Putting this list together made us all realize that there are a ton of these books that we'd like to read but haven't, so we've listed a few of those too!
And if we talk strictly YA, there is a shortage of LGBT fiction that isn't didactic and message-driven and framed as a lesson in tolerance. I would rather read YA lit that treats all variations of human sexuality as a norm, than teaches acceptance which is often tinged with feelings of separation between the "normal" majority and the pity- and tolerance-worthy minorities.
It doesn't mean that Levithan doesn't write about the difficulties that many gay teens might face in their lives, but he writes his characters as teens with regular teen problems - dating, conflicts with parents, school troubles - first. In Levithan's fictional worlds homosexuality is a normal, matter-of-fact thing, as it should be in real life too.
Sarah Waters is probably the only author I know who writes vastly entertaining fiction which consistently features lesbian heroines. Her novels range from historical romps (Tipping the Velvet) to gothic mysteries with ghosts in prisons (Affinity) to twisty romance/adventures with asylums for lunatics (Fingersmith).
Diana Gabaldon has a lesser known series of historical novels dedicated to Lord John Grey, a (gay) officer who spends his time serving in military and investigating crimes. While my love for Gabaldon's work is fading, the earlier stories in this series are quite captivating, especially if you are interested in knowing peculiarities of living gay in 18th century England.
The last couple of books I want to talk about I am not even sure can be characterized as LGBT. But they are written about sexual minorities (sort of), so I think it's ok to mention them within this post.
Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex is a story of a hermaphrodite and her/his family path that led to her/his birth. I would call it a multi-generational, multicultural family saga.
Even though this novel is not particularly grounded in reality, it is a fascinating study of gender and "other" sexuality.
I adored this story about a young person of unidentified gender and his/her struggle to deal with homelessness and the loss of his/her first love. The romance here is one of the rare ones that subverted all of my “Catie ending” predilections and made me root for the happy ending.
“Your song crept over me as I drifted, the room spinning ever so slightly, and I rolled onto my side and pulled up my knees, facing the back of the couch, and put my hands up together by my chin, like your music was a blanket I could gather around me.”
I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth The Trip by John Donovan:
A classic novel – possibly the first young adult novel to feature a homosexual relationship. Also one of the best young adult novels I’ve ever read, period. This one deals with grief and new beginnings and shame, and there are no neat endings here.
“Go ahead and feel guilty if you want to. I don’t.”
If I had been a wealthy gay teen growing up in New York City, this book could be about me. I related so much to this character’s voice, even though we have almost nothing in common. A quiet, contemplative read that’s not plot-heavy but is still compelling.
“I felt this awful obligation to be charming or at least have something to say, and the pressure of having to be charming (or merely verbal) incapacitates me.”
Hero by Perry Moore:
This book is fluffy fluff, but I could not put it down. I even took it to a family event and read it covertly in little snatches under the table. Somewhat pathetic rag-tag bands of unlikely heroes are definitely a golden topic for me, and throw in a very cute romance with dark hero? I was completely absorbed.
“Now I was the only one left. I thought about what I was going to say: Oh, hi there, I'm Thom. I just want to say what an honor it is to be a part of this prestigious team. A leader that wants to kick my ass, some bitchy girl with a major attitude problem, a geriatric precog, a guy who should probably be quarantined at the Center for Disease Control, and me, just your average, ordinary, gay teen superhero. Surely we're what the founding members had in mind when they banded together to form the world's premier superhero group. What's not to be excited about?”
Another romance that somehow managed to make me long for a happily-ever-after! These girls went through so much in the span of 500 pages; they deserved a happy ending.
“I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart - so hard, it hurt me. A hundred times I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But every time, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn't lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn't have felt her breath upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn't have kissed her, without wanting to save her.”
Iron Council by China Miéville:
I read this recently and it’s a great example of a book that contains interesting, multi-faceted gay characters but isn’t really an “issue” book. Or rather, it’s completely an issue book, but it doesn’t focus on LGBT issues. This is a very powerful story about revolution.
“Howl Barrow was easy. ‘We can flatten a bunch of inverts, perverts and painters quicker than scratching our arses,’ one captured militia commander had said, and his disdainful claim had become notorious. The Howl Barrow chapter would not last long, with its Nuevist squads, its battalions of militant ballet dancers, its infamous Pretty Brigade, a group of Collectivist grenadiers and musketeers all of them dollyboy man-whores in dresses and exaggerated make-up, shouting orders to each other in invert slang. At first they had been greeted with disgust; then with forbearance, as they fought without restraint; then with exasperated affection. No one wanted them to be overrun, but it was inevitable.”
A very funny, heartbreaking read about one middle-aged professor and his grief after his long-term partner’s death.
“George smiles to himself, with entire self-satisfaction. Yes, I am crazy, he thinks. That is my secret; my strength.”
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell:
I loved this book for so many reasons: for its stark portrayal of the rural Ozarks, for the enduring strength of the young heroine, and for the very honest, sweet feelings that she has for her married best friend Gail.
"In Ree's heart there was room for more. Any evening spent with Gail was like one of the yearning stories from her sleep was happening awake. Sharing the small simple parts of life with someone who stood tall in her feelings."
Books I want to read: listing these ones out has made me realize that the letters “L” and “B” are feeling a bit neglected in my YA books. Two that I plan to read very soon are Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden and Pink by Lili Wilkinson. Also on my to-read list: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz, Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, and Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. What else would you guys recommend?
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger [Goodreads | Amazon]
This is one of the most heartwarming books I've ever read. Two boy grow up together in Brookline (part of Boston), one with a single dad who is obsessed with the Red Sox and the other, who is Asian and gay. To round out the most PC cast of characters ever, the new girl is Hispanic and there is a young character in the foster system who is differently abled. All of the characters are sharp, funny, and their interactions through the epistolary format are extremely happy-making. This is a book that celebrates being yourself. (even if it does gloss over some of the harsher realities)
Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford [Goodreads | Amazon]
Suicide Notes is a book you can't read around other people. For one, they look at you like you're crazy--my sister actually asked me, "Is everything okay?" with a dead serious look on her face when she saw I was reading this. It isn't about suicide notes! Well, not in a technical sense. It is about a teenage boy analyzing his life and portions of it, which unsurprisingly, if you've been reading the rest of this blog post, includes his sexuality. Jeff is smart and funny, and the book can be read in one sitting.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson [Goodreads | Amazon]
Aussie YA author Lili Wilkinson evaluates the issue of identity in her 2009 book, Pink. The plot revolves around Ava, daughter of two extremely liberal parents, moving to a new school and reinventing herself. I think this book can be beneficial to read in the sense that sometimes people are confused about their sexual preference, and that's totally natural. If something has been stifled or encouraged through childhood, it doesn't usually just explode outward at a certain age with no reflection.
The Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins [Goodreads | Amazon]
Though I have enjoyed the first two books in this series (I've yet to read the third), the relationship I am most interested in is the lesbian relationship of the protagonist's best friend. Whereas the primary romance storyline involves a love triangle, Jenna's relationship is touching and honest and at times, I wish a secondary series was written that focused on her. Maybe in the future?
As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann [Goodreads | Amazon]
I really cannot wait to sink my reader teeth into this one. It is a favorite of several of my reader friends and it is supposed to be brutal in multiple ways but according to one person whose taste I absolutely trust (spoiler alert: It's Catie), readers will feel all the deep emotions, good and bad, along with the main character and that is something I cherish in a book. Unfortunately, the man's name is Jacob Cullen, which makes me wonder whether I will be thinking about those books while I read it. This is a tale of a former servant now soldier who abhors many aspects of war. Catie mentioned the first line as one of the most compelling she's read and I agree:
”On the morning we dragged the pond for Patience White, I bent so far down trying to see beneath the surface that my own face peered up at me, twisted and frowning.”
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris [Goodreads | Amazon]
David Sedaris is almost dangerously funny to me. I once saw him at an event in Rhode Island--my two best friends and I saved up our beer money to go see him--and I almost pissed myself. I love all of his books for their humor, but also because he is so amazing at translating awkward moments and realities into humorous stories. His work seems like the most obvious and arguably unnecessary mention in a roundup of LGBT books, but any list would be incomplete without his work on it.
The Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre [Goodreads | Amazon]
I feel like I recommend this series an obscene amount, especially considering I've only read the first one thus far. It really has something for everyone--action, adventure, romance, space, villains, world-building, technology, a smart heroine, and relevant to this particular blog post, a lesbian mechanic crew member who is pretty kickass. The rest of the series is on my 110+ books list and I could plow through them very quickly so I predict I'll finish them in the next two months. Quote me on that. Also, if anyone wants to read them with me, let me know. I can start over.