LGBTQ+ characters are more visible than ever in young adult literature. The protagonists of these books navigate intersectionality, injustice and romance, and their stories are welcome additions to the growing canon of queer YA lit.
Felix Ever After is a love story that emerges in the aftermath of a frightening act of cruelty. Felix Love wants nothing more than to live up to his name by falling in love, but as a black, queer, trans guy, he worries that his labels sometimes make it hard for people to see his heart. When someone at school viciously outs him, Felix must uncover who did it—and who his true friends are.
Author Kacen Callender brings Felix’s New York City home to vibrant life, incorporating sensory details that make a day spent hanging out in the park feel like a grand adventure. Felix’s first-person narration is as intense as his emotional landscape, but Callender’s portrayal of what it feels like to be young and constantly playing defense against the world rings with truth. The book’s title hints at Felix’s happy ending, but getting there takes a harrowing journey across a social minefield, so witnessing Felix come out on top, with good people on his side, feels that much sweeter.
Robin Talley’s Music From Another World bounces between Northern and Southern California in 1977. Tammy lives in Orange County and is deep in the closet because of her conservative Christian family. Sharon lives in San Francisco, has a brother who is gay and is immersing herself in the city’s punk scene. The girls connect via a school pen pal project, and Talley relays their stories through diary entries and letters until destiny leads them to meet in person.
The history depicted here is well worth revisiting or, for teens, uncovering for the first time. Talley doesn’t pull any punches when she describes Anita Bryant’s hateful “Save Our Children” campaign or the activism it provoked. As with Felix’s New York, 1970s San Francisco is a star player here. Sharon lives in an uptight Irish Catholic neighborhood, but the Castro district is just a bus ride away, and change is in the air. This is a story of friendship, love and the ways music can fuel both, set at a pivotal moment in the struggle for gay rights. (This reader, who still owns Patti Smith’s Horses on vinyl, hopes teens will explore the music as much as the history.)
Kelly Quindlen’s Late to the Party is a perfect summer read. Codi and her two BFFs, Maritza and JaKory, are all queer and spend most of their time hanging out in her basement and watching TV 24/7. Lately, though, they’ve been feeling burned out on one another and have begun to seek out new experiences. Maritza and JaKory take for granted that Codi is more of a late bloomer than they are, but while they’re not paying attention, she slips away from them, makes new friends and falls for a girl. When they find out she’s done all this without telling them, there’s a reckoning to be had.
The pacing here is so relaxed, you can practically feel the sticky humidity of an Atlanta summer grinding the bustle of life to a halt. Scenes of summer parties and the slow process of Codi getting to know new people and letting her guard down around them—while keeping a tangled web of secrets—feel realistic. The tentative romance between Codi and Lydia is sweet and languid; they have time to warm to one another and work through their nervousness. Codi’s friendship with Ricky, who welcomes her into his social circle under complex circumstances (she did him a great kindness but also saw something he wants kept quiet), is simultaneously warm and fraught with insecurities on both sides.
The most radical thing about Late to the Party is its unabashed sentimentality, which never veers into sanctimony or didacticism. It’s just teens growing together, growing apart and growing up—but somehow that’s exactly enough.