Three young adult novels put inclusive queer representation in the spotlight and capture how contemporary teens connect both in person and online. Although the storytelling styles vary, the emotions in these novels run as deep as love itself.
Meet Cute Diary
Noah is a blogger who’s built a huge following by publishing made-up stories of trans romances that his readers believe are anonymously submitted by real people. But a disgruntled reader has called Noah out, putting his online reputation at risk. To win over the skeptics, Noah embarks on a fake romance with Drew, an older guy who seems too good to be true. Could going along with his own romantic hoax cost Noah a chance at the real thing?
Emery Lee’s Meet Cute Diary is a charming cautionary tale about the limits of online fame. Noah is so overly invested in his blog that he’s often rude to his friends and family. Though he has moments of self-awareness, he soon reverts back to the same behavior. Then he grudgingly takes a summer job that leads to a sweet relationship with a fellow camp counselor. As he and Devin get to know one another, Noah’s need for clicks and likes begins to lose its luster, and he starts to understand that being honest with the readers he once lied to, albeit under the guise of offering them hope, is the responsible thing to do.
Meet Cute Diary has some elements of a rom-com but can feel downbeat on the way to its happy ending. The fact that many trans teens don’t experience the same enthusiastic support that Noah and Devin receive from their families hangs heavy in the background. One of the novel’s best touches is the clear message that there’s no single path to transitioning and no set of pronouns that’s right for everyone. Witnessing Lee’s characters undertake the challenging work of figuring themselves out is inspiring.
Some Girls Do
Some Girls Do captures how two girls with little in common navigate a come-here-now-go-away kind of love. Morgan is a new student, an elite runner embroiled in a lawsuit against her old Catholic school. To Morgan, being out and proud is as necessary as breathing. Ruby is scraping by to make ends meet and running herself ragged on the pageant circuit, where her mother insists she’s on track to become the next Miss America. They meet cute when Ruby almost runs over Morgan with her beloved Ford Torino, and mixed into their mutual anger is an undeniable spark. Morgan would like to coax it to flame, but Ruby’s life depends on her extinguishing it as quickly as possible, and therein lies the dilemma.
Author Jennifer Dugan wisely lets readers spend time inside each girl’s head through chapters that alternate between their perspectives. They are both busy, overworked students, but their shared obsession quickly builds and spills over into a furtive romance. The demands of parents, teachers and friends weigh on each of them differently. For Morgan, being demonstrative and declarative about things in public makes them real; were Ruby to do that, she’d risk being kicked out of her home. Navigating that divide is messy, but Dugan describes it with empathy. The girls’ occupations and relationships feel real and add to the sense of high school as a pressure cooker, especially in what seems like the ultimate small-town setting, where a rumor can make or break a reputation.
Ruby’s and Morgan’s stories unfold in tandem, intersecting and separating as events progress and both girls grow and change. Some Girls Do is a sweet novel that offers plenty of rough edges and no easy answers.
The Sky Blues
Robbie Couch’s beautifully realized and heartwarming debut novel, The Sky Blues, hinges on the countdown to a high school rite of passage: asking someone to the prom. Sky Baker is gay and a major introvert; this “promposal” is a chance to leave his comfort zone and ask out his crush, Ali Rashad, so Sky and his friend Bree have been scheming up great ideas together. Then a hacker leaks their plans to the whole school, along with a racist, homophobic message that targets both Sky and Ali, and gives Sky a new priority: finding the culprit.
Chapter titles track the number of days remaining until the promposal, and even as plans go awry well before the day arrives, this structure cleverly keeps the story organized and flowing. Ever since Sky’s mom kicked him out of the house for being gay, he’s been living with Bree, with Sky’s older brother serving as an ineffective go-between. Sometimes the weight of Sky’s abandonment sinks him into a heavy depression, which will resonate with anyone who has ever felt the same. It’s touching to see him receive support from classmates and one teacher in particular, and to see him thrive on their care. And there’s good humor to be found in how everyone’s crushes and intentions seem to point in the wrong direction at one time or another.
A group of students works together to find the source of the email hack, and their teamwork eventually bears fruit, but there’s no simple justice to be had. It’s a painful lesson, but one that underscores Sky’s resilience and growing maturity. The Sky Blues reminds us that deep kindness can carry those we care about through hard times.