LGBTQIA+ representation

These seven recent YA titles are perfect for Pride Month in June — and for standing up to anti-LGBTQIA+ book banners all year round. See also last year’s Rainbow Reads project plus picture book, middle-grade, and teen booklists from the Guide/Reviews Database.

Imogen, Obviously
by Becky Albertalli
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    432 pp.
5/23    9780063045873    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063045897    $12.99

High school senior Imogen has always thought of herself as a straight ally to the queer people close to her. But a visit to her best friend, first-year college student Lili, complicates matters. For one thing, Lili, in the process of trying to feel more secure in her pansexual identity, has told her college friends that Imogen is her ex-girlfriend. For another, the feelings Imogen develops for Tessa, one of those friends, tend toward romantic attraction. These experiences raise uncomfortable questions for the protagonist: why is she just beginning to realize she might be bisexual? Is she “appropriating queerness”? Sexual orientation is constantly front-of-mind for these characters, who are all trying to find where they fit in. Plenty of witty banter — and an endearing romance — lighten a novel that’s full of introspection and that validates not only a variety of identities but also individuals’ paces for figuring them out. SHOSHANA FLAX

We Deserve Monuments
by Jas Hammonds
High School    Roaring Brook    384 pp.
11/22    9781250816559    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781250816566    $10.99

Seventeen-year-old Avery is convinced her family has made a huge mistake in moving from Washington, DC, to Bardell County, Georgia. Biracial and queer, Avery is not sure how she will be received in her mother’s Southern hometown — and if her grandmother is any indication, acceptance won’t be easy. Elderly, ornery, and dying of cancer, Mama Letty is caustic toward everyone, and neither she nor Avery’s mother will give an explanation for their strained relationship. Plunged into mysteries surrounding her relatives, Avery is expected to follow the family motto and “focus forward” while remaining frustrated that no one will provide answers about their past. Two classmates, an attractive Black next-door neighbor and the white heir of the richest family in town, encourage Avery to build a bond with her grandmother — and as she does, she discovers that all of their families’ pasts are intertwined. The novel addresses issues of race and sexuality head-on, along with questions of who should be memorialized. Third-person historical accounts of Bardell County are interspersed within Avery’s first-person narration, and the pacing and structure lend themselves to a dynamic and astonishing conclusion. EBONI NJOKU

Destination Unknown
by Bill Konigsberg
High School     Scholastic    304 pp.
9/22    9781338618051    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781338618068    $11.99

A Manhattan teen comes out as gay, starts to date, and explores his sexual awakening in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis. Narrator Micah, a high school junior, meets CJ, eighteen, at a nightclub, and the attraction is instant. They bond over music, and CJ supports Micah as he comes out to his family. Konigsberg traces CJ and Micah’s close friendship and on-again, off-again romantic relationship through tumultuous HIV/AIDS protests, volunteer work, and a terrifying diagnosis. The novel exuberantly explores NYC counterculture and the music of the period, with scenes involving several iconic gay bars and organizations, including ACT UP, which Micah and CJ join. It also starkly confronts readers with the experience of watching the people of one’s community get sick and die painfully of the AIDS virus; Micah’s intense fear of sex due to the risk of infection inhibits his relationships. However, the story ends on a hopeful note, and Micah and CJ’s love for and loyalty to each other never fail. An author’s note explains Konigsberg’s connections to the era. RUSSELL REECE

Forever Is Now
by Mariama J. Lockington
High School    Farrar    416 pp.
5/23    9780374388881    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780374388898    $11.99

In this novel in verse, Lockington’s (In the Key of Us, rev. 5/22) first book for young adults, sixteen-year-old Sadie has anxiety that means “when I panic, I stop being a girl / I become a thread unraveling / from some dark and blanketed expanse of time.” When she witnesses a Black girl near her age being forcefully arrested by the police, the experience leaves her feeling unsafe and afraid to leave her house. With the help of her therapist, Sadie begins to find ways to cope with her anxiety and agoraphobia and shares her thoughts and poetry live on social media to create a sense of connection, and ultimately overcomes her fear. Lockington effectively mixes verse narration with social media posts to create an authentic teenage narrator. She thoughtfully explores mental health, sexuality (Sadie is bisexual), family, anti-Blackness, Black girl joy, and activism. Back matter includes an author’s note, mental health resources focusing on Black and LGBTQIA+ communities, and a list of Sadie’s favorite reads. Recommended for readers who appreciate books about Black teens’ mental health, such as Parker’s Who Put This Song On? (rev. 1/20) and Stone’s Chaos Theory (rev. 1/23). NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

The Minus-One Club
by Kekla Magoon
High School    Holt    368 pp.
1/23    9781250806208    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781250806215    $10.99

The Minus-One Club has two rules: “1. Tell no one else about us. 2. We never talk about IT.” “IT” is death, and the loss of a loved one is the only admission criterion for the secret club to which tenth grader Kermit suddenly finds himself invited after his older sister, Sheila, is killed in a car accident. The close-knit group also includes popular and openly gay Matt, whose mother died of cancer. Kermit, who is struggling with his Christian faith and with coming out, is attracted to Matt’s easy confidence and thrilled when Matt returns his affections. But as the boys grow closer, Kermit begins to see that Matt’s effortless aplomb is really just a facade covering up a self-destructive drinking problem. Soon Kermit must decide if never talking about Sheila’s death, Matt’s drinking, or his own sexuality is helping him cope or actually amplifying his loss. Readers will be drawn into the development of Kermit and Matt’s tender first love, which is realistically halting, clumsy, and intimate. Short, dialogue-rich chapters interspersed with dream-sequence exchanges between Kermit and his bossy, loving late sister add levity and keep the pacing brisk. This evocative exploration of grief, sexual identity, and personal spirituality will be a boon to any teen grappling with these issues. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

Venom & Vow
by Anna-Marie McLemore and Elliott McLemore
Middle School, High School    Feiwel    336 pp.
5/23    9781250822239    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781250822222    $11.99

Gael, a highly trained assassin, is the male alter ego of Valencia, companion to the ruler of Eliana. Cade is the half-brother of the ruler of Adare, in a war against Eliana. Gael and Cade meet when Gael gets caught behind enemy lines, and Cade (himself in disguise as his royal brother) doesn’t execute him but instead returns him to his own court, taking a first step toward peace. Covert identities and revelations keep readers on their toes: for instance, Cade will not hurt Gael because he’s sworn an oath to “harm not our own,” meaning men and boys who, like him, had not been assigned male at birth. With both Cade and Gael/Valencia skilled in hand-to-hand combat and strategic thinking, their sparring, told from alternating points of view, is always engaging, while an injured knee (Cade) and a hypermobile spine (Gael) humanize them, sympathetically showing athletic characters living with chronic pain. Magic is omnipresent (luminous foxes, quetzals born from tapestries), lending an extrasensory dimension to the tale, and astute readers will pick up on Irish and Mexican elements from the two kingdoms. Everyone’s happily-ever-after is threatened by a climactic revelation, but those hoping for a feel-good ending will not be disappointed. ANITA L. BURKAM

Chasing Pacquiao
by Rod A. Pulido
High School    Viking    272 pp.
5/23    9780593526736    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780593526767    $10.99

When Bobby Agbayani is forcibly outed as gay to his entire school, an onslaught of bullying ensues. Despite his tight-knit social support, Bobby wasn’t fully ready to be out publicly, given the conservative Catholic values of some in his Filipino American community. After bullies beat him up and steal his late father’s bicycle, Bobby decides to learn to defend himself (“self preservation” is his personal motto). He finds a job cleaning a grimy boxing gym, where he learns about the sport and about legend Manny Pacquiao…but then (real-life) homophobic comments from his idol are painful to reconcile. This ode to the queer Filipino American experience touches on the history of significant Filipino Americans and how they have influenced future generations. Pulido’s seamless use of Tagalog, coupled with Bobby’s occasional tanaga (traditional Indigenous Filipino poetry), adds another dimension to the book’s examination of what it means to be Filipino American. Through Bobby’s journey of naming his identity, the book explores what it means to grow up in as diverse a place as Los Angeles and still feel isolated, and grapples with heroes who reveal their flaws and complexity. GABI K. HUESCA

From the June 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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