Once upon a time, Kat Callahan asked for book recs for YA lit with gay and trans characters. I got name-dropped straightaway by someone else, which was deeply flattering. So here I am, color-coded list and all.
Titles with a pink star (★) feature lesbian characters. Titles with a blue star (★) feature gay male characters. Titles with a purple star (★) feature bisexual characters. Titles with a green star (★) feature trans characters. I’ve tried to include only titles with prominent queer characters, but not necessarily protagonists.
probably include spoilers. I’ve sourced them from Amazon.com unless otherwise noted.
★★★ Love in the Time of Global Warming, Francesca Lia Block
Seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) has lost everything—her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother. Like a female Odysseus in search of home, she navigates a dark world full of strange creatures, gathers companions and loses them, finds love and loses it, and faces her mortal enemy.
Note: I was blown away by the incredibly tender love scene between bisexual Pen and transgender Hex. It wasn’t any more or less explicit than you’d find in your standard cis|hetero YA make-out scene, but it’s one-of-a-kind in YA as far as I know.
★ Silhouette of a Sparrow, Molly Beth Griffin
In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park–a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians–her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.
★ Dangerous Angels, especially Baby Bebop, by Francesca Lia Block
In five luminous novels, acclaimed writer Francesca Lia Block spins a saga of interwoven lives and beating hearts. These postmodern fairy tales take us to a magical Los Angeles, a place where life is a mystery, pain can lead to poetry, strangers become intertwined souls, and everyone is searching for the most beautiful and dangerous angel of all: love.
Dirk MacDonald, a sixteen-year-old boy living in Los Angeles, comes to terms with being gay after he receives surreal storytelling visitations from his dead father and great-grandmother.
Note: Dirk and his boyfriend, Duck, are in a committed relationship throughout the series. This is the first book I read that addressed HIV/AIDS in the queer community, which is why it’s on this list, but there is some appropriation of Native American cultures by the characters that is never addressed.
I have a longish list of titles, but I’m going to take the time to (re/)read each one so I can decide whether or not I’m comfortable recommending it. Check back for more!