LGBT-themed books for tweens and high schoolers

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There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way in terms of adult gay and lesbian literature, and there’s been a huge boost in quality and quantity of fiction and nonfiction with LGBT themes for kids and young adults. Whether or not your child identifies as LGBT is immaterial, as many of the general themes and feelings (confusion, isolation, frustration) are common to just about every teen I’ve ever known — not to mention plenty of the adults.

When it debuted in 1995, Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence by Marion Dane Bauer was the first collection of young adult fiction completely focused on gay and lesbian ideas and themes. The selections are written by children’s and young adult’s fiction authors (including Bruce Coville, Lois Lowry, and C.S. Alder), and discuss things like coming out and homophobia. Most of the kids are white, suburban, and from fairly well-off families, but there is a bit more diversity than what you usually get with young adult fiction.

Recommended ages: This is definitely suitable for the twelve and up crowd, and possibly quite a few precocious eight to eleven year olds.

Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love and Parrotfish are tremendous pieces of fiction. Hard Love is about the relationship between two teens — one who is straight and interested, and the other who is a lesbian and not. The book is told from the point of view of the male, who is coming to terms with numerous factors in his life (abandonment by his father, physical and emotional distance from his mother) and his feelings for a female who is romantically unavailable to him. Everything you might have felt as a teen (alienation, motivation, creativity, depression, independence, co-dependence, etc.) is present here. Parrotfish is the author’s second work, and this time she focuses on the life of Grady, who was known as Angela before coming out as transgendered at Thanksgiving.

Recommended ages: Hard Love – 11 & up; Parrotfish – 14 & up.

Freak Show by James St. James (if you were a club kid in the 80s/90s, you might be familiar with his first book, Disco Bloodbath, which has since been renamed Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland) is about a teen drag queen named Billy. He’s recently moved into an ultra-conservative community on Florida, and is challenging the status quo from day one. The plot — the school outcast wants to win a crown at Homecoming — is admittedly all too familiar, as it’s been hashed out in many a teen dramedy. The obvious twist that makes the book different is that Billy is a male who wants to be crowned Queen. The narration of the book (through Billy’s voice) is terrific, and many teens will identify with Billy’s need to be accepted, whether or not they also identify with his clothing choices.

Recommended ages: 14 & up.

Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws is by transsexual author Kate Bornstein. The book should probably be on every required reading list in every high school, as it’s one of the most unique teenage suicide prevention manuals that I’ve come across. As the title suggests, there are 101 alternatives to suicide inside, and only one rule: “Don’t be mean.” The alternatives cover both the mild (moisturize) to the maybe-not-so-desirable-for parents (get laid). Bornstein writes a blog that serves as a kind of accompaniment for the book, Kate Bornstein’s Blog for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.

Recommended ages: I’d say 12 & up, but use your judgement. Some of the alternatives might not be the best for younger kids, but bullying happens at all ages.

Psst…if you’re looking for something for the five-and-under set, Barbara Lynn Edmonds’s When Grown-Ups Fall in Love is a great place to start. It’s never too early!

What suggestions do you guys have?

Comments on LGBT-themed books for tweens and high schoolers

  1. Oh my god, I love Am I Blue? That basically opened the door for me to gay/lesbian books. I still have my copy on my bookshelf behind me. 🙂

    I second Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters. I also have that on my bookshelf. In fact, I think I should raid my bookshelf now, haha.
    *moments later*
    Two other books I found that I read in high school that are in the LGBT genre:
    Shy Girl by Elizabeth Stark (warning: features a hot biker chick 😀 )
    Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (I’m athiest, but this is a religion heavy book. But I still liked it.)

  2. Am I Blue? was a great book for me when I came out as bisexual at 13. Although I really wish I had tried to read more gay literature or watch more gay films when I was that age. A lot of it just seemed kind of depressing, which is why I really liked Am I Blue?. And this might sound weird, but encourage your kid (lgbtq or not) to look at some of the pictures or read bride profiles on Offbeat Bride or So You’re EnGAYged? of the gay couples. Also, I really like watching episodes of Say Yes to the Dress that feature lesbian couples. It’s not as difficult to find positive depictions of gay and lesbian relationships in the media as it was, but we’ve still got a ways to go. When I was struggling with coming out to myself, that was one thing that really brought me a kind of closure. Although I knew I liked women from a young age, the older I got, the more I realized that I wasn’t bisexual, I was gay. I wasn’t attracted to men, but I just hadn’t had any serious relationships with women and had always been surrounded by the idea of heteronormative relationships. I had no role model. Looking at just pictures of two brides made me happy in a way that looking at heterosexual wedding photos didn’t. Happy in a way that, wait a minute, when I get married, I want to be a bride with a bride and we’ll both wear dresses. Seeing gay couples portrayed in a positive manner in something as simple as a wedding – something that’s not about sex or a lifestyle, per say, it’s about two people loving each other – it’s really refreshing.

  3. I am J by Cris Beam is a new title that has been getting excellent reviews in the YA librarian community. Also, you can’t talk about current LGBT YA lit without acknowledging David Levithan, author of Boy Meets Boy and co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He is probably more well-known for his co-authorship of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

    There are also a number of books for younger kids. The Family Book by Todd Parr. I like this one because it doesn’t even make a big deal about the fact that some families have two moms or two dads, it’s just matter of fact. His It’s Okay to Be Different is also really nice. And Tango Makes Three is a classic that gets banned every year 🙂 It’s a sweet (and based off of a true!) story about two boy penguins who fall in love and hatch an egg together. A favorite of mine is King and King. I think this one and Tango have been mentioned on here before, but they’re still great 🙂

  4. I read hardlove when I was younger. (Even though I am not gay,bi… etc) I think it’s a great read not only for the LGBT aspect, but also the subject of love and rejection.

  5. Kristyn Dunnion’s Mosh Pit was a great find for me – a queer, punk narrator looking for community in the city. well written, dealing with themes teens might be experiencing that *don’t* get touched on by other teen books (street involvement, mental health, drugs, etc) while avoiding a condescending or moralizing tone.

  6. I recently read Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is a fantasy book with two female characters who fall in love. (I hesitate to call them “lesbian” because the culture the story takes place in doesn’t seem to have that concept.) I would recommend it.

  7. “Will Grayson Will Grayson” by John Green and David Levithan (winning combo!) may be the best book about self-acceptance and homosexuality a teenager (or probably most adults) could read! It’s uniquely compassionate to the identity of every character, and explores the idea of loving oneself and one’s friends unconditionally in a really original and not at all sappy way.

  8. I have to recommend Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson. It’s about the friendship between three girls, and how it changes when two of them start dating.
    And, there’s a great video online of the author defending her book after it was challenged.

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