Summer reading: 5 young-adult fiction novels that explore LGBTQ+ teen lives

The twists and turns of teenage years take on new meaning in these 5 books about LGBTQ+ youth.

Edited By James B. Blasingame on Jun 06, 2024
These titles promise to surprise and delight. Saowakhon Brown/Moment via Getty Images

In recognition of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, The Conversation reached out to Gabriel Acevedo and James B. Blasingame, English professors at Arizona State University who focus on sexuality and sexual identity in young-adult fiction. What follows is a list the two scholars say are “must-read” summer novels featuring teenage LGBTQ+ protagonists.

1. ‘The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School’

In Sonora Reyes’ debut novel, which became a National Book Award finalist, Yami Flores leaves her large urban public school in Phoenix to enroll in a private Catholic school after being outed by her ex-best friend, Bianca. She’s determined to keep her identity under wraps in her new school while trying to prevent her younger brother, Cesar, from constantly getting into fights. Cesar and Yami are both gay – and closeted to one another.

Will their new friends accept them for who they are? Will their parents still love them? The answers in “The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School” will be surprising to the protagonists, as well as to readers. Reyes handles issues of racism, homophobia, immigration and suicidal ideation with grace and love. – James Blasingame

2. ‘We Got the Beat’

In “We Got the Beat,” Jordan is an ambitious sophomore assigned by the editor of the high school newspaper to cover the volleyball team. This role is complicated by the fact that the team captain is Jordan’s former friend Mackenzie.

They were close until Mackenzie embarrassed Jordan in her freshman year for reasons Jordan never understood. As the two girls spend time together, they rekindle their friendship, and Jordan discovers the truth behind Mackenzie’s actions from long ago. This causes a schism that Jordan must decide how to deal with.

Jenna Miller’s second novel is a sapphic YA book that sees its protagonists bounce from foes to friends to foes to romantic lovers in a way that feels true to the challenges teenagers face coming to understand themselves. It is exquisitely crafted, capturing the relationship through humorous and touching storytelling. – Gabriel Acevedo

3. ‘Canto Contigo’

Author Jonny Garza Villa opens “Canto Contigo,” with protagonist Rafael Alvarez having taken his high school’s mariachi band to another national competition title while meeting and nearly hooking up with a cute boy from another school, Rey Chavez.

Eight months later, though, his family relocates to another city for his senior year of high school, throwing his life into chaos. Rafael must leave his band and is coping with the death of his grandfather. And then there’s the other complication: That cute boy he connected with is the star of his new school’s mariachi band.

Rafael faces difficult choices as he competes with Rey for the lead even as he develops deeper feelings for him. “Canto Contigo” is an affectionate tribute to Mexican heritage, family ties and the people who mold us, all while exploring themes of sorrow, bereavement and friendship. – GA

4. ‘Destination Unknown’

Micah and C.J. are complete opposites except for one thing: The two teens are gay and live in New York City during the height of the AIDS epidemic. C.J. has a big personality, revels in his gay identity and is well known all over town. Micah is shy and only recently began to explore his sexuality. After they meet, C.J. becomes Micah’s tour guide into the gay world. Micah is smitten by C.J.’s charm and passion, and C.J. is enamored with Micah’s innocence and emotional honesty.

Falling in love and staying safe are not necessarily mutually exclusive in 1980s New York City. “Destination Unknown,” award-winning author Bill Konigsberg’s semi-autobiographical account inspired by his teen years in New York, tells the story of two kids trying to make sense of their lives without losing them. – JB

5. ‘Most Ardently: A Pride & Prejudice Remix’

Oliver Bennet feels confined, not just by the never-ending corsets, petticoats and gowns he’s obliged to wear daily, but also by what society expects of him. Everyone around him, including most of his relatives and friends, believes Oliver is a girl named Elizabeth. He seeks temporary relief when he can slip away from his household and venture into the city, dressed appropriately as a young man. On one such adventure, Oliver meets Darcy, a grumpy young lad who had been disrespectful toward “Elizabeth” at a previous gathering. Yet, while enjoying their time away from the prying eyes of society, Oliver discovers that Darcy is a kind, smart young man who is also surprisingly charming. As Oliver increasingly embraces his true self, a part of him starts to dream that his fantasy of finding love and life as a man could become a reality.

Most Ardently,” by Gabe Cole Novoa, celebrates the lives of LGBTQ+ historical figures and envisions a hopeful future for the queer community, presenting a beautiful and unexpectedly delightful LGBTQ+ adaptation of the Jane Austen classic. – GA

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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