8 Queer YA Novels With Coming of Age Hope to Relive Alice Wu’s “The Half of It”

Did you, like everyone else, love The Half Of It? So did this Autostraddle A+ member, who sent in this month’s Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian request:

Ahoy ahoy! I have just watched The Half of It and am all heart eyes now. I now have a burning need to read books like this movie. Or at least with similar vibes. Perhaps where the girl gets the girl before the end? Do y’all have any recommendations to satisfy my book cravings? Also. you guys rock!

There are only so many times you can rewatch The Half Of It, and that’s where books come in. I’ve picked eight wonderful queer YA novels with themes similar to Alice Wu’s movie: falling in love through letter writing, figuring out your queer identity, keeping secrets, new friendships, small towns, and slowly getting to new your new girl crush. Ideally, the books feature at least two of these themes! They also have similar moods to The Half Of It: hopeful, but pragmatic; generous but honest; sweet but not saccharine.

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Suiguira

The "It's not like it's a secret" cover is a blush pink, with two girls sharing a quiet laugh over the same book after school.

This underrated YA stars 16-year-old Sana Kiyohara, an achingly realistic lesbian teen. She and the other teen characters are refreshingly messy and make lots of mistakes. Sana’s story begins when her family moves to California. There, Sana hopes to forget her crush on her best friend and her suspicions that her dad is having an affair. But she soon meets Jamie Ramirez, a cute Latina girl whose crew Sana’s new friends don’t trust. Then there’s Sana’s new friend Caleb, who seems to have romantic feelings for Sana, and the fact that her dad’s cheating is more and more obvious. Suiguira excels at portraying a nuanced and complex look at racism, particularly the dynamics between different racialized groups in a high school setting. Sana’s journey to learn to stop lying and hiding from the problems in her life is almost too real. Plus: queer girls of color romance!

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

The book cover for "Late to the Party" has the title words in block blue lettering against a yellow background, with a young girl in a pink sweater knocking on the door.

Codi Teller is literally and figuratively late to the party when this YA contemporary opens. Codi, JaKory, and Maritza (lesbian, gay, and bi respectively) are homebody BFFS who stay at home and watch Netflix. When they force themselves to go to a big party, Codi ends up forming a secret friendship with a closeted popular jock, Ricky, after she accidentally sees him making out with a guy. Through him she meets a girl who just might like her back. She also tries new things, puts herself out there, and finally has the kind of teenage adventures she thought she might never have. The only problem? She never tells JaKory and Maritza about her new social life. Late to the Party features beautifully complex relationships, bright sparks of poignant writing, and layered subplots for the supporting characters.

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch

The "I Kissed Alice" cover has small hearts that dot all the I's and two girls, one in a stripped crop top and curly blonde hair, another in a green skirt and pink knee socks with long straight brown hair.

If you liked how Ellie and Aster got to know each other while writing each other, you’ll love how enemies Rhodes and Iliana fall in love. At their Southern arts school, they are fierce competitors for the Capstone scholarship. Rhodes has a reputation for being naturally gifted, but she’s experiencing creative block. Iliana is known for her tireless work ethic. Both of them escape from the pressures at school by spending time on a fanfic website. In fact, their digital avatars are unknowingly working together on a graphic novel. As they communicate online, they realize they like each other. A lot. But of course, “I-Kissed-Alice” and “Curious-in-Cheshire” have no idea that they know — and hate — each other in real life. What will happen when they discover the truth? This one features lesbian and bisexual representation!

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

The "You Should See Me in a Crown" cover is bright purple and fuchsia. There's a teenage Black girl with a big afro smiling in the middle. She has a graffiti yellow crown drawn delicately upon her head.

Liz Lighty is planning to get out of her small town in Indiana by fleeing to Pennington college, helped by financial aid. There she won’t feel like Black, poor, awkward girl. But when the money she’s counting on falls through, she’s forced to consider other options. Like the scholarships available to prom king and queen in her prom-obsessed school. She’s committed enough to her university plan to confront her fear of the spotlight. Once she enters the race, she finds out it isn’t all bad. There’s this new girl, Mack, that Liz slowly starts to get to know. Mack is also an outsider like Liz, as well as smart and cute. But Mack is running for queen too. How can Liz balance her growing crush on the competition with her drive to make it to Pennington by any means necessary? You Should See Me in a Crown features cute supportive Black family, lots of humor, character growth, and adorable romance.

Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas

The Wild and Crooked cover art is dark, with a black background and blood red lettering. There are hand drawn images of leaves and flowers creeping from the sides and a broken down red car at the bottom. The car is topped by a queer girl in a green jumper and black boots.

Not only is this story involving secrets set in a small town like The Half Of It, it also features a guy-girl teen friendship (although, happily, in this case they are both queer). Kalyn Spence and Gus Peake are unlikely friends, although even they don’t know how unlikely. Kalyn has returned to school in her small Kentucky hometown under a pseudonym, because of a murder her dad was convicted of when he was a teenager. Gus is sick and tired of being known only as the kid with cerebral palsy or the kid whose dad was killed … by Kalyn’s dad. But their burgeoning deep friendship is challenged when their respective families’ histories come to light and the teens begin to question the truth of what happened so many years ago. The heart of this character-driven story is the friendship.

Final Draft by Riley Redgate

The "Final Draft" cover has the word "Final" in bright pink font like a neon sign lighting up the star sky, while "Draft" is in turquoise and green, written across plain notebook paper.

Like Ellie, the protagonist Laila of Final Draft is a bit too smart for her own good. Also like Ellie, Laila is a gifted writer—although in Laila’s case, she writes science fiction. One day, Laila’s world of careful control is turned upside down when her mentor and creative writing teacher is in a horrible accident. His replacement is an impossibly cool award winning author. Laila is desperate to impress her. As Laila forms new connections and move outside of her comfort zone at the behest of her new idol, she explores her pansexuality, mental health, and complicated relationships with friends. Laila’s Ecuadorian heritage also plays a significant role in her coming-of-age story. And, of course, there is a girl-girl romance, with two girls of color!

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

The "Georgia Peaches and other Forbidden Fruit" cover has a photograph of a cut open peach against a turquoise background. Black squiggles and doodles are drawn over the photograph of the fruit.

More small town secrets and romance! When Joanna Gordon’s family moves from Atlanta to a small conservative town, her radio evangelist dad asks her to “lie low” on her queerness for a while. In other words: go back in the closet for senior year. Joanna reluctantly agrees. Joanna is used to being out as a lesbian, but she also can’t deny she feels a bit of a relief and comfort in the privilege of fitting in as a straight girl. Enter Mary Carlson, a cute girl and sister of one of Joanna’s new friends. Jo just might be falling for her, and Mary just might be interested back. But Jo couldn’t possibly break her promise to her dad, right? Brown tackles topics of Christianity, being closeted / coming out, and privilege with nuance. A great book for readers looking for queer teen Christian representation!

You Don’t Live Here by Robyn Schneider

The cover for "You Don't Live Here" is ripped up and put back together like a strewn blue piece of paper being held together with gold tape. The book's title is pink ink, as if it was painted on the tapped up blue paper with a brush.
After the death of her mom in an earthquake and her dad’s abandonment, Sasha Bloom moves in with her estranged grandparents in Southern California. These grandparents have firm ideas on who Sasha should be, with suggestions for her ideal weight (ten pound lighter), future career (lawyer), and current boyfriend (Cole Edwards). Cole himself is also convinced Sasha should be his girlfriend. Sasha tries to be the person everyone else wants her to be. But she ends up shoving down her love of photography, grief about her mother’s death, and her growing romantic feelings for a girl named Lily Chen. If Sasha follows Lily off to explore what life is like off the path being laid in front her, what will she find? If you like Gilmore Girls, but wished Rory was a shy bi girl — this is the book for you!

Did you love The Half Of It too? What books would you recommend that remind you of the movie? And don’t forget to keep those lesbrarian questions coming! Comment below or send me an email to stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com.


Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She writes regularly for Book Riot and Inside Vancouver about LGBTQ2IA+ and/or bookish topics as well as a monthly column about queer books at Autostraddle called Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian. Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of queer Canadian books, archives of Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. Find her on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Casey has written 65 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Loved so many of the books on this list!

    Would also love to suggest the graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me.

    It’s… so good. The main character’s journey is delightful, the art is stunning, and they drew the baby butch heartthrob in a way that I truly read it thinking “yup, baby me would have 100% let her ruin my life too”

  2. Georgia Peaches is SUCH a good book for Southern expats who miss the weird culture things

    final draft is on my list of books that made me cry, so take that as you will

    you should see me in a crown is probably one of my favorite books i’ve ever read

    Adding to the list: ‘The Falling In Love Montage’ stars Saoirse, who feels like she’s finally mostly over breaking up with her first love, as long as she doesn’t think too hard about a second love. Unfortunately for her sanity, she meets Ruby, a cute English girl in town for the summer. After making out at a party, they agree to recreate classic romcom tropes and scenes over the summer, then go their separate ways. An end date means no feelings, right? It’s a breathtakingly cute book with lots of depth and nuance in unexpected places, plus so many queer in jokes.

    The Henna Wars: Nishat thinks she has the perfect idea to win her school’s business competition: henna! It’s part of her culture, so even if she hasn’t been super enthusiastic about being a Bangladeshi Muslim after coming out to her parents, she has this in the bag. But then! A cute girl from her past ALSO starts a henna business! Flavia is afro-brazilian, so what right does she have to henna? Can they come to an understanding about appropriation versus appreciation? And what to do with all the butterflies?

    The Last True Poets of the Sea: have i recced this before? Probably! Will I rec it until the day I die? Absolutely! Did you come out of Twelfth Night thinking “eh, could be gayer?” This is the book for you! Violet is spending a quiet summer in Maine with her uncle while her adored younger brother is in in-patient treatment for having a Bad Brain In General. Vi is wrestling with her guilt over her wild days, feeling like she’s failed as a sister and a daughter, etc. Returning to her roots in a town wrapped up in the myth of her ancestress should be healing. Decades ago, Violet’s ancestress Fidelia was the sole survivor of a mysterious shipwreck. Violet is determined to find the wreck and fulfill her and Sam’s childhood dream. She meets a ragtag crew of teens and oops, romance! Pick this one up if you like: found family, shipwrecks, Jacques Cousteau as a musical, theatre, Shakespeare, and healing from trauma.

    Tell Me How You Really Feel: Enemies to lovers, but the enemies is based on a freshman year misunderstanding. Overachiever Sana asked out artsy film director Rachel as a freshman, but Rachel thought it was a prank and declined in anger. Fast forward to the end of their senior year and Rachel is casting for her capstone movie. She’s found the perfect lead in Sana. Can they get over their miscommunication to make some movie magic?

    anyway this is very clearly exactly my niche! thank you as always Casey for an excellent list :)

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