I usually read at least one book a week when I was a teenager. So that’s hundreds of books. Yet, only three had queer characters. Two of them went to the bury your gays route, and I’m pretty sure they were all violently outed. All three were gay men too – who deserve their stories told too and deserve far better than trauma porn – but isn’t it sad that I only came across trans or sapphic YA books in my 20s? So, with that in mind, I decided to compose a list of queer YA books for Pride Month.
My favourite author, Darren Shan, even admitted that he wanted to include LGBTQ+ characters in the Saga Of Darren Shan, 25 years ago, but it was shut down. So, the best we get are little hints here or there. Although I don’t feel as connected to YA these days, I like to still read it sometimes for my inner teen. Nowadays, that there are far more options available, so let’s go through them. Also, thank you to Artie Carden for giving me some recommendations.
Reading queer YA books doesn’t make teens “decide to be gay.” They help closeted teens to see themselves and know there’s nothing wrong with them, while also teaching tolerance to their peers.
YA LGBTQ+ Books
For this list of queer YA books I tried to include a mix of subgenres, so there’s fluffy romances, dystopian, fantasy, and more. I also wanted to find a balance between feel-good stories and books with darker elements.
1. Perfect On Paper – Sophie Gonzales
Perfect On Paper is an agony aunt gone wrong story.
Darcy Phillips is the school’s anonymous agony aunt, giving out relationship advice to her classmates. When Alexander Brougham catches her in the act, he asks to her help him win his ex back. Meanwhile, she’s in love with her best friend, Brooke, and let’s her jealousy get the best of her.
This story was fun and quirky. Plus, *potential spoiler ahead* given how rampant biphobia is within the LGBTQ+ community, it’s refreshing seeing an author show that bisexuals are in fact, still bisexual, when they’re not in same sex relationships.
2. Heartstopper, Volume One – Alice Oseman
The Heartstopper books are technically a graphic novel, but they still deserve to be grouped with these queer YA books. You’ve probably already seen the Netflix adaption, since the series is arguably the most well-known queer YA graphic novels.
Charlie was outed the year before the story takes place and was bullied. He meets Nick, in school and the boys quickly become friends but something more is blossoming between them.
It’s not that the character’s lives are all rainbows and smiles, but it’s nice for once to have a cute, fluffy, wholesome story. Most queer people don’t get a sappy first love as a teenager due to being closeted, so Heartstopper is healing in that regard.
3. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower was one of the three books I read as a teen with queer characters. It’s not really a queer YA book since Patrick is a supporting character and the overall story arc is about Charlie and his trauma. But, it was the one that at least didn’t kill off the gay character, so I guess for the time it came out, that was a big deal.
A lot of people have pointed out valid flaws with The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, but for it’s time, I feel like it was somewhat progressive. I’m just including on this queer YA books list because it was a first for me.
The book is a series of letters Charlie mails to an anonymous readers as he navigates his freshman year of high school.
4. The Surface Breaks – Louise O’Neill
The Surface Breaks is a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid.
There are queer side characters, so it’s not outright a Pride story. It was actually the first time I found a YA book with a sapphic characters. It was just a little nod, so don’t expect this to be a ground breaking piece of queer YA literature, but, I wanted to include it just because it was a first for me. Learn more in my review of The Surface Breaks.
5. The Lost Girls – Sonia Hartl
The Lost Girls is described as John Tucker Must Die with vampires.
Holly was turned into a vampire in 1987 by Elton, who promised a love that would last forever… only to leave her. Holly meets Elton’s other immortal exes, Rose and Ida, who hatched a plan to stop Elton from turning another girl. Holly is hesitant to get involved, until she meets his new love interest, Parker.
As someone who was obsessed with vampires as a teen, a surprising amount of the books I read were lacking. I think my teen self would have been obsessed with The Lost Girls.
The Lost Girls also features on my vampire books list.
6. Fake Dates And Moon Cakes – Sher Lee
If you love the fake dating trope then Fake Dates And Moon Cakes is for you. It’s an adorable story of opposites attract.
Dylan is hoping to win the Mid-Autumn Festival teen mooncake-making competition to put his aunt’s Chinese takeout on the map and to honour his late mom. Then comes Theo, who immediately grabs Dylan’s attention and asks him to be a fake date for a family wedding.
7. The Sun And The Star – Rick Riorden & Mark Oshiro
Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan is a stellar ally. He teamed up with queer, nonbinary, Latinx author Mark Oshiro for this LGBTQ+ YA book.
The Sun And The Star features Nico di Angelo from the Percy Jackson series.
The book follows Nico and Will as they set out to rescue a friend from Tartarus, but the journey puts their relationship to the test.
8. Even If We Break – Marieke Nijkamp
Even If We Break has Cabin In The Woods vibes; five friends go to a cabin to play a game, but they’re each hiding something.
There’s pretty good representation for queer and disabled folks. Personally, as hard as it was to find queer YA books , I find it even harder to find books with canon autistic characters, so it’s a breath of fresh air. The reviews are quite divisive so this is very much a love it or hate it tale. You might also like these summer horror films.
Although I love a good wholesome story, I can’t resist horror, so this is a must-read as far as LGBTQ+ YA horror books go.
9. Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas
Yadriel is trans but his traditional Latinx family doesn’t accept him. In order to prove himself, he sets out to summon the ghost of his cousin, who was murdered, to set free. He accidentally summons, Julian Diaz, somewhat of a bad boy, who’s determined to settle his unfinished business.
If you love slow burns, Cemetery Boys will warm your heart.
10. Jay’s Gay Agenda – Jason June
What’s a queer YA books list without a joke about the alleged gay agenda. One thing that was also lacking in books (and in general) when I was growing up was sex-positivity!
Jay is the only gay kid in his small town, and feels left out as he friend’s go through rites of passage. His family then move to Seattle, where there’s a bigger LGBTQ+ community. Jay gets to experience his firsts, on a list called his Gay Agenda, but starts to feel torn between two worlds.
It can be exhausting reading about main characters who are squeaky clean and just bland enough anyone can project themselves onto. Jay makes a lot of mistakes. The messiness of Jay’s Gay Agenda is actually a breath of fresh air – but I get it’s not for everyone.
11. The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
Dean Atta’s prose shine through in The Black Flamingo. This coming-of-age queer POC YA book follows Michael as he comes to terms with his sexuality and works through his feelings about his family, and his Greek and Jamaican heritage.
12. Mooncakes – Suzanne Walker
Mooncakes follows Nova, a teen witch working in her grandmother’s book shop. After following a white wolf into the woods, she finds, Tam, her childhood crush, which rekindles her feelings.
This is a queer YA graphic novel, full of heart-melting moments and magic.
13. The Sunbearer Trials – Aiden Thomas
If you love The Hunger Games and the Percy Jackson books, but would want a queer spin, you’ll love The Sunbearer Trials.
Theo isn’t being trained for the Sunbearer Trials, a series of tests that take place each decade to choose who replenishes the sun’s power. The winner will carry light and life to the Reino del Sol temples, while the loser is sacrificed. To Theo’s surprise, he’s chosen for the contest.
14. These Witches Don’t Burn – Isabel Sterling
Although she lives in Salem, Hannah has to hide her powers from Regs – non magical people – or else she will lose her magic. Meanwhile, her ex-girlfriend and dark magic become pressing issues.
I included These Witches Don’t Burn on my list of Harry Potter alternatives. Trans women are women.
15. All That’s Left In The World – Erik J. Brown
Although All That’s Left In The World is apocalyptic, it’s full of humour. It appeared on my zombie & apocalypse books list.
After a bird flu pandemic decimates the most of the population, Jamie is trying to survive but comes across an injured, Andrew. The boys leave the safety of Jamie’s cabin. As their feelings grow, the stakes get higher.
I will give a heads up that there are some intense homophobic moments so, it’s a bit darker than a cute romance blossoming.
16. What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera
You might already know Becky Albertailli as the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Adam Silvera as the author of They Both Die At The End.
The book follows Arthur as he spends his summer in New York, pondering if love will show up when he least expects it, meanwhile, Ben is grieving a failed relationship and the last thing he needs is the universe meddling. The boys finally meet and can’t help but wonder where things will go.
17. She Gets the Girl – Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick
Who doesn’t love a good enemies-to-lovers story?
Alex knows how to get a girl, but struggles with maintaining relationships due to her reputation for being a flirt. Meanwhile, Molly’s love life feels hopeless.
Alex teams up with Molly to help her win her crush, but they start to realize maybe they should be pursing each other.
18. It’s Not Like It’s A Secret – Misa Sugiura
Sana has a lot of secrets, ranging from her father’s affair to having a crush on her best friend. After her family move to California, her life becomes even more complicated and she realizes that coming out is the easy part.
This queer POC YA book also details Sana’s experience struggling to fit in at home as a Japanese-American student, and feeling understood when she moves to California. It touches on racism, as well as instances where POC are being racist toward other POC.
It’s honestly quite a divisive book, since Sana makes some major mistakes which put a lot of readers off.
19. I Wish You All The Best – Mason Deaver
Ben is disowned when they come out to their parents as nonbinary and moves in with their estranged older sister. With everything going on, Ben wants to fly under the radar in their new school. Enter, Nathan, who takes Ben under his wing.
This queer book for teens is a important read, with lots of reviewers stating it was their first time coming across a non-binary protagonist. I want to give a heads up that this isn’t a light fluffy fun queer YA book – there’s lots of heavy moments which some readers may not be up for.
20. I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip – John Donovan
I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip is arguably the first piece of LGBTQ+ YA literature, having come out in 1969, which is why I felt it deserved a spot on this list. It goes to show that queer people have always been here. It’s been described as a “gay” version of The Catcher In The Rye. You might have noticed that most of the LGBTQ+ books for teens on this list came out after 2015 – hence why my teenage years were lacking in representation.
Davy is struggling with his sexuality and befriends a boy at his new school, but the friendship develops into something more, leaving Davy struggling with his feelings about it. The book also largely touches on toxic family dynamics. Since this is the oldest of these queer books for teens, at more than 50-years old, you should look at it as a product of it’s time.
What’s Wrong With Bury Your Gays?
Throughout this list of queer YA books, I’ve touched on why bury your gays can be problematic while also sharing books that put their LGBTQ+ characters through hell.
Being queer isn’t a walk in the park. Being outed, struggling to come to terms with your gender or sexuality, or experiencing hate crimes are real things that happen to queer people. There has to be a place in fiction for those stories for people to be able to find something to relate to or for writers to process those feelings and experiences.
But, as Book Riot put it: the bury your gays trope is often used to undermine queer people and queer relationships. Depending on how it’s done it can be a form of queerbaiting.*
Not every time a queer character is killed in a story counts as bury your gays either. It’s more so that is suspicious when the only or one of the only characters that died is queer. Especially when they don’t get a happy ending.
Bury your gays wasn’t even started with malicious intentions, it was really the best closeted creators could do at the time. But these days, we can and should do better. When every YA book with LGBTQ+ characters you find is about queer people being brutally outed, harassed, or murdered, how could you possibly imagine a world where you feel safe enough to come out and be your authentic self?
*Real people cannot queer bait. Forcing Kit Conner out of the closet wasn’t acceptable.
Fan-fiction & Representation In Place Of Queer YA Books
As I said earlier, there was little to no queer representation when I was growing up. For that reason: people turned to fan-fiction to fill the gap in queer YA literature.
Not all fan-fiction is smut, but people look at those types of fics like the mindless work of hormonal teens. While, concerns about shipping real people are valid, you have to remember that a lot of those writing and reading these fics were exploring their sexuality (as well as trauma & fears) in a way that felt safe for them.
Plus, while the fetishization of MLM is also a super valid point, a lot of people reading those fics were closeted trans men living vicariously through the characters. Not to mention, sapphic stories were rare, MLM was all that was available.
Me and Artie discussed this in my post on whether fan fiction can improve your writing.
Have you read any of these LGBTQ+ books for teens (and adults who still love YA)? What did you think? Happy Pride! You can also check out these alternative Pride anthems.