When I was growing up, I don’t think I read a single book with a LGBTQIA character as the protagonist. Most of these characters, when they did crop up, were side characters and often a punchline. But the young adult stories that are around today delve so much deeper—hitting the notes of pain, love, suffering, loss, and the need to be loved, especially by the people that they themselves love.
You may also enjoy these Children’s Books About LGBT+ Families.
To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, these books are proof that:
“History remembers we lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer,
And love is love is love is love is love is love
Is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”
7 LGBT YA Books You’ll Love
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I’m starting with this one because if you only read one book on this list, please make it this one. Ari and Dante are a pair of unlikely friends—Dante is confident, capable, self-assured, while Ari is closed-off, suffering from the demons of having a father who is haunted by his time in Vietnam and a brother who is in prison for reasons he doesn’t know. Set in the late 1980s, the achingly beautiful narration provided by Ari takes you on the journey of two Mexican-American boys as they discover who they truly are, and the true meaning of their unique friendship. Bring Kleenex.
When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
This story is magical realism at its finest: Sam and Miel are a strange pair of friends who became inseparable the day Miel appeared after a water tower was knocked over. Sam has his own secrets, ones that his mother and Miel and Miel’s sister go to great lengths to protect. Miel never seems to fully dry out from her experiences in the water tower, and roses grow out of her wrists. Their lives are thrown into a precarious balance when the Bonner sisters—the town beauties who are rumored to be witches—attempt to steal Miel’s roses and threaten to destroy Sam. The story is deeply personal to the author, whose husband is transgender. The lush prose will leave you breathless from start to finish.
Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer
Honestly, this book has it all. A TV star with a terrible secret; a transgender boy who presents as a female who is hiding the fact that he is a boy from his best friend who is in love with him; a young man who is gay and hiding this from his super religious family; and a girl who wants to go to a different college than the one her father is making her go to. They all find themselves on a harrowing road trip in that pivotal summer before they go their separate ways for college, and while the plot verges on unbelievable, Colfer’s sass and snark as he writes makes the story all too real. “It’s a tough world to find yourself in, but an even tougher one to be yourself in.”
Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert
Suzette and her stepbrother, Lionel, have a complicated relationship—made even more so by the fact that he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. What really sticks out to me about this novel is how the author packs so many important themes into the story—racism, microaggressions, mental illness—and also provides a protagonist who is a strong black Jewish girl. Subtle, smart, and not afraid to question preconceived notions, this book provides a thorough examination of mental illness without demonizing it, and captures so many difficult topics with grace and poignancy.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
It’s senior year, and Amanda has transferred to a new school in Tennessee, where she can make new friends—ones that she unfortunately has to keep at a distance. But then, she falls in love with a boy who breaks down the walls she has put up—and finds herself wanting to be honest about the fact that she used to be known as Andrew. This book is partially inspired by the author’s experiences as a trans woman.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
“The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?” But that’s just it: some days Riley identifies as a boy. Other days, a girl. In addition to being gender fluid, Riley has a congressman father who is running for re-election in a very conservative county, a new school, and the media to contend with. Riley begins an anonymous blog to explain to the world what it’s really like to be a gender-fluid teenager—and then when the blog goes viral, is faced with a commenter threatening to expose everything. Riley is then faced with a choice: hide, and walk away from all the good the blog has created, or stand up—and face all the risks.
Skim written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This graphic novel is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, and beautifully illustrated. Skim attends a private girls’ school, and she is a “would-be Wiccan goth.” The vibrant dialogue juxtaposed with the black-and-white drawings conveys a story of love and loss, looking at issues of suicide, depression, and sexuality.