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

Why am I passionate about this?

I am lesbian queer. My pronouns are she/her, and two things I know for sure are that coming out takes courage, and that finding love is worth every step taken. I’m also a Type 1 diabetic and dyslexic whose acting career led me to writing and teaching. Now, I work with unlined notebooks, because for me, writing is like drawing, or sewing without a pattern. My quest is to support YA LGBTQIA+ people who are finding their way out of the closet into our polarized world.


I wrote...

Honey Girl

By Lisa Freeman,

Book cover of Honey Girl

What is my book about?

Fifteen-year-old Haunani “Nani” Nuuhiwa was raised in Hawaii, but after her father's sudden death, her mother trades their island life and her dad's famous bar for the mainland. It's the start of summer in 1972. Nani finds herself the new girl at Santa Monica's hottest surf spot, State Beach. Her only hope for acceptance – no, for survival – is following “The Rules,” an unspoken list of do’s and don'ts that made her a beloved local on the beaches of Honolulu. If she survives the harrowing initiations, she’ll become a member of the coolest lineup of girls in California. But Nani is harboring a secret that could destroy everything she’s worked to achieve—she might be in love with Rox, the Queen Supreme of State Beach.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Rubyfruit Jungle

Lisa Freeman Why did I love 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.

By Rita Mae Brown,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Rubyfruit Jungle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the classic coming of age novel that confronts prejudice and injustice with power and humanity.

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY RITA MAE BROWN

Molly Bolt is a young lady with a big character. Beautiful, funny and bright, Molly figures out at a young age that she will have to be tough to stay true to herself in 1950s America. In her dealings with boyfriends and girlfriends, in the rocky relationship with her mother and in her determination to pursue her career, she will fight for her right to happiness. Charming, proud and inspiring, Molly is the girl who refuses to…


Book cover of Rise to the Sun

Lisa Freeman Why did I love 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.

By Leah Johnson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rise to the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

A stunning novel about being brave enough to be true
to yourself, and learning to find joy even when times are unimaginably
dark.
Three days.

Two girls.

One life-changing music festival.

Toni is grieving the loss of her roadie father
and needing to figure out where her life will go from here - and
she's desperate to get back to loving music. Olivia is a hopeless
romantic whose heart has just taken a beating
(again) and is beginning to feel like she'll always be a square
peg in a round hole - but the Farmland Music and Arts Festival is…


Book cover of Flamer

Lisa Freeman Why did I love 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.

By Mike Curato,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Flamer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning author and artist Mike Curato draws on his own experiences in Flamer, his debut graphic novel, telling a difficult story with humor, compassion, and love.

"This book will save lives." ―Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of National Book Award Finalist Hey, Kiddo

I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.

It's the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone's…


Book cover of The Girls I’ve Been

Lisa Freeman Why did I love 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.

By Tess Sharpe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Girls I’ve Been as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a Netflix film starring Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown - this must-read psychological thriller, perfect for fans of One of Us Is Lying, will leave you guessing until the final page.
'Unlike anything I've read before... immediate, gripping, incredibly tense, heart-breaking, heart-warming and FUN! ' - Holly Jackson, author of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

As an ex con artist, Nora has always got herself out of tricky situations. But the ultimate test lies in wait when she's taken hostage in a bank heist. And this time, Nora doesn't have an escape plan ...

Meet Nora.…


Book cover of Gender Queer: A Memoir

Lisa Freeman Why did I love 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.

By Maia Kobabe,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Gender Queer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family…


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Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

Book cover of Shahrazad's Gift

Gretchen McCullough Author Of Shahrazad's Gift

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a fiction writer and currently live in Cairo, where I have lived for over twenty years. I noticed that the way I started telling stories was influenced by learning Arabic and by listening to the stories of the people in the city. My interest in Arabic also led me to read Arabic literature, like A Thousand and One Nights.   

Gretchen's book list on books influenced by Thousand and One Nights

What is my book about?

Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo — magical, absurd, and humorous.

The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.

Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

What is this book about?

Shahrazad's Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo-magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight…


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