If you need some F/F romance novels to round out your TBR this year, we’ve got you covered with the 20 must-read lesbian YA books on the list below. Although they aren’t technically all F/F pairings, as there are some nonbinary main characters and love interests thrown into the mix, these sapphic romances all feature a lesbian main character, lesbian love interest, or both.
Lesbian YA books have a long and storied history. Until the latter half of the 20th century, F/F romance novels were almost always written for adults and often fell under pulp fiction’s purview. Books like Spring Fire, Odd Girl Out, and The Third Sex were cheap offerings from small publishers — called “pulp” novels because of the low-quality paper on which they were printed. Their stories almost always ended in tragedy.
Those trends continued in lesbian YA books until Nancy Garden published Annie on My Mind in 1982. The novel centers on Liza and Annie, two New York City teens whose friendship develops into something more and ultimately leads to a scandal at Liza’s flagging prep school. Although the girls break up once their relationship becomes public knowledge, the novel ends with Liza and Annie realizing that they still have feelings for one another and making plans to meet again — a far cry from the suicides and mental health crises that plagued lesbian pulp fiction!
Here are 20 must-read lesbian YA books you can read right now:
Must-Read Lesbian YA Books
Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler
A cheerleader with big dreams struggles to make everyone happy after two major shakeups, in Home Field Advantage. If she wants to make cheer captain next year, Amber needs to prove that she can keep both the Atherton Alligators and her fellow cheerleaders upbeat and on-task — a feat that’s easier said than done in the wake of quarterback Robbie’s sudden death. Amber sets her sights on making sure new QB Jack gets a warm Atherton welcome. Nothing in high school comes easy, however, and when Jack turns out to be a football-playing girl, Amber suddenly finds herself forced to choose between supporting Jack and making cheer captain.
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
Alexandria’s mother left the planet knowing she’d never return. Now, Alexandria spends her nights searching for incoming transmissions from outer space — messages that might prove her mom is still alive somewhere. When she sustains an injury that prevents her from conducting her nightly ritual, she’s forced to ask Ryann — a girl whose offer of friendship she previously spurned — for help. Her parents’ untimely deaths crushed Ryann’s dreams of becoming an astronaut, and she’s just as bitter as Alexandria. Together, the two girls bond over Alexandria’s search for evidence of her mother’s existence, in K. Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars.
How to Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow
How to Excavate a Heart centers on Shani, a young college student who is, to put it mildly, not having a good time. Her first-ever girlfriend just dumped her, she’s about to start a taxing freshman internship, and she can’t stop thinking about the girl she saw on her first day in D.C. Then she meets the girl who’s been on her mind … and everything changes. If you like romances with Jewish lesbian main characters snowed in on Christmas Eve, this is exactly the F/F book you need on your nightstand.
Afterlove by Tanya Byrne
Tanya Byrne’s Afterlove follows Ash, a recently deceased teenager, as she searches for the girl she was forced to leave behind. Grim reapers aren’t supposed to contact anyone they knew in life, and that’s the first rule Ash is determined to break. She can’t bear to move on with her new “life” without seeing Poppy one last time. There’s just one problem: Poppy can see Ash, which means she’s going to be reaped soon. Can Ash save her grieving girlfriend’s life?
The One True Me and You by Remi K. England
Two teens get a chance at love when a beauty pageant and a fandom convention book the same hotel on the same weekend, in The One True Me and You. If everything goes according to plan, attending GreatCon will give Kay a chance to freely explore their gender identity and sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Teagan is gearing up for the Miss Cosmic Teen USA pageant and realizing how little she and the other contestants have in common. A chance run-in sees Kay and Teagan bond quickly over their love of fandom, their shared archnemesis, and their mutual attraction. Neither is ready to come out to their friends and family, but they may soon find themselves with no other choice.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Things aren’t exactly easy for Leila. A Persian American teen from a traditional family, Leila made a huge discovery about herself over the course of the summer: she likes girls. She’s happy to keep that secret under wraps until she’s out of high school — or maybe just forever. When a new student with a devil-may-care attitude becomes the object of her affection — and even seems to return her feelings — Leila must confront the realization that she may have to come out of the closet before graduation, in Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel.
Cheer Up: Love and Pom-Poms by Crystal Frasier and Val Wise
Cheer Up: Love and Pom-Poms centers on a pair of ex-BFFs who unexpectedly reunite during their senior year of high school. Annie needs a diversified portfolio of student activities to get into her dream school; joining a sports team is the obvious solution. Signing up to be a cheerleader will put Annie back in Bebe’s orbit, however. They haven’t truly been friends since Bebe transitioned and started hanging out with the popular kids, but now Bebe’s holding a space for Annie on the cheer squad. Is it possible for these two to repair their broken friendship?
Friday I’m in Love by Camryn Garrett
Mahalia’s 16th birthday has already come and gone, and she’s got major regrets in the wake of her wealthy BFF’s blowout Sweet Sixteen. That won’t stop Mahalia from throwing a party of her own, however. She’s planning a giant Coming Out celebration for herself — an affair she and her mother really can’t afford. Friday I’m in Love follows Mahalia as she tries to raise money for her dream party, sort out her feelings for a new classmate, and weather the less-than-affirming reactions from people in her church community.
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
From the author of The Henna Wars and A Million to One comes Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating. When she came out, Hani didn’t think her friends would refuse to believe her. Yet here she is, making up a fake relationship to get them to accept her bisexual identity. Unfortunately, Hani made the mistake of naming an actual person — unpopular overachiever Ishu — as her girlfriend. Convincing Ishu to go along with her lie is easy, but keeping their fake relationship fake may not be.
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
Leah Johnson’s Rise to the Sun centers on Olivia and Toni, two teenage strangers who find love in the unlikeliest of places. Autumn promises to bring big changes to both girls’ lives — senior year for Toni and the first semester of college for Olivia. Each is still reeling from a recent loss when she attends the Farmland Music and Arts Festival. The last thing either one of them expects is to fall in love in the wake of personal tragedy. Will they be ready to say goodbye when the festival ends?
Flip the Script by Lyla Lee
Flip the Script is the perfect lesbian YA book for K-drama fans. The story here centers on Hana, an up-and-coming actress who’s just landed her first leading role. When the series’ ratings underperform, the showrunners create a fake relationship between Hana and Bryan, her K-pop idol co-star, while simultaneously onboarding Minjee to play Hana’s on-screen rival in love. Before long, Hana’s caught in a love triangle on screen and off, as Bryan begins to fall for his fake girlfriend … and she starts pining for Minjee.
She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick
Alex can get just about anyone to like her. That’s why her girlfriend left her — she’s just too flirty and inconsiderate. Alex desperately wants to win her ex back, so she decides to help a fellow college freshman — the hopelessly awkward Molly — land a date with her crush. The more time she spends with Molly, however, the more Alex begins to question whether she really wants to help her become someone else’s girlfriend, in She Gets the Girl.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
It’s the height of the Red Scare in San Francisco, and 17-year-old Lily understands the importance of keeping a low profile; she and her Chinese American family are already suspected communists, by virtue of their ethnicity alone. She certainly doesn’t need to arouse more suspicion by frequenting a bar known to be a lesbian hangout. Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Lily and her best friend Kath as they take refuge in the eponymous establishment, where society’s prejudices seem to melt away.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Casey McQuiston’s YA debut is I Kissed Shara Wheeler. Chloe has spent the last four years trying to be a model student at Willowgrove Christian Academy. With the valedictorian honor squarely in sight, all her hard work is about to pay off. Only one person stands in her way: the principal’s daughter, Shara, who happens to be one of Willowgrove’s most popular students. Chloe is ready to take her fight for valedictorian all the way to graduation, but Shara has other plans. She kisses Chloe and then runs away, leaving her classmate to track her down before the senior class dons caps and gowns.
She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen
A basketball star and a cheerleader hatch a plan to get revenge on an ex, in She Drives Me Crazy. Scottie’s in a real funk. Her girlfriend broke up with her and changed schools, then Scottie’s team lost to hers. To make matters worse, Scottie’s just been roped into carpooling with the worst person she knows. Cheerleader Irene is their school’s resident HBIC, and even her good looks can’t make up for that. But she could be just the person Scottie needs to get back at her ex — by fake-dating Scottie in a jealousy plot for the ages.
Girls Who Lie Together by Jessa Russo
Jessa Russo’s Girls Who Lie Together centers on Ren, whose ill-fated joyride in her stepfather’s car lands her a stint in a work program for wayward teens. There, she grows close to a girl named Brit, only to be torn apart when they’re forced to return to their previous lives. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ren also has to change schools for senior year. Cue up the shock of her life when she realizes that she hasn’t lost her first love forever — not yet, at least. Brit is the meanest girl in Ren’s new school … and she has a boyfriend.
Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches by Kate Scelsa
Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches follows 17-year-old Eleanor, who swore off love a year ago when she lost her girlfriend and her social circle in one fell swoop. She doesn’t need anyone or anything else … or so she thinks. Everything changes when Pixie comes along. Pix is part of a coven of teen witches trying to save their hometown of Salem, MA, and she’s prepared to extend a welcoming hand to Eleanor. But can Eleanor shake off her cynicism and accept the coven’s offer of friendship?
Six Times We Almost Kissed by Tess Sharpe
Penny and Tate’s moms hoped their daughters would be BFFs, but things never quite turned out that way. Forced to do things together all their lives, Penny and Tate maintain a simmering animosity for each other. Their resentment may soon heat up to a full-fledged boil, however, because their moms are planning to move in together for the duration of a medical crisis. Penny and Tate have always hated each other, so why do they keep getting into pseudo-romantic situations? Find out, in Six Times We Almost Kissed.
Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
A disgraced witch makes a love bargain with a living font of magical power, in Sweet & Bitter Magic. Wren cannot do magic, but she can fuel witches’ spells — an ability that should have forced her to join the Coven at an early age. Unable to bring herself to leave her sick father’s side, Wren has spent years hiding her talents. When her father contracts a magical disease, Wren turns to an exiled Coven member for help. Ever since Tamsin was cast out, the only love she has been able to feel is what she steals from others. Wren is prepared to give Tamsin her love for her father in exchange for ending the plague, but fate may have other plans for the girls.
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu’s Mooncakes follows a teen witch detective named Nova as she investigates a supernatural mystery surrounding her childhood friend. Nova had a huge crush on Tam when the girls were younger. Now, someone’s hunting down werewolves, and it looks like Tam might be their next target. As they work together to stop the malevolent force stalking the wolves, the two girls find themselves falling in love all over again.
What are lesbian books called?
Lesbian books go by many names: F/F, sapphic, WLW, etc. But what do all of these terms mean, specifically? Here’s a quick breakdown.
An F/F book is a romance that features two female characters in a relationship with one another. You will also see “F/F” used in fanfiction spaces to indicate that the story contains a same-sex pairing between female characters.
Some lesbian books are labeled “sapphic,” in reference to the Greek poet Sappho. According to Book Riot’s Danika Ellis, “Sapphic includes lesbians, bisexual women, and nonbinary people who align with the term.”
Finally, a book designated WLW will have a female main character who likes women. She may be a lesbian, or she may also like people of other genders, but she will not necessarily be in a relationship with a woman — or anyone else — over the course of the novel.
What is the earliest lesbian literature?
Sappho of Lesbos’ love poetry is certainly the earliest well-known body of literature devoted to lesbian relationships. The word “lesbian” means “from Lesbos,” and, specifically because of Sappho, it’s used in reference to women who are sexually attracted to other women.
It’s difficult to pin down what, exactly, the earliest lesbian literature was to be published in English. Until the late 1920s, it was quite common for women in the English-speaking world to carry on long-term sexual and romantic relationships with other women without arousing suspicion. Perhaps the most pivotal reason for this was that many men did not believe women knew about homosexuality. A discussion of criminalizing female homosexuality in Britain stalled out in the House of Lords in 1921 for this very reason. MPs argued that doing so would “[make] public to thousands of people that there was this offense,” which, they claimed, “of every 1,000 women, taken as a whole, 999 have never even heard a whisper of.”
All of that changed in 1928, when English author Radclyffe Hall published The Well of Loneliness: a coming-of-age novel about a so-called sexual invert — a 19th-century term for homosexual — who openly pursues relationships with other women. Hall’s was not the first novel to contain erotic overtones between female characters, but it was the first to garner widespread attention. If British citizens had not been aware of lesbianism before The Well appeared in stores, they most certainly were in its wake.
What is a lesbian ship?
A “ship” is a fandom term used to refer to a pairing of two or more characters. A lesbian ship, therefore, is a ship in which one or more of the involved characters is a lesbian.
Is Girls of Paper and Fire a lesbian story?
Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire is an F/F romance novel. The story follows Lei, a peasant girl from the marginalized Paper caste, whose beauty attracts the attention of the king himself. Stolen from her home and trained to be the king’s courtesan, Lei wrestles with her conflicted feelings over her new life — and her intense attraction toward another girl in the king’s harem.
Is Girl, Serpent, Thorn a WLW book?
Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn centers on Soraya, a bisexual princess exiled from court because of a curse that enables her to kill with a single touch. Although this is a WLW young adult novel with romantic elements and an F/F pairing, it is not a romance novel.