Looking for reads with queer characters, it’s easy to get lost in the books that have a lot of angst and plot related to the characters’ sexuality. I mean, drama is usually necessary to keep a book interesting, but sometimes you just want drama that’s not about coming out or homophobia, you know? Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian this month is in response to this tweet from someone looking for “Happily lesbian YA with drama elsewhere.”
I have rounded up 8 great YA books with plenty of action that are about characters who are happily gay ladies. Other than great stories, these books are very different from each other. We’ve got an enemies-to-lovers romance, court intrigue in a fantasy kingdom, queer friendship being threatened by old family secrets, murder mystery and toxic friendship, and lots more. Let’s dive in!
Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi
This book is for all the Gilmore Girls fans who shipped Rory and Paris. Sana Khan is a typical overachiever, straight A student, and cheerleader. Rachel Recht is an aspiring director with a big chip on her shoulder. Both attend a fancy prep school in LA, Sana thanks to her grandparents’ money and Rachel thanks to a scholarship. When circumstances bring them together, Rachel realizes Sana is the perfect lead actress for her senior thesis film. The only problem? Rachel hates Sana, ever since Sana played a cruel trick on her in ninth grade by asking her out; Rachel, of course, has no idea Sana was serious and is still crushing on her. Not only is this one of the few great teen lesbian book rom-coms we have, it also features two girls of color! (Sana is Muslim with Persian and South Asian background and Rachel is Jewish and Mexican-American).
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Silhouette of a Sparrow is a beautifully written hidden gem of a queer YA novel set in 1926. 16-year-old Garnet Richardson is an artist and an ornithologist who combines her love of birds with the proper lady-like activity of paper cutting. When she is sent for the summer to a lake resort to escape the city’s polio epidemic, it’s also her last season of fun before she is expected to finish high school and then marry a nice middle class boy. At the resort, she finds not only avenues to explore her love of art and science, but a romance with a rebellious young flapper and a job at a hat shop. She also ultimately leaves with a newfound belief in a path for herself that doesn’t follow the traditional confines of femininity of her time.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Frederica Riley knows that previous generations of LGBTQ activists have fought for her right to have just the same kind of public emotional heartbreak as straight people, but somehow that doesn’t make her feel any better. Her girlfriend, Laura Dean, is popular and super cute. She’s also a fuckboi who keeps breaking up with Freddy, and then luring her back in. When Freddy’s BFF Doodle convinces her to go to a psychic medium for advice, she’s left with a mysterious message. As her and Laura’s toxic relationship goes from bad to worse and Freddy starts losing her friends, she wonders if all this isn’t worth it for “love.” Maybe that medium’s message is starting to make sense. This is a graphic novel with Mariko Tamaki’s signature killer dialogue and breathtaking, subtle art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell.
Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
In a small Kentucky town, Kayln Spence is notorious… for a murder her father committed as a teen himself when she was just a baby. When she’s forced to return to Samsboro, she attends high school under a pseudonym for obvious reasons. As a lesbian, she soon forges a queer friendship with Gus Peake, a pansexual guy with cerebral palsy. He’s also the son of the guy that Kayln’s dad murdered. When the truth of their family histories emerges, Kayln and Gus’s deep friendship is threatened. Then, the accepted truth of what happened so many years ago is questioned, leading to a national news storm which Kayln and Gus are in the middle of. Can they break free of the burden of their families’ pasts? This is one for readers who love strong characterization and character-driven stories with a side dish of mystery.
Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins
Straight people have been enjoying outlandish and delightful royal romances for years and here, finally, is a lesbian version! Millie Quint has been engaging in an ill-advised sort-of-girlfriend/best friend situation. Then she discovers this BFF/girlfriend kissing someone else. In order to get as far away as possible, she applies to a bunch of boarding schools and somehow ends up in the Scottish Highlands sharing a room with a princess named Flora, a literal and figurative one. But before she knows what exactly is happening, Millie finds herself with a new sort-of-BFF/sort-of-girlfriend in Flora. Not again! Can Millie find the happily ever after she deserves with Flora, just like in the fairy tales?
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Of Fire and Stars is a delightful fantasy story set in a world of court intrigue, horses, and forbidden magic. Princess Dennaleia has been betrothed to the prince in another country as a political alliance since she was young. Denna also has a secret: a magical ability that is a dangerous gift for someone destined to rule a kingdom where magic is outlawed. When Denna moves to Mynaria in anticipation of her wedding, Princess Amaranthine — aka Mare, Denna’s future sister-in-law — is given the task of teaching Denna to ride the country’s formidable warhorses. An assassination leaves the two young women working closely together to find the culprit, and falling in love. Readers who love Tamora Pierce but want more queer content? This is for you! The sequel to this book, Of Ice and Shadows is due out in August!
A Line in the Dark by by Malinda Lo
I could have recommended pretty much all of Malina Lo’s books for this question, but her most recent novel is the epitome of plenty of drama and plenty of lesbians. Jess Wong is the lesbian BFF and sidekick to Angie, who’s also a lesbian. When Angie falls for a rich private school girl named Margot, she and Jess are drawn into a world of wealth and privilege. Jess, who has a gift for observation, soon finds her ability to be a curse as she watches and realizes Margot is bad news. Jess knows she can’t tell love-stricken Angie. Everything blows up one night at a wild party at Margot’s family’s mansion. Secrets, lies, jealousy, and murder are all featured here. Check out Heather’s interview with Malinda Lo when she revealed the cover right here at Autostraddle!
Pulp by Robin Talley
Told in dual perspectives, Pulp features a contemporary teen lesbian, Abby Zimet, who’s doing her senior high school project on 1950s lesbian pulp novels and an 18-year-old named Janet Jones in 1955 who risks everything to publish a lesbian love story. Truth be told, this novel does feature some struggle related to lesbian sexuality as Janet is forced to hide her relationship with her girlfriend Marie in the age of McCarthyism and the “lavender scare.” But, the story is much more about the joy of finding your queer ancestors and history than it is about homophobia. You see, Abby becomes enthralled by one pulp author in particular — read: Janet — and is determined to track down who the woman behind the pseudonym of her favorite pulp novel really was. Two lesbian writers connecting across generations! This book also includes portions of the (fictional) lesbian pulp novel that is at the heart of the story.
Do you have any favorite YA books with happily lesbian characters who are dealing with other types of drama in their lives? Share them in the comments. And don’t forget to send me your lesbrarian questions to stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com or leave a comment here. Your question might be featured in a future column!
Fantastic list! I’d like to add to this list: adult fantasy novel The Priory of the Orange Tree. No bury your gays (though one of the characters is a gay man whose partner died before the events of the novel), no homophobia, but lots of fantasy political intrigue, magic battles, and dragons.
I loved this book. It had the political intrigue and magic I like from ASOIAF without all the sexism and assault.
Definitely agree! That was the thought I had the entire time.
Ooh thanks for the recommendation. I was checking this book out the other day but was intimidated by how big it was!
It took me like a month to read it, but it was totally worth it!
I liked this a lot!
i’ve had ‘Her Royal Highness’ on my tbr list for a long time but this is the first time i’m noticing the reflection in the sunglasses on the cover!!
will be checking out the other books on the list
I just finished “Tell Me How You Really Feel” and I’d give it maybe a 5/10. The story was just ok, the characters were cute enough, I appreciated how one of the main characters was openly queer. The writing wasn’t great, but if you are looking for a summer book…meh. (Thanks for listening to my rant, I’ve been needing to vent about that for a while).
On a positive note, I really appreciate these book lists, I’ve found a few other very good books from AS, so I am excited to get into a few new ones!
I really liked Tell Me How You Really Feel but I think it will definitely be hit or miss. I can see people hating or loving it!
Thank you! I’ve been wanting to find something new to read.
And I know you’re not supposed to, but the artist in me definitely judges books by their covers so I’m pretty sure Tell Me How You Really Feel is the worst book on this list. That being said, I would definitely watch the movie version starring the two models on the cover because I’m a shallow bitch and they’re both really hot together. Also, “This book is for all the Gilmore Girls fans who shipped Rory and Paris,” makes me want to read it anyway.
Ha! Differing opinions I love the cover.
It’s super cute! I think I just don’t typically like books with photos for covers for some reason.
Oh, also, I happened to be in a bookstore today after reading this article and Her Royal Highness was 40% off so I bought it. So, thanks again for the recommendations!
Yay, so glad to hear it!
I must admit my interest was peaked by misreading the title of ‘Laura Deane Keeps Breaking up with Me’ as ‘Laura Dern keeps breaking up with me’ which is a book I would defintely read.
Yep! That sounds right up my alley.
I’ve just finished Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy, and while it does include a storyline of figuring out your sexual identity it is also a really great novel about family (chosen and blood related) living through (and with) trauma, as well as poverty and coming of age. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a beach read as it’s a little too heavy for that category, but it is one I would have taken with me to the lake and enjoyed in the early mornings with coffee on the dock.
I was also going to say Ramona Blue. It’s so good!
The protag is happily lesbian when the book starts but she falls for her best male friend during the story. There’s some figuring out what flavor of queer she is – but the main drama has to do with her relationships with her friends, her ex-girlfriend and her family and what’s next after high school.
I highly recommend HOT DOG GIRL by Jennifer Dugan! Lou is bi and working at her beloved local (mediocre) amusement park for the summer with Seeley, her lesbian BFF, and her crush Diving Pirate Nick. In order to get Nick to pay attention to her, she talks Seeley into pretending to be her girlfriend but then one or both of them catches feels and also it doesn’t work because of course it doesn’t and Teen Drama Ensues!! It’s a super chill summer rom-com that is both about being queer and not about being queer.
moving to a literal other country because you caught your maybe-not-really-girlfriend kissing someone else is peak teen lesbian angst and yes i did do this why do you ask
I got an ARC of Pulp at ALA last summer and really enjoyed it! I learned a bit about queer history while reading it too.
I just finished The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman and thought that was pretty excellent. A queer teenage girl and her mother move back to mom’s weird little upstate NY hometown after the tragic death of her sister and she gets pulled into the disturbing history of how and why the town was founded. It’s got a little horror and mystery, some slow burn romance, a couple queer characters, and a lot of occult strangeness. V. enjoyable. Also, some great shoutouts to Rochester, NY, where the author apparently went to college – as a person living in the southern Finger lakes, I always love a lil recognition!
This sounds awesome! Can’t believe I haven’t heard of it.
I loved Pulp and am excited to check out the rest of these!
Just checked out Silhouette of a Sparrow because I love flappers.
[Semi spoilers for A Line in the Dark]
I didn’t like the last chapter. I really enjoyed the ambiguity of the book before that and I felt like the last chapter just… tied it up too nicely and explained too much.
Amelia Westlake (think it’s titled Amelia Westlake Was Here in the US) by Erin Gough is a hilarious Aussie YA les book that I loved so so much!
I bought and read Amelia Westlake Was Never Here after reading this comment last night, and I thought it was fantastic — it was well-plotted with compelling characters, and Will and Harriet had such distinctive voices that I never had to check and see who was narrating each chapter. Thanks for the rec!
A friend of mine (another Amy!) has a great one out called The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles). I’ve read it and it’s very cute. The lead, Abby, is openly gay; her problems involve always feeling like the sidekick, falling for a girl she’s competing against for a job, and dealing with internalized (and some external) fatphobia. This was my friend’s first gay YA novel, but she has another coming out this winter.
i loved the summer of jordi perez! i read it in a night, returned the ebook, and then it blew up and there’s been a miles long wait list ever since. c’est la vie
I thought that book was great! The only reason I didn’t include it here was because I recommended it in this recent list: https://www.autostraddle.com/8-summer-affair-books-featuring-lesbian-and-bisexual-women/
Oh nice, Casey, I somehow missed that list! I enjoy all these book recs. Thanks for doing this for us!
This book was WONDERFUL! One of my favorites so far. I even had my wife read it and she enjoyed it as well. :)
my time to shine! i’ve gone through my 107 books on my ‘queer’ shelf on goodreads for the following suggestions:
Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee: Nonpowered Jess can’t help but feel left out as the daughter of the local superheroes with two powered siblings, but an internship at a local tech company might be about to change that. But is the company actually connected to her parents’ corresponding villains? And what’s up with her fellow intern, cute, volleyball playing Abby? Read if you like superheroes, robots, gay disasters, best friend squads.
Where I End and You Begin by Preston Norton: Not lesbians, but totally normalized queerness! What happens when you and your crush’s best friend, who also HAPPENS to be your worst enemy, start swapping bodies on the daily? Especially when you’re both forced to be in the school production of Twelfth Night instead of serving detentions? Read if you liked Freaky Friday, if you think Viola and Olivia should’ve ended up together, or if you think YA doesn’t talk enough about farts.
Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta: King Arthur, but she’s a female alien several hundred years in the future. Spaceships, a Ren Faire planet, Merlin is there. Read if you like King Arthur, swords, nonbinary representation, or destroying capitalism.
Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie: Aisha and Key had two very different pasts, but their decision to undergo body transformation into the cyborg-like Scela warriors used to protect and serve their spaceships has tied their futures together. Read if you like Pacific Rim, Ender’s Game, group chat texting fics, or rebellion. Also check out Skrutskie’s pirate/leviathan/bioengineered future book, The Abyss Surrounds Us
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston: The sun still doesn’t set on the British Empire, but not for the very uncomfortable colonial reasons of our timeline! In this world, Queen Victoria married her children very strategically to important families in several different colonies, resulting in a much more diverse royal family. The politics don’t actually matter, though, because this is a story about a summer love triangle between a shipping heir, a kingdom heir, and the girl that loves them both. Read if you like Victorian literature but always feel slightly guilty about how white it is; if you like polyamory, awkward flirting, or dramatic identity reveals.
As I Descended by Robin Talley: Macbeth, but they’re teenaged lesbians at a fancy boarding school. If you’re not already sold, read if you like disability representation, mean girls, unreliable narrators, or getting a good case of the Spookies.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown: Jo is gay. Girl kissing, rainbow wearing, comfortable in her skin gay. But out of love for her dad, a radio preacher, she agrees not to out herself in their new small town, home of Stepmom number 2. When the prettiest, most popular girl in school takes a shine to her, the self-imposed closet gets way more claustrophobic. Read if you like the South, elephants, romance, or convoluted set ups.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: Set designer Emi has landed the gig of a lifetime on a film set, and while at an estate sale scouring for pieces to prove she knows what she’s doing, she finds a mysterious letter from one of Hollywood’s latest and greatest actors. The letter leads her to a beautiful girl, Ava, and what happens next will shock you! Read if you like niche theatre references, glitz and glam, improbably successful young artists, or girls having crushes.
I second Once & Future! I just finished and am obsessed and telling everyone to read it.
Um I think you deserve the title of lesbrarian for this comment! Thanks for sharing all your suggestions!
My pleasure! I read an obscene amount of everything and thanks to the goodreads app being in the same folder as my library ereader, I actually write down and categorize what I read!
The art in Laura Dean is breathtaking! And there is quite a twist in the middle that I didn’t see coming. Highly recomed it.
Not YA GNs, but I recently read & liked Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and Good Talk by Mira Jacob. They were both really good.
Also, I miss the Drawn to Comics column :(
Girls of paper and fire is really good
I read ‘Pulp’ earlier this year (on a trip to DC no less) and absolutely loved it! I’ve also been meaning to read ‘Fire and Stars’ for years now, and your description just made me bump it up my list.
Thanks again for such great recommendations!
I’d also like to add a hearty recommendation for ‘We Are Okay’ by Nina LaCour. Here’s the Goodreads summary, which captures it better than I could:
“Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.”
It’s clear pretty early in the book that Marin and Mabel’s friendship is quite queer (and was turning romantic before Marin left). This story is about processing (and not processing) grief, finding where you fit in the world, and learning how to let other people in when you might need them most.
Hope this is ok to list! I wrote a YA novel available at Amazon. It’s called Something Only We know.
Happily Lesbian, but full of angst and grief.
Here’s the blurb:
Jude is about to lose a twin brother.
Jayden is about to lose her father.
They are about to find each other.
Most things come to an end in this unit of the hospital for cancer patients without any more options for treatment. For Jude and Jayden, something else is being born and it will help them deal with the grief if they can face it together.