My 2 Cents on Five Excellent Queer YA Books

What’s new, readers? This is an insane time for everybody, but I’m glad to see the Black Lives Matter protests are having such a powerful effect on the American people’s collective consciousness. We’re finally recognizing the importance of being antiracist instead of merely “not racist,” Confederate monuments are being taken down, reforms are going to be made for our disciplinarian police force, Cops got taken off the air, and hell, Merriam-Webster is updating the literal definition of racism. As satisfying as it is to see these changes take place, though, they’re not nearly enough. It’s incontrovertible that we have to keep fighting for the black community, which involves protesting, donating to charity, signing petitions, posting on social media platforms, calling out racist behavior, and, above all, striving to dismantle the systemic racism that has so thoroughly entrenched itself in our country.
Alright now, let’s shift gears. The past few years have flourished with an ever-growing bounty of young-adult literature that honors the queer community with touching stories brimming with compassion and empathy. So here are five excellent titles I recommend in celebration of Pride Month.
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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016)

Eighteen-year-old Amanda Hardy is ready for a fresh start in rural Tennessee. She’s doing her best to get through her last year of high school by making friends and falling hard for a gentle and kind boy—all while determinedly keeping everyone from finding out she’s transgender. Russo (Birthday), a trans woman who grew up in Tennessee, employs masterfully earnest writing in her debut, which sensitively touches on what it means to go stealth and the assumptions we make about gender and orientation. Flashbacks reveal the ruthless bullying and the failed suicide attempt that Amanda sustained back before she transitioned. Especially in light of J.K. Rowling’s latest transphobic tweets and Trump allowing hospitals to discriminate against LGBTQ patients (on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, no less), this is something everyone needs to read. A convincing, courageous, and indispensable illustration of the joys, the hardships, and everything in between of a young trans woman’s life.

 

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (2017)

Imagine a world where you would be notified about your impending death so you can make the most out of your diminishing time on this earth. In an alternate present, that’s the idea behind Death-Cast, a mysterious service dedicated to alerting Deckers, people who’ll die within the next twenty-four hours. Mateo Torrez, an eighteen-year-old Puerto Rican with a comatose father and a mother who died during childbirth, and Rufus Emeterio, a seventeen-year-old bi Cuban-American who survived a car accident that took the lives of his parents and his sister, are two such Deckers who meet up by way of the Last Friend app. Even though the tragic conclusion is spoiled right in the title, you won’t be able to resist getting sucked into the story as Silvera (History is All You Left Me) alternates between the protagonists’ sincere, endearing first-person perspectives to explore their budding relationship. The brief chapters that take place from the third-person POV of friends and acquaintances in their lives illustrates the meaningful consequences that our seemingly minor actions can effect on the people around us. An intensely heartfelt read that expertly grapples with our fragile mortality.

 

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I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver (2019)

After getting kicked out of the house when they come out to their conservative parents as nonbinary, eighteen-year-old Ben De Backer has to crash with their older sister Hannah, who vamoosed from the De Backer residence a decade earlier, and her husband Thomas. Keen to stay under the radar while wrapping up their final year in high school, Ben reluctantly starts spending time with their outgoing classmate and neighbor Nathan, and becomes smitten with him despite themself. Being nonbinary, Deaver imbues their debut novel with emotional authenticity as Ben copes with their anxiety, comes to terms with their identity, and learns to accept the empathy and support of their friends and loved ones. Their romance with Nathan makes them very shippable, and the diverse supporting cast includes a friend of Ben’s who’s a nonbinary Muslim immigrant. An incredibly moving title that provides a much-deserved voice of hope and love to the nonbinary portion of the LGBTQ community.

 

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Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry (2019)

Sixteen-year-old Raya, having been ditched by her mom at the age of two, lives with her widowed grandmother in a conservative little town in Texas, where gayness is considered a sin and queer youth vanish with only rumors to survive them. This makes things difficult for Raya when she engages in a secret relationship with Sarah, her best friend and the daughter of a preacher. After the two of them are outed, they get sent away to Friendly Saviors, a religious conversion camp that uses excruciating techniques to “cure” its teen occupants. This debut novel by award-winning poet Rebele-Henry (Autobiography of a Wound) emanates a poignance that’s both poetic and heartbreaking, and meshes well with Raya’s compelling voice. Just to warn you, the graphic scenes portraying homophobia, transphobia, suicide, and electroshock therapy are not for the faint of heart. A potent portrayal of the bigotry and hatred people can face if they don’t identify as hetero and cis.

 

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The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (2019)
Audre, named for the black lesbian writer and poet Audre Lorde, dearly loves her home of Trinidad and the spiritual wisdom of her grandmother. However, after her devout mother catches her in an intimate moment with a pastor’s granddaughter, Audre gets shipped out all the way to her father in Minneapolis. She begins to hang out with Mabel, who is trying to reconcile herself with her sexuality in the wake of breaking up with her boyfriend and puzzling out her feelings for a female friend. The two black sixteen-year-olds connect fast, but their relationship shifts drastically when Mabel becomes diagnosed with terminal cancer. Petrus’s debut is an utterly profound tale that deftly merges the affecting romance at its core with aspects of magical realism and spirituality. Both of the young women have rich voices, particularly Audre with her captivating Trinidadian accent. The zodiac-themed poems interspersed throughout the book will hook verse novel fans. A queer love story that exudes cosmic beauty and power.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy, stay strong, and keep wearing face masks and doing everything you can to foster antiracism.

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