A lot of adults love Young Adult fiction, especially queer young adult fiction. Maybe it’s because those kind of books weren’t there when we were kids, maybe they’re just brilliant literature and the point of growing up is to get access to more things, not giving up half in exchange for the other half (Yes, I totally went into the McDonald’s ball pool even after I was too tall for it, it was no danger, I’m bendy!) so I’m definitely not giving up on young adult or children’s books, if such a thing even exists beyond having young protagonists that remain young all throughout the book.
If you haven’t tried them yet... Well, you’re missing out on a lot of delicious angst!
Invincible girls – After a pro swimmer loses one of her legs in an accident, she must find the strength to live her life again… Enter the cute foreign student ready to catch her up on all her classes. There’s 2 books, one from the swimmer’s and one from the tutor’s perspective.
Lies We Tell Ourselves - Historical fiction about one of the first Black students to attend a “white” school in the South, this adds some spice by having the protagonist’s arch nemesis, the daughter of the minister trying to get the Black students kicked out again, to fall for Sarah in the midst of all the tension.
Massacre is the young adult book I once tried to write. Well, in mine the mermaid and the girl weren’t mortal enemies caught in the middle of an eternal war for territory… Who become friends as children and never forget their bond. That is to say, this brilliant, sweet and violent, with strong familial bonds tugging the protagonist back to land and a history of racial prejudice that’s very real even as one of the races has tails. Need to read books 2 & 3 still because they weren’t out back then and I had to put their existence out of my mind so I didn’t go crazy.
Autoboyougraphy – What do you get when a liberal gay boy joins a writing seminar where a perfect-Mormon-man-turned-novelist tutors the next generation of young writers? Writers, repression, love, religion, family drama… It’s got it all, impossible to put down.
Openly straight by Bill Konigsberg – This is closer to queer than gay fiction, why? The main character gets tired of being openly gay back home and moves to a boarding school in another state where he pretends to be straight, wanting to be just himself without the label attached. Label or not, his feelings for other boys don’t disappear and there’s one particular boy who could possibly return his feelings…
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz – Literary and gorgeously narrated in the first person, this is the kind of book “Call Me By Your Name” tries and fails to be, a coming-of-age-story with deep roots and understated trauma that’s slowly revealed through the thoughts of a teenager discovering both himself and the world, and what his feelings for his best friend really mean.
In Other Lands (AKA The Turn of the Story) by Sarah Rees Brennan follows the adventures of a 13-year-old smart mouthed British boy as he crosses over into a magical land and falls in love with it… and with its inhabitants. Friendship, feminism and hilarity, but also a lot of romance with both genders that will make you both laugh and cry.
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater: The bisexuality doesn’t show up right away but the strong friendships and incredible writing do. Poetic, powerful and magical, this is the kind of epic that leads to obsession.
Otherbound by Corinne Duyviss: Fantasy adventure with alternate universes by one of my favourite authors. An epileptic boy has been experiencing the life of a slave girl in a strange fantasy land every time he closes his eyes… But then his new meds reveal the connection is more than the product of his seizures.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew A. Smith – The spoken diary of a bisexual boy who along his best friend ends up reawakening long-dormant giant mantises. This is completely nuts, and also absolutely brilliant. Read a few pages, it’s all I can say, the narrative voice hooked me at once and it made me both laugh and cringe and wonder how the fuck this got published for teenagers (and cheer that it did because it’s so absolutely real).
T/I (Together to avoid spoilers)
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (the cover girl is trans herself, as is the author) is a fairly light-hearted trans coming of age story about a girl who’s already fully transitioned at age 18 and her new life in a new school, including her budding romance with a cute boy next door and her friendship with a group of artsy girls. Lovely, readable and important own!voices narrative.
Annabel by Kathleen Winters is marketed as a literary novel, but it’s a coming-of-age story at heart and follows the MC from birth until young adulthood. It’s replete of completely gorgeous imagery without ever losing sight of what really matters in any story: the people.
Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman is a fairly classical YA narrative about a girl who has been raised as a boy and the issues that come up when she decides to come out to her family and school. Very cool narrative voice, real and very grounded.
Every Day by David Levithan by classic gay YA author David Levithan is a gorgeous fantasy romance about a 16 year old who wakes up in a different body every morning and the day when they meet the girl who makes living life one day at a time unbearable. Movie just came out and I’m dying to see it but the book’s SO good—commentaries not just on sexuality but race, body shape, ability and circumstances of all types. I want to be this book when I grow up.
These are some of my favourites, please rec me yours!