Before you read, I’d like to dedicate this post to all the families and victims hurt in this morning’s tragedy. For those who for some reason haven’t heard, a lone shooter mercilessly massacred fifty people and injured just as many at a gay nightclub (called Pulse) in Orlando, Florida. Police are still investigating into further detail, but it is a known fact that this wasn’t just a random shooting. This was a hate-fueled attack meant to kill and harm innocent people.
If anyone is reading this, don’t pray for repentance or hate, but pray for the families and friends that have been affected by what many are calling the worst mass shooting in United States history. Do not call for gun control. Reports are coming in that the gunman was posing as a security guard and guns were not allowed in the club. If there is anything we should call for, it’s for the acceptance of LGBTQA+ people everywhere, and to fight homophobic attacks like this with love and understanding.
To everyone affected by the shooting, everyone is hearing your cries. And to everyone else, I have a quote for you from a Holocaust survivor named Henry Golde, “Hate is nothing, and love is everything.”
Gay literature is an iconic part of the LGBTQA+ community, especially towards teenagers and young adults, so in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, I’ve decided to make a Top 10 list for the best gay young adult novels I wholly recommend. Now, there are a few rules to this for anyone who’s reading. The first rule is that these entries have to have an LGBT person as the protagonist and not just as a side character. Second, it cannot be explicit and must be readable for anyone from fourteen to even nineteen years of age. And third, having no more than two of an authors’ works is acceptable by my standards because granted, I haven’t read every gay book for young adults; heck I’m even including ones I’ve reviewed on here already. And keep in mind that this is a recommendation list and not a list of the greatest LGBT young adult novels.
With that said, here’s the Top 10 List of LGBT YA Novels I Recommend.
#10-One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
For our first spot on the list, we have a YA romance novel that one could call…’quirky’. Named after a Rufus Wainwright song, “One Man Guy” tells the story of an Armenian fourteen year-old named Alek Khederian, who lives in a strict traditional family and is trying to understand himself and who he’s attracted to. Curiosity leads to fun teenage rebellion when Alek meets, becomes friend with, and falls in love with a New Yorker boy named Ethan. After that, antics, comedy and drama ensues as Alek begins to gain more independence and Ethan begins to fall in love with him.
As romance novels go, this is an entertaining book for anyone who loves the average LGBT romance novel. It can be hilarious with good jokes, but also have serious moments of us learning about our main characters. It is quirky, but also dramatic. Alek and Ethan also have a very good chemistry, complementing each other’s faults and improving each other. I love how Ethan starts off as the average bad boy and is slowly shown to be more human while Alek becomes less of a pushover to the point of him being more familiar with traditional American teenage angst.
Sadly while I do enjoy “One Man Guy”, it does have flaws, with the plot being predictable sometimes and the main character’s parents being Armenian stereotypes. I find it weird how Alek’s mom and dad remind me of Fran Fine’s Jewish parents on “The Nanny” sitcom, yet this is more of a dive into Armenian culture than played for laughs. I want to learn more, and the fact that the parents seem more existent for laughs and complicating the plot kind of irks me. Still, they’re very good and provide Alek moral ground, and I like how they indeed love him as their son they want to protect. I also love the outcome and how they react in the end to their relationship.
If you want to read a quirky yet moving romance novel with two likeable gay characters and with a different cultural setting, this is the novel for you then.
#9-Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Ever since North Carolina’s controversial HB2 bill was passed months ago, transgender people have become the target, hate, and debate of transgender rights. If you’re one of those people who can’t seem to grasp how dangerous and confusing it can be for someone like this, this is a good book for anyone to pick up, not just because of the commentary, but also the direction this goes through.
Julie Ann Peters gives us “Luna”, a young adult book that follows a pessimistic girl named Regan and her trying to help her older brother Liam transition into ‘Luna’, all while doing everything to keep their conservatively butch father from finding out and with Regan attempting to have a social life of her own.
Okay, the plot doesn’t seem that good the way I explain it, but “Luna” does have a decent execution with engaging characters and coherent drama. Regan serves as a good guide into what Luna is going through; I even think it’s cool to have the story be through the POV of the main character’s sister and not Luna herself. Not only are we provided a different perspective, but we also see what it is like for a family member of a transgender man. It also helps that Regan is snarky and shy but very no-nonsense when it comes to protecting her sibling.
Luna/Liam is also a good character. As Liam, we see he’s very collected, handsome, intelligent, and very introverted, but from the writing we can tell he’s insecure toward who he is. And when he transforms into Luna, we find her as happy to be alive and teasingly cocky, almost as comforting as an older sister or cousin.
I also love how the author doesn’t entirely alienate the father and mother as villains in this. Every morning at breakfast and at events, we can tell that Regan’s dad is a family man who only wants what’s best for his children. He doesn’t preach religious nonsense, and only makes awful jokes, which (let’s be honest) we can all relate to.
So why is this low on the list? Well without giving any spoilers away, the ending feels very cut off. I won’t say it’s a bad ending, but it feels almost like a chapter was cut off at the last minute by the author. I wanted to know more about what happened to Luna, what happens to Regan, how the father feels in the end, and it makes me yearn for a sequel.
Although it did leave me wondering what happened to our characters in the end, I will admit that everything else is great. The characters are likeable, the transformation of Lim into Luna is wonderfully written with narrated imagery, and as I said before, the execution of the average plot is made up with a good twist and poignant storytelling. If you want to read a good book that tells the dramatic trials and tribulations of a transgender person and his/her sibling, this is the perfect novel for you.
#8- Circles (Issues 1-8 & “The Years Keep Rolling By”) by Steve Domanski, Andrew French, and ‘K-9’
It’s strange for me to include this on here since this is technically a comic book series, but since the final issues have been placed in a book to conclude the story, I’ll make it count here.
The story (or stories) about six gay men living in a Boston home while dealing with loss, romance, and friendship is eerily similar to the Broadway musical “Rent”. However, instead of it being in the height of the AIDS epidemic, this is set after the events of 9/11, during an era when America was afraid and social norms were evolving.
What makes this stand out from the wonderful musical though are a few things: one, the characters are furries, and this leads to cool designs and better facial expressions to showcase their personalities. My favorite characters would have to be the household’s main couple, Douglas Pope and his older husband Paulie Mayhew. They’re intellectual, love each other despite coming from different generations, and both give the best laughs in this slice-of-life drama.
Second, the writing in this displays how (dare I say it?) human these characters are. From the ones who have a single cameo to main characters, “Circles” gives us people who will leave us caring and crying for them. If you look for it, it may say it’s Mature, but I should warn you it’s more for the suggestive imagery and not because they show anything.
Whether you’re an adult or a young adult, this comic series, as well as its final novel, will leave you feeling nostalgic of the 2000’s and humming “Rent” songs.
#7-Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Many people who talk about David Levithan often put this as their favorite among his works, and I can see why. Not only is the storyline engaging, but the execution of the characters’ relationships is brilliantly done.
In a small town in the Midwest where gay people are hugely accepted, a gay teenager named Paul falls in love with a newcomer named Noah. Both have just broken up with their boyfriends, and happily hit it off without realizing they’d slowly figure out they may be soulmates. However, the plot thickens as Kyle, Paul’s ex and friend, comes back into the picture wanting to get back together with our main character. Now torn between two amazing guys, Paul must make a choice as to who he loves.
What puts this book on the list is not just the way the characters feel as real as you and me (albeit them being corny at times), but how David Levithan makes both boyfriends compelling and realistic in their actions. We’re given time on them and know how each feel about Paul, and vice-versa. When one character feels happy, they feel happy, when someone feels angry they feel genuinely angry, and when someone is passionate it just leaks off of the pages and makes your heart beat. This is how a love triangle should work; you should be rooting for both sides and not just one!
Two years after this book came out, one certain popular book series made by a really disliked author exploited the love triangle trope in teen novels. And instead of focusing on what makes that trope useful, the “Twilight” series decided to use it as the focus of four books. I felt more chemistry out of these three than I ever did out of the Team Jacob and Team Edward bullshit.
The other side characters are fun and likeable, and carry their own stories that could make for more spinoffs of this interesting take on a small town more liberal than my college. Speaking of which, I love how David Levithan takes advantage of the setting and shows us a gay relationship where bigotry doesn’t interfere with their development. It feels refreshing and makes you wonder about a few things doesn’t it?
Often seen as David Levithan’s greatest book, “Boy Meets Boy” is a thrilling ride of the soul’s emotions. Wonderfully written and having a touch of charm, this novel is a love story that will restart your liking for the romance genre.
#6-Willful Machines by Tim Floreen
Did I ever mention how I love gothic stories? And AI science fiction? If you’re as interested in those genres as much as I am, then look no further than Tim Floreen’s breakthrough novel “Willful Machines”.
In the near future, America is in an intense standoff between a renegade AI named Charlotte and anti-technology President Fisher over the freedom and rights of aware machines. And in the spotlight of it all is the President’s sixteen year-old son Lee Fisher, a closeted but brilliant boy who is (ironically) talented as a roboticist and trying to lay low in a Notre Dame-esque boarding school. Enter a foreign exchange student from Brazil named Nico Medina (who’s obsessed with Shakespearean works) and continuous threats from Charlotte, Lee’s freedom wanes as his friendship/romance with Nico grows. However, as the two of them begin to become closer, Lee begins to suspect his boyfriend may be hiding a secret connected to not just Charlotte, but a broader national conspiracy.
Why don’t I talk about aspects I didn’t cover in a review?
What makes this one stand out from the previous books is how Floreen manages to seamlessly blend a gay romance with an action thriller. I constantly hate how books, film, and especially TV shows try to juggle two different genres and not succeed in ways that should be simple. However, this one succeeds by having the futuristic stuff in the background, the romance in the foreground, and the thrilling action be interwoven into the story. Because of this, the reader should feel more included into the romance as all hell breaks loose, and further engross us into the action.
Lee is a likeable character who I swear is similar to the main character of “Ex Machina”, except he’s gay and a teenager in this case. Nico’s a very active love interest and counterpart to our main character, and makes you feel very happy and dreading as the plot thickens and reveals are made that could leave you feeling empty as this modern gothic tale unfolds. The other characters are wonderful as well, though I still say the author should’ve focused more on Lee’s interesting (and probably complex) POTUS father.
Enriched with beautifully written imagery, well-crafted in character development and engaging to the average bookworm, Tim Floreen’s “Willful Machines” is a Shakespearean novel with a gripping take on the artificial intelligence genre and beyond.
#5-Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Here’s a book that any LGBT free-verse poet will love. Judging from the cover, you can tell that this is a very poignant and heartfelt piece, and the way the author tells the story fully delivers a touching experience for poets and readers.
Through the clever use of free-verse poems and a switching narrative, we follow a handsome high schooler named Brendan Chase, who has everything one could hope for. He’s got the perfect girlfriend, a group of friends, and is the star on the wrestling team. However, everything changes one day when Brendan realizing something he’s been trying to ignore for years: he’s gender binary and likes to wear women’s clothing. Spanning over three narratives with Brendan’s struggle in understanding himself, his girlfriend Vanessa’s attempts to stay in her boyfriend’s life, and a boy-to-girl transgender teenager named Angel, who must confront her own demons while unknowingly helping out Brendan in the process.
What makes this stand out from “Luna” as a transgender YA novel are a few things. One is the style of incorporating a coherent story into poetry verses, and the other is how intense and dangerous this cruel world is in very few words. Because of this, we earn ourselves a really deep glance into how non-binary and transgender lives work in the heteronormative world.
I also like how despite coming from a broken home and hateful family, the character Angel is very joyful and cynically optimistic while the seemingly perfect Brendan with the perfect life is hurting inside with him slowly accepting his sexuality. Granted the characters, especially Brendan, can be very selfish and cold-hearted at times, but it can be justifiable based on what they’re going through.
Written with dripping and raw power and three interesting characters, “Freakboy” is a novel that’ll leave you shivering with happiness and chills.
#4-One Boy’s Shadow by Ross A. McCoubrey and the Dangerous Spirits trilogy by Kyell Gold
Can a trilogy count?
I’ve decided to include these two on here because they’re surprisingly similar despite coming from different authors and having different stories, as well as the latter being a whole trilogy. One has a Canadian fifteen year-old as the main character while the other(s) are an eighteen year-old American wolf, Russian fox, and asexual otter as the main characters, yet both are considered ghost stories.
“One Boy’s Shadow” by Ross A. McCoubrey tells the story of a teenage boy named Caleb Mackenzie as he moves into a new home with his family in Ontario. As he becomes best friends and later couple with a local boy named Shane, he begins to learn that his new home houses a secret, one that may haunted by the ghost of a gay teenager from 1943 named Toby Everett, who disappeared without a trace. Wanting to put his ghost to rest, Shane, Caleb, his older brother and friends decide to try and solve the mystery of what happened to Toby all while living their lives in the small and quaint town.
The “Dangerous Spirits” trilogy by famed furry author Kyell Gold (and one of my personal idols) consists of the novels “Green Fairy”, “Red Devil”, and “Black Angel”. All three novels follow the lives and friendship of three LGBT teenage furries named Sol Wrightston (a closeted wolf from a conservative family), Alexei Tsarev (a Russian fox who fled to America from his abusive parents), and Meg Kinnick (an asexual otter with a blurry past) as they each experience paranormal encounters over the course of several months. Each book shows their perspectives and experiences in these encounters, and must confront the apparitions haunting them to understand why they’re there, not knowing how all three are connected in some way or another across time and oceans.
Both have different plots and characters, but both “One Boy’s Shadow” and “Dangerous Spirits” have this element of eerie contemplation amidst urban and rural settings. All four books have this sense of unsettlement and charisma as you read each story. History often repeats itself as we’re told, and the way both authors write their characters and their actions makes us both awed and intrigued the further each story goes. With “One Boy’s Shadow”, we learn how love can be a very powerful and transcendent force that can last generations and in many forms, while the “Dangerous Spirits” books tell us how actions across time can impact the lives of people and their happiness.
Entwining beautiful character development and great writing with supernatural elements, both “One Boy’s Shadow” and the “Dangerous Spirits” trilogy are books that I personally recommend for anyone who loves ghostly auras and stories about finding yourself.
#3-Everyday by David Levithan
So we have another David Levithan novel on this list, but what makes this one better than “Boy Meets Boy” in my opinion? Well, not only do we have a brilliant, brilliant, BRILLIANT idea behind a great author, but the way he executes it and makes it shine through is surely one to make you appreciate how dedicated Levithan is to his audience.
“Everyday” is about a mysterious entity named A, who has the unstoppable ability to transfer his/her mind into other people’s bodies. Every day, he/she wakes up in a new body, and must pretend to be that person for the whole day before stepping into another life. However, that daily routine skids to a halt as A suddenly meets a high school girl named Rhiannon and falls in love with her. Now torn between never having a single body, his/her loneliness, and the need to have a companion close to him/her.
The reason I recommend this is because of the way the author handles and executes the story and characters in “Everyday”. From the outside, this seems like an average paranormal romance novel, but what follows when you read it is an experience. Like a road-trip movie, we follow A as he/she lives different but interesting lives over the course of a few dozen chapters. We see A live as teen boys and girls who live differently, work differently, and think differently in unique ways. From this entity’s perspective, we experience new lifestyles, diverse people with new backgrounds, and it all comes from how wise yet eccentric A is. Not knowing A’s true gender is a very smart move, since it practically give the reader the ability to cast himself or herself into the character’s shoes without leaving no personality.
The story itself and the characters are also very enjoyable, as Rhiannon is a ditzy yet intelligent young girl and A is a comical and likeable being. A complaint for some people may be the ending, and while I can agree it may be the reason some people enjoy “Boy Meets Boy” more, no one can deny that “Everyday” is one of David Levithan’s most well-written, thought-provoking and philosophically funny, this is a novel that’ll leave you yearning for more.
#2- Openly Straight by Bill Konisgberg
Yep, I haven’t known this book for more than a month and yet this is on the list. Coming at #2 on the list is a novel that left me feeling happy and empty inside while providing great commentary on knowing yourself.
The tale of a young gay student moving to a boarding school and pretending to be straight in order to make friends but unintentionally falls in love with a closeted dorm mate is both original and strange. I think what I can best say about this without repeating what I’ve said in my last review is that the characters are very likeable, and leave an impact on you even after reading it again.
What makes this worth checking out whether you’re gay or not is how Bill Konisgberg manages to encompass Rafe as a guy you can easily relate to. If you aren’t LGBT, you can still easily relate to his situation. If you’re autistic, have a secret, are a bookworm, obsessed with gaming, know anime, or have a weird quirk, “Openly Straight” pulls at your heartstrings and reminds everyone to love you as yourself, and especially take pride in what makes you unique. Add a good romance and some comical moments tightly wrapped in unpretentious drama, and Konisgberg gives us a novel that will leave you shaking for the sequel coming out next year.
And the #1 LGBT YA Novel I recommend is…
Where do I even start with this? Putting Kyell Gold back on the list, most of you are probably wondering why I decided to put this on here. From a distance, this doesn’t look like an interesting gay young adult novel, especially since it has furry characters. But if you want to know my reason for putting it on the list, I’m going to do an entire review on Saturday dedicated to “Waterways” and tell you why I consider this the #1 gay YA novel I recommend to readers.
In the meantime, have a wonderful day! 🙂
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