Looking for the best in lesbian fiction? We’ve picked out the 20 best WLW young adult books for you below, from classic fantasy to contemporary coming-of-age stories.
Diversity in publishing still has a long way to go before we see everyone’s experiences represented equally on the page, but LBGTQ+ narratives have become steadily more commonplace in recent years. At a time when roughly 1 in 10 teens ages 13–17 identifies as LGBTQ+, it’s no surprise that YA fiction, with its strong focus on coming-of-age narratives and contemporary stories, represents the fastest-growing marking for queer stories.
It wasn’t always like this, however. YA’s first same-sex kiss appeared in John Donovan’s 1969 novel, I’ll Get There: It Better Be Worth the Trip, in which two teen boys share a chaste kiss that neither leads to romance nor ends their friendship. While that may not seem particularly revolutionary, it’s important to remember that, for much of the 20th century, it was commonplace for books to simply kill off queer characters — often via suicide, as in The Children’s Hour and The Bell Jar.
Although it drew criticism from many corners, I’ll Get There opened the doors for more teen literature that dealt openly with homosexuality. Writing in The Library Quarterly, Christine Jenkins observes that “[t]he rate of publication” of queer YA “has steadily increased” since 1969, with roughly two titles per year published between 1969 and 1984, four titles per year between 1985 and 1992, and eight titles per year between 1993 and 1997. Jenkins goes on to note that YA trends offer insight into society’s changing perspectives. Because queer YA contains only content considered appropriate for teenagers, she writes, “this body of literature … may be read as both history and literature.”
Below, the best WLW young adult books to read now.
Best WLW Young Adult Books
How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy
A sexual harassment scandal threatens the college dreams of two teen witches in Aislinn Brophy’s How to Succeed in Witchcraft. The Brockton Scholarship offers a life-changing tuition payment for one lucky student at T.K. Anderson Magical Magnet School. This year, Shay and Ana are both determined to win it — so determined, in fact, that they join the school play just to get on their drama teacher’s good side. Mr. B is the head of the scholarship committee, and impressing him could mean the difference between attending a prestigious university … or not going to college at all. But when Mr. B begins making inappropriate overtures toward Shay, she isn’t sure she’ll be able to come forward without risking her future.
The Lost Coast by A.R. Capetta
Danny and her mom didn’t move to Tempest for any particular reason. At least, they didn’t think they did. Once they arrive, it becomes clear that someone wanted them in Tempest — namely, the Grays: a coven of queer witches who summoned Danny to the town. One member of the coven has disappeared, and Danny may be the only person who can find her, in The Lost Coast.
The Scapegracers by H.A. Clarke
When the three most popular girls in her high school offer to pay her $40 to cast a creepy spell at their Halloween party, Sideways Pike accepts. It’s more than the sodas she usually gets in exchange for her magic tricks, and she doesn’t have to hide out under the bleachers to do it. The Scapegracers follows Sideways as she falls in with the clique-turned-coven. Together, the four girls hex the toxic boys in their school and try to find a girlfriend for Sideways in their spare time, in this truly magical WLW novel.
Dreadnought by April Daniels
April Daniels’ Dreadnought follows Danny, a trans teenager who inherits the eponymous superhero’s mantle, only to find that her new superpowers come with some unexpected — but not necessarily unwanted — side effects. Now fully transitioned, the formerly closeted Danny finds herself thrust into a brave new world of downright weird social interactions. She’s got bigger problems than coming out, however. The supervillain who killed her predecessor is still at large in the city, hell-bent on world domination. Can Danny balance her responsibilities as the new Dreadnought with her new life as an openly transgender teen?
The Black Queen by Jumata Emill
Everyone loved Nova Albright. That’s why she was crowned Lovett High’s first Black homecoming queen. So when she’s murdered on prom night in what appears to be a blatant hate crime, her devoted BFF, Duchess, sets out to collar her killer. Duchess knows Tinsley MacArthur murdered Nova. An ultra-popular white student, Tinsley was all set to follow in her family’s footsteps by becoming the fourth girl in her family to wear the crown. So why does Tinsley want to help Duchess investigate Nova’s murder? And why won’t Nova’s police-officer father acknowledge the white girl’s obvious motive? Find out, in The Black Queen.
When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
From Upright Women Wanted author Sarah Gailey comes When We Were Magic: a coming-of-age story about six teenage witches who band together to protect one coven member from murder charges. Alexis didn’t mean to kill her prom date — in truth, he wasn’t even the person she really wanted to go to prom with — but that doesn’t make him any less dead. Things get worse when the girls’ attempt to magically dispose of the corpse leaves them holding various pieces of the boy’s body, they have no choice but to dispose of him, as well as pieces of themselves, bit by bit.
We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammond
D.C. native Avery didn’t expect to spend her senior year living in Bardell, GA with her cantankerous, estranged grandmother. It doesn’t even seem as if Mama Letty wants Avery and her mom to move in. The old woman’s chilly welcome pushes the teen into the bosom of new friendships with two local girls — one of which soon turns into something more. Slowly, Avery begins to uncover the roots of her mother and grandmother’s fraught relationship, along with a few other secrets Bardell doesn’t want to see the light of day, in We Deserve Monuments.
A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar
A Million to One is the WLW YA heist novel you’ve been waiting for. The story here centers on four women — Josefa, a thief; Hinnah, a contortionist; Violet, an actress; and Emilie, a forger — who board the famed RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage. Going to America isn’t the goal for this quartet, however. They’re on board for one thing and one thing only: to steal an ostentatiously adorned copy of the Rubiyat that’s making its way to a new owner across the pond. This is a tale of high-seas adventure, derring-do, found family, and budding love, all rolled into one.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Certainly one of the quietest books we’ve ever read, Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay follows Marin, a college student, who abandoned her life and loved ones in San Francisco after her grandfather’s death. She’s spent the intervening months in New York, where she’s enrolled in college. Even now that the holiday season has arrived, however, Marin’s staying in her dorm room rather than contacting anyone back home. But Marin’s former best friend, Mabel, is coming for a visit. Over the course of Mabel’s short stay, the secrets of Marin’s past — including why she left without saying goodbye — are revealed.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Victoria Lee’s work of dark academia finds two students at an all-girls school searching for the truth behind a series of mysterious deaths. A year ago, Felicity suffered the tragic loss of her girlfriend. She returns to the Dalloway School to spend her senior year in Godwin House — the abandoned dormitory that was once the site of five students’ grisly deaths — only to find herself sharing the space with Ellis: a precocious literary star who is on campus to research her next book. Dalloway and Godwin House still have their secrets, and it’s up to Felicity and Ellis to unlock them, in A Lesson in Vengeance.
Ash by Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo’s Cinderella retelling is a classic WLW young adult book. Ash centers on its eponymous hero, an orphan convinced that being stolen by the fairies would be preferable to spending another minute under her stepmother’s roof. A chance encounter with an aloof fairy, Sidhean, promises to make that dream come true. But when Ash makes a new friend and finds herself falling in love, her bargain with Sidhean — and her burgeoning relationship — quickly become compromised.
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
After meeting under less-than-civil circumstances, two teenage girls discover they’re on the same side of a massive war, in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s Gearbreakers. Godolia occupies the Badlands, terrorizing the people with patrols of giant, powerful robots called Windups. The titular Gearbreakers are resistance fighters from the Badlands, who train to breach the Windups’ defenses and disable them. That dangerous job has just landed Eris a stint in prison when she meets Sona, a Windup pilot, who’s secretly fighting for the Badlands from the other side of the battlefield. Together, the two girls launch their own offensive to drive Godolia out of their homeland … but can two young freedom fighters end a war?
Out of Character by Jenna Miller
Out of Character follows a young fandom geek whose participation in a roleplaying community devoted to her favorite book series could annihilate her high-school career. Cass is an out-and-proud lesbian just settling into her first relationship with a girl when her mom suddenly leaves her dad for a guy she met on the Internet. Her girlfriend has been super supportive throughout the ordeal, but she’s growing suspicious of Cass’ behavior — and for good reason. Cass may have fallen for her online roleplaying buddy, Rowan, who wants her to make their relationship official.
It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland
Four former besties and band members put their differences aside to help their community heal in Miel Morland’s WLW young adult debut. Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph were middle-school BFFs. That’s when they formed their pop quartet, Moonlight Overthrow, and accidentally became a worldwide sensation. Then it all came crashing down. Now, with their hometown in trouble, Moonlight Overthrow is reuniting for one final show — or maybe the comeback of the century? — in It Goes Like This.
Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen
Codi and her best friends, Maritza and JaKory, are pretty much the opposite of cool kids. This trio of queer high-schoolers might do everything together, but “everything” usually consists of hanging around watching TV in Codi’s basement. After a random plan to crash a party leads her to befriend Ricky, a popular boy who wants to keep his sexuality under wraps, Codi’s social life changes dramatically —and Maritza and JaKory are left out in the cold, in Late to the Party.
Forward March by Skye Quinlan
Speaking of books about the unpopular kids, let’s talk about Forward March. The story here centers on Harper, a saxophonist whose last year of high school is complicated by her conservative dad’s decision to run for president. Her plans for a simple senior year fly out the window when her fellow band geek, Margot, shows up to break up with her. There’s just one problem: as far as Harper knows, she and Margot were never dating to begin with.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Coming out to her family did not go as planned for Juliet Milagros Palante. Now, the eponymous heroine of Juliet Takes a Breath is flying to the other side of the country for an internship. Working for her hero, famous feminist Harlowe Brisbane, in Portland, OR should be the perfect place for Juliet to explore life as an openly lesbian young person. But what happens when Harlowe turns out to be nothing like her new intern expected?
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
Sonora Reyes’ The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School introduces readers to Yami Flores, a 17-year-old Mexican American girl who’s just transferred to a new Catholic school full of rich white kids. Things didn’t go well for Yami the last time news got out that she was a lesbian. All she has to do now is keep her mind off of girls long enough to graduate. Then she meets Bo, the only openly queer girl at Slayton Catholic. Staying in the closet just got a lot harder.
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Serle
A pack of teenage werewolves takes center stage in Squad. Becca didn’t expect to be pulled into a clique immediately after transferring to her new school, and she never dreamed she’d befriend the school’s most popular girls. Marley, Arianna, and Mandy are the best friends she could have asked for, but they’re carrying around two major secrets: one, all three of them are werewolves; and two, they murder toxic boys on a regular basis.
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
Set in the aftermath of a war that made humans the subjects of the now-ruling automatons, Crier’s War follows an Automae princess and her human lady-in-waiting, whose lives quickly become inextricably tangled. Ayla lost her family to the Sovereign’s forces; her only option for revenge is to murder his daughter, Lady Crier. Meanwhile, Crier’s wedding is fast approaching, but doubts are creeping in. Automae aren’t supposed to be able to love, but the princess finds herself feeling … something … for her human attendant.
There you have it: the best WLW young adult books you can read right now. We’ve come a long way since Annie on My Mind and Deliver Us from Evie, and there are still plenty of sapphic stories left to be told. Keep your eyes peeled for more lesbian YA fiction coming to a bookstore near you.
What are WLW books called?
WLW stands for “women who love women.” A WLW book is one that features a romance between two women, at least one of whom is a main character. WLW books are also known as “sapphic” books.
What is a sapphic romance book?
A sapphic romance book is a romance novel in which the main character and her love interest are both women. The characters may be lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or on the ace spectrum.
The word “sapphic” comes from the Greek poet Sappho, who wrote about her romantic feelings toward other women. Additionally, Sappho was from the island of Lesbos, from which we get the word “lesbian.”
What is the most popular YA genre?
It’s difficult to say what the most popular YA genre is, simply because statistics on book sales are notoriously lacking, with no less an authority than the Harvard Library stating, “[W]e know of no reliable, publicly-available way to get comprehensive statistics for book sales at this time.”
There are other ways to determine which YA genres are popular, however. Book Riot’s list of BookTok’s favorite YA titles shows that reader preferences lean toward contemporary romance and fantasy.
At Barnes & Noble — where Teens & YA bestsellers include Once Upon a Broken Heart, Foxglove, and The Queen of Nothing — it’s YA fantasy that reigns supreme.
With all that being said, one thing’s for sure: YA itself is not a genre.
What age is young adult?
That depends on whether or not you’re talking about young adult people or young adult books. Opinions vary, but the general consensus is that anyone between the ages of 18 and 25 is a young adult. Some even consider people up to age 39 to be young adults.
Young adult books, on the other hand, are written to be understood and enjoyed by people between the ages of 12 and 18. That doesn’t mean older adults can’t or shouldn’t read YA, however. Everyone should read whatever makes them happiest.
Why do so many adults read YA?
A 2012 study found that adults purchased 55% of YA books. The same study revealed that buyers between the ages of 30 and 44 accounted for more than one-quarter of YA books sold. Although many of those adults were buying YA books for younger readers, adults surveyed “report[ed] that 78% of the time they are purchasing books for their own reading,” according to Publishers Weekly. Their reasons vary, but readers told The Atlantic in 2017 that the ubiquity of coming-of-age stories and the intensity of teenage emotions and experiences were some of YA novels’ most attractive qualities.
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