The best books about gay teenagers

25 authors have picked their favorite books about gay teenagers and why they recommend each book.

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The Lonesome Era

By Jon Allen,

Book cover of The Lonesome Era

Jon Allen’s coming out and growing up story in his ongoing Ohio Is For Sale series, The Lonesome Era is, so far, his most complex and affecting work, but that’s not saying much for a cartoonist who expands his abilities and repertoire with each new book. The Lonesome Era is a rites-of-passage tale that showcases Allen’s customarily bleak outlook and dry wit, and it is, by turns, hilarious and poignant. I’ve called his work “Kafkaesque situation comedies” in the past, but that description belies the mordant emotional and observational sophistication on show here. He is simply one of the best young visual storytellers around.


Who am I?

I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years. If you’re after more graphic novels with a certain textural and/or emotional depth and storytelling heft to them, I’ve also compiled the following list that might work as a starting point. The search for the archetypal “good” graphic novel is of course one that will be peculiar to one’s own tastes. While it’s primarily a visual medium, the best of them can be as nuanced and complex as storytelling in any other art form and means of communication. 

I wrote...

Laika

By Nick Abadzis,

Book cover of Laika

What is my book about?

Laika was the Moscow street dog destined to become Earth's first space traveler. This graphic novel follows her journey. Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fact and fiction in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Sergei Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet Union's space program, and Yelena Dubrovsky, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and wellbeing. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal event in modern times, illuminating the hidden moments, both human and canine, that lie behind the written word of history.

Alan Cole Is Not a Coward

By Eric Bell,

Book cover of Alan Cole Is Not a Coward

Between his cruel older brother and his rigid, overbearing father, Alan Cole doesn’t have it easy—especially when his brother discovers he has a crush on a boy. But with some help from his friends, Alan learns to stand up for himself and challenge his family’s expectations. This is the kind of book I wish I could send back in time to my younger self, and I know a lot of kids will relate to Alan’s struggles—and celebrate his triumphs.


Who am I?

When I was in school, I often struggled to figure out where I “fit”. Yeah, I know that’s a common struggle among angsty teens. But as a biracial, bisexual kid who loved basketball and books, I didn’t feel totally at home in any of the stereotypical Breakfast Club-style categories that showed up even in many of the books I read: jock, nerd, prep, etc. Now, as a dad, coach, and writer, I know those boxes aren’t real. I’m passionate about giving kids stories that challenge old ideas about what boys are “supposed” to be and help them explore the full range of who they can be.


I wrote...

Thanks a Lot, Universe

By Chad Lucas,

Book cover of Thanks a Lot, Universe

What is my book about?

Brian has always been anxious, but things get worse when he and his brother are placed in foster care. Ezra notices Brian pulling away and wants to help, but he worries his friends might figure out he has a crush on Brian. But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra takes the leap and reaches out. Both boys must decide if they're willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they'd rather hide. If they can be brave, they might find the best in themselves—and each other.

"A glorious ode to the beauty of pre-teen friendship…. By far my favorite middle-grade novel of 2021!" -- Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Clean Getaway

They Both Die at the End

By Adam Silvera,

Book cover of They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End does exactly what the title promises. They both die. At the very end. Despite that, it’s a really beautiful novel. Rufus and Mateo both have a lot to teach the reader on their last day on earth, and plenty of time to fall in love before it’s over. It’s heartbreaking that they don’t get longer. You can read my other recommendations to mend your soul.


Who am I?

As a female in a same-sex relationship, people often ask why my favorite books focus on gay males. The answer is really pretty simple – I grew up with readily available female protagonists in my books. In fact, I can count on one hand the male pov books I had read (Harry Potter, Eragon, Percy Jackson). I was never lacking when it came to finding female leads, and I read constantly. By the time I hit my twenties I was worn out on books about girls. And I didn’t find heterosexual relationships relatable, despite being bisexual myself. So – I started looking for the only thing left. Non-straight, male lead books. It’s simply what I find entertaining at this point in my life.


I wrote...

Loving Lakyn

By Charlotte Reagan,

Book cover of Loving Lakyn

What is my book about?

Lakyn James is sixteen years old and hating every second of it. He was supposed to be done. End of story. Suicide "attempt", they said. His intentions had no "attempt" in them. Re-entering normal life after ‘trying’ to take his own is weird. Especially when the world keeps going like it never happened. He still has to eat breakfast, go to school, and somehow convince a cute boy that he’s too damaged to date.

Scott White comes with his own problems, namely a habit of drinking too much and being indecisive about whether he wants in the closet, or out of it. Lakyn can’t stand him; he also can’t help smiling when Scott’s around. Unfortunately - or fortunately - for Lakyn, life has decided to give him a second chance.

Like a Love Story

By Abdi Nazemian,

Book cover of Like a Love Story

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.


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.

All Out

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

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.


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 Dangerous Art of Blending In

By Angelo Surmelis,

Book cover of The Dangerous Art of Blending In

The Dangerous Art of Blending In is about Evan, who is trying to figure out his place in the world. He has a strict (read: abusive) Greek immigrant mother, a father who works works works, and he is struggling with his sexuality and the boy he kissed over the summer. Evan’s been silent about so much all this time, that it’s now time for him to find and use his voice. And he does so in such a beautiful and inspiring way. This book will make you feel so many things. 


Who am I?

I’ve been a sensitive person for as long as I can remember, but crying over books? That’s not something I did when I was growing up. Truthfully, I never cried over a book until I was fully into adulthood and I read The Giver. Because it’s hard for me, still, to cry over a book, I am very intentional with the books I select to read and recommend. It takes a lot for me to feel that gut punch, and when I do, the payoff is tremendous. And if it’s making me cry, then it’s going to make many, many people cry.


I wrote...

When the Stars Lead to You

By Ronni Davis,

Book cover of When the Stars Lead to You

What is my book about?

When the Stars Lead to You is a story about a girl with big dreams, and a boy who disappears.”

When Ashton broke Devon’s heart at the end of a magical summer, she thought she’d never heal. But over the following year, Devon managed to put the pieces back together for the sake of her dream to become an astrophysicist. Now it’s senior year, and she’s determined to enjoy it as she prepares for a future of studying the galaxies. Until Ashton shows up on the first day of school. Their chemistry is undeniable, but as the spark in his eyes grows dimmer, Devon wonders if he's the same person she fell in love with that summer. Will her feelings for him eclipse her love of the stars?

When We Love Someone We Sing to Them

By Ernesto Javier Martínez, Maya Christina Gonzalez (illustrator), Jorge Gabriel Martínez Feliciano (translator)

Book cover of When We Love Someone We Sing to Them: Cuando Amamos Cantamos

This is a stunning bilingual story about a boy whose father teaches him about songs as a way of expressing love, and then helps him write a love song for a special boy. I fell in love with the story when I first saw the short-film version and am equally enthusiastic about the picture book. The author describes the story as a “queer reclamation of the Mexican serenata tradition” and shows us a family that transmits the deep meaning of cultural traditions while also re-imagining them. The gorgeous illustrations convey a sense of softness and magic.  Along with the narrative, written in both English and Spanish, the images carry the reader into a world that is pure beauty, affirmation, celebration, and joy.  


Who am I?

I am a mixed-race woman with a big, loving family who has always questioned the way things are and dreamed of a world where we all belong. I’m also the mom of a non-binary, queer adult child and work to support families with LGBTQ+ children. I love reading and talking with kids (and grown-ups too) about race, gender, and the power of being who we are. I also love dancing, butterflies, and hummingbirds.


I wrote...

One of a Kind, Like Me / Único Como Yo

By Laurin Mayeno, Robert Liu-Trujillo (illustrator),

Book cover of One of a Kind, Like Me / Único Como Yo

What is my book about?

I wrote this book so that children like mine can feel amazing being exactly who they are. It’s about Danny, who wants to be a princess in the school parade. Danny and mom venture out to find the perfect purple princess dress. They find lots of purple things, but will they find the right dress in time? The story is based on a multiracial intergenerational family and is bilingual in Spanish and English. 

Highly Illogical Behavior

By John Corey Whaley,

Book cover of Highly Illogical Behavior

John Corey Whaley tackles a mental health issue in agoraphobia that is seldom discussed and seems to be even less understood by the general masses. One of the features of this book that makes me go back to read it time and again is how Whaley gives us a window into this heavy experience through his character Lisa Praytor, who goes through great pains to free her friend Solomon from his self imposed captivity in time to get him into college, in light and often comical prose that dances off the page.


Who am I?

I never thought much about mental health until I became a youth caregiver for my grandfather when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and then after multiple near-death experiences left me with depression, addiction, and the symptoms of PTSD by twenty years old. These past traumas not only pushed me to study literature dedicated to raising mental health awareness in teen readers for most of my adult life, but they also continue to play a major role in my life as a writer. My young adult novels, No Sad Songs and On the Way to Birdland, deal with a variety of mental health concerns in ways that provide light-hearted humor, empathy, and guidance.


I wrote...

On the Way to Birdland

By Frank Morelli,

Book cover of On the Way to Birdland

What is my book about?

When Cordy Wheaton’s father falls ill, the sixteen-year-old philosophy expert vows to reunite his family. He embarks on a modern-day odyssey with forty bucks in his pocket and a dream to find his missing brother, Travis, and convince him to be Travis again—by taking him to a show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City and reminding him of the common bonds they share with their legendary hero, John Coltrane. Cordy’s journey is soon haunted by ghostly visions, traumatic dreams, and disembodied voices that echo through his mind. He starts to wonder if the voices are those of the fates, guiding him toward his destiny—or if he’s losing his grip on reality.

Call Me by Your Name

By André Aciman,

Book cover of Call Me by Your Name

This winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Fiction is one of the greatest love stories I have read – and also seen, since it was made into an equally compelling movie. Oliver arrives on the Italian Riviera to spend the summer assisting Professor Perlman on his academic research. He lives with the Perlman family and soon becomes close friends with their adolescent son, Elio. Their friendship evolves into a love affair that tests their sexuality as they move closer to total intimacy. It’s a story that lingers. I still get emotional thinking about it.


Who am I?

Raised crisscrossing America, I developed a ceaseless wanderlust that took me around the world many times. En route, I collected the stories and characters that make up my work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists: I hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that had me smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed me in an African jail. Greece, where I’ve spent some seven years total, stole my heart 50 years ago. Fire on the Island is my homage to it. 


I wrote...

Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller

By Timothy Jay Smith,

Book cover of Fire on the Island: A Romantic Thriller

What is my book about?

Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a perilously damaged church, an arsonist invades their midst. Having all the charm of Zorba the Greek, it sheds a bright light on the very real challenges of life in contemporary Greece. For lovers of crime fiction and the allure of the Greek islands, Fire on the Island is the perfect summer read.

Invisible Boys

By Holden Sheppard,

Book cover of Invisible Boys

This book is gritty and raw and hard-hitting. It takes an honest (and at times, confronting) look at what it’s like to feel completely isolated because of your sexuality in rural Australia. The characters are vivid and relatable, and their plight is enthralling. The story deals with identity, belonging, toxic masculinity, and the dark side of coming to terms with who you are when the whole world seems like it’s against you. This book is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s brilliant nonetheless.


Who am I?

As someone who grew up in Australia without any gay literary characters to relate to, I’m incredibly passionate about queer stories set in our beautiful country. We now have a wealth of brilliant books by LGBTQ+ authors, and I hope that by sharing my recommendations, our stories find even more of the readers they’re meant to find. I’ve focused on books featuring gay male protagonists, as that’s how I identify, and they’re the type of queer stories I relate to the most. Some of the books are fiction, others are memoir, some are written for teens and others are for adults, but all of them share an incredible level of authenticity.


I wrote...

Anything But Fine

By Tobias Madden,

Book cover of Anything But Fine

What is my book about?

Luca is ready to audition for the Australian Ballet School. All it takes to crush his dreams is one missed step... and a broken foot. Jordan is the gorgeous rowing star and school captain of Luca's new school. Everyone says he's straight - but Luca’s not so sure...

As their unlikely bond grows stronger, Luca starts to wonder: who is he without ballet? And is he setting himself up for another heartbreak?

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