Rudine Sims Bishop coined the phrase ‘windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors’ to describe the ways that representation in books matter in our lives.
We choose to read the books that we see ourselves in, but books are often more than just a reflection of ourselves. Books allow us to empathize with the struggles and experiences of those most unlike us as well. They allow us to expand our world and gain new perspectives. However, it can be an incredibly lonely experience to only read books about people who aren’t like you. The importance of multicultural literature starts with its ability to represent the reader first. Everyone deserves to be the hero of their own story.
Today, I am providing a reading list of books that include LGBTQ+ representation. This list is not intended to be complete but rather a starting point for LGBTQ+ young adult literature.
1. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Cemetery Boys was released in September of 2020 and focuses on a transgender boy determined to prove his gender to his family who accidentally summons a ghost.
“Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Martiza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.”
2. It’s Not Like It’s A Secret by Misa Sugiura
Winner of the 2017 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature, It’s Not Like It’s A Secret is a beautiful coming-of-age story about two girls of color falling in love.
“Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to their parties. Some are big, like the fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely admit to herself – the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.
When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore.
Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, that part is easy . . . what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.”
3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was originally published in 2012. Critically acclaimed, the coming-of-age novel follows the growing bond between two Mexican-American teenagers. Its anticipated sequel is set to release in October of 2021.
“Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship – the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.”
4. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
Humorous, emotional, and sweet, Let’s Talk About Love follows Alice, who is Black, asexual, and biromantic, as she discovers herself.
“Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop, all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting – working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating – no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.
But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).
When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated – or understood.”
5. The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
Released in May of 2020, The Henna Wars is a lesbian enemies-to-lovers young adult novel that sends sparks flying.
“When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants – as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nsihat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own business, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled – but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.”
6. Girl Crushed by Katie Heaney
Girl Crushed was published in April of 2020 and is a queer romance about heartbreak, crushes, and falling in and out of love.
“Before Quinn Ryan was in love with Jamie Rudawski, she loved Jamie Rudawski, who was her best friend. But when Jamie dumps Quinn a month before their senior year, Quinn is suddenly girlfriend-less and best friend-less.
Enter a new crush: Ruby Ocampo, the gorgeous and rich lead singer of the popular band Sweets, who’s just broken up with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Quinn’s always only wanted to be with Jamie, but if Jamie no longer wants to be with her, why can’t Quinn go all in on Ruby? But the closer Quinn grows to Ruby, the more she misses Jamie, and the more (she thinks) Jamie misses her. Who says your first love can’t be your second love, too?”
7. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix Ever After is a YA novel about a young transgender teen learning to recognize love, identity, and self-worth.
“Felix Love has never been in love – and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many – Black, queer, and transgender – to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages – after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned – Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi-love triangle . . .
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.”
8. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
Told in verse, The Black Flamingo is a novel about identity, expression, self-discovery, and the power of drag.
“Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican – but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough.
As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs – and the Black Flamingo is born.
Told with raw honesty, insight, and lyricism, this debut explores the layers of identity that make us who we are – and allow us to shine.”