Until M.E. Kerr’s Deliver Us From Evie was published in 1990, queer characters in young adult fiction never got the happy endings they deserved. Books that gave queer characters happy endings were deemed inappropriate for society and were too much of a risk in the eyes of mainstream publishers.
But luckily, all that is changing. In 2014, 47 LGBT-centric YA books were published by major publishers, up 59% from 29 books in 2013. Today, that number has only continued to grow. Here are five LGBTQ books you should be reading.
Carry On is a 2015 novel by Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl, Eleanor and Park) that follows the story of Simon Snow in his last year of magic school. In the magic world, Simon is the “Chosen One” (sound familiar?) whose mission is to defeat the evil Humdrum, the biggest threat the World of Mages has ever faced. Simon’s girlfriend, Agatha, breaks up with him, and why does his suspected vampire-roommate-enemy keep disappearing? Things don’t quite go as planned for the Chosen One.
Despite being 528 pages long, I finished this book in a week and immediately wanted more. The Harry Potter parallels are obvious and intentional, but the characters are unique and developed enough that the story doesn’t feel at all like a Harry Potter spin-off. Rowell has quite literally created a magical love story. This was the first book I’ve read in a long time that actually gave me butterflies. I went through it at a scary pace, and have been impatiently awaiting the sequel ever since.
Everything Leads to You
Nina LaCour’s 2014 novel follows Emi Price, an 18-year-old aspiring set designer in Los Angeles, as she attempts to launch her career and fix her love life. Emi is doing the best she can to stay away from her off-again-on-again ex, Morgan, and while she may be a Hollywood romantic, her real-life relationships are anything but silver screen worthy. While looking for pieces to design a set, Emi comes across a letter written by a deceased famous actor, addressed to his mystery granddaughter, Ava. Cue ridiculously cute love story.
Everything Leads to You does have a few issues with plot continuity, and a little disbelief should be suspended to imagine the likelihood of a high school graduate landing an internship on a major movie, but what I found interesting was how LaCour deals with sexuality, in that, she really doesn’t. Emi is already out, as is Ava, which opens up the story to be about so many more aspects of Emi’s life besides just her sexuality.
Leah on the Offbeat
Leah on the Offbeat is Becky Albertalli’s 2018 addition to the Simon Spier-verse, and the sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. In this addition, Simon’s best friend Leah Burke is trying to balance senior year, the college search, and a social life. What her friends don’t know is that she may have a secret of her own.
This book may have Albertalli’s trademark somewhat sappy teenage romance ending, but I wouldn’t have wanted anything less for these characters. Though this story is not Simon-centric, we get a glimpse into the lives of everyone in the friend group, rather than just Leah. Leah on the Offbeat is definitely a lighter read than some on this list, and a perfect book to kick off your summer reading list.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Emily M. Danforth’s 2012 novel follows teen Cameron Post in 1990s Montana after her life changes when her parents suddenly die in a car accident. Her conservative aunt comes to live with her, and when her secret gets out, Cameron is sent to a “de-gaying” camp.
This book was definitely harder to get through than the previous three, not just in length but also in content. It’s an important story, but isn’t easy. Still, I think it’s worth the read. I was rooting for Cameron from the beginning, and though the ending is somewhat ambiguous, it’s a meaningful and symbolic one. I know I say this for all the books on this list, but I really hope to see a sequel in the near future.
The Great American Whatever
Tim Federle blends loss, grief, and humor into this 2016 coming-of-age novel. After his sister’s death and his dad leaving, aspiring screenwriter Quinn isn’t sure he can handle the outside world anymore. What he does know is that if he’s going to stay locked in his room any longer, he needs an air conditioner. While this book is part coming out story, it’s just as much about moving on and growing up.
Though the description might sound heavy, it was quite a funny read. Quinn is somewhat of an anti-hero, who is constantly sabotaging his own success. Despite this, based on his circumstances, he’s a character that you can’t help but like. This story starts out a little heavy, but proved lighter and hopeful by the end.
Also published on Medium.