Queer romance

This Valentine’s Day, find book love with the following recent YA titles centering queer romance. for more on romantic love, click the tag "love stories" and see also Katrina Hedeen and Rachel L. Smith’s 2013 Horn Book Magazine article: “What Makes a Good YA Love Story?

Love Is for Losers
by Wibke Brueggemann
High School    Farrar    352 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-374-31397-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-374-31398-2    $9.99

“I hate people,” declares fifteen-year-old Phoebe, and perhaps with good reason: her mother abruptly left her (again) to care for sick people in Syria (“Mum’s a doctor first and a mum second”); her dad is dead; and her best friend, Polly, has ditched her for a guy. While Mum is away, Phoebe is living at her godmother Kate’s house in London, studying for her GCSEs, and working at Kate’s thrift store. The store’s customers reinforce her belief in the stupidity of humanity, but Phoebe finds that she enjoys the company of the employees, particularly blue-eyed, sixteen-year-old Emma. By book’s end, misanthropic Phoebe is horrified to realize that she’s fallen for Emma — something readers will have recognized much earlier. The novel is told in daily diary entries, from New Year’s Day to Phoebe’s birthday in July; the entries reveal an endearing vulnerability under a (very funny) layer of snark. On falling in love, for example: “What a stupid expression…Like you fall into a ditch or something. Maybe people need to look where they’re going.” Also included: Phoebe’s thoughts on the sex lives of both Polly and the “designer cats” Kate owns; her halfhearted research (with sometimes inaccurate findings) into her father’s Jewish and Israeli heritage; and the relatable way she dissects everything Emma says, texts, or posts on social media. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable story of self-discovery and first love. RACHEL L. SMITH

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space
by Shaun David Hutchinson
High School    Simon    464 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-5344-4853-7    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-4855-1    $10.99

Noa wakes up to find himself, inexplicably, in a spacesuit floating outside a spaceship, with no recollection of how he got there. Neither does DJ, another boy aboard the ship, who helps bring Noa in, nor Jenny, whom they find locked inside a bathroom. The teens’ immediate concerns are survival and trying to figure out what resources are available, how the ship works, and how they might get back home. Once they settle in for the long haul — as they learn from a recurring hologram of an annoying erstwhile child star, it could be six to nine months before they are rescued — they turn their attention toward one another, becoming friends even as a romance blossoms between Noa and DJ. An already bizarre and complicated plot adds a recurring time loop, an alien monster attack, and a visit to a mysterious high school in space before things start to make sense. In the meantime, the development of the quirky, unusual characters and their growing relationships should keep readers engaged. Hutchinson (The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, rev. 3/18; The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, rev. 3/19) writes with witty humor and a great ear for dialogue, and he addresses some big existential questions about love, loss, and identity. JONATHAN HUNT

The Henna Wars
by Adiba Jaigirdar
Middle School, High School    Page Street    400 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-62414-968-9    $17.99

Nishat is a Bengali Muslim teen attending a conservative Catholic school in Dublin. When she comes out as lesbian to her parents, she is met with near-silence. Meanwhile, Nishat creates a henna business for a school competition, and her longtime crush Flávia (an Afro-Brazilian Irish classmate) complicates things by creating a rival business. As the competition heats up, so do the young women’s feelings for each other. Their will-they-or-won’t-they? romance will keep readers engrossed. Jaigirdar’s debut novel features realistically complex queer girls of color at its center and honestly addresses the conflicts they face as such — micro- and macro-agressions, hitting up against family traditions while trying to pursue one’s own desires and wants — though always standing in Nishat’s corner is her supportive sister Priti, who offers the approval the protagonist longs for from her family. All major conflicts are tied up, and probably most touching of all is the hopeful understanding that Nishat and her family reach. SHELLEY M. DIAZ

You Should See Me in a Crown
by Leah Johnson
High School    Scholastic    336 pp.    g
6/20    978-1-338-50326-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-50362-3    $10.99

Senior Liz Lighty has successfully stayed out of the spotlight and off of Campbell County High School’s new social networking app, Campbell Confidential. Being poor and Black in affluent Campbell has made her feel like an outsider. But when she is denied a seat in Pennington College’s orchestra and a music scholarship at the institution, she decides to run for prom queen for the scholarship money that comes with winning. With the help of her best friend, she plans to become prom queen material. What Liz doesn’t expect is to fall in love with another contender for the crown and to reconnect with her former best guy friend. Teen readers will relate to Liz’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Despite themes of poverty, racism, and homophobia, the book remains lighthearted. Liz’s snarky first-person narration adds to the humor, and references to popular culture help create an authentic teen voice. Screenshots from a cellphone introduce each week of competition and underscore the power of social media in the lives of teens today. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

Darius the Great Deserves Better
by Adib Khorram
High School    Dial    352 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-59310-823-9    $17.99

Since we last saw “Fractional Persian” Darius in 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book honor book Darius the Great Is Not Okay (rev. 9/18), he’s come out as gay, and has a boyfriend. Now back in Portland, Oregon, after his family trip to Iran, he’s also started an internship at his favorite tea shop, made the varsity soccer team, and found friendship with his teammates. If only boyfriend Landon wasn’t pressuring him for sex; he wasn’t experiencing feelings for a teammate; and his dream job was living up to expectations. Add in his ongoing battle with clinical depression, his family’s financial troubles and other worries, and not knowing why best friend Sohrab in Iran isn’t answering his calls, and it’s clear Darius deserves better. Khorram’s emotional second book addresses many serious issues but is grounded in everyday life. Through Darius’s intimate, conversational narration, Khorram provides moments of levity (mortification after an interrupted make-out session; a “catastrophic hull breach,” a.k.a. an unfortunate kneeing during practice) as well as insight into Darius’s insecurities (he’s self-conscious about his appearance, new to dating, and prone to crying while on his medication). Darius’s honest exploration of his sexual identity builds upon the growth he experienced with his cultural identity in the first book, and leaves readers curious and hopeful about where his journey will take him next. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Where We Go from Here
by Lucas Rocha; trans. from Brazilian Portuguese by Larissa Helena
High School    PUSH/Scholastic    288 pp.    g
6/20    978-1-338-55624-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-63375-7    $11.99

In this translated novel from Brazilian debut author Rocha, three young gay men (two protagonists are eighteen, one is twenty-one) living in contemporary Rio de Janeiro strive to define romance and relationships for themselves in the modern era. Henrique is HIV-positive, and when he reveals his status to Victor after several dates, Victor breaks off the relationship. Victor and Ian meet in a clinic, where they are both waiting to hear the results of their HIV tests. When Victor tests negative but Ian tests positive, Victor puts Ian in contact with the only other person he knows who is living with HIV: Henrique. In alternating narration, this trio navigates awkward conversations, tense doctor’s visits, and turbulent family drama while looking for love and connection. This heartfelt novel full of earnest dialogue about everything from coming out to the side effects of HIV drugs is a result of the author’s time spent working at a Brazilian foundation that sponsors free HIV medication. While it can often read like a primer on how to live safely with HIV, it will provide welcome insight to readers curious about the subject or experiencing it for the first time. Back matter includes an author’s note and an afterword with resources. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

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

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