In 2013 I wrote a post about my favorite YA novels about lesbian and bisexual girls. That was three years ago, so I think it's high time for an update. I've added several books that I've read since 2013 below, plus two that don't come out till this fall (so you can pre-order them!). Just like in my previous list, these books range widely in style and genre, but I’ve read every and loved each one. The books are listed in alphabetical order by author's last name, and the book descriptions come from the publishers. Happy Pride month!
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Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile kingdoms. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a land where magic is forbidden.
Now Denna has to learn the ways of her new kingdom while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine, sister of her betrothed.
When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, they discover there is more to one another than they thought—and soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.
But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.
Why I Recommend It: A fantasy novel about two princesses falling in love with each other amid horseback riding lessons, magic, and political machinations! Soooo romantic.
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.
Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue (HarperTeen)
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.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers)
High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
Why I Recommend It: A light-hearted and funny tale of first love (and crushes) that definitely made me laugh out loud.
The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (Viking)
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.
Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard (HarperTeen) — Coming Sept. 6, 2016
All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty.
But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth—that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.
Why I Recommend It: Pen has such a fabulous voice; it's funny and tender and so relatable. I guarantee you, you're going to fall in love with her by the time you finish the book!
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!
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan (Speak)
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.
Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.
The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.
The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.
After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.
Why I Recommend It: An atmospheric murder mystery with a bisexual and disabled protagonist — such a great read.
Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.
All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.
Why I Recommend It: This is a YA graphic memoir about a girl at a Christian summer camp falling for a camp counselor, an older girl, with just the right combination of humor, honesty, and the rush of first love.