It’s only the end of May, but 2018 (aka 20gayteen) has already shown up with a good number of solid LGBTQ YA and middle grade novels, as well as a handful of excellent picture books. I’ve been keeping up as best I can, and here are my favorites of the bunch (so far).
First on the list is Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child, a middle grade novel set on St. Thomas & Water Island of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The story follows 12-year-old Caroline, whose mother left her one year and three months ago. When Caroline befriends (and begins to fall in love with) new-girl-at-school Kalinda, the two team up to contact the spirits in an attempt to find Caroline’s mother. Gorgeously written, heartbreaking, and saturated with a lush Caribbean setting, this #OwnVoices novel should not be missed.
Next up is YA novel Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. When bisexual Mara’s beloved twin brother Owen is accused of raping Hannah–his girlfriend and Mara’s good friend–Mara believes Hannah, although she’s shocked and devastated by the news. With flashbacks of her own trauma flooding her brain, Mara turns to her genderqueer ex, Charlie, as well as to Owen’s friend Alex for comfort and to try to make sense of what has happened both to Hannah and to herself. This is a unique and emotionally complex look at rape culture and double standards.
In Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light, gay, Chinese American Danny seems to have his future all figured out: He’s a talented artist who has been accepted to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. But his senior year takes a mysterious and troubling turn after his father loses his job. In the back of a closet at home, Danny finds a box of documents about a powerful Silicon Valley businessman, whom his parents claim not to know. Meanwhile, with the one-year anniversary approaching, Danny’s struggling with guilt over his classmate’s suicide. At home, his father inexplicably refuses to look for a new job. With a little investigation, Danny finds that his parents may have more secrets than he ever could have imagined. A heart wrenching, nuanced look at the sometimes tragic experiences of one immigrant family and the lives of high-achieving high school students.
Shane, who lives on an Anishinaabe reservation, is grieving the loss of his younger sister to suicide. He’d been planning on leaving for college after graduation, but his financial aid has fallen through and his family’s house desperately needs repairs. Shane longs to live openly in the city with his secret boyfriend, David, but David is more reluctant to come out or to leave the rez. And although he feels guilty about lying to her, Shane can’t find it in his heart to break up with his long-time girlfriend, Tara. This beautifully written #OwnVoices novel is a most welcome addition to the YA queer lit scene.
After their house is destroyed by a tornado, Ivy and her family (mom, dad, sister, and twin siblings) hole up in a single room in a local bed-and-breakfast. Ivy, at least, has her sketchbook to comfort her, and she loves to draw pictures of herself holding hands with a girl in a treehouse. When her sketchbook is found by someone at school, she begins receiving notes in her locker urging her to tell someone her secret. This is the exact type of book I would have loved as an 11-year-old. Ivy believably comes to terms with her sexuality–including the fact she’ll keep learning more about herself as time goes on.
Last but not least we have The Prince and the Dressmaker, a graphic novel by Jen Wang. When dressmaker Frances is fired for a risque dress design, she’s immediately hired by a wealthy client–who happens to be the Belgian Prince Sebastian. Turns out he’s the one who wants to wear her dresses. The two new friends spend nights on the town, with Sebastian presenting as the elegant Lady Crystallia. When Frances has an opportunity to join a fashion show organized by her idol, designer Madame Aurelia, Sebastian worries that someone will discover his secret. Colorful, easy to read artwork accompanies this heartfelt story, and although it presents a trope here or there (*cough* outing), overall it’s a strong affirmation of gender-expansive youth.
Other books I enjoyed but that didn’t quite make the “favorites” cut include Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto; The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis; Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron; and Ship It by Britta Lundin.
AND, these excellent 2018 books include queer characters in secondary or tertiary roles: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy; Driving by Starlight by Anat Deracine; Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert; The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson; and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.