During particularly sad and confusing times in the world, it helps to have a lifeline that reminds you that there is hope. Novels are one of our favorite ways to escape reality, improve our own health (bibliotherapy, AKA the BEST) and immerse ourselves in worlds that can uplift and motivate us to do better in our own lives (like these body positive YA books). These 10 YA books that deal with gender and sexuality in smart, thoughtful and accepting ways do just that for us, and we hope they do for you too. Time to curl up in your reading nook and crack a spine!
1. When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid ($16): Reid’s novel about Jude, a gay high school student who wears high heels and makeup to class, is based on the true story of Larry Fobes King, which has an unfortunately tragic ending (we won’t tell you the story here). The re-telling centers around Jude’s attempts at figuring out where he fits in. He sees his school as a movie set: There’s the crew, the extras and the movie stars but he can’t get an “in” anywhere. It’s a sweet and inspiring tale that can get quite raw and gritty in parts, so be prepared to feel all the feelings with this one!
2. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin ($18): If you’re searching for a super of-the-moment look at gender identity, look no further. In this novel, Riley is a gender-fluid teenager who is just starting a new school. Sometimes Riley identifies as a girl, other days as a boy. The new school and identity questions prove to be a lot for Riley, so they start an anonymous blog chronicling what it’s like to be gender fluid in high school. The blog is so compelling and well done, though, that it goes viral in Riley’s school and their identity is quickly discovered. What follows is a brave and inspiring story that even those of us way out of high school can appreciate.
3. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle ($18): Quinn is a modern day Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old smart ass with screenwriter aspirations who has never had to deal with any real strife in his own life. Then something major happens (we can’t tell you what!) and everything kind of goes to pieces. He’s depressed and uninspired — until he meets a super hot guy at a college party. This chance encounter gives Quinn the push he needs to write that one script that will change his life.
4. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo ($18): When Amanda Hardy moves to a new town to attend high school, she immediately meets and begins to fall for Grant. The new relationship is awesome, of course, but there’s just one thing that is keeping Amanda from being completely content. At her last school, Amanda was actually Andrew. And she doesn’t know if telling Grant about her past will change their future together. If you’re looking for a book about unconditional love and acceptance, this is your pick.
5. You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Leviathan ($19): Kate and Mark are our two narrators in this book about finding a best friend when you least expect it — but when you need it most. While Kate is in love with a girl who doesn’t even know Kate exists, Mark is heartsick over his best friend — parallel lives much? The pair has never talked outside of the one class they’re in together but one evening their paths cross and they immediately become indispensable to one another, guiding each other through their first loves and the struggle of finding themselves.
6. What We Left Behind by Robin Talley ($19): Long distance relationships are hard. Long distance relationships where one person feels their gender identity shifting is harder. When Toni and Gretchen go off to their respective colleges, they’re sure they’ll never break up (sigh… aren’t we all?), but once Toni finds a group of friends who help her realize new things about herself and her identity, their love story gets a little rocky. First loves are always the best and the hardest, and Talley’s storytelling hits you right in the heart.
7. George by Alex Gino ($17): We’re pretty sure that Charlotte’s Web is the kind of book that sticks with everyone, but for George, it’s poised to be totally life-changing. George has grown up as a boy, but deep down, she knows she’s a girl. And she decides the perfect way to tell everyone is by playing Charlotte in the class theatrical production of the book. It’s a brave, compelling move — which is exactly how we’d describe this book.
8. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio ($18): When the high school homecoming queen who just secured a full ride to college decides to lose her virginity to her high school boyfriend with whom she’s madly in love, her whole life changes. Turns out, Kristin Lattimer is intersex, which means while she has both biologically male and female chromosomes, and she didn’t know it until she and her beau finally tried to have sex. Once the entire school finds out, Kristin has to not only deal with the judgments of others, as well as her own identity issues, now that she knows the truth.
9. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera ($9): We’re getting major Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vibes from More Happy Than Not, and are totally digging it. Once 17-year-old Aaron meets Thomas just months after his father’s suicide, he feels an instant connection that makes him happy and secure. The only problem is that he’s got a girlfriend, family and friends who aren’t too thrilled with the new developments. To make all the confusion go away, Aaron considers “straightening himself out” with the Leteo Institute’s memory-erasing procedure, but that would mean taking all his new happiness away too.
10. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz ($20): Sometimes it takes just one person to completely transform your entire life’s path. This is the case for Aristotle and Dante, two loners with their own family and identity issues who meet at the neighborhood swimming pool and begin a relationship that will change how they view themselves and the world around them.
Which book on the list looks most compelling to you? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know which one you’ll be ordering!
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