The best LGBTQIA+ YA books on coming out and finding love

The Books I Picked & Why

Rubyfruit Jungle

By Rita Mae Brown

Book cover of Rubyfruit Jungle

Why this book?

A tattered paperback version of Rubyfruit Jungle from 1973 sits on my desk. It will always be my favorite coming out story, and Molly Bolt will always be the first fictional character I had a crush on. I’d follow the unapologetic badass anywhere. Molly tore through romances, determined to find her people, her place, and her way in life. This book may be historical fiction now, but it wasn’t when it was written. Rita Mae Brown records the hardship that even the coolest of cool endured. It was a time when the word homosexual was used, and queer rights weren’t even on the radar. Rubyfruit Jungle crashed through a glass ceiling and cleared the runway for young lesbians like me.

Note: I recommend this novel for the mature YA reader.


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Rise to the Sun

By Leah Johnson

Book cover of Rise to the Sun

Why this book?

Leah Johnson always writes accessible characters that pull at my heartstrings. Her newest release Rise to the Sun is a real queer teen love story. In one weekend, love is found and lost, and secrets are told and accepted through music, friendship, and fearlessness. Olivia and Imani have been best friends since they were little kids, and this weekend is their special getaway to the Farmland Music Festival in Georgia. Donning a cowboy hat and long hair, Toni is there to compete in the singer’s showcase, but when she misses the deadline for the singles competition, she teams up with Olivia for a spontaneous duet. Sparks fly, complications begin, and everything is risked for love. My kind of read.


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Flamer

By Mike Curato

Book cover of Flamer

Why this book?

Author Jarrett J. Krosoczka said it perfectly: “This book will save lives.” That’s the power an LGBTQIA+ story can have, and that’s why this book is so important to me, because I believe that too. Fourteen-year-old Aiden Navarro is an iconic character you'll never forget in this graphic novel that’s touching, raw, and truthful. I fell in love with Aiden and the entire Flaming Arrow Patrol during their final week at Boy Scout camp. Unfortunately, it’s the last place a misfit like Aiden would want to come out, especially after rumors fly that his favorite counselor was fired for being gay. Always living in thoughts of what might be, Aiden is an underdog everyone wants to win. Spoiler alert: he does, just by being himself.


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The Girls I’ve Been

By Tess Sharpe

Book cover of The Girls I’ve Been

Why this book?

Love can make us braver than we are, smarter than we ever thought, and strong enough to face the unthinkable. Tough-minded Nora is caught in a predicament she turns out to be well-prepared for. It's the other ten hostages in the bank robbery that are not, especially her ex-boyfriend Wes and her current girlfriend Iris. Now, it’s all about saving them. Warning: this is a guns-in-your-face thriller that deals with abuse and violence. As a survivor of a violent crime, I can’t normally read books like this, however, The Girls I’ve Been is a beautifully-crafted love story, and the reckoning at the end is worth the read. Listen to Tess Sharpe's chilling narration on Audible, and don’t miss the upcoming film starring Millie Bobbie Brown.


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Gender Queer: A Memoir

By Maia Kobabe

Book cover of Gender Queer: A Memoir

Why this book?

Establishing personal pronouns is not always linear. In Maia’s case, discovering the Spivak pronouns e/em/eir connected the puzzle pieces and led to self-growth, beginning with a childhood love of snakes and continuing into a pursuit of an MFA in Comics. Along the way, struggles are faced and conquered, hair is cropped, and menstrual cycles come and go. This is a journey worth celebrating and worth reading about. Gender Queer is not about being male or female; it’s about having a connection to both, or to none. Paradoxically, love stories aren’t always about finding another person. Sometimes they’re about finding things that fill our lives with self-love and acceptance.


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