LGBTQIA+ tweens and young teens

These recent middle-grade and middle-school novels star tweens and young teens exploring their LGBTQIA+ identities. Read them during Pride Month — and all year round. See also our recent Guide/Reviews Database Book Bundle: Pride.

Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea
by Ashley Herring Blake
Intermediate, Middle School    Little, Brown    352 pp.    g
5/21    978-0-316-53545-8    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-53546-5    $9.99

Twelve-year-old Hazel and her younger sister have been moving around the country with Mama for two years, ever since Hazel’s other mother died in a kayak accident for which the protagonist blames herself and which left her with visible scars. Now, they’ve arrived for the summer in Rose Harbor, Maine, where the ocean is difficult to avoid despite Hazel’s fear of it since the accident. While Mama, reunited (perhaps a bit too coincidentally) with her first love Claire, begins to move on, Hazel’s processing of her own grief is slower, though helped along by the friendships she forms. The novel surrounds her with people who affirm her need for patience, notably Claire’s daughter Lemon, who is herself grieving the loss of her twin sister; and Jules, a friend who is nonbinary and on whom Hazel develops a crush. Blake (most recently The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, rev. 3/19) balances many plot elements, often serious ones, without overburdening the narrative, to create a character-based, atmospheric novel with a strong sense of place. SHOSHANA FLAX

Too Bright to See
by Kyle Lukoff
Middle School    Dial    192 pp.    g
4/21    978-0-593-11115-4    $16.99

Bug has always believed his family’s old Vermont farmhouse is haunted — partly because of shadows and creaks, and partly because he often “catch[es] a glimpse of something in the mirror that isn’t me.” Since Uncle Roderick’s death, that haunting has seemed more directed specifically at Bug: “Some presence is trying to send me a message.” Lukoff (When Aidan Became a Brother, rev. 7/19) lets readers decide for themselves whether the haunting is real or whether it stems from Bug’s believably portrayed grief and process of growing up (Bug is about to enter middle school). Either way, Bug figures out a great deal via some exploring about Uncle Roderick, who was openly gay and had worked as a drag queen, and finally realizes his own transgender identity. (Bug, eventually known as Tommy, uses she/her pronouns at first and transitions to he/him pronouns.) Bug’s first-person, present-tense narration gives readers a close look at his sense that things don’t quite fit, both in interactions with peers and on his own, and his gradual understanding of why that is: “I’ve never recognized myself before, but now I do.” SHOSHANA FLAX

How to Become a Planet
by Nicole Melleby
Middle School    Algonquin    288 pp.    g
5/21    978-1-64375-036-1    $16.95
e-book ed.  978-1-64375-162-7    $9.99

As the book opens, twelve-year-old Pluto, so named for her mother’s space obsession, asks the Hayden Planetarium’s question-and-answer hotline how to create a black hole, because she wants to “just stop. Just turn off the lights and shut her eyes and stop.” Her soon-diagnosed depression and anxiety are severe enough that she stays home for the remainder of the school year. But by summer, she makes a list of goals in order to “be the real, full Pluto.” Her process of finding where she fits, including navigating her parents’ separation, is affecting, as she recalibrates her own self-expectations (attending a birthday party, for instance, is too much for now) and as a new friendship with gender-questioning Fallon begins to turn romantic. As always, Melleby (In the Role of Brie Hutchens..., rev. 3/20) naturally integrates her queer protagonist’s discovery of her sexuality into a larger story. The love of space that Pluto shares with her mother (whose own stress level is honestly portrayed) informs her way of thinking about herself and the world; Pluto’s interest in the history of the Challenger disaster is just one reason this introspective novel might appeal to fans of Erin Entrada Kelly’s We Dream of Space (rev. 3/20). SHOSHANA FLAX

Middletown
by Sarah Moon
Middle School    Levine Querido    288 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-64614-042-8    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64614-107-4    $9.99

Thirteen-year-old Eli and her big sister Anna, seventeen, are used to fending for themselves and covering up their mother’s excessive drinking; they’ve been doing it for years. However, things come to a head when Mom is charged with a DUI and is sent to rehab for ninety days. The girls temporarily evade social services by having Anna impersonate their aunt Lisa, but after learning that Mom lost her job, and without a paycheck forthcoming, they have to reach out to estranged or unknown family members (the girls have different fathers). Armed with Mom’s old address book, they set off on a road trip and wind up having to face some unsettling truths about themselves and their decision-making, in a complicated and often unfair world. Eli, who identifies as gay, is bright, funny, and resilient, always willing to forgive her mom’s erratic behavior. Anna is more prickly and angry than Eli, but largely out of guilt at not being able to protect her sister. The book’s tone is sharp and insightful but never judgmental, and the characters’ voices are distinctive and realistic. Moon offers up powerful and positive life lessons wrapped in an engaging, tender, and satisfying story. LUANN TOTH

From the June 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
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