character in Lou Parker — AKA “the hotdog girl” of Magic Castle Playland — and the rest of the crew (including a pirate, a princess, and a carousel operator) are equally charming. Becky Albertalli, author of the beloved YA rainbow read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, called herself “wrecked with love for this funny, joyful, bighearted book.”

9780593376423 Nate Plus One by Kevin van Whye

From the author of Date Me, Bryson Keller comes another adorable boy-meets-boy rom-com that will steal your heart. Music, a destination wedding, and secret crushes combine into an irresistibly feel-good story about two best friends falling in love.

9780307931894 Every Day by David Levithan

A is a teen who wakes up every day in a different body, living a different life. This seems to work for A until he meets Rhiannon and everything changes. David Levithan’s novel is so creative and accurately depicts what it feels like when you don’t know where you belong and how grounding it can be to find the people who make you feel like you’re home.

9780525555278 Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

History and romance collide in this award-winning and bestselling novel about two girls who fall in love in San Francisco in the 1950s. Lily and Kath bond over their mutual love of math and science. Kath tells Lily about the Telegraph Club, and they agree to meet there. As the girls fall for each other, they face opposition to their relationship and identity. This book will give you all the feels!

9780451480347 These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Rather than the beginning of a new relationship or the start of questioning one’s sexual identity and preferences, Isabel Sterling offers up a story about the aftermath of a queer relationship — set to the backdrop of a thrilling, witchy mystery. “Many YA novels tackle falling in love for the first time,” Sterling writes, “but far fewer (especially at the time I was drafting back in 2015) deal with breakups, particularly for queer girls. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins was one of the first YA novels I read where an established couple breaks up, and I really loved that. When it came time to write These Witches Don’t Burn, it was really satisfying to explore the messiness of a breakup.” Even as exes, Hannah and Veronica work well together, protecting Salem from the dark magic of a Blood Witch.

RELATED: Witchy YA Books Sure To Put a Spell on You

9780593094655 Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky

A poet, artist, and LGBTQ+ rights advocate, Alok Vaid-Menon, doesn’t see the world in black and white, They see the world in full color! A world where people have the opportunity to express themselves however they want. This book is a great resource, demystifying what it means when gender is malleable and empowering readers to live their most authentic selves.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2024.

The post Pride and Less Prejudice: <br>LGBTQ+ Books for Teens appeared first on Brightly.

Related Post