YA Pride 2023

Review by

Anthony “Ant” Stevenson has done everything on the list. First base, second base—heck, he’s hit a home run, rounded all the bases and done it all more than once for good measure. The question of whether he’s lost his virginity, however, remains unanswered. When does that actually happen for boys, he wonders. And who gets to decide? 

Meanwhile, at school, Ant and his two pals are reunited with their former friend turned drama geek, Jack, who definitely, probably is gay. Being gay is fine or whatever (right?), but Jack’s presence triggers a flickering response from Ant and his cohort, forcing them to confront the raw edges of their masculinity and reveal who’s been going around the bases with whom. 

A quick read with numerous emotional revelations that pack a hefty punch, Different for Boys is almost too intimate, like taking a peek into Ant’s private diary. He is at once brave but conflicted, romantic but still a teenage boy “with teenage hormones.” Acclaimed author Patrick Ness’ spare prose allows readers to fly through the story, hungry to dive deeper into Ant’s sexual reckoning. 

Teenagers have sex in this novella, but you won’t actually read anything about it in the pages. Ness deploys a fourth wall-breaking technique in which a majority of the sexual and/or profane words are not only redacted by black boxes but also commented on by the novel’s characters. “It’s that kind of story,” says Ant. “Certain words are necessary because this is real life, but you can’t actually show ’em because we’re too young to read about the stuff we actually do, right?” This narrative choice means readers can only imagine what’s being said or described behind these redactions, which simultaneously brings readers closer and holds them at a distance. It also inspires us to reflect on what words and ideas are considered acceptable to articulate, aloud or even just to ourselves, and how those limits reflect what we value as a society.

For all that is missing from Ness’ text, Tea Bendix’s thoughtfully rendered illustrations more than fill in the gaps. Their loose, unfinished style is reminiscent of sketches in a teenager’s notebook, perfect to enhance the intimacy and tension of Ness’ prose. Emotional and with just enough cheek, Different for Boys feels like the voice of a new queer generation. 

Emotional and with just enough cheek, Different for Boys feels like the voice of a new queer generation.
Review by

Meeting new people in new places is definitely not Gael’s thing. But his best friend, Nicole, a sophomore in college, is the leader of Plus, a gathering of LGBTQIA+ teens, and she thinks the group would be good for Gael, a transgender boy who attends a conservative high school in Tennessee. Nicole introduces him to Declan, a boy in his AP Literature class whom Gael hadn’t previously gotten to know. 

As Gael explores a world of friendship and socializing that he hadn’t realized he’d been missing, he also contends with unexpected feelings of attraction. Are trans boys like him “allowed” to also be gay? Can he be desired for who he really is? Can he really share his heart, when his depressed mother and absent father have led him to believe that love will always hurt? And, in the larger world, will fundraising and actively courting sponsors be enough to keep the endangered Plus from permanent closure?

If I Can Give You That feels like a worthy homage to one of the first young adult books to feature a gay relationship, John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. Gael, like Donovan’s Davy, is just beginning to be aware of his own thoughts and feelings. Declan and Nicole, like Davy’s friend Altschuler, serve as wise companions. Gender dysphoria, generalized anxiety, depression and complex family dynamics are portrayed thoughtfully and compassionately, and Gael’s desire to live in the moment will strike a chord with teen readers who are frustrated by the need to think ahead about college and careers. 

Author Michael Gray Bulla, who was the 2017 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, grounds his debut YA novel in contemporary concerns. The current politics of being transgender in Tennessee, health care hoops to jump through and classroom debates about bathroom bills (Gael isn’t allowed to use the men’s restroom at his school) connect the fictional story to our difficult reality. Declan, who wants to be an English professor, tells Gael that “the best literature does what it’s writing about.” If I Can Give You That fulfills this description, modeling multiple possible ways to be an queer teen, an activist, a family caretaker and a friend.

This thoughtful debut novel models multiple possible ways to be a queer teen, an activist, a family caretaker and a friend.
Review by

Eighteen-year-old Imogen Scott obviously knows who she is. She’s a top-tier people pleaser and “the kind of person who has a favorite adverb (obviously, obviously).” She’s straight but a visible ally, having attended every Pride Alliance meeting at her high school and consumed as much queer media as she can.

As Imogen, Obviously opens, Imogen is spending her spring break visiting her childhood best friend, Lili, at Blackwell College. There, Imogen learns that Lili has, in an effort to fit in with her new group of ride-or-die queer friends, told a lie: that she and Imogen used to date. Suddenly, Imogen is pretending to be bisexual, a role she didn’t expect to find so comfortable—until meeting Lili’s friend Tessa. Three nights later, Imogen can’t help asking herself, “One girl can’t topple your entire sexuality, right?” 

Bestselling author Becky Albertalli’s latest novel offers a gentle, hilarious and authentic look at figuring out who you are on your own timeline. A heartfelt letter from the author to the reader included with advance editions of the book fills in anyone unfamiliar with Albertalli’s own coming-out story, and it’s easy to see how writing this novel must have been a cathartic way to allegorize her experience.

Each of the book’s nine parts constitutes a different day of Imogen’s visit with Lili, and this structure, combined with her intimate first-person point of view, provides an almost stream-of-conscious quality to the narrative. It also makes it nearly impossible for the reader not to love Imogen. As in Albertalli’s previous books, the dialogue is realistic, and text message conversations sprinkled throughout add humor and depth. Pop culture junkies will eat up all the But I’m a Cheerleader references (including the book’s gorgeous cover) and feel genuine disappointment to discover that the rom-com Shop Talk isn’t real.

There’s no shortage of coming-out novels, but there is always a need for more. Imogen’s coming out is unique, just as Albertalli’s was, and any reader will be able to identify with Imogen’s desire to be her true self while battling her fear of others’ judgment. Imogen will obviously be welcomed into the lives of Albertalli’s fans and new readers alike.

Bestselling author Becky Albertalli’s latest novel offers a gentle, hilarious and authentic look at figuring out who you are on your own timeline.
Review by

As the son and sidekick of a celebrity archaeologist, Tennessee Russo has been facing down ancient death traps since before he was old enough for his learner’s permit. Spending time on both sides of the camera for his father’s reality show, Ten is used to being in the spotlight, especially after coming out as gay on international television. However, after Ten and his father get into an argument over the ethics of selling cultural artifacts to the highest bidder, his dad cuts him from the show and stops speaking to him.

Two years later, Ten’s dad shows up unannounced to offer his son a chance to find the rings of the Sacred Band of Thebes. The Sacred Band was an ancient Greek army said to have comprised 150 queer couples. As with much of queer history, the warriors’ legendary love is dismissed by historians as platonic, and Ten believes that finding their missing wedding rings will prove that queer love is older and stronger than the world wants to admit. But can he trust the man who abandoned him two years ago? With the rumored magical powers of the rings drawing dangerous attention, Ten will have to figure out who is really on his side if he wants to survive another season of his father’s show.

L.C. Rosen’s Lion’s Legacy is an entertaining queer adventure reminiscent of classic movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy. Hidden chambers, puzzles with deadly stakes and a fun, casual romance hit all the essential blockbuster buttons. However, Rosen’s take on the genre actively interrogates the ethics of treasure hunting, posing questions about the ownership of history and the responsible way to handle historical artifacts. Much like Ten’s strained relationship with his father, there’s a lot of nuance to work through to find the right path forward. Ten’s inner conflicts and the temple-raiding thrills are well balanced by Rosen, who sacrifices neither emotional complexity nor pacing.

Lion’s Legacy is a celebration of the strength of queer community, whether felt by two queer people passing on the street, or resounding through the uncountable queer lives that have intersected throughout history. Ten knows queer history can be fun, weird, tragic and beautiful, but above all he knows it’s a history worth protecting.

Firelit hidden chambers, puzzles with deadly stakes and a fun, casual romance hit all the essential blockbuster buttons in Lion’s Legacy.
Review by

Author Abdi Nazemian won a Lambda Literary Award for his debut novel for adults, The Walk-In Closet. His debut novel for teens, Like a Love Story, received a Stonewall Honor and was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest YA novels of all time. His fifth book, Only This Beautiful Moment, seems likely to continue Nazemian’s winning streak.

Moud is a gay Iranian American teen living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t remember his mother, who died when he was very young, and his father, Saeed, is like an indifferent zombie—tolerant but hardly accepting. When Moud and Saeed travel to Tehran to be with Moud’s grandfather, Babak, generations of trauma, secrets and love come spilling out. Contrary to what Moud’s know-it-all white boyfriend says, Iran is full of life, art, beauty and yes, even queerness. “I think Americans are so bored that they talk about things that don’t really matter,” Moud’s cousin Ava quips before whisking him away to a party. 

Of course, living an authentic life is rarely simple. Intolerance, government corruption, economic instability—neither the United States nor Iran are immune. The blurriness of identity, even as it eventually comes into focus, is what makes Only This Beautiful Moment such an engaging read.

Nazemian’s epic yarn comes together in long chapters that luxuriate in the novel’s settings as they hop between Los Angeles and Tehran in 1939, 1978 and 2019. The final product is nothing short of a masterpiece, tearing down the homophobic facade that separates queer people from their own history. “We exist. We always did. We always will,” says one of Babak’s mentors. “And wait until they all die and get to heaven and realize God was on our side the whole time.”

Fans of Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi’s docu-drama Veneno will appreciate how Nazemian recalls the joy and pain of ancestral legacy. The novel also recalls Tony Kushner’s call to action in Angels in America: to be a better ally, to be better stewards of queer history and, put simply, to keep living.

Only This Beautiful Moment is a queer epic, a defiant piece of art that transmutes the rallying cry of “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” into even more beautiful poetry that will almost certainly change the lives of those who read it.

Only This Beautiful Moment transmutes the rallying cry of “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” into even more beautiful poetry that will change lives.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features