This year, I got really into queer YA fiction. Big time. There was an abundance of LGBT books for teens in 2020 and I was all for it. Even as someone many decades older than the target audience, I was still completely wrapped up in these stories. From secret podcasts to 70s activism and baby drag queens, there were some really amazing LGBT books out there in 2020. So if you’re looking for a book for a queer teenager or want simply want to read some awesome fiction yourself, take a look at my top recommendations for this year.
In her small town, seventeen-year-old Delia “Dee” Skinner is known as the girl who wasn’t taken. Ten years ago, she witnessed the abduction of her best friend, Sibby. And though she told the police everything she remembered, it wasn’t enough. Sibby was never seen again.
At night, Dee deals with her guilt by becoming someone else: the Seeker, the voice behind the popular true-crime podcast Radio Silent, which features missing person cases and works with online sleuths to solve them. Nobody knows Dee’s the Seeker, and she plans to keep it that way.
Oh, I loved this book! Spooky, clever and queer. Perfect for a little creepy Halloween reading this month. Just look at that cover art too! So beautiful.
I really liked Dee, a 17-year-old who witnessed her best friend being abducted a decade ago. She’s secretly started a podcast that reports of people who’ve gone missing, which has spawned its own Laptop Detective Agency – a group of true crime addicts who work together online to help put the pieces together that the police sometimes miss. However, no one knows who Dee is.
Then suddenly a series of events launch the story into action. A badass babe, Sarah, moves in across the road and she just happens to be a fan of the podcast – and of Dee. Then a young girl, who lives in Dee’s old house, goes missing and their small town is launched into yet another search. News reporters flock to the town again and it’s not long before they try and join the dots between two missing girls who are linked by Dee.
While I like thrillingly creepy stories, I often get freaked out too quickly (and then struggle to sleep) but this YA book hit just the right amount of scary without going too far. Yes, I’m really lame but I just have an overactive imagination. I also liked the fact that even though this is a YA book and the protagonist is queer, it’s not a coming-out story. Everyone already seems to know that Dee likes girls and it’s a non-issue. It’s so refreshing to think that this is the reality for some queer teens these days.
I enjoyed this book so much it would have been a five-star review from me except for one thing: it ended too quickly. I felt like the story was building at such a great rate and then all of a sudden it was wrapped up and done. It really could have done with being about 20-30% longer, giving space and time for Dee and Sarah’s relationship to grow a little more and allow for a few more plot points before the big reveal at the end.
Other than that, this was one of the best LGBT books I’ve read so far in 2020. Highly recommend it.
Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart. While his friends prepare to head off to university, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet. Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realises there might be a different, more sequinned path for him . . .
While there’s nothing cute about homophobia, that’s the word that springs to mind when I try and describe this book. It’s pretty sweet, packed with so much angsty yet glam teen energy that I feel like it’s the drag queen equivalent of Pretty in Pink.
Robin feels like his whole life is over when he doesn’t make it into drama school. Plus, his jock boyfriend is in the closet and then there’s the sexy, mysterious new guy who is being surprisingly sweet. Then there’s Robin’s sassy BFF and their token straight guy, plus the gay nightclub in the next town over with a mind-blowing line-up of drag queens. It’s the making of a coming-of-age queer dream.
I really have to commend the author for ensuring that the representation of drag has some diversity. The queens aren’t all cis gay men, which is really important for a book aimed at teens who love RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s overt about the fact that drag way more inclusive than that tired TV show, which the characters repeat endless catchphrases from (one of the only annoying parts of the book). All in all, I think this is a wonderful novel for queer teens and adults.
It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.
“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” This translated Victor Hugo quote, which Harvey Milk copied out and hung on his office wall, is how the author opens her acknowledgements at the end of this beautiful novel. It’s an incredibly moving sentiment, especially at this current moment in history, and sums up the transformative effect that the gay rights movement had on the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the 60s and 70s.
The entire book is told through the eyes of Tammy and Sharon, two Californian high school students. They’ve been assigned each other as penpals for a school project and we see their letters to each other plus Sharon’s diary entries and Tammy’s letters to Harvey Milk. We see them bond over Patti Smith and punk music followed by the revelation that both Sharon’s brother and Tammy are gay. I adored this book and the way it is carefully crafted to weave moments in history into the personal lives of these characters. I especially loved the parts that take place at the women’s bookstore, as both characters are embraced by a community of feminist queer women.
Frankie is nearly fourteen and teenage life certainly comes with its ups and downs. Her mum is seriously ill with MS and Frankie can feel herself growing up quickly, no thanks to Sally and her gang of bullies at school. When Sally turns out to be not-so-mean after all, they strike up a friendship and are suddenly spending all of their time together. But Frankie starts to wonder whether these feelings she has for Sally are stronger than her other friendships. Might she really be in love?
I didn’t grow up in the UK in the late 90s, so I had no idea who the author Jacqueline Wilson (or her most infamous character, Tracy Beaker) is but my flatmates were delighted when they discovered I was reading this book. Not only were they big fans of her books when they were children but also because Wilson has recently come out as a lesbian. Apparently, this is the first time she has featured a queer protagonist in her books, which they were very excited about.
I really enjoyed this book because it mixed all the highs and lows of your first teen crush with an interesting look at a family struggling with divorce, financial issues and a parent who has MS. Even as someone who hasn’t been a school kid in many decades, I enjoyed reading this YA book. Some of the words and phrases used by the teen characters didn’t feel like something they would say, which I found a little jarring at times, but overall I think Wilson did a great job of capturing that rush of first hormonal love and the struggle to realise that you don’t fit in with the heteronormative world.
I especially liked the relationship between Frankie and her boy next door/best friend Sam, who would like to be more than friends but is very accepting and supportive of the fact that Frankie isn’t interested. As for Sally, she’s pretty awful and I found it difficult to warm to her. I found the ending surprising and not that believable, so it wasn’t that satisfying for me. However, I still really enjoyed it and hope that Wilson will have another go at writing more LGBT books like this one.
Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.
As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.
This is one of the best queer YA books I’ve read. It tackled some really huge themes around racism, homophobia and cultural appropriation in a way that honestly made me delighted that there are books as good as this for teens these days. Thank you Adiba Jaigirdar for writing this book!
Some key things I really adored about The Henna Wars: – the fact that it’s dedicated “to queer brown girls” – the relationship between Nishat and her sister. It was such a beautifully complex dynamic to see come to life on the page. – the way Nishat holds space for herself when no one around her understands what cultural appropriation is and how their ignorant behaviour is affecting her. I thought this section was especially well written.
I love this book so much that I just ordered a copy as a gift for one of my favourite queer brown girls. Really recommend giving this book a read even if you aren’t a young adult.
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