With queer and trans rights at risk of being rolled back, it’s imperative that we fight to maintain access to the inspiring LGBTQ+ young adult books available today. To that end, we’ve pulled together this list of 15 fresh new titles for readers interested in exploring the wealth of queer and trans YA literature.
This list has everything from sapphic historical fiction to trans horror with a religious twist. And if you’re looking for a new favorite author, you’re in luck! There are plenty of debut novels here to go around.
The last several years have seen wave after wave of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment wash over the United States, including increased efforts to ban LGBTQ+ literature. Maia Kobabe’s award-winning graphic memoir, Gender Queer, ranked as the No. 1 most-challenged book in recent years after it became the target of bigoted campaigns that sought to remove it from schools, libraries, and even bookstores.
Every cloud has a silver lining, however. Although the fate of LGBTQ+ YA literature may appear grim from many angles, The 19th reports that sales of queer and trans young adult novels have been on the rise. That’s encouraging news, even though we can’t afford to rest on our laurels just yet.
For more information on how you can support access to LGBTQ+ young adult books, check out these resources:
- the National Coalition Against Censorship’s censorship reporting form
- “Preventing Censorship of LGBT Information in Public School Libraries” from Lambda Legal
- Unite Against Book Bans, an initiative of the American Library Association
15 Inspiring LGBTQ+ Young Adult Books
How to Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow
Two young Jewish women find themselves snowed in on Christmas Eve in How to Excavate a Heart. Recently dumped and preparing for a promising internship, Shani had a lot on her mind the day she hit May with her car. They would have been OK with never seeing one another again — and understandably so!
Fate had other plans. When Shani learns that May’s mom is her new dog-walking client, she’s not exactly enthused about seeing her victim over and over again. These two are about to discover that they have more in common than they’d like to admit, and it might just take one blizzard to make them realize they’re meant to be.
How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy
How to Succeed in Witchcraft centers on two students competing for a full-ride scholarship at a swanky magnet school for witches. Shay and Ana are among the school’s few students of color, and when casting begins for a racially diverse play, the school needs both of them to star. Winning the scholarship may come down to impressing their drama teacher… but what are they to do when he turns out to be a major creep?
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
Seventeen-year-old Ellie’s life changed forever two years ago, when alien invaders known as the Ilori took control of the United States. The Ilori have declared human emotions dangerous, and any emotional outburst or artistic expression is punishable by death. Ellie has more to fear than most; a book has just gone missing from her contraband library.
Lucky for her, the boy who discovers her secret is M0r1S: the emotionless adopted son of the Ilori, who harbors his own deep and deadly secret passion. The Sound of Stars features a demisexual protagonist and lots of pop culture references to keep sci-fi fans yearning for more.
The One True Me and You by Remi K. England
Sparks fly when a fan convention crosses over with a beauty pageant in The One True Me and You. Beauty queen Teagan has to keep her nerdiness and queerness under wraps if she wants to take home the pageant crown. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. She’s just met Kay: a convention attendee who just so happens to hate Teagan’s pageant rival as much as she does. Kay came to GreatCon with a plan to try out new pronouns and find a cute girl to kiss. Are she and Teagan ready to dive head-first into love?
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
Full Disclosure centers on Simone: a bisexual theater nerd whose transfer to a new high school gives her a chance at a fresh start. Simone throws herself into the school’s production of Rent and starts making friends. None of her new pals know that she is HIV-positive, and Simone wants to keep it that way. Nothing good came of word getting out about her diagnosis at her old school.
The last thing she wants is to lose the friendships she’s built, especially the one she shares with Miles, who could be something more than a friend. But when an anonymous blackmailer threatens her, Simone realizes she may have to choose between keeping her secret and losing Miles forever.
Icebreaker by A.L. Graziadei
Like How to Succeed in Witchcraft above, A.L. Graziadei’s debut is a rivals-to-lovers YA romance with an academic backdrop. As his family’s only son, college freshman Mickey is fated to follow his famous dad and grandfather into the NHL.
He’s up against stiff competition, however. Mickey’s ultra-talented teammate, Jaysen, might just steal the title of No. 1 draft pick from him — and maybe his heart, as well. Icebreaker is a tender sports romance and coming-of-age story that will make YA readers fall head over heels.
A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar
From the author of The Henna Wars comes A Million to One. When four seemingly unconnected young women board an oceanliner bound for America, no one has reason for suspicion. Unbeknownst to the crew, however, they’ve planned a heist of historical proportions.
Stealing the Rubaiyat — a book with more than 1,000 jewels set into its cover — will set the foursome up for life. But the women’s high-stakes heist takes a gripping turn when their ship, the RMS Titanic, strikes an iceberg mid-journey.
Café con Lychee by Emery Lee
As the only openly gay boy in their high school, Theo Mori could be a source of much-needed support for closeted Gabi Moreno. Theo’s soccer teammate is terrible at the game, and Gabi’s ineptitude could jeopardize Theo’s college plans. Gabi just wants to dance, but he’ll settle for inheriting his parents’ bakery — the chief competitor to the Mori family’s café.
When a new restaurant rolls into town just ahead of graduation, it threatens to put both families out of business. Café con Lychee traces Theo and Mori’s evolving relationship as they work together to save their parents’ livelihoods.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
It’s 1954, and the Red Scare seems to be all American politicians can think about. That makes life perilous for Lily, whose Chinese ancestry and attraction to other girls make her a prime target for anyone determined to root out communism. Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Lily into the titular lesbian bar, nestled in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where she connects with Kath — a young woman who just might be worth risking everything for.
Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith
Tobly McSmith’s 2020 debut centers on Pony: a teenage boy hoping for an uneventful senior year. No one at Pony’s new high school knew him by his deadname; they don’t even know he’s trans. He’s happy to keep it that way… until he sees Georgia.
She’s sworn off dating for senior year, but something about Pony makes her want to take a chance on love. Their plans for their last year of high school will change in ways neither can imagine, in Stay Gold.
Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min
If you’re a fan of angst, Beating Heart Baby is for you. The story here centers on two young musicians, Santi and Suwa, who butt heads when newcomer Santi joins the high school marching band. A prodigy bound for musical stardom, Suwa thinks Santi will bring the band’s illustrious career to a grinding halt.
Things begin to look up after they bond over their respective traumas, but a secret from the boys’ pasts could destroy this burgeoning relationship before it has a chance to grow.
Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster by Andrea Mosqueda
Maggie needs a date to her kid sister’s quinceañera. Finding Mr. or Ms. Right isn’t going to be easy, however. She has three prospects — her BFF, her ex-boyfriend, and the new girl at school — but trying to decide between them forces her to come to terms with the evolving nature of her interpersonal relationships. Maggie has her work cut out for her, in Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster.
She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen
She Drives Me Crazy is the sapphic YA sports rom-com you’ve been waiting for. Breaking up with your girlfriend sucks. Having to play against your ex in basketball every weekend sucks worse. Getting into a fender-bender with the school’s apex predator of a mean girl?
Now that’s the absolute worst. Scottie and Irene’s moms are forcing them to carpool until Irene’s car is fixed. It’s a terrible arrangement, but every cloud has a silver lining. Scottie needs to make her ex-girlfriend jealous, and the gorgeous Irene would make the perfect fake date. But what’s Scottie supposed to do when she actually starts to fall for her new “girlfriend”?
The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers by Adam Sass
An Instagram artist who draws the boys he wishes he could date finds himself chasing down the guy who might be The One in The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers. No matter how hard he tries, Micah has always been too shy to ask a boy out. After drawing 99 fake boyfriends for the ‘Gram, he decides to ask out a cute, bookish guy he meets on the L-train.
The handsome stranger gets off the train before Micah can even get his name, but leaves a unique jacket behind. Determined to track down Boy 100, Micah sets off on a journey across Chicago in this cute rom-com.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
Hell Followed With Us follows Benji, a 16-year-old trans guy, as he searches for a place to belong in the wake of Armageddon. Benji escapes the evangelical doomsday cult he grew up in after cult leaders trigger the apocalypse.
He takes refuge at a local center for LGBTQ+ youth, but welcoming him with open arms could be disastrous. You see, the cult turned Benji into a bioweapon, and he can only resist the changes it brings for so long.
Why are LGBTQ+ children’s books important?
Recent developments in publishing have given kids from marginalized communities — such as children of color and/or those who are LGBTQ+ — expanded access to books in which their experiences are accurately represented. Publishing is still overwhelmingly white, cisgender, and heterosexual, however.
Relative invisibility occurs when children only see stereotypical representations of people like themselves — or perhaps even no representations at all. They may grow up believing themselves to be flawed, invalid, and unworthy of love and attention.
Queer and trans children need books with positive representations of LGBTQ+ characters, to show them that they are not alone and that they, too, can be heroes.
What age is the Gender Queer book for?
Author Maia Kobabe writes in The Washington Post that eir book is for high-school students and older readers.
Why was Gender Queer banned?
According to the American Library Association, Gender Queer was “[b]anned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images.”
Bonus: 10 other great reads for fans of LGBTQ+ Young Adult books?
1. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
2. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
4. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
5. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
6. Melissa by Alex Gino (previously published as George)
7. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
8. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
9. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
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