The best novels for young readers by and about gender non-conforming humans

The Books I Picked & Why

Ana on the Edge

By A.J. Sass

Book cover of Ana on the Edge

Why this book?

When it comes to misunderstood identities, it becomes crucial that there be stories by authors who have lived that story. There is no faking that authenticity. This is certainly the case with this engrossing and moving story of a young skater’s growing awareness of and interest in non-binary identity, written by a non-binary author with experience of the skating world. I particularly like that the story takes place in a setting in which the gender binary is so strongly enforced. I also appreciate the intersectionality – the main character is Chinese-American and Jewish.

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Too Bright to See

By Kyle Lukoff

Book cover of Too Bright to See

Why this book?

Pitfalls in writing a story about a particular identity can include a preachy centering of the identity issue, and overwrought, often tragic storylines. This lovely tale about a young trans boy figuring out who he is avoids both of these common errors, with a nuanced, gentle story of ghosts, family, and friendship...and, gender dysphoria, described with the subtlety and accuracy of someone who has experienced it first hand.

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By Alex Gino

Book cover of Rick

Why this book?

Gino’s novel “George” is better-known and also excellent, but it’s older, and even in the short time it has been published, some ideas have changed. Gino themself has expressed regret publicly that its main character’s deadname is the book’s title. This follow-up companion novel centers on a young boy coming to terms with a friend who is becoming a bully, and also struggling to find a word that accurately expresses his lack of interest in sex and romance. It’s a gentle and affirming book that introduces the idea of ace and aro identities to younger MG readers, and it is a delight.

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Both Can Be True

By Jules Machias

Book cover of Both Can Be True

Why this book?

I particularly like the dual narration in this 2021 debut, with two characters who challenge gender norms at different levels of intensity as they bond over a secret rescue dog. Daniel is a boy who feels all his emotions intensely, and who has been told over and over that he is too sensitive. Ash cycles through genders, feeling and expressing girl sometimes and boy other times. It’s so good to see a GNC character in a lead role. I also got a hoot out of the graphic elements, which are quirky and original.

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Felix Ever After

By Kacen Callender

Book cover of Felix Ever After

Why this book?

Of the five books on this list, this is the one that’s definitely in the Young Adult category rather than Middle Grade, but I wanted to include one of Kacen’s excellent creations. This is another book that, with its Black queer trans protagonist, does a fantastic job of exploring the complexities of intersectionality. The story is messy and emotional and real. Callender is a rising star of queer fiction for young readers.

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