Book List: Gender and Identity in Young Adult Books

‘I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important to go ahead and confirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.’

PinkThis week, US President Obama finally said what so many people around the world are saying: that it’s time for equality across the board when it comes to marriage.  And one of the things that made him change his thinking? The fact that his daughters couldn’t see why their friends’ parents shouldn’t get married simply because they are same-sex couples. It just didn’t make sense to them.

Given the heightened media interest surrounding the President’s statement, and also that next Thursday is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (that’s ‘IDAHO’ to you)  it seems a timely moment for us to put out a short list of books that look at GLBTQ issues.  Of course it’s impossible to cover everything in this rapidly growing field of YA lit in one list, no matter how extensive, so why not add your recommendations by commenting at the bottom of this post?

1. Pink by Lili Wilkinson

‘Ava has a secret. She is tired of her ultracool attitude, ultra-radical politics, and ultrablack clothing. She’s ready to try something new—she’s even ready to be someone new. Someone who fits in, someone with a gorgeous boyfriend, someone who wears pink… ‘  A witty look at all the doubts that plague any teenager – gay or straight – as they work out who they really are.

2. Rage of Sheep by Michelle Cooper

Before she wrote the stunning Montmaray trilogy, Michelle Cooper produced this absorbing book about the effects of small-town prejudice, not only on a teenage girl, Hester, who is shunned because of her racial background, but also on her gay teacher, who is forced to resign after being accused on inappropriate behaviour towards one of the other students.

3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

This terrific book is based on the random meeting of two boys with the same name: Will Grayson. will grayson (deliberately lower case),Will Graysonwho is gay,  has been cruelly betrayed – his internet crush, Isaac, is actually a girl. Will Grayson, who is straight, just wants to get through life unnoticed, but he’s friends with Tiny Cooper – described as ‘extremely large and extremely gay’.  There’s the usual frenetic series of events, culminating in a school musical that has to be read about to be believed – so give yourself a treat.

David Levithan is also the author of Boy Meets Boy, in which he explores the scenario of a boy from a gay-friendly town whose best friend comes from a less accepting town, and also has to deal with life as the son of deeply religious parents.

4. This one’s really for older teens, but I’d add Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the Man to the list, although it wasn’t marketed as YA when it was published in 1995. (But then, neither was Catcher in the Rye when it was first published, or Lord of the Flies.) It’s one of the most moving stories I’ve read about a relationship; a story of love, death, and lack of acceptance by family and the wider world. Impossible not to be saddened by some of the scenes towards the end of the book.

5. Ash by Malinda Lo

This award-winning and critically acclaimed book steps away from contemporary times  to explore themes of gender and belonging within a fantasy world. The story follows Ash, a teenager who wants to be rescued from an abusive life at home. When she is rescued, by the mysterious fairy prince, Sidhean, it looks like her future in his realm is assured. But then she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, and has to choose which path to follow – security? Or her heart?

The book was a nominee for the Andrew Norton Award, listed on the Kirkus Best YA Novel list, and was a  finalist for the Lambda Literary award for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult literature.

For other titles from Australian authors on GLBTQ themes,  Justine Larbalestier has collected an extensive list with comments from other contributors.

And you may want to keep up with what’s going on in the Gay YA lit world on this website.

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  1. Tehani says:

    Might I recommend the Nightsiders collection by Sue Isle (Twelfth Planet Press), and F2M by Hazel Edwards (Ford Street), which deal particularly with trans teens.

  2. Bette says:

    Wow! Talk about a posting koncking my socks off!

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