By Daniel Barks
Growing up queer and a heavy reader, I can’t help but envy today’s teens the ever-growing number of books written for their demographic that feature central LGBT characters and themes. When I delve into these titles, I devour them. I read them gluttonously, vicariously re-imagining the trajectory of my own coming-of-age had these characters and their voices been available to me at the time. Because of this, I can—unlike some—fault no one for avidly reading young adult literature on into adulthood. It’s uplifting to see that not only does “it get better” as you grow up, but the very process of growing up seems to be getting better, too. Young readers have more role models and better access than ever to proof that they are not alone, and that’s a wonderful thing.
So for June, for Pride Month, I’ve put together a short list of reading recommendations for LGBT youth, or those seeking some literary insight into their experience.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
by Susan Kuklin
While personal narratives of the transgender experience have been around for a while now, and certainly books have been written about the experience of gender nonconformity among teens, this may just be the first book to explore the unique—and frequently harrowing—experience of trans teens coming to grips with their own identity in their own words. Susan Kuklin met, interviewed, and collaborated with the six young people profiled here to make sure their stories were told honestly, accurately, and with empathy. This book is destined to be a great resource for teens questioning their gender identity as well as anyone else seeking to better understand the challenges and triumphs transgendered people of all ages have faced on their journey.
Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan
The narration style isn't for everyone—the story is told by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—but David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing is another strong entry in the author’s growing body of work for young readers featuring intimate discussions of queer issues and queer characters. The story revolves around two 17-year-olds planning to break a world record for longest kiss, as well as the way their visibility touches the lives of those around them. David Levithan’s first novel, Boy Meets Boy, a forerunner in LGBT-YA books, is about to turn ten years old, and folks might recognize the author's work—if not his name—from his collaboration with John Green in Will Grayson, Will Grayson and with Rachel Cohn in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
by Emily M. Danforth
The “conversion therapies” offered by ex-gay organizations, designed to retrain LGBT individuals (frequently involuntary young people) on gender norms and embracing opposite-sex attraction, seem to have fallen out of favor in recent years, at least in the public eye. But the psychological damage they’ve done—and continue to do—is long-lasting. This novel follows Cameron as she is thrust into an ex-gay camp by her conservative family members. There, she bears witness and gives voice to the psychological scars of her compatriots, and her self-confidence and zeal in the face of overwhelming negativity leave the reader feeling inspired and charged. Definitely on the heavier side, but so, so good.
The Letter Q
edited by Sarah Moon
Sixty-three award-winning authors write letters to their younger selves, telling them what they wish they could have known or done differently back then. Reminiscent of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better, but the contributors all come from the literary arena, and for several of the writers in particular the message isn't so much that things get better, but that you can make them better.
On the Count of Three
by Maureen Johnson
On the Count of Three—previously published as The Bermudez Triangle—features a triptych of orientations among its primary characters. Nina (straight) finds a new and unexpected dynamic in her tight-knit friend group after returning home from a summer away: best friends Mel (gay) and Avery (bi) have formed a new, romantic relationship, making Nina suddenly a third wheel. The book dives into the varying ways in which all three of these seventeen-year-old girls have to find themselves and each other, sorting identity, friendships, and love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Barks is a sales assistant at Beacon Press, a position he arrived at after several years of bookselling in independent bookstores. When not reading or selling books, he copyedits microbiological research papers and hangs out with his dog, Kafka.