The best novels on unbridled queer teenage love written by and about people of color

Who am I?

I wrote my first novel in a quest to create a story about a girl who loves girls surviving a violent, repressive world. Reading novels pertinent to the life I’ve lived was both affirming and life-saving. After graduate school, I developed a class at UC Berkeley where I focused on novels written by and about women of color, knowing compelling stories gave the students a chance to live in someone else’s universe. I still believe books can change hearts and minds, and reading them propels me to continue seeking well-told stories by authors—particularly writers of color—who have the courage to put their words on the page. 


I wrote...

What Night Brings

By Carla Trujillo,

Book cover of What Night Brings

What is my book about?

Marci Cruz wants two things from God: change her into a boy, and rid her of her father. What Night Brings is the unforgettable story of Marci’s struggle to find and maintain her identity against all odds—a perilous home life, an incomprehensible Church, and a largely indifferent world. Smart, feisty, and funny, 13-year-old Marci prays to become a boy so that she can capture the attention of Raquel, the teenage beauty next door. Marci's fighting spirit, her sense of justice, and her power of observation enable her to find her identity and her freedom.

The books I picked & why

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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong,

Book cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Why this book?

Ocean Vuong’s poetic quality of writing stunned me. His beautiful use of language captured the mutual attraction between two lonely teenage boys who become lovers, coupled with the pain and complexity of their lives. I felt the novel stepped away from the personal torment and anguish often seen in books about teenage same-sex love, though it didn’t refrain from acknowledging the impact of the Vietnam war, abuse, poverty, drugs, and dysfunctional family dynamics. I liked the book because the boys’ love and desire for one another had the power to temporarily circumnavigate their differences, personal torments, and sexual boundaries. The flashbacks Little Dog (the protagonist), had about his family and his mother’s memories of Vietnam were also haunting.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An instant New York Times Bestseller!

Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal in Fiction, the 2019 Aspen Words Literacy Prize, and the PEN/Hemingway Debut Novel Award

Shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

Winner of the 2019 New England Book Award for Fiction!

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Oprah.com, Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, Nylon, The Week, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.

"A lyrical work of self-discovery that's shockingly intimate and insistently…

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo,

Book cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Why this book?

I really enjoyed Lo’s writing and how she intersected the love and passion between two teenage girls (Lily, who is Chinese American and Kath, who is Caucasian), and the risks they take to be together. This is a historical novel set in 1954 and Lo artfully juxtaposes their growing desire alongside the oppression and harassment of queer people at the time. I found it captivating how Lily’s family and Chinese tradition impact the story, along with the constraints of living in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the ongoing red-baiting at the time. The illicit nature of same-sex desire added to the tension and heightened the girls’ quest to remain together. Lo didn’t shirk from addressing the impact of racism, sexism, and repression of Chinese and Chinese American people by the US government.

Also interesting was how she brought to light the clubs in SF’s North Beach where male impersonators performed and how queer women frequented them for the experience of joy, companionship, and comradery. Lo is a fabulous writer who tells a dynamic story set in a world most of us have rarely heard about or witnessed. 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Last Night at the Telegraph Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other." And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: "Have you ever heard of such a thing?"

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can't remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall…

Juliet Takes a Breath

By Gabby Rivera,

Book cover of Juliet Takes a Breath

Why this book?

Rivera has a fun and snappy style of writing and brings to life Juliet, a 19-year-old Puerto Rican student from the Bronx who falls in love with another young woman her first year of college, then struggles with their separation when the school year ends. I enjoyed how Rivera wove a feminist self-empowering guidebook written by a White lesbian into the narrative that inspires Juliet to talk her way into a summer internship with the author who lives across the country. Rivera addresses issues of race and class in the story and seamlessly entwines these dynamics. I especially enjoyed Juliet’s voice and her quest for familial acceptance of her love of women, then having to also deal with the feminist author’s personal and professional limitations. These parallel stories made the novel interesting and entertaining. Juliet’s blossoming as a young, woman-loving-woman sparkles with the give and take of family dynamics and personal growth.  

Juliet Takes a Breath

By Gabby Rivera,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Juliet Takes a Breath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A People magazine Best Book of Fall 2019
An Amazon Best Young Adult Book of 2019
"F***ing outstanding."--Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author

Juliet Milagros Palante is a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx. Only, she's not so closeted anymore. Not after coming out to her family the night before flying to Portland, Oregon, to intern with her favorite feminist writer--what's sure to be a life-changing experience. And when Juliet's coming out crashes and burns, she's not sure her mom will ever speak to her again.

But Juliet has a plan--sort of. Her internship with legendary…

Under the Udala Trees

By Chinelo Okparanta,

Book cover of Under the Udala Trees

Why this book?

This compelling and beautifully written story begins in 1968 during the Biafran civil war in Nigeria, creating a unique setting of hardship, hunger, and death afflicting the people living in the area. Ijeoma, the 11-year-old protagonist, is sent away after a life-changing event and lives in a squalid hut when a young girl from another tribe comes to stay. Despite the difficulties surrounding them, the girls fall in love and the intensity of their desire continues as they grow. I enjoyed how Okparanta writes of the naturalness of this first love and how they cared for each other. Though the girls are separated, they reunite, but face religious repression from their community, which uses the Bible against them. The girls move on with their lives and Ijeoma finds another love, but this too, suffers from cultural and religious constraints. According to Okparanta (who lives in NY), Nigeria is a very religious country where LGBTQI people are often persecuted, and though reading this novel was sometimes difficult, the writing was superb and wonderfully conveyed. 

Under the Udala Trees

By Chinelo Okparanta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Udala Trees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Okparanta is major new voice not only because of her mesmerizing storytelling, but for her bravery and originality. She is a truth teller and soothsayer... Under the Udala Trees is breathtaking, rich with history and heart" - Tayari Jones

One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma's father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma's faith, test her resolve and flood her heart.

In this masterful…

Chulito

By Charles Rice-Gonzalez,

Book cover of Chulito

Why this book?

I liked this novel because it is rough, heartfelt, and engaging. This story is unusual in that the protagonist, Chulito, a 16-year-old Puerto Rican high school dropout, lives in the South Bronx and is in love with his childhood friend Carlos, but with the barrio’s rampant, ongoing homophobia, he attempts to play straight. Chulito is recruited by a local dealer to sell drugs, and though he acts the tough guy, his love for Carlos persists, even though he struggles to keep his true desire secret. Everything changes when Carlos comes home for the summer after his first year of college and Chulito’s life breaks free.

Their love for each other rises above the trove of hostile masculinity surrounding them, bringing vibrancy to their lives. Yet the struggles persist, as Chulito needs to negotiate the options available for a queer high school dropout caught between limited choices. I enjoyed Rice-Gonzalez’s vibrant writing as he offers a rare glimpse of a love shared between two young men in a ferocious world.  

Chulito

By Charles Rice-Gonzalez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chulito as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A tremendous debut...full of heart and courage and a ferocious honesty."-Junot Diaz, author of The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Set against a vibrant South Bronx neighborhood and the queer youth culture of Manhattan's piers, Chulito is a coming-of-age, coming out love story of a sexy, tough, hip hop-loving, young Latino man and the colorful characters who populate his block. Chulito, which means "cutie," is one of the boys, and everyone in his neighborhood has seen him grow up--the owner of the local bodega, the Lees from the Chinese restaurant, his buddies from the corner, and all of his…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in queer topics and characters, Nigeria, and New York State?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about queer topics and characters, Nigeria, and New York State.

Queer Topics And Characters Explore 99 books about queer topics and characters
Nigeria Explore 34 books about Nigeria
New York State Explore 450 books about New York State

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