Happy Pride! It’s been such a joy finding so many terrific YA books with LGBTQ+ main characters for this post. I always turn to books when I am looking for resources to help more kids feel seen and understood — and to help kids see and understand other kids who may not be like them. That said, queer characters in YA books are often relegated to lesser characters or “the gay best friend.” So this year it was really important to me to share some new YA books I’ve found that feature LGBTQ+ as the hero or heroine of the story.
These books are all new from this past year, but my list certainly isn’t everything that’s been published in this category. In fact, every year we highlight the Stonewall Book Award winners (for YA books with LGBTQ themes) in our Best Books of the Year posts and it’s worth checking our 2020 post, 2019 post, and 2018 post and even our 2017 post for even more winning titles that are still relatively new.
Still need more ideas? I always check the American Library Association’s Rainbow List, a site designed to helping librarians find recommendations for kids of all ages, and it’s a terrific resource for parents, too.
With that in mind, here are 7 new YA books with LGBTQ+ main characters that I hope your teens will love. And not just during Pride Month.
Of course, representation doesn’t stop when the calendar flips to July.
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Related: Why I’m supporting these bigger brands and their Pride month collaborations
7 new YA books featuring LGBTQ+ main characters
We always provide links to both Amazon as well as to our bookshop.org storefront on Indiebound. But we’re always big fans of buying these books from your local, independent bookstores, and certainly you can check them all out from your library.
1. King and the Dragonflies, by Kacen Allender
I recently finished the winner of the 2020 National Book Award For Young People’s Literature, King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Allender (Amazon | Bookshop), and oof, it is powerful.
This is a grief-stricken coming-of-age and coming-out)novel set in the steamy swamps of Louisiana, where the KKK still has a strong foothold. Here, a young, Black boy is struggling to figure out who he is after his brother’s death, and while there are difficult themes of abuse, running away from home, and hiding your true self, teens can handle it. Especially because Allender does a spectacular job telling this story with grace and light.
2. The Lucky List, by Rachael Lippincott
The Lucky List (Amazon | Bookshop) is the newest book out from New York Times bestselling author Rachael Lippincott. It tells the story of Emily, a girl growing up in a quirky small town after the recent death of her mom. When she finds her mom’s bucket list, she sets off to accomplish it all with a new friend, with whom she starts to develop an unexpected romantic bond.
While many books are about LGBTQ+ main characters who can’t reveal their sexuality or gender identity with parents, what’s beautiful and fascinating here, is that Emily’s struggles with not having her mom there at all when she wants to share a major change in her life.
3. Camp, by L.C. Rosen
The fully-queer cast of characters in Camp by L. C. Rosen (Amazon | Bookshop) sheds light on the stereotypes and biases gay teens face.
Randy loves his summers at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens, where he feels free to fully be his true self. But when he falls for a boy who’s only into straight-acting guys, Randy tries to reinvent himself as masculine — and wonders whether it’s worth giving up the show tunes and nail polish he adores.
I love that the theme of a young adult struggling to change himself in order to find love, is one that’s so timeless and relatable to pretty much all of us, making Randy so easy to connect with.
Related: An interview with best-selling author Kate DiCamillo on why kids need superheroes right now
4. Elatsoe, by Darcie Little Badget
Another book I’ve truly loved reading this summer is Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (Amazon | Bookshop). In a market where so many YA books focus on romance, especially vis a vis LGBTQ+ characters, it’s refreshing that the main character, Ellie, a Lipan Apache, is outspokenly asexual.
The book is a murder mystery set in a fantasy version of America informed by Indigenous and immigrant cultures, magic and mysticism. Here, monsters live freely alongside humans and Ellie has inherited a gift of raising the spirits of dead animals. But when her cousin is murdered, she and her best friend join her mom and her cousin’s widow to prove that it was more than just a car accident.
There’s good reason this has been named on so many respected best-of 2020 book lists, along with Time’s Best 100 Fantasy books of All Time. It won’t be easily forgotten.
Related: What is Indigenous People’s Day? Great resources for talking to your kids about Native American history
5. The Lumberjanes series, by Noel Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters
I wanted to be sure to include a graphic novel series in my roundup here, because many kids find them more appealing, and easy to connect with — and all reading is good reading!
If you aren’t familiar with the quirky, funny 20-volume Lumberjanes graphic novel series (Amazon | Bookshop), then this is definitely one to add to your list of excellent YA books featuring LGBTQ+ main characters. The series features an ensemble of protagonists, including one trans girl and two girls who are in a relationship with each other. If you’re looking for wonderfully strong female characters, this is your book. I love that one five-star Amazon reviewer called it “kinda like a female cast of the Goonies meets the Brothers Winchester.” How’s that for a pitch line!
Lumberjanes Volume 19: A Summer to Remember, by Shannon Watters with illustrations by Kat Leh is available for preorder with delivery in late August. So you have plenty of time to catch up on the first 18 before then! The final volume, Lumberjanes Vol 20: End of Summer is slated to be out November 9.
6. The Black Flamingo, by Dean Atta
2020’s Stonewall Award winner went to The Black Flamingo (Amazon | Bookshop), by poet and performer Dean Atta. This semi-autobiographical novel in verse about a mixed-race Black, gay teen in London named Michael, who never really knows where he fits in…until he discovers the Drag Society. It’s a fabulous book, masterfully covering so many themes that appeal to teens, from fitting in, to figuring out who you are, living your true self, and even anti-racism.
One of my favorite tips for reading-averse kids of all ages is to try novels that are written in free verse, like this one. In fact, stop by the library and have them flip a few pages. They’ll be tearing through them so quickly, your reader may finish (and find a love of reading!) before you even have a chance to check out the book.
Related: 7 outstanding high school or college graduate gift books: On stepping into the arena, dreaming with eyes wide open, and professional troublemaking (in the best possible way)
7. The Sound of Stars, by Alechia Dow
Instead of being a book about queer romance, The Sound of Stars (Amazon | Bookshop) by Alechia Dow is a thrilling apocalyptic fantasy and I’m so happy to including it on our list of YA books with LGBTQ+ characters. In fact, the main character is described in the Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Database as a “fat, biracial, Black, anxious, biromantic, demisexual protagonist,” and that’s pretty apt!
Living in a post-apocalyptic New York City, our hero Ellie decides to risk her life and try to save the world (with the help of an alien who loves pop music), all for for her love of books. If you’re looking for LGBTQ+ representation in a YA book without fluffy romance, this is a terrific option. Especially for fans of authors like Marie Lu, Laura Pohl, and Veronica Roth.