The best YA and MG transgender books

Jules Machias Author Of Both Can Be True
By Jules Machias

The Books I Picked & Why

Too Bright to See

By Kyle Lukoff

Book cover of Too Bright to See

Why this book?

This middle-grade book is a beautiful and sensitive portrayal of a child (Bug) who has never felt quite at home with their assigned gender. Bug’s mom, one of the most loving, caring, and supportive parents I’ve seen in fiction about transgender kids, provides a wonderful example of how to handle a trans child’s gender exploration in a nonjudgmental way. I saw a lot of myself in Bug, and I learned even better ways to support my own transgender child. This book is great for anyone who wants to understand the experience of a transgender kid, and for adults looking for examples of how to be a supportive parent or caregiver. 


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Middletown

By Sarah Moon

Book cover of Middletown

Why this book?

Most books with a 13-year-old protagonist tone reality down to get the story past gatekeepers, but this one digs into the gritty mess of what middle school life is actually like, and it’s so refreshing. I’d been searching for a book that accurately reflected my middle-school trans kid’s experience of gender exploration and social interactions that didn’t make eighth-graders sound like fourth graders, and this was it. Pubescent kids talk rough. They are rough. And they laugh constantly to cope with the mobius loop of disasters that is life in the 2020s. I loved how Eli’s experience of gender didn’t fit neatly into a box, and how it was presented as one facet of Eli’s complicated, resilient personality rather than as a single defining feature. 


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Melissa (Formerly Published as George)

By Alex Gino

Book cover of Melissa (Formerly Published as George)

Why this book?

This book is a milestone in transgender literature for kids. Published in 2015, it follows a fourth-grader’s attempts to get classmates, teachers, parents, etc. to see past the surface: she’s a girl named Melissa, not a boy named George as everyone perceives. An argument often leveled against transgender kids is that they can’t know they’re transgender because they’re too young. This novel counters that by compassionately and realistically portraying a child who knows her identity from an early age, and it shows how devastating it is when the people who should love and support Melissa instead reject her assertion of her identity. It has a happy ending, but it leaves the reader thinking about how many transgender kids don’t get that—thereby inspiring advocacy. 


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Felix Ever After

By Kacen Callender

Book cover of Felix Ever After

Why this book?

I love how real this book is. Felix makes big, messy mistakes—the kind most authors are reluctant to write for fear that readers will find their character unlikable. But the truism about how we learn the biggest lessons from the biggest screw-ups is brilliantly illustrated here. This is why we read books: They teach life lessons by example so we don’t have to learn them the hard way ourselves. The trans boy rep is spot-on, and I adored how Felix’s complicated relationship with multiple identities is presented with depth, sensitivity, grace, and good humor. A gorgeous, thought-provoking, and inspiring YA novel about finding yourself and loving who you find.


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Girl Mans Up

By M-E Girard

Book cover of Girl Mans Up

Why this book?

“I want to be a boyfriend who is a girl.” — Pen Oliveira, protagonist and all-around badass. While this YA novel isn’t specifically about being trans, it does explore gender from the angle of a girl who dresses like a boy, hangs out with the boys, and likes girls—much to the consternation of her parents. Pen does a lot of heavy thinking about what “girl,” “boy,” “man,” and “woman” mean, whether any of these labels apply to her, and the damage that results when others saddle her with expectations according to their own definitions of those words. I love books that make me rethink my definitions of femininity and masculinity, and this novel gave me a lot to mull over for a long time. 


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