Although the number of young adult novels about LGBT characters overall has risen significantly over the last few decades, novels about cisgender boys continue to outnumber novels about cisgender girls. ((See 2013 LGBT YA by the Numbers.)) This isn’t necessarily surprising, as lesbians and bisexual women are marginalized and erased throughout all of media, but it is always frustrating to me — as both a lesbian and a writer who writes about queer girls. I remember several years ago I was on a panel about LGBT YA in which most of the writers happened to have written novels about lesbian or bisexual teen girls. (I later learned how rare this actually is!) During the Q&A afterward, an audience member said to us, “Your books are all about girls. How can I get boys to read your books?”
I’m not sure how I responded then, but if I were asked that question now, I’d tell this person that if I have any audience in mind for my books, that audience is made of queer girls. My goal is to put my books in the hands of these girls, who are a vastly underserved audience in YA. Their experiences may parallel those of gay boys to some extent, but they also differ significantly due to sexism and the basic fact that they’re exploring their attraction to girls, not necessarily to boys. (I think even bisexual girls are more likely to question the same-sex attraction part than the opposite-sex part.)
Because of the lower number of books about queer girls, because I’m always asked for recommendations for more books about queer girls, and because I’m a queer girl too, today I’m offering up a list of my favorite YA novels about lesbian and bisexual girls. They’re all different, and they range widely in style and genre, but I’ve read every one of these books and I loved each one. The book descriptions that follow are from the publishers.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth (Balzer + Bray)
When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to live with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her Grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.
Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not quite sure just who that is.
Why I Recommend It: It’s set in early 1990s Montana, and while this book was nothing like my own coming-out experience, it still felt like it was a story written just for me. Plus: beautiful writing, incredible details.
Thirteen tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time. Acclaimed Irish author Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances–sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous. Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed. Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire. Acclaimed writer Emma Donoghue spins new tales out of old in a magical web of thirteen interconnected stories about power and transformation and choosing one’s own path in the world. In these fairy tales, women young and old tell their own stories of love and hate, honor and revenge, passion and deception. Using the intricate patterns and oral rhythms of traditional fairy tales, Emma Donoghue wraps age-old characters in a dazzling new skin.
Why I Recommend It: Fairy tales, flipped, often with a queer perspective.
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (Graphia)
Seventeen-year-old Louisa Cosgrove has never enjoyed the life of the pampered, protected life girls of wealth were expected to follow in nineteenth century England. It was too confining. She would have much rather been like her older brother, allowed to play marbles, go to school, become a doctor. But little does she know how far her family would go to kill her dreams and desires. Until one day she finds herself locked away in an insane asylum and everyone–the doctors and nurses–insist on calling her Lucy Childs, not Louisa Cosgrove.
Surely this is a mistake. Surely her family will rescue her from this horrible, disgusting place. But as she unravels the mystery, she discovers those are the very people she can’t trust. So who can she? There’s one person–Eliza. As their love grows, Louisa realizes treachery locked her away. Love is the key to freedom.
Why I Recommend It: A rare historical novel in which being gay doesn’t kill you, this book also evokes Sarah Waters’ Victorian novels in many ways.
Jesse cuts her own hair with a Swiss Army knife. She wears big green fisherman’s boots. She’s the founding (and only) member of NOLAW, the National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos. Emily wears sweaters with faux pearl buttons. She’s vice president of the student council. She has a boyfriend.
These two girls have nothing in common, except the passionate “private time” they share every Tuesday afternoon. Jesse wishes their relationship could be out in the open, but Emily feels she has too much to lose. When they find themselves on opposite sides of a heated school conflict, they each have to decide what’s more important: what you believe in, or the one you love?
Why I Recommend It: Jesse. This book actually has two other point-of-view narrators, but for me, this book is about Jesse and all her anti-establishment weird cool. Plus, some of the best kissing in YA ever, I promise.
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode (Candlewick)
Listen up: You’re about to get rocked by the fiercest, baddest all-girl hip-hop crew in the Twin Cities - or at least in the wealthy, white, Bible-thumping suburb of Holyhill, Minnesota. Our heroine, Esme Rockett (aka MC Ferocious) is a Jewish lesbian lyricist. In her crew, Esme’s got her BFFs Marcy (aka DJ SheStorm, the butchest straight girl in town) and Tess (aka The ConTessa, the pretty, popular powerhouse of a vocalist). But Esme’s feelings for her co-MC, Rowie (MC Rohini), a beautiful, brilliant, beguiling desi chick, are bound to get complicated. And before they know it, the queer hip-hop revolution Esme and her girls have exploded in Holyhill is on the line. Exciting new talent Laura Goode lays down a snappy, provocative, and heartfelt novel about discovering the rhythm of your own truth.
Why I Recommend It: This book was hilarious and heartbreaking; Esme is a great narrator. First love and hip-hop, politics and activism all at once.
Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand (Viking)
She is a painter. He is a poet. Their art bridges time.
It is 1978. Merle is in her first year at the Corcoran School of Art, catapulted from her impoverished Appalachian upbringing into a sophisticated, dissipated art scene. It is also 1870. The teenage poet Arthur Rimbaud is on the verge of breaking through to the images and voice that will make his name. The meshed power of words and art thins the boundaries between the present and the past—and allows these two troubled, brilliant artists to enter each other’s worlds. Radiant Days is a peerless follow-up to Elizabeth Hand's unforgettable, multiple-starred Illyria.
Why I Recommend It: Flawless sentences about making art, with characters who happen to be gay.
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (Little, Brown)
Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions … like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.
As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.
Why I Recommend It: Astrid is a smart girl, and the thing I loved best about her and this book was her engagement with philosophy. Yes, it’s about love too, but this book made me think, and that’s why it resonated with me.
Pretend You Love Me by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown)
In this fresh, poignant novel (originally published under the title Far From Xanadu), Mike is struggling to come to terms with her father’s suicide and her mother’s detachment from the family. Mike (real name: Mary Elizabeth) is gay and likes to pump iron, play softball, and fix plumbing. When a glamorous new girl, Xanadu, arrives in Mike’s small Kansas town, Mike falls in love at first sight. Xanadu is everything Mike is not — cool, confident, feminine, sexy…. straight.
Why I Recommend It: This is one of the very few books I’ve found about a butch teen girl — a girl who doesn’t present herself as traditionally feminine. Some people dismiss this look as a stereotype, but Mike isn’t a stereotype. Mike is real, sympathetic, and goes through an experience that virtually lesbian I know has gone through: falling for someone who isn’t gay.
Tripping to Somewhere by Kristopher Reisz (Simon Pulse)
Life is going nowhere fast…until the night some freak wanders into the convenience store where Sam and Gilly are hanging out. He lets them in on a secret: The Witches’ Carnival is nearby. If they travel fast, they might catch it. It’s everyone’s glittery fantasy turned real: to follow the Carnival’s mystic band of beautiful people as they defy every limit and dance through history – all in search of a good time. Sam wants to go for it, to cut ties with home and reach for the dream. But on the road, it’s Gilly who becomes enchanted. The girls leave everything behind. So in pursuit, they’ll have nothing left to lose…except each other.
Why I Recommend It: This is urban fantasy à la Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales — with two girls in love. It’s fast-paced, gritty, and I wish there were more books like this!
Nicola Lancaster is spending her summer at the Siegel Institute, a hothouse of smart, intense teenagers. She soon falls in with Katrina (Manic Computer Chick), Isaac (Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself), Kevin (Inarticulate Composer) . . . and Battle, a beautiful blond dancer. The two become friends—and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you're attracted to guys, and then you meet a girl who steals your heart? A trailblazing debut, reissued with an introduction by acclaimed author David Levithan, and copious back matter, including three graphic novel stories by Sara Ryan (and artists Steve Leiber, Dylan Meconis, and Natalie Nourigat) about the characters.
Why I Recommend It: Talented teens at summer school falling in love! Basically I wanted to live in this book.
Want to win The Miseducation of Cameron Post and other great YA novels about queer girls? Enter the Giant YA Pride 2013 Giveaway.