One of the best things about YA fiction is that there’s always a character who’s going through exactly what you’re going through. They’ll face the nitty gritty stuff that can be tough to talk about IRL – including the huge subject of sexuality.
Whether you’re confident in who you are and just want to read stories that openly deal with sex, or whether you’re starting to question just who and what it is you’re attracted to, there’s a brilliant YA book out there that might be able to help.
Here’s where to start if you want to fill your bookshelf with a whole rainbow of gay, bi, questioning, trans, fluid and every other type of LGBTQ+ character. Plus they’re all amazing reads, too.
Simon Spier hasn’t come out yet, but thanks to an email he sent to another boy he knows only as Blue, his secret might not remain a secret for very long. As well as trying to navigate high school while still in the closet, Simon must now avoid being blackmailed as he tries to find Blue in a whirlwind of awkward geekiness and awesomely funny romance.
“Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.”
As well as exploring sexuality, this one also touches on other big issues like race and class, all in a fantasy sci-fi bubble that you won’t be able to put down. Aaron’s girlfriend Genevieve heads off for the summer, leaving Aaron to explore the feelings for Thomas that he’s been trying to ignore. Desperate for this new-found side of his sexuality to go away, Aaron makes the dark decision to have his memory erased at Leteo Institute.
“The boy with no direction taught me something unforgettable: happiness comes again if you let it.”
Look up the word ‘inseparable’ and you’ll find twins Noah and Jude. But then something terrible happens, and the pair can’t bear to speak to each other anymore. In their new lives apart, Noah falls for the boy next door while Jude meets a charismatic man of mystery. This story is told in alternating perspective between the two characters, and looks at how everything can change when you fall in love – no matter what your sexuality.
“Meeting your soul mate is like walking into a house you’ve been in before – you will recognise the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, the contents of drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to.”
Emily Danforth’s debut novel takes place in 90’s rural Montana. Cameron’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, but her first thought is relief – relief that she won’t have to tell them she was kissing a girl just hours earlier. When she’s eventually outed, her aunt sends her to God’s Promise, a religious conversion camp that is supposed to “cure” her homosexuality. At the camp, Cameron comes face to face with the cost of denying her true identity.
“Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”
Brendan Chase is doing pretty well at life – star sportsman, gaming pro and the perfect girlfriend, Vanessa. But on the inside, things aren’t so perfect. He’s struggling to understand why his body just feels… wrong. Why does he fantasise about having long hair, soft skin and elegant curves? Is there even a name for all of this? Or is he just a freak? This hard-hitting story of transgender questioning is told from three points of view; Brendan, Vanessa, and Angel who is struggling to break free.
“The Santa Ana Wind gusts down desert canyons. Hot. Dry. Electric. Some say it ignites tempers. I say it ignited us.”
Only one thing remains constant in A’s life, and it’s the fact that at midnight, s/he’ll be taken from the body s/he’s in and catapulted into the next one. Every day a different body. Every day a different life. It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. Finally A has found someone he wants to be with – day in, day out, day after day. Forget all the usual ways that YA books approach gender and sexuality, because this one rips up the rulebook.
“We all want everything to be okay. We don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvellous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.”
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. Meanwhile, Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible, but when he stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. While they struggle to keep secrets in a school where nothing stays private for long, David begins his journey into transitioning, and the whole story is heartbreakingly beautiful.
“Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ‘Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.’”
Whether you’re exploring your own sexuality, need to help your parents understand your sexuality, or just want to learn more about the whole spectrum, this is the book to pick up and dive into. Written by a transgender author, this covers the basics AND all the gory, uncensored details of sex, from hooking up and coming out, to politics and stereotypes – all with awesome illustrations.
“However you identify, be it lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, asexual, curious, or carrot, we all have something in common – we are a minority, and we have made brave steps to identify as such…”
Would it even be a YA book list without a John Green book in here somewhere? Often teenagers’ first novel featuring LGBTQ+ characters, this one is a fun but important and poignant story which effortlessly merges sexuality-related themes into the story, without entirely focusing on them. It will make you feel every emotion possible from body-shaking laughs to gut-wrenching feels, and proves that being LGBTQ+ doesn’t have to be the most interesting or important thing about a person.
“Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”
Luna is often cited as the book which changed peoples’ perspectives on trans and non-gender conforming people. Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon, his true self Luna only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be. Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen’s struggle for self-identity and acceptance.
“Yeah, I loved her. I couldn’t help it. She was my brother.”
Ashleigh Walker is in love. The intense, heart-racing, all-consuming kind of love. It’s enough to stop her worrying about bad grades at college, and even enough to distract her from her parents’ marriage troubles. There’s just one thing bothering her – shouldn’t it be her boyfriend, Dylan, who makes her feel this way? It’s not. It’s her her English teacher, Miss Murray.
“Love doesn’t discriminate and nor should the law. Not in this country, not in this world, not in this lifetime.”
This is a story about the weird route that life can sometimes take, thanks to mixed up families, confused sexuality, bullying, consent, the dark surprise of death, and the struggles of being a teenager amongst all of that. It has a very clear message by the end – we are all made of molecules, we’re the same, we all matter, and we deserve to be treated equally and with respect.
“So I was crying because I couldn’t help but wish more than anything that she could’ve seen me, wearing a dog costume and doing The Worm across the gym floor. It would have filled her with relief to see me acting so normal.”