Happy Pride Month! What parades are you all attending? I’m going to be at Denver Pride on June 15 and NYC Pride on June 30th, and I’m debating if I can get away with wearing the same outfit to both.
While October is important because it is LGBT history month, June is the month where literally thousands of LGBT folks and their allies take over your neighborhood’s downtown area to celebrate ourselves, which is awesome. In honor of that, here are my favorite LGBT YA novels for you to take to the beach, or wave around like a flag as you march in a parade. It’s up to you!
Of the novels that have come out (see what I did there?) this year, my favorites are David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing and Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight. Levithan’s novel is about two boys who decide to break a new world record for kissing, and the story is “narrated” by a chorus of gay men who have lost their lives to AIDS. Openly Straight is lighter but no less complex fare: a boy who is sick of being tokenized as The Gay Kid decides to stay in the closet when he moves to a new school. I especially appreciate Openly Straight because while bullying and homophobia are addressed frequently in literature, tokenization is more complex and not discussed nearly as often.
One of the best lesbian novels I’ve read recently is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth (a 2013 Morris Award finalist). I’m a sucker for lesbians in rural settings (Far from Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters is a book I love of the same variety), and what’s nice about danforth’s story is that while it deals with homosexual conversion camps and other bleak issues, the narrator is witty and the novel is fun to read, something that can’t be said for a lot of other lesbian novels (why can’t we have nice things?).
Another ambitious novel I really loved is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (a 2013 Michael L. Printz Award honor book, a Pura BelprÃ© Award winner, and a Stonewall Book Award winner). Benjamin Alire SÃ¡enz’s debut novel tells the story of two Latino teens and is set in the 1980s. The prose reads like poetry and is the kind of sophisticated writing that has you re-reading sentences to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
I would be remiss not to mention a few of the novels that have become modern-day classics in their own rights. Empress of the World by Sara Ryan came out when I was about 11 or 12 years old and continues to stick with me. It’s poignant, relatable, and deserves a spot on the list because it paved the way for a lot of similar lesbian YA novels to follow. The same thing can be said for Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, which reads like an adult novel and is a fantastic unpacking of what it means to have good mental heath.
Books with transgender protagonists have finally been able to break into this category as well. Julie Ann Peters’s Luna (can you tell I really like Julie Anne Peters?) is about a girl whose brother is male-to-female transgender; it’s beautifully written and manages to make the protagonist’s frustrations with her sibling’s identity relatable without being offensive (which frankly can’t be said for every novel).
Finally, LGBT characters are starting to crop up more and more in science fiction and fantasy novels. Malinda Lo has written both fairy tales and science fiction novels with queer protagonists, and every single one of her works is worth reading, not least because you are guaranteed at least one main character who isn’t white. Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce toes the line between science fiction and fantasy and features a transgender female character, which is fairly groundbreaking for YA science fiction and fantasy. Plus, it reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness, which is not YA by any means but my favorite science fiction book of all time.
My recommendations are not super comprehensive by any means, but if you think I’m missing a crucial book or have made a huge mistake, sound off in the comments below! Also, if you see a really tall lesbian with excellent hair, possibly in brightly-colored flannel, in Denver on the 15th or NYC on the 30th, feel free to say hi! If it isn’t me, there’s always the possibility you’ve made a new friend.
— Chelsea Condren, currently reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
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