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A Guide to YA Novels with LGBTQ Characters

2013 August 6
by Molly Wetta
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lgbtqyalitQueer characters in young adult fiction are hardly ubiquitous; the majority of books still feature cisgender, heterosexual characters. But a growing number of young adult novels feature characters that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. They are moving beyond traditional coming out stories, and it’s becoming more common to see these characters in fantasy or sci-fi or for stories to feature characters with ambiguous identities.

Some of these novels are explicitly marketed as LGBTQ books, and it’s easy to tell from the synopsis or book jacket that a novel features queer characters, but other times you might never know without reading the book. While it’s important for readers who seek these types of stories to be able to discover them, it’s also valuable for readers to encounter them in stories with conflicts or plots that don’t revolve around the character’s identity. The following guide is intended to give an overview of the diversity within queer YA fiction for readers looking to explore these stories. It features well-known books as well as recently or soon-to-be published titles. A PDF copy of this graphic guide to LGBTQ YA literature is also available.

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This guide is not meant to be comprehensive; rather, it’s a general overview of YA literature that features lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or genderqueer characters. The following resources offer additional titles:

* The original post has been changed to correct an error. The graphic and post were updated 8/8/2013 to change “transgendered” to “transgender” which is the correct adjective form and preferred term. Thank you to those you pointed out this mistake.

– Molly Wetta, currently reading Unspoken by Sara Rees Brennan

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43 Responses
  1. August 6, 2013

    Such a fantastic list! May I add another? My new gay young adult novel Over the Rainbow comes out today! It’s a modern re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, with a kickass lesbian protagonist who embarks on a perilous journey to find her true love. Like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s also set in the 1990′s. It’s available today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo!

    I can’t wait to read Two Boys Kissing, Hero, and Openly Straight. Here’s to awesome gay YA books!

  2. August 6, 2013

    Are there any LGBT books featuring protagonists/main characters of color? I’m looking for books that are about Hispanic, Black or Asian LGBT kids as the leads.

    BTW – I read Demon’s Lexicon, I didn’t see any gay characters, although I remember hearing some people thinking that the brothers were actually a gay couple.

    • August 6, 2013

      The answer is yes: there are indeed LGBT books featuring protagonists of color, though they are few. ARISTOTLE AND DANTE (up in the historical section) is about a Latino boy, and Alex Sanchez’s books (including RAINBOW BOYS up in the classic section) also feature Latino boys. Not mentioned above:

      * DOWN TO THE BONE by Mayra Lazara Dole is about queer Latina girls
      * Brent Hartinger’s GEOGRAPHY CLUB series includes a bisexual Asian girl as a major character
      * THE HOUSE YOU PASS ON THE WAY by Jacqueline Woodson is about an African American girl coming out
      * My novel HUNTRESS is an Asian-inspired fantasy

      Re: THE DEMON’S LEXICON, the series has a supporting gay character (a boy); his story arc comes out more fully in the two sequels (it’s a trilogy).

      I’d also add two suggestions: WILDTHORN by Jane Eagland is a historical novel (Victorian England) about a girl discovering she’s lesbian. And Kristopher Reisz’s TRIPPING TO SOMEWHERE is a fantastic urban fantasy about a lesbian teen.

      (As you can tell, I’m much more in the know about lesbian novels than ones about boys.)

    • August 7, 2013

      Syd, the gay protagonist in PROXY is a POC.

    • Molly Wetta permalink
      August 8, 2013

      Malinda Lo and Alex London point out a few, and I’d like to add that Marisol from HARD LOVE is a a self-proclaimed “Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Lesbian.”

      Also, IF YOU COULD BE MINE is set in Iran and includes gay, lesbian, and transgender characters.

    • EHW permalink
      August 14, 2013

      Here’s a two more titles with a queer narrating character of color:

      1) Tamora Pierce’s Will of the Empress (YA fantasy): One of the four main characters (Daja) is black and a lesbian. Although Daja only realizes her sexuality in this book, she also appears as one of the four main characters in the Circle of Magic quartet and as the protagonist of Cold Fire.

      2) Jacqueline Woodson’s Behind You (YA realistic fiction): Behind You alternates among the POVs of about 7 characters, the vast majority of whom are black. One of our narrators is a gay, male teenager who has a white mom and a black dad.

      Here are some titles that feature LGBTQIA characters of color who are not POV characters, but nonetheless are fairly main characters:

      1) Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson (YA speculative fiction set in Toronto). Fairly major side characters include a black gay teenager, a black lesbian teenager, and a lesbian South Asian woman in a wheelchair. There’s also a passing reference to a poly relationship.

      2) Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman (YA fantasy taking place in a quasi-Chinese setting): One of the main characters is a trans woman, but be warned that IMO these novels trans fail fairly often, though that might just be due to our narrating character’s ignorance.

      3) Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (YA fantasy taking place in New Zealand): The main character’s best friend is a Maori, asexual, male teenager.

    • Shannon permalink
      August 23, 2013

      Alex Sanchez’s books frequently have Hispanic protagonists, as well as Spanish words and phrases throughout. “The God Box” (a personal favourite of mine), “Bait”, and “Getting It”, are all excellent books featuring Hispanic characters, Asian characters, and POC. One of my favourite authors, Tamora Pierce, wrote a fantasy novel called The Will of the Empress (the 9th book in a series, but the first where the main characters have love interests), and one of the main characters comes to the realization that she’s a lesbian in it. I’m sure I’ve read many more, but those are the only ones off the top of my head.

    • October 3, 2013

      Hi B.A.,

      Thanks for asking about LGBT young protagonists of color. If I may, I’d like to mention my speculative novel THE PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL. It’s about a human embryo named Prospect who’s allowed to preview the world before deciding whether to be born. Prospect’s mother is Asian American and his father is African American. The book does include some brief adult situations.

      Today, the book is #38 in best selling Gay & Lesbian Literary Fiction on Amazon. The book was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Below is a book trailer and Amazon link.

      TRAILER bit.ly/u1fJ5E
      http:// amzn.to/ozbXC4

    • Alec permalink
      October 20, 2013

      Wide Awake by David Leviathan has some strong characters that are POC.

    • Stacia permalink
      December 17, 2013

      There are a number of LGBTQ books for teens featuring characters of color. Here are a couple:

      STREET DREAMS by Tama Wise, from Bold Strokes Books, is about a young Maori man in Auckland.

      Lynda Sandoval’s FATHER KNOWS BEST, also from BSB, features Latina characters.

      CHULITO by Chris Rice-Gonzales, Magnus Books.

      • Molly Wetta permalink
        December 18, 2013

        While I haven’t read the first two, I have read CHULITO and I really enjoyed it. But even though the characters are in their late teens, I wouldn’t say it’s a young adult novel and I would only suggest it to the most mature teen readers specifically looking for a gay romance in an urban setting. It contains explicit sex scenes that are much more descriptive than any sexual content I’ve read in the raciest of YA literature and Magnus did not publish or market it as YA. This is just a note of caution and my personal opinion.

  3. August 6, 2013

    I am honored that my novel, THE CULLING, is included in this list alongside such great company!

    Thank you! Now I need to read a lot of the books on this list! :-)

  4. August 7, 2013

    Wow! nice list of novels, I’m checking my YA collection twice.

    Thank you!

  5. August 7, 2013

    Also check out:

    THE WARRIOR’S CODE by David James – about a young African American male coming out and finding his place in a fantasy world.

    SHADOW OF THE SUN by David James (coming soon) – featuring a diverse cast of characters, both straight and gay.

  6. Tori permalink
    August 7, 2013

    A friend of mine also published a YA novel about a gay main character, called Love Drugged, which deals with the main character using a drug that he thinks will turn him straight and the repercussions of trying to change who you are like that. A good read!

  7. August 7, 2013

    This list is great! But shouldn’t it be ‘transgender’ instead of ‘transgendered’?

    (See: http://www.glaad.org/transgender)

    • Rose Yndigoyen permalink
      August 7, 2013

      Yes, it should.

  8. Emily permalink
    August 7, 2013

    Excellent list! I would add that Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (a dystopian fantasy, I guess?) has a great, three-dimensional transgender character.

  9. August 8, 2013

    Don’t forget the Rainbow Books project by GLBTRT and SRRT! Check out the website for current nominees and past selected lists: http://glbtrt.ala.org/rainbowbooks/

  10. Jake permalink
    August 9, 2013

    Under Graphic Novels also check out Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (anything by her really); Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse; the current Batgirl run written by Gail Simon includes a trans* woman as Barbra Gordon’s roommate, she comes out to Barbra in issue #19; The Invisibles by Grant Morrison has a trans* woman as a part of the team; the current Astonishing X-men run heavily features Northstar, who is a gay man (his wedding occurs in issue #51); the latest Batwoman is a lesbian woman; The Movement also written by Gail Simon has Tremor, an asexual woman; and X-trem X-men, a series that just ended, has an alternate universe Hercules and Wolverine that are in a relationship. That’s all I can think of off of the top of my head

  11. Kelly Dickinson permalink
    August 12, 2013

    Great titles, awesome graphic guide, and wonderful additional suggestions in the comments!

  12. August 13, 2013

    The Bermudez Triangle – Maureen Johnson is also missing from this list.

  13. Sarah permalink
    August 14, 2013

    How about Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. They are older but she has been using gay and lesbian characters for decades, both as main and minor characters.

  14. David Greybeard permalink
    August 15, 2013

    I’m enjoying looking through your list of books. I’ve found a few I’d like to read. I’m generally a Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror genre reader. I occasionally like Gay Male on Male novels. The Demon’s Lexicon by Brennan caught my eye but reading about it I didn’t see any connection to the LGBT world. Am I missing something?

    I think you could improve this graphic if you had icons for each book, showing which is gay, lesbian, bi or trans.

    Thanks for the posting.

    • August 21, 2013

      No David, you didn’t miss it. I too read the book and there was no hint of LGBT anywhere. Someone said one of the minor characters comes out as gay in one of the sequels, but there is no hint of that in Demon’s Lexicon itself. If it’s true, then the wrong member of the trilogy was put on this list.

      • EHW permalink
        November 6, 2013

        Jamie (Mae’s brother) is gay. He doesn’t get a love interest until the later books of the series, but I’m fairly certain his sexuality is mentioned with The Demon’s Lexicon.

        • December 24, 2013

          It is… Jamie is shown to be attracted to guys in the first book–he checks out the hero, among other things–though he isn’t confirmed as gay (rather than bi) and doesn’t get a romance until the sequels.

          Of course since it seems some readers missed it, I regret not making it clearer!

  15. Alice permalink
    August 15, 2013

    Awesome list! Apologies if this has been mentioned and I missed it, but I’ve heard that the protagonist in QUICKSILVER by R J Anderson is asexual :)

  16. Jake permalink
    August 20, 2013

    I would suggest adding a fantasy section. Mercedes lackey features numerous gay and lesbian characters in her books, of which there are around 30, and they’ve been around for a long time.

  17. August 21, 2013

    Off the top of my head:

    - “Guardian of the Dead” and “The Shattering” by Karen Healey (these novels also have POC main characters)

    - f2m by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

    - Also, Holly Black’s “Tithe” and “Valiant”

  18. August 21, 2013

    Kindness for Waekness, from Shawn Goodman, features Freddie, an African American gay teen. He is not the main character, but he plays an important role in this contemporary novel about kids caught up in the juvenile “justice” system.

  19. Ash permalink
    August 30, 2013

    I remember reading a book about a lesbian latina a few years ago but I cannot remember its name to save my life! Maybe someone could help?

    What I remember is her and her best friend were in love but they kept it hidden. One day her best friend tells her that she is engaged to marry a man and what they are doing is wrong. (they might have been kicked out of school or something?)
    Well the other girl, heartbroken, gets kicked out by her mother I think…. And throughout the whole book is struggling with whats going on. She dates a boy for a while trying to be normal but decides she cant. And when she goes to break up with him he gets pissed and tells her that she cant do that. (he cheats on her btw and uses him cheating on her as one of the reasons she cant dump him).
    I wish I could remember more….

    • Ash permalink
      August 30, 2013

      Wait never mind. I went and looked up “DOWN TO THE BONE”, as listed near the top of the comments, and I think this might be the book I was talking about.

  20. October 10, 2013

    Thanks for the list…my WIP features a three gay characters (both POC), one Latino man (and his AA partner who has a really small role) and an AA teen girl. Planning to self-publish early next year, will post here when it’s out. They’re not my main characters but play pretty important roles in the MC’s life.

    Also, John Green’s (who I believe co-wrote with David Levinthan) WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON had several gay male characters…was a really interesting and entertaining novel.

  21. Alec permalink
    October 20, 2013

    My fiancee teaches world & queer lit. Any texts come to mind placed within non-Western cultures?

    Thanks, folks!

    • Molly Wetta permalink
      October 21, 2013

      IF YOU COULD BE MINE by Sara Farizan features LGBTQ characters in Iran. The main character is a girl in love with her best friend, but she also has a gay cousin and is introduced into the trans* community within Tehran.

      Outside of young adult literature, I’m sure there are many more titles.

  22. Samantha permalink
    December 5, 2013

    More Than This by Patrick Ness could be added to either Sci-fi or dystopian, as it features a gay protagonist

  23. Sam permalink
    January 7, 2014

    Another great one that I read a while ago that I think deserves a read is Peter by Kate Walker.

  24. Lauren permalink
    January 8, 2014

    The Mortal Instrument series has two gay characters. They have a romance in the books. It’s a great read.

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