The best young adult books about queer community throughout history

Who am I?

I love reading about queer history: It’s the story of a diverse, courageous, and creative community, and it’s filled with inspiring actions and fascinating people. It’s also a history I had to seek out for myself because it was never taught at school—and although there has been progress since I came out as queer three decades ago, this is still true for most teens today. Over the last few years, I have written LGBTQIA+ books for all ages, and spoken to thousands of students. The books on this list explore queer history in ways that I think many teens will find highly enjoyable as well as informative.


I wrote...

When You Get the Chance

By Robin Stevenson, Tom Ryan,

Book cover of When You Get the Chance

What is my book about?

When You Get the Chance is a YA novel that explores friendship, family, and queer community through the eyes of two teens. Living on opposite coasts, Mark and Talia haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, they find themselves reunited at the cottage, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it. The cousins are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common—well, that and the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto for Pride Weekend. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin. Mark is just looking for some fun.

So, with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow, they decide to hit the road. With a bit of luck and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

The books I picked & why

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Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo,

Book cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Why this book?

Malinda Lo writes so well—and it seems she is able to do so in every genre. The characters, the dialogue, the vivid setting, and the rich sensory details (and the food! You will need snacks—really, it should come with a warning sticker) make this historical novel an utterly immersive reading experience. I was sad to come to the end--though I very much appreciated the historical background notes that I found there: this book is meticulously researched.

Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare of the 1950s, it brings to life lesbian history and Chinese American history through the story of seventeen-year-old Lily Hu and her friends. I couldn’t put it down.


Pulp

By Robin Talley,

Book cover of Pulp

Why this book?

This historical novel also explores the lives of lesbians in the 1950s, but in a very different way: it is told in dual narratives, from the point of view of two teen girls growing up and coming out six decades apart. In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet finds a series of books about women who love other women: lesbian pulp novels. Sixty-two years later, Abby is studying classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. It’s a cleverly constructed story and I love how the two stories are woven together.

From a queer history perspective, the book is well-researched and illuminates the danger and fear faced by so many queer people during the Lavender Scare, and the important role played by lesbian pulp novels in a time when young queer girls rarely saw others like themselves. 


Like a Love Story

By Abdi Nazemian,

Book cover of Like a Love Story

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite YA novels. Set in NYC in 1989, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, it tells the story of three teens: an Iranian boy who is just realizing he is gay, a fashion-designing girl who loves him, and an out gay teen from a conservative family. Speaking as someone who remembers those years very well, the portrayal of these characters rings true: gay identity, AIDS, and homophobia were so tangled up together for us as young adults. This is a very beautiful book about love, friendship, activism, community, and families—the ones we are born into and the ones we create. I want everyone to read it.


All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages

By Sara Farizan, Shaun David Hutchinson, Kody Keplinger, Mackenzi Lee, Malinda Lo, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Robin Talley, Alex Sanchez, Dahlia Adler, Saundra Mitchell, Natalie C. Parker

Book cover of All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages

Why this book?

This one’s a bit different: not a novel, but a collection of short stories. And what a collection! Featuring short stories by a wonderfully talented group of authors (including two who are also on this list!), it covers hundreds of years of history, spans the globe, and dives into multiple genres. It is a great way for readers to explore queer history—the real thing and some fantasy versions--and discover new authors.


A Queer History of the United States for Young People

By Michael Bronski,

Book cover of A Queer History of the United States for Young People

Why this book?

After reading all that historical fiction, you might be ready to learn more about the time periods and events that you’ve been introduced to. This non-fiction book is based on the author’s 2012 Stonewall Award-winning A Queer History of the United States and is adapted for teen readers. It includes some well-known figures, alongside profiles of many people that readers may never have heard of. Engaging and easy to read, this is a fascinating and richly detailed telling of queer American history, particularly in the years before the Stonewall Riots.


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