Book recommendations featuring LGBTQIA characters
September 16, 2020 10:22 AM   Subscribe

My 4th grader, who is trans/non-binary, has expressed a desire to read more books featuring LGBTQIA characters. They are a precocious and voracious reader, so all reading levels are on the table, but I think they would get the most out of books geared to YA audiences. I’d appreciate specific recommendations of titles to look for. Thanks in advance!

I did see this question but it’s been 6 years since that question was asked, and I’m guessing there may be more content to recommend since then.
posted by fancyoats to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The River of Teeth has a gay character and a non-binary character. It may not be, officially, a YA novel, but it reads like one.
posted by chiefthe at 10:37 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Wandering Son is a fantastic manga series. Well, I didn't read it, but one of my kids gobbled it up. I found it at my local library, so perhaps you can find it at yours.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:37 AM on September 16

There's a non-binary character in the first Lumberjanes novel. (They may also appear in others but I've only read the first.) It's a very sweet and fun book.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:40 AM on September 16

Every year, the American Library Association puts out a rainbow book list that covers LGBTQ+ books for children and teens from 0 to 17 - that's one great place to start.

I can't vouch for their age-appropriateness, but a couple recent YA books by trans authors I've seen recommended widely:
McLemore, Anna-Marie. Blanca & Roja. 2018. 384p. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (9781250162717). Grades 8+.

Magical Realism/Fairy Tale Adaptation.

For generations, there have always been two daughters in the del Cisne family, and destiny dictates that shortly after the younger sister’s 15th birthday, one sister will turn into a swan and the other will remain human. When two local missing children reappear in the woods near the sisters’ home, Blanca and Roja’s bond is tested. They find themselves confronting their ideas about family, love, and identity while waiting expectantly to discover their fate.
Felix Ever After
by Kacen Callender
From Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
Cemetery Boys
by Aiden Thomas
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave. (less)
posted by Jeanne at 10:44 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

George by Alex Gino, a genderqueer author, is about a fourth grade student who is trans.
posted by mogget at 10:44 AM on September 16 [8 favorites]

My 4th grader loves the Percy Jackson books, which have queer and non-binary characters in them. My partner is a non-binary person, and my son found it affirming to have books with characters that shared characteristics with people in his family.

They are also just good books, independently of their LGBT content, which I appreciate, because when I was a young queer person, you could have one or the other, but not both.
posted by unstrungharp at 10:52 AM on September 16 [3 favorites]

Star-Crossed, by Barbara Dee, is about an 8th grade girl who gets to play Romeo opposite the girl she has a crush on.

Catfishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer, is a fun YA adventure about an AI that has a bunch of queer/questioning/NB characters. IIRC one person is figuring out their pronoun situation and changes their preferred pronouns (maybe more than once) during the book.
posted by gideonfrog at 10:53 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]

99% Chance of Magic is an anthology “for transgender children, all written & illustrated by trans women and (C)AMAB non-binary creatives.” I think all of the publisher (Heartspark Press)’s books fit that description, though some are geared towards younger kids or towards adults.

Ana on the Edge comes out next month and is about a nonbinary middle-schooler. (The author, AJ Sass, is nonbinary.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:33 AM on September 16

Diane Duane's Young Wizards series incorporates such characters. See this question on her blog today, prompted by recent JK Rowling headlines.
posted by metabaroque at 12:05 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]

The House in the Cerulean Sea has several gay characters. It is a wonderful story about chosen family & accepting others for who they are.
posted by belladonna at 1:49 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I don't know if your kid has any interest in YA romance novels at their age, but I thought Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was well-written and wholesome.
posted by zeusianfog at 1:50 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Anna-Marie McLemore is really good for this! When the Moon Was Ours has specifically trans/gender-nonconforming characters, but Wild Beauty's main characters are queer as well. It's magical realism, YA-level.

All Boys Aren't Blue is a memoir by activist and journalist George M. Johnson, written at a YA level, which I really enjoyed as well.
posted by assenav at 2:00 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

I don't know if your kid has any interest in YA romance novels at their age, but I thought Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was well-written and wholesome.
It's a great book, and gorgeously written, but there's a backstory plot point of transphobic violence, which might give me pause.
posted by Jeanne at 2:15 PM on September 16

Yoon Ha Lee's Dragon Pearl is a middle-grade novel (part of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint) about a shapechanging fox spirit with nonbinary friends, in space.
posted by yarntheory at 3:27 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

These are all YA novels, starred ones have some violence or more serious themes (but generally in ways I would find okay for a more mature/precocious kid, but YMMV):

Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor
The Fire's Stone by Tanya Huff
*Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
*The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
*Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks by Nathan Burgoine
*The Music of What Happens by Bill Konisberg
posted by brook horse at 3:35 PM on September 16

I just read and loved Pet. It's a little horror-y, and child abuse is a subplot, but the main character is a trans girl.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:40 PM on September 16

Note that the ending of Wandering Son is often held to be less than great by transmasculine people.
posted by hoyland at 3:41 PM on September 16

Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch is Harry Potterish, though it’s Binti that comes to mind. Nthing George.
posted by childofTethys at 3:58 PM on September 16

Note that the ending of Wandering Son is often held to be less than great by transmasculine people.
Oof, sorry to include this title, then. That's too bad.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:30 PM on September 16

Ana on the Edge is so so cute and great. Lumberjanes and Percy Jackson (and other books from Riordan's imprint) are great suggestions. I also liked George and Gracefully Grayson (though Grayson is not own voices, if that's a requirement/preference). You could also try the books on this list or this list, which are aimed at middle grade readers.

As a middle school librarian I do want to put a caveat on a lot of the YA suggestions here. Many of these are great books, but they are not good fits for most fourth graders, whether because they're just too hard (When the Moon Was Ours was challenging for even my bright 8th graders) or because they have a lot of violent or sexual content. If you go with one of the YA suggestions here, please proceed with caution.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:57 PM on September 16 [5 favorites]

In addition to Lumberjanes, graphic novel series Goldie Vance (mysteries!), and Patsy Walker aka Hellcat (superheroes!) have prominent (not peripheral) characters in the rainbow spectrum, but are not too heavy.

Seanan McGuire's portal fantasy series that begins with Every Heart a Doorway has numerous LGBTQIA characters, including asexual representation in Nancy. Also a high body count. Check your child's fondness for horror and horror tropes. The later book in the series Beneath the Sugar Sky is not as violent.

(River of Teeth also has some gruesome deaths, although the fine details might go over a 4th-grader's head)

Sarah Gailey also has When we were magic, which apart from the exploding penis on prom night that happens on the first page, is actually fairly chaste and nonviolent. About a team of late-high-school friends of varying genders and ethnicities, and coming to terms with themselves and their coverup of the poor kid who dies in chapter one.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:02 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]

after seeing goodbyewaffles sensible post, too, I would just listen to my first paragraph of recommendations for a 4th grader's reading level, not just for violence.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:05 PM on September 16

Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway has trans and ace characters, and while I found it a little self-impressed as an adult I think I would have eaten it up as a precocious fourth grader. Does include a fair amount of gore.

On the totally other end of the fantasy/realism spectrum, Leah Johnson's You Should See Me in a Crown is about a queer girl running for prom queen.
posted by babelfish at 9:54 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Provenance by Ann Leckie! It's probably Leckie's most "YA-ish" novel and is an adventure/coming-of-age story set in a society with three genders, in which children's genders aren't determined until they "come out" upon reaching adulthood. As indicated by the title, it's all about the influence of "where things come from" in shaping the characters' lives, both positive and negative. It has a happy ending too. :)

If your kid likes it, they can tackle the rest of Leckie's books, which are queer as heck and all kinds of amazing. (I think Provenance is the least scary of them, but I didn't find any of them actively disturbing.)
posted by heatherlogan at 7:05 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

I just read cat fishing on catnet and IT IS SO SO GOOD! I'm almost done and don't want it to end. :)
posted by bookworm4125 at 11:49 AM on September 19

Chaos on Catnet, coming vaguely some time in 2021! Yaaaaaaaaay!
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:00 PM on September 21

You should also keep an eye out for Charlie Jane Anders' YA novel Victories Greater Than Death. It's about a bisexual teenage activist whose true form is a six-foot-tall purple alien who falls in love with a trans girl and saves the galaxy, and it's coming out next spring.
posted by yarntheory at 8:02 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]

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