June is Pride Month (but so is every month, really), and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate than sharing some of my favorite LGBTQ Books For Teens. P.S. I have personally read all of the books on this list and would rate them between three and half and five corks–oops, I mean stars.
A Brief Overview of Pride
June is the official month for Pride. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Tired of being harassed and discriminated against, community members decided to riot and speak up for equal rights. This uprising, known as the Stonewall Riots, led to the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Today, as a designated National Monument, the Stonewall Inn represents a catalyst for gay rights and the LGBT movement. There are numerous alliances, coalitions, and parades held across the world. You can find more information from the Library of Congress here.
Please note that the LGBT+ acronym is always evolving and that there are many versions to include all members of the community. The shortened acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community members. However, we know that gender and identity is fluid and personal, which is why the acronym has grown over the years. For this book list, I will be using the LGBTQ+ acronym. I’d love to know your thoughts on the books listed as well as the acronym you prefer.
15 LGBTQ Books For Teens
1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante are best friends but feelings can be a tricky topic in adolescence. Portrayed as loners, readers watch Ari and Dante’s friendship grow in a sweet, tentative, and confusing manner. A quick realistic fiction read, a few have criticized the title for a lack of plot. Heads Up: This is an endearing character development story about life and growing up. While Aristotle and Dante is not an action packed thriller, the novel is instead a beautiful YA tale about being and loving as humans. I fell for the innocence and pureness of Ari and Dante. Aristotle and Dante is a Printz Honor Book and has won numerous awards such as the Lambda Literary Award and Stonewall Book Award. These awards honor the LGBT+ community.
2. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
David Levithan is one of my favorite LGBTQ authors, and although some readers have had enough of John Green, I’m unapologetically not quite sorry. I just adore Green’s books, and before The Fault in Our Stars became popular, I bawled my eyes out to the audio version on my way to work. A strong author and uniquely in touch, Green is brilliant at examining the core of what makes us human.
Just as special, I met Levithan at ALA Orlando along with one of my teen volunteers. She and I completely fan-girled on him. The movie rights for Every Day not yet announced, we saw his work as screen-worthy.
The combination of the authors alone makes for a good book. Do I even need to tell you what it’s about?
I Guess I Should…
Kicked out of his circle of friends for defending the not so tiny and flamboyantly gay, Tiny Cooper, Will Grayson is struggling to survive high school. While attempting to win over Jane, balance Tiny’s dramatic relationship roller coaster, and avoid being sucked into the play Tiny Dancer, Will slams right into himself. Well, not quite himself. During a rather life changing moment at a porn store, Will Grayson happens to meet another Will Grayson. What happens from that moment on changes the course of both of their lives.
Addressing depression, love, friendship, and coming out, Levithan and Green humorously but passionately portray a modern day coming of age story with mature LGBTQ issues. Teens will relate to the constant online chatting and texting. The chapters alternate between each Grayson. One writes in all lowercase, emphasizing his apathy, sadness, and low self-esteem. The other battles the literal and figurative shadow of his best friend. Honest and full of imperfections, these characters make you want to shout, “My name is not Will Grayson, and I love you…all.”
The minor language and sexual references may put more conservative families on alert and make this an older teen read. The unfinished ending is one I can handle. It is all about the drama.
3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
I listened to the audiobook of Two Boys Kissing for my MLIS Young Adult Lit class. I had no idea what to expect, and this was my first real introduction to Levithan. Honest and heart wrenching, the story focuses on two boys trying to break the world record for the longest kiss–based on a true story. Hauntingly, Two Boys Kissing is told by some of the boys who have died from HIV. I reviewed this title more in depth on The Uncorked Librarian here. Two Boys Kissing is the winner of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award and is a 2014 Stonewall Honor Book.
4. Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo
I had fabulous luck at ALA. As I was waiting in line for the talented Laurie Halse Anderson to sign The Impossible Knife of Memory, who was standing in front of me? None other than E.E. Charlton-Trujillo. The worst part (because I am shameless): I double checked with Anderson to make sure I had the right author. Hey, Laurie, was that E.E…and oh, yea, by the way, can you please sign your book?!
The first three books on this list are boy protagonist heavy. Fat Angie, our lead here, is a strong and darkly comedic girl. Overweight and struggling with the usual high school crap, like mean girls and gym class, Fat Angie crushes on a new girl in town. Readers eat, cry, and exist with Angie and her battles.
Fat Angie faces criticism about stereotyping overweight girls and the end goal of weight loss. Overall, the title adds personality to the LGBTQ book community. Like Angie, the language is rough, and this title won’t be for everyone. Fat Angie is the winner of the 2014 Stonewall Book Award.
5. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
If you have not read a graphic novel yet, Nimona is where it is at. If this title does not convert you to a graphic novel fan, please troll me below in the comments. Wait: Please don’t, but kindly tell me why.
A National Book Award Finalist and named best book for all of the heavy hitting book reviewers, meet shape-shifting Nimona. Nimona has a villainous side, which is a little troublesome at times. She is also eager to help and naively ambitious. Teaming up with Lord Blackheart, the duo works to prove Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin’s lack of heroism. I do not want to give away spoilers, but Lord Blackheart might actually have a sweet rainbow heart instead. I am pretty sure that I read this book at least three times.
6. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
I am not going to lie. When Grasshopper Jungle first published in 2015 and received a Printz Honor, my librarian coworkers and fellow MLIS students went crazy. This title is a bit insane. In fact, you may give up on me after this recommendation or you will follow me for life. We have some fornicating and nasty praying mantises–they are insatiably horny. I don’t get it either, but somehow I hate love it. These unleashed beasts might be the end of the world unless Austin and Robby can stop them. No, the insects are not a part of the LGBTQ community, but the main character is bi-sexual. Austin is in love with both his male best friend and his girlfriend. I laughed pretty hard with this one but also be forewarned of language and sexual crudeness.
You just have to read Grasshopper Jungle to understand it–but does anyone really get this book? I would have loved to be on the Printz committee for this one.
Fornicating praying mantises, horny boys, and the end of the world. I am not sure why, but I kinda hate love Grasshopper Jungle By Andrew Smith. Click To Tweet
7. Drag Teen by Jeffery Self
What should you do when you live in Florida, want out, and decide that you need to get some quick cash to pay for college? Join a teen drag competition, of course. Although Drag Teen is not one of my all time favorite LGBTQ favorites, the story is unique because of the drag component. I feel for JT as a transplanted Floridian. Run, kiddo, run. If you want to laugh along with JT, Heather, and Seth’s friendship and dip your toes into a very small part of the drag world, Drag Teen will make you smile. If nothing else, the title brings awareness. I didn’t have drag in my life until college, which is why I appreciate the high school exposure here. Look at the front of the book; how can a pink wig and bright yellow cover make you bummed?
Junior Fiction & Middle Grade LGBTQ Book Reviews You Will Love:
8. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
One of my favorite teen books of all time–that is also on my re-read list–delve into the lives of twins Jude and Noah. Once inseparable, something has caused a rift between them. We see each half of their stories in different parts of the book. The main premise is that only together can they complete this heartfelt the novel. Readers watch as Noah falls in love with boy next door, and Jude takes on an angsty relationship.
This is another one of those teen novels that shoots right to the heart. Contemporary fiction and full of emotion, I’ll Give You The Sun is an artistic must-read. The list of accolades in truly endless but most notable, I’ll Give You The Sun is a Printz Award Winner and a Stonewall Honor Book.
9. Ash by Malindo Lo
When I first picked up Ash, I had no idea what to expect. Published in 2010, Ash is one of the older titles on this list, and honestly, I had not heard any hype about it. I am pretty sure that this was my first fairytale storyline with LGBTQ characters. Marketed as a Cinderella story, we meet Ash–a now almost orphan left to a cruel stepmother. Enter some confusing faeries that act like the devil on one shoulder and angels on another. Sounds familiar, right? Then enters the seductive Huntress. Ash must choose who she wants to be and the life she so desires.
Something about the unique take on a classic story with an LBGTQ edge makes Ash stick out as one of those lesser known but great YA novels. I do not pick up as much fantasy as I should, but the darkness of loss tied in with feminine strength makes for a powerful and almost magical storyline.
10. Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
An intergenerational and funny read, follow along with the histories of three women: Katie, her mom Caroline, and her grandmother Mary. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Katie decides to become her grandmother’s caretaker, slowly putting together the pieces of a scattered and chaotic past. Family drama and secrets are plentiful.
A Stonewall Honor Book, readers learn more about sexuality in a family dynamic. Find what ties these seemingly different women together. This is more of a book about examining relationships and dysfunctional families than gripping adventure. If you are looking for fantasy or fast-paced storytelling, I would keep moving down the list.
11. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Man I am telling you, ALA is the best place to meet authors. Thankfully, my teen volunteers at the time flew across the convention center around closing time to grab me a signed copy of If I Was Your Girl. I am so glad they did.
Amanda is the new girl in school, but imagine having a secret that could change the way that everyone looks at you. Successfully falling into the high school world, Amanda starts falling for Grant. She knows that she will have to one day disclose her secret, but when she does, her world may fall apart. This story had me cheering along, sobbing, and a little scared at one point. There is a full review on The Uncorked Librarian here.
With themes of growing up as a transgender student, relationships, and acceptance, Russo has created such a contemporary and needed masterpiece for the YA fictional canon. A Stonewall Book Award winner, among many awards, If I Was Your Girl is another one of my all-time top LGBTQ books.
12. Noggin By John Corey Whaley
Noggin is unlike any other young adult novel that I have read. A coming of age story with a science fiction twist, sixteen-year-old Travis’ body is dying of cancer. He decides to sign-up for an experimental procedure that may one day bring him back to life. Travis’ head is sawed off of his body and frozen for five years. Walt Disney, anyone?
When Travis wakes, he has a different body but is still in love with his girlfriend, Cate. Cate, though, is now 21 and engaged to someone else. Much of the story is focused on Travis coming to terms with his rebirth and his determination to win Cate’s heart. The persistence is a frustrating obsession to witness. Even more notable is that Travis’ best friend confesses he is gay before the procedure. In this re-born life, however, Travis’ best friend is dating women.
LGBTQ is a more minor but relevant theme in Noggin. This book is also a National Book Award Finalist.
13. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
I love Gracefully Grayson. Similar to Will Grayson, Will Grayson (is there meaning in the name Grayson?), Grayson captures readers’ hearts. Grayson is your typical middle school boy. Well, except that every morning he wakes up and pretends that his long shirts and baggy pants are flowing gowns and skirts. He finds himself trying on dresses at the thrift shop. One day, Grayson receives an old letter from his mom to his grandmother with a picture of his younger self in a tutu. Grayson’s parents died when he was little, and he lives with his aunt and uncle, who are kind but not as understanding. His uncle’s support is endearing; he tries to understand but also shows the difficulty of accepting a transgender family member.
As Grayson starts to learn who he really wants to be, he is cast as Persephone, the female-role in the school play. Similar to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a lot of meaning comes from the theater. Gracefully Grayson is all about what it means to express who we are on the inside and outside. Grayson’s longing is the strongest emotion in the book. The friends around him, who braid his hair and encourage him in the play, make me proud. I almost expected this to be a story about bullying, but the overall support, acceptance, and love are so much more than a few acts of prejudice and confusion.
Although the language is fitting for middle schoolers, the content might be best for high school or mature middle schoolers.
14.The Lumberjanes: Beware The Kitten Holy (Vol.1) created by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Shannon Watters and illustrated by Brooke Allen
As I read The Lumberjanes on the plane back to Florida, which happened to be filled with a cute, FL college soccer team, I was actually embarrassed to have this title out in the public eye (this statement ironically defeats the point of this graphic novel).
Five best friends are the Lumberjanes, a wilderness version of the Girl Scouts. Unfortunately for these girls, the wilderness is full of horrific creatures. Unlike the slightly more innocent and serene Girl Scouts, the Lumberjanes find themselves being chased by yetis, three-eyed wolves, and satanic Boy Scouts.
The graphic novel reads like the Girl Scout Handbook with each chapter describing how to earn a specific badge. The girls are drawn a little punky with dyed hair, pearls, and braids. This graphic novel is all about girl power, and the girls themselves do not look too feminine. I appreciate the feminist allusions: the head of the camp is Rosie the Riveter, and the girls always shout out these oddball expressions like “holy Julliete Gordon Low [or Joan Jett],” referring to famous women. There is some feminist humor such as when April uses her hair tie as a slingshot to hurt the water dragon. The Lumberjanes is reminiscent of the Powder Puff girls and has multiple characters in the LGBTQ+ community.
There is also a newer novel version of Lumberjanes. You can read my review here.
15. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
A book recently on the big screen, we follow along with Simon and his process of slowly coming out to the world. An accidental email and the threat of blackmail threatens to send Simon’s world into a tizzy. Simon is quite likable, and you’ll love this coming of age and coming out story. I have yet to see the movie, but you can bet that it is on my list. Another contemporary and realistic fiction read about friendship and family. These characters are so relatable, and finishing the book, I felt like I moved to the other side of the world.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a National Book Award Longlist title and a William C. Morris Award Winner.
I’d love to know some of your favorites; I have many more. Happy reading and Happy Pride!
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