Happy Pride Month everyone! I attended Boston Pride for the first time this past weekend and it was an environment full of happy, dancing people who felt comfortable being themselves. So, in honor of Pride Month, I decided to put together a few books that have excellent LGBTQ+ representation. They are all YA novels that serve as an introduction for cisgender/straight readers, provide representation for LGBTQ+ teens, and can be enjoyed by all ages. Representation is so important, especially for traditionally marginalized communities to be able to see themselves in characters. Without further ado, here are some great Pride reads!
You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LaCour
This book takes place during Pride Week and follows two teens, Mark and Katie, who have never spoken before they end up in the same gay bar. They’re both young, gay, and afraid of love, which creates a fast bond between the two of them. The story is told in alternating points of view as Mark and Katie grow closer and adventure through the colorful world of Pride while trying to figure out what to do after high school graduation. Given that David Levithan and Nina LaCour are both members of the LGBTQ community, the vibrant scenes that take place during Pride feel authentic, all the way down to the bands that play. You Know Me Well is a quick read full of the joy, happiness, and acceptance.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante was one of the best books that I have read this year. When the book starts, Aristotle is struggling with his brother’s arrest and the fact that his parents won’t talk about it. Dante is an oddball kid who doesn’t look at the world quite the same way as everyone else. They meet at a pool over the summer and quickly become the best of friends and, maybe, just a little bit more. The first word that comes to mind when I think of this book is “sweet.” Ari and Dante have the most genuine, adorable friendship and the feelings between them progress slowly and realistically. With a narration style similar to that of The Catcher in the Rye and characters that steal your heart, this book will quickly become one of your favorites!
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
The Art of Being Normal was the first YA book about transgender characters I ever read. Although the author herself is cisgender, she spent years working with transgender teens and clearly did her research in order to portray the characters and their experiences as well as she could. David is in the process of trying to figure out how to transition to a girl and how to come out to family and friends. Leo is the new kid at school with a few secrets of his own who is desperately trying to stay under the radar. The two of them have much more in common than they initially think. While The Art of Being Normal doesn’t address trans issues beyond the most basic beginning thoughts of transitioning, I still think this book is important. It is a great introduction for cis readers to the perspective of transgender characters and I think that young trans teens who are still trying to figure out their identity could find it helpful.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Nina LaCour is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. It is rare to see books, especially in YA, where a character’s sexuality is just a part of who they are. Often, the plot centers solely around a character coming out or bullying/harassment in school, but that isn’t the case with Everything Leads to You. Emi is a talented young set designer trying to break her way into Hollywood. When she finds a mysterious letter from a recently deceased Old-Hollywood star, she meets Ava, who is unlike anyone Emi has ever encountered before. The world of Emi’s set designs and film-making is so vibrant in this book that readers can’t help but picture every piece of furniture Emi places in a room. She has a caring romance with Ava and I love that their feelings for each other took a backseat to solving the mystery surrounding Ava’s family. It was nice to read about two lesbian characters who were more than just their sexuality or their feelings for each other.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
If I Was Your Girl tells the story of Amanda, a trans woman who has been fully transitioned and on pills for several years. She’s recently moved to Tennessee to live with her dad and finish out high school while remaining as low profile as possible. Her plans become complicated when she acquires a group of friends and meets a boy named Grant who she wants to tell everything. This is also the first YA book written by a trans woman to be heavily promoted, which is amazing. The book is heartfelt and significantly more upbeat than one might expect from a story that could have easily felt dark. Meredith Russo also includes two separate notes to readers, one for cis-gendered readers and another for trans readers, each with their own message about the book and its contents. To see those notes in full and to read an awesome review of the book by a trans woman, have a look here.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
I’m closing this list out with David Levithan again because it’s hard to go wrong with one of his books. His first book, Boy Meets Boy, was originally published in 2003 when it wasn’t anywhere near as normal to see a romance between two boys, even in Young Adult books. Since then, he’s continued to write beautiful stories about gay teens just trying to live their best life in a world that tries its best to knock them down. Two Boys Kissing was no exception to this. The book is narrated by the generation of gay men that died from AIDS telling the story of several gay couples and gay teenagers in the present. All of this is centered around Harry and Craig, two ex-boyfriends trying to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. I have never read another book narrated like Two Boys Kissing and the contrast between the lives of the gay men killed by AIDS and the teenagers today was stunning and I teared up while reading a few times. It was equal parts adorable and sad in a way that only David Levithan can manage. This book is an excellent reminder of how far we have come and how far we still need to go for equality.
Happy Pride Everyone! Keep being your beautiful selves, no matter who that may be!