YA Literature for Young Lesbians?
September 17, 2015 1:18 PM   Subscribe

My niece mentioned/complained to me recently that there is very little YA lit for and about lesbians. I took a look on goodreads and found a couple of lists with what appear to be a nice selection of books. However, on reading further, I'd like to narrow the list down to actually well-written or otherwise reasonably good books. Any thoughts?

So far I feel like every book that has potential also has some horrifying side plot like "girl kisses girl for the first time and the next day her parents die in a fiery car crash" (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) or "girl's father dies and her awful stepmother treats her like dogshit and oh yeah she's also a lesbian" (Ash) or "girl who comes out to her family gets sent to christian reorientation camp" (this is also Cameron Post). Or the top books were written 20 years ago (which was a very very different time) (Annie on my Mind) or take place 20 years ago, or are fantasy novels (not a genre I can relate to, so I'll let her find her own books in that genre) (Huntress). What I think she'd actually like is a book about a normal girl with a normal family and normal high school experiences, but written from a lesbian perspective.

For me, though, I really don't want to send her a lot of crap to read. Not just plotwise but also with respect to the writing itself. She's borderline adult reader now so I sent her The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan, which is gender non-specific. She mentioned to me that she really enjoys the You-Know-Who Girls very much.

I trust you folks. You're savvy and you paid five bucks to be here. Following is a short list of books I'm considering. What do you think of them and what have I left out, what haven't I heard of that would be good for a normal well adjusted baby lesbian who doesn't live in Kansas or Montana?

Her Name in the Sky, by Kelly Quindlen
Keeping You A Secret, by Julie Ann Peters
Far from Xanadu, also by Julie Ann Peters
Kissing Kate, by Lauren Myracle
Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King
Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCouer
posted by janey47 to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson.
posted by frantumaglia at 1:37 PM on September 17, 2015

Kissing Kate, by Lauren Myracle
This one ends--IIRC--with the narrator concluding "not sure if I'm actually a lesbian; maybe it was just this one girl this one time" and I kind of bounced off it. (Also has the kind of problematic "(maybe-)lesbian character raised by a single male parental figure" trope.) Figured I might mention it.

I remember I liked Empress of the World by Sara Ryan a lot more. It's about two girls who meet and fall in love at a summer camp for academically gifted kids. The love interest does have some past trauma that she's working through, but it's definitely not on the scale of what you're talking about.
posted by capricorn at 1:38 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, I should clarify my niece is 15 and a sophomore in high school so I'm really looking for YA. The David Levithan book worked because it was his first non-YA novel.
posted by janey47 at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2015

The Difference Between You and Me, by Madeline George
Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan
About a Girl, by Joanne Horniman
Not Otherwise Specified, by Hannah Moskovitz
Addie on the Inside, by James Howe
It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It), by Julie Anne Peters
Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 1:40 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Kissing Kate would be a little young for your niece, I read it when I was a lot younger than 15 (and I think it'd be a little dated now).
posted by hejrat at 1:43 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn (Levithan's sometime co-author) is a possibility. The book is ostensibly about a technology-addicted Columbia freshman (and is written with a frantic style meant to evoke that condition), but develops into a really sweet lesbian love story.
posted by Area Man at 1:45 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi! Former teen librarian here. I have lots of suggestions--here are a few:

The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Also recommend Ask the Passengers and Everything Leads to You, which you already have on your list. Some of the horrifying side plots issue that you're dealing with is just endemic to teen lit. There's often a lot of intense stuff about hardships and tragedy and authority figures standing in the way of your happiness in general!
posted by booky at 1:50 PM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is the YA need coming from her reading level or from her request? Or because you're concerned about sexual content? I know YA is overall bigger than it was when I was a teen but at 15 I was certainly reading all adult literature.

Would Fun Home by Alison Bechdel be a sensible addition to your list?
posted by vunder at 2:06 PM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

(I wish I could have read Fun Home at 15.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:07 PM on September 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

You said you'd let her find her own fantasy, but I did want to slip in a rec for the YA fantasy fiction of Sarah Diemer and her wife Jennifer. They've written a few books you can buy on Amazon and have posted a ton of free fiction on their website, and the free fiction is all about lesbians, they are specifically targeting that market. Their MuseRising website appears to be down right now but I think you can view at least some of it on the website I linked.

I wish I had some more non-sff recs for you... I did enjoy Gravity by Leanne Lieberman but it includes sexuality drama and is set in the 80s; it's about a Jewish girl discovering herself. Cameron Post and Annie are really good, despite the drama, and have hopeful endings. Cameron is exceptionally well-written.
posted by possibilityleft at 2:08 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I wish I could take her to see Fun Home!

I'm not concerned about sexual content, especially when I think about what I was reading at her age. It's her expressions of what books she has enjoyed and her dedication to David Levithan. It's also driven somewhat by the fact that the last thing I need is for my sister to ban any book I send to my niece. I have sent books directed at both my sister and my niece, and as far as I can tell, my niece doesn't read them.
posted by janey47 at 2:27 PM on September 17, 2015

I really liked "If You Could Be Mine" by Sara Farizan (about two Iranian girls whose romance gets broken up when one of them has a marriage arranged for her) but it's one of those where the romance ends sadly. I'll second "The Difference Between You and Me" and "Ask the Passengers" and "Empress of the World."

I haven't read "Everything Leads To You" by Nina LaCour but I've heard really good reviews, and it's one of those rare lesbian books that actually has a happy ending to the romance storyline!

Here is a really long list of YA books with lesbians in them!

(I am the author of "A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend" but I feel weird recommending my own book, anyway, it exists.)
posted by Jeanne at 2:29 PM on September 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

I enjoyed Ash. It is a Cinderella retelling, so the stepmother thing comes with the territory.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:20 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, Ask the Passengers and Everything Leads to You are both wonderful!

I also recommend Lumberjanes! It's a comic series about a girls summer camp with some light fantasy elements. There is a lesbian relationship and is explicitly feminist. There is only one volume out now and the relationship is subtle in those issues, but look for future collections or track down the monthly issues.
posted by wsquared at 4:05 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ash was excellent. I loved it to pieces. And yeah, Cinderella retelling, so...there you go. :)
posted by wintersweet at 4:58 PM on September 17, 2015

I came in here to recommend A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, which would be awesome even if it wasn't written by Metafilter's very own Jeanne but I see that others have beaten me to it. Seriously, it's awesome. There are ninja songs.
posted by athenasbanquet at 6:01 PM on September 17, 2015

Just checking: you realize Fun Home is also a graphic novel, right? The broadway show is an adaptation of the book.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:46 PM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Horrifying side plot is A Thing in the history of queer YA lit; I don't blame you for wanting to avoid it! Here are some books that are YA or suitable for teens, but also books that I think are great and that everyone should read. Ivan Coyote has a collection of stories called One in Every Crowd that is specifically written for a YA audience. Gender Failure, which they wrote together with (musician) Rae Spoon, is more focused on transgender issues than on lesbian topics per se (both writers identified as lesbian before coming to understand themselves as on the trans spectrum), but it touches on them as well and is an incredible read. I have an essay by a then 17-year-old that eloquently expresses how transformative the book was for them. I really enjoy Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's graphic novel, Skim. Please Don't Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope is the pseudonymously-published diary of a 15-year-old lesbian-- it's both incredibly mundane and incredibly charming. I would happily give Alison Bechdel's Fun Home to a 15-year-old I knew well, but I know not everyone would. Also, seconding Lumberjanes - that series is so incredibly, delightfully fun. Hope she finds something great to read! :)
posted by bibliotropic at 6:50 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gravity by Leanne Lieberman but it includes sexuality drama and is set in the 80s; it's about a Jewish girl discovering herself

I also really liked Gravity, which (as noted) isn't a romance story so much as a personal coming of age - and a story about her relationship with her family (and her family's relationship with religion).
posted by jb at 7:05 PM on September 17, 2015

Not sure if Bottle Rocket Hearts would be too "old" for your niece. It does have mature content.
posted by aclevername at 5:52 AM on September 18, 2015

My friend Lisa Jenn Bigelow published a charming YA novel in 2012 called Starting from Here that might be a good fit.

Back-cover synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Colby Bingham’s heart has been broken too many times. Her mother is dead, her truck driver father is always away, and her almost girlfriend just dumped her for a guy. When an injured stray dog lands at her feet, she decides to care for it, against her better judgment. But new connections mean new opportunities for heartbreak. Terrified of another loss, Colby bolts at the first sign of trouble, managing to alienate her best friend, her father, the cute girl pursuing her, and even her dog’s vet, who’s taken Colby under her wing. Colby can’t start over, but can she learn how to move on?
posted by tomorrowromance at 9:15 AM on September 18, 2015

Two suggestions:

Sister Mischief -- about a suburban lesbian girl who's into hip hop

Honor Girl -- a graphic memoir ("graphic" as in comics, not as in "explicit") that takes place at summer camp in the 90s
posted by cider at 9:36 AM on September 18, 2015

I loved Keeping You A Secret! But the protagonist does get kicked out of home for being a lesbian, so I'm not sure if that might be the sort of thing you're wanting to avoid.

I also really liked Dare, Truth or Promise by Paula Boock, although it might be a little hard to find. It's older (late 90s) but I think ages well, and although there is a little bit of angsty family drama there's also a lot of comforting acceptance.
posted by lwb at 9:39 AM on September 18, 2015

I like Everything Leads to You, but it does have Ava's plot of homelessness and essentially stealing her stuff back from her home once she has a place to move out to, because: homophobia. (I forget who she was living with, whether a mom or aunt or whatnot.) One of the great things about the book, though, is how minor being a lesbian is in Emi's life -- the important thing is she has this neat job being a set decorator. I love that it doesn't have to be a huge deal anymore.

I'm not sure if it's too old, (2004,) but I also like The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson. It's about three friends, two of whom end up dating.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:45 PM on September 18, 2015

Response by poster: Update: So far she's loved Empress of the World and A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, and I just sent her Everything Leads to You. This thread is a great resource for me. Thank you all!
posted by janey47 at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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