It’s that time of year again. While everyone else is buying presents for Hanukkah and Christmas and baking cookies and whatnot, the book/librarian-type people are curating our Best Books of the Year lists. It’s one of my very favorite parts of my job: reading a lot and talking about those books with insightful, intelligent people. Many of those insightful people are teenagers, though many of them are fellow librarians.
This has been a fantastic year for Queer* Young Adult literature and since that’s kind of my thing, I decided they’d get their very own list.
These are my personal favorites. The books that I like because I like them, and the books that I like because of reasons. And that were published in 2015. And that have a major character who is queer. Those are the only qualifications, though many of these books you’ll also see on fancy/literary lists circulating around the internet. I guess that just means I have good taste. Or something.
10. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (I)
While not the first time I’ve seen an intersex character in fiction (that honor belongs to Pantomime by Laura Lam, which – by the way – can we have the 3rd book already because I’M DYING HERE!) it is the first time I’ve seen an intersex character in contemporary fiction. While this book has some flaws, I truly enjoyed Kristin’s journey discovering that she is intersex, and the emotional process that followed. Kristin’s AIS is clearly described as only one of many things that can result in an intersex identity, and the story, while a bit simplistic, feels important and timely.
9. Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan (G)
Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, will grayson is back, and if you didn’t think he was the best character in WGWG then I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. If you’ll recall (or not, in which case I’m telling you now) he wrote and performed a musical that was about, and starring, himself. And here it is – the script of his musical that manages to be both a script and a legitimate novel. As a musical theater fan, I was rolling at the references that prove Levithan is either also an avid musical theater fan, or did his motherfucking research. Either way he nails it. It’s laugh out loud hilarious.
8. Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (L/B)
This book has what is possibly the best girl-girl sex scene I have ever. fucking. read. Seriously. It’s hot. It’s consentual. It’s just graphic enough. And Vanessa’s coming out journey ends with one of the best mic drops ever written, which – combined with the fact that Vanessa is also Asian-American and her GF is bisexual – makes it a total win in my book. The hollywood plot, and the Josh chapters I could take or leave. They’re very well written, just not my personal jam. But I was with Vanessa to the very end. And seriously, ya’ll, that sex scene though. *fan’s self.*
7. Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konisberg (L/G)
The queer in this book comes on two fronts. Carson meets a bad-ass lesbian named Aisha (a dark-skinned black girl in Billings Montana), and they road trip to California where he finds out that part of his family history involves the 1980’s AIDS crisis. I like the reminder that AIDS was a thing, since it has largely passed out of our collective consciousness. But my favorite thing was Carson’s realization that while he views himself as the main character of his story, Aisha has her own journey that SHE is the center of. This seems obvious to me, and hopefully to the reader, but that lightbulb moment is one I want to print out and hand to every teenage boy on earth. Just to make sure they get it.
6. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash (L)
In this beautiful debut, Maggie tells her coming out story about when she fell for an older girl at camp, Maggie nails what it feels like to be a teenager, something that is rarely truly accomplished in YA lit. The book is in turns funny and touching and for those of us roughly Maggie’s age it has the nostalgia factor too.
Maggie feels like the kind of girl that I would have been friends with, and her journey makes me wish I’d been much younger when I had my own coming out story.
5. Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (G)
There is a lot to love in this book. The role reversal of the sensitive artist brother and the bad-ass, warrior sister. The fact that, once freed, the horned Prince from the forest ends up with Ben instead of Hazel. The way a fairy tale town is plopped right down into the middle of the world we currently know. The unique take on fairies, their relationships to humans and the way their society works. And the gorgeous language that Black uses to paint this world. It’s magical realism/ contemporary fantasy at its best.
4. What we Left Behind by Robin Talley (L/G/T/genderfluid)
I’ve already gushed about this title here, so I’ll keep my comments brief. I’ve never before encountered a book that felt so close to the process and processing I’ve experienced with so many of my queer friends. The debates about pronouns. The discussion about labels. The way, especially in college, identity can feel so fluid that it might change hourly and how other friends can struggle to keep up. How relationships can fall apart just because you become two different people. This book made me feel all the feelings. And I love that.
3. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (G)
Carry On is another spin off. It’s sort-of-but-not-really the fanfiction that Cath was writing in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and it’s sort-of-but-not-really Harry Potter/ Simon Snow fanfiction written not in the voice of Cath or Gemma T. Leslie or any other of Rowell’s characters. It is its own thing. Whatever that is. But whatever it is, it’s amazing. And I totally fucking love it. For the friend who about 6 months ago asked me to find him “some gay wizards and shit” I say – here you go and you’re welcome. Classic fantasy struggle with some really fun magic world building and gay ass wizards. Also lots of girls who kick all the ass. Bc obviously.
2. Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (B)
The only thing that kept this from being my #1 title was the ballet audition scene at the end because that’s just not how ballet auditions work and it’s one of those picky pet peeves of mine. Other than that, it ticked all my boxes. Etta is a black girl who feels too gay for the straight kids and not gay enough for The Dykes, her ex group of friends at school. This book also shows that eating disorders don’t all look the same, and that sometimes people surprise you. It’s so rare to find a good bisexual character, let alone one that openly talks about the unique struggles of being bi. Two thumbs up.
1. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (G)
This is the epitome of “I just want a sweet fluffy romance with queer kids.” I audibly squee-ed – possibly more than once – while reading. It’s like, kittens in baskets level of adorable, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is the book that I want to hand to every gay teen boy I know. To wrap it up with a bow and say “This book is for you.” Simon has struggles, that’s what makes a good story, but Gayness is never presented as the phantom antagonist. He’s a teen boy trying to get through life. Double props to the idea that everyone should have to openly declare their sexuality – straight and queer people alike. Because can I get an AMEN on that? A. Fucking. Men.
Simon is also my prediction and personal pick for the Morris Award. And if it doesn’t win, I’mma throw a giant tantrum, so get ready.
*I use Queer as an umbrella term to include everything that is NOT hetero/gender normative.