10 Great Young Adult Books with LGBTQ Themes

The young adult genre shines with choices of texts that bring to light the challenges and joys of growing up as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) teen.

Because understanding one's sexual identity is such a crucial element of coming-of-age, audiences demand that the genre cover a variety of perspectives. While there is always more work to be done when it comes to representing racially diverse LGBTQ characters, through its inclusion of topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity, young adult literature continues to grow more inclusive.

Indeed, there are more and more great books for all young readers that showcase LGBTQ characters. Here are some books your preteen or teen can use to dive into this topic.

As always, young adult novels may deal with sensitive subject material, like sexual assault, bullying, violence, abuse, and other challenging topics that could upset some readers. The books on this list may discuss such issues, and in some cases, may build plots around them.

1. Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Rafe has been “out” since eighth grade, and others have acted respectfully toward him. He’s even been asked to speak about tolerance at other schools. But Rafe is tired of being known only for his sexuality, so when he begins anew at an all-boys school, he decides to keep his sexual identity to himself. When Rafe falls in love with Ben, a classmate at his new school, the experience forces him to contend with his evolving identity. Readers will enjoy the humor of this well-written novel, and if they leave the book wanting more of Konigsberg's voice, they can pick up The Porcupine of Truth and Out of the Pocket.

2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

In a gender- and sex-norm-bending high school environment, Paul falls in love with Noah, only to lose his chance at being together with him. This teen love story will not only have readers cheering for a protagonist who is fighting for love, but it will also captivate them with its depiction of a compelling high school where differences in sexuality are openly celebrated.

3. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters

Part mystery, part love story, this novel brings together two female characters — Alix and Lianna — through the tragic death of their (unbeknownst to them) shared girlfriend Swanee. This simmering tale unfolds slowly, giving readers a chance to be enveloped by the tension of the protagonists' secrets.

4. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman

With the recent growth of literature about openly gay characters, it can be easy to forget how dangerous it was — and still can be — to be "out" in the United States. Newman, known for writing one of the first children’s books with gay characters, “Heather Has Two Mommies,” uses poetry to attempt to come to terms with the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. This ghastly hate crime must be remembered in the hope that it will never be repeated.

5. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Gender identity and sexuality are not the same thing. I recommend this book because these six interviewees show how complex gender identity can be when one is transgender. Susan Kuklin uses photography and candid dialogue to immerse readers in the lives of these teens, who all identify as trans or gender-neutral.

6. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Written in 1982, this classic young adult work of fiction still resonates with readers. Through the eyes of Liza, the reader watches as she and Annie move from a friendship to a sexual relationship. When the two are discovered together, the consequences they face threaten to tear them apart.

When awarding the 2003 Margaret A. Edwards Award, the committee noted that Garden's book was one of the first to break ground for LGBTQ literature and set the tone for the novels included on this list: "Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.”

7. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Winner of both a Lambda Literary Award and a Stonewall Book Award, this novel does the excellent work of embracing intersectionality, or the complex web of oppression that crosses racial, class, and sexuality lines. Aristotle, known as Ari, and Dante meet at a swimming pool and become confidants and friends. As readers watch the two protagonists come of age and struggle with all that the world throws at them — including different ways of expressing their homosexuality — teens and adults alike will be enthralled with the boys' lives and their fascinating friendship.

8. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez

“Rainbow Boys” follows the story of three high school seniors — Jason, Kyle, and Nelson — and the unique challenges each of them confronts when it comes to his sexuality. The plot weaves together the lives of these boys to create complex and evolving relationships.

Sanchez is a prolific writer in this genre, and his books leave readers wanting more. Fortunately, he continues to produce solid stories of real teenage characters working through issues of sexual and gender identity. At eight books and counting, his oeuvre can entertain preteens and teens for a good stretch of time.

9. The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George

Jesse, a rabble-rousing, “out” lesbian, is secretly seeing Emily, the closeted, student-class vice president. The two struggle with each other over their different approaches to their sexuality, and conflict ensues. Enter Esther, the third voice in the book, who introduces an unexpected element into the three protagonists' experiences.

10. It's Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Ann Peters

Peters is a rock star in the genre; she’s been a National Book Award Finalist and has won a slew of other accolades. Her 2013 novel invites the reader into the planning committee's challenges as its members create the school's alternative prom. Azure, Luke, and Radhika's struggles will draw the reader into an honest novel that happens to feature LGBTQ characters.

The websites for the Lambda Literary Awards, The ALA Rainbow List, and Stonewall Book Awards are excellent resources for readers who want to stay up to date on the most recent works in this young adult field. More and more great texts continue to be published, ensuring that readers will never be at a loss as to which book to pick up next.

Happy reading!

Interested in other reads for young adults that focus on identity? Check out: 10 Young Adult Books that Defy Gender Stereotypes or 7 Young Adult Books that Include Diverse Voices.