YA Pride

June is Pride Month, and these six YA titles — a contemporary novel in verse; a fantasy; historical fiction tinged with magic; horror; and two works of realistic fiction — showcase the diversity of choice for readers seeking LGBTQIA+ characters. See also Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist and selections from our Summer Reading: High School list; along with the Pride Month tag and picture book, middle-grade, and teen recommendations from the Guide/Reviews Database.

Only on the Weekends
by Dean Atta
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    560 pp.    g
5/22    978-0-06-315798-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-315800-9    $12.99

This novel in verse follows the first romantic relationship experiences of a Black, queer, fat teenage boy learning to find love and acceptance within himself. Mack lives in London with his movie director father, whom he rarely sees. His loneliness lifts when he begins a romance with his longtime crush, male classmate K, who is not out; Mack reluctantly agrees to keep the relationship secret but wishes their time together included more than handholding and kissing. When Mack and his father move to Glasgow for two months to film a documentary about Fin, a social media–famous transgender teen, Mack struggles with long-distance intimacy and with his newly developing feelings for Fin. Short stanzas break up the lengthy text, easing readability. Mack’s romantic struggles and insecurities are relatable to a broad audience, and the characters are varied enough in race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity that many teens will recognize themselves. RUSSELL REECE

Before We Disappear
by Shaun David Hutchinson
High School    HarperTeen    512 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-06-302522-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-302525-7    $9.99

Teenage magicians’ assistants Wilhelm and Jack find themselves at odds during the 1909 World’s Fair in Seattle when their bosses, Teddy and the Enchantress, become bitter rivals. Earnest bookworm Wilhelm is the victim of terrible abuse at the hands of ambitious and conniving Teddy, who exploits Wilhelm’s ability to travel short distances by magic, first involving him in a life of bank-robbing and then using him to gain fame. Orphaned Jack’s relationship with the Enchantress takes a different form of mistreatment: she’d rescued him when he was younger and manipulates his emotions to make him feel obligated to her forever, preventing him from living a life of his own. When Jack and Wilhelm fall in love, they must decide what they are willing to risk for a future together. Palpable chemistry between the two main characters drives the plot, and a diverse cast of secondary characters adds humor and zest. Most impressive are the contrasting layers of villainy depicted in Teddy and the Enchantress: one an obvious brute, and the other more nuanced in her cruelty. Fans of historical fiction, fantasy, and slow-burn romance will find Jack and Wilhelm’s story truly…magical. SARAH BERMAN

Ophelia After All
by Racquel Marie
High School    Feiwel    352 pp.    g
2/22    978-1-250-79730-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-79729-2    $10.99

All is well in high-achieving, botany-obsessed, high-school senior Ophelia Rojas’s world until she gets caught up in friend drama over prom and recognizes her romantic interest in a new female friend. True to her namesake from Hamlet, Ophelia (whose mother is an English literature professor) is gradually overcome by social and internal pressures. She fears that her support system will fall apart if she does not live up to the heteronormative persona that her friends and family assume of her. Ophelia discovers her potential for growth as her relationships evolve and she becomes vulnerable with those she loves. Marie’s debut YA novel adds more welcome queer and multiracial Latinx leading characters to the teens-coming-of-age canon. The novel comfortably alternates between contemplative inner monologues and busy, playful scenes featuring Ophelia’s family or friend group. While this engaging story will especially resonate with individuals who share the protagonist’s identities and who seek to see themselves reflected in the stories they read, Ophelia is highly relatable as a soulful and eccentric individual who tries to find her way and reclaim a clear sense of who she is. NICHOLAS A. BROWN

The Chandler Legacies
by Abdi Nazemian
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    336 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-06-303932-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-303934-6    $9.99

Chandler Academy is a posh Connecticut boarding school with a hallowed reputation, but with a thinly veiled culture of hazing, bullying, and homophobia and zero interest in changing long-established “traditions.” The story, which mostly takes place in 1999, is revealed through the alternating narratives of five students — “townie” Beth, who is anxious about belonging; her outgoing former roommate Sarah; legacy student and budding actress Spence; Olympic hopeful Freddy; and Ramin, a newcomer from Iran, who is gay. The five protagonists are all accepted into the Circle, a selective, prestigious writing workshop. Through the Circle, the young people explore their personal truths, using the power of story to make sense of complicated emotions and forming deep bonds. When sexual misconduct by a revered teacher comes to light, it takes concerted action on the part of the Circle members to initiate change. Despite the inclusion of emotionally charged topics of physical and sexual abuse, Nazemian’s novel is an uplifting and positive coming-of-age exploration of friendship, love, and creativity and how these things can help individuals heal and set themselves free to formulate their own legacies. LUANN TOTH

The Hollow Heart
by Marie Rutkoski
High School    Farrar    304 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-374-31384-5    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-374-31385-2    $10.99

At the end of The Midnight Lie (rev. 5/20), Sid sailed brokenhearted back to her own kingdom to her ailing mother the queen, while her lover Nirrim ascended the throne after trading her own heart for knowledge. Now without compassion, once-timid Nirrim ruthlessly applies power, executing one in ten of the High Kith who kept the Half Kith subjugated and using her terrified former friends and those she once considered family as puppets to sway the mob. Meanwhile, Sid learns that her mother was poisoned and tries to discover the perpetrator, at the same time uncovering for herself the ways her own same-sex attraction and her familial love and duty tangle and clash. Of course Sid and Nirrim eventually reunite, though the means by which Rutkoski manages it are too deliciously sweet to give away here. The inventive fantasy framework and whip-smart dialogue should keep readers riveted; a journey by Sid to the gods’ realm has echoes of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and gives the story a satisfying roundness; and the exploration of truths that LGBTQ+ youth know and live, growing up in a world whose responses to their differences can still wound them, will resonate in any compassionate heart. ANITA L. BURKAM

Burn Down, Rise Up
by Vincent Tirado
High School    Sourcebooks Fire    352 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-7282-4600-0    $18.99

In this horror novel grounded in a real-world setting, sixteen-year-old Raquel’s life is upended when her friend disappears — part of a pattern of unexplained disappearances — and her mother is hospitalized due to a mysterious illness. Raquel is tormented by apparitions that lead her to understand that an evil force, “the Slumlord,” is holding and “warping” many of the things she holds dear in a suspended state of reality that can be accessed only through a viral online challenge. As Raquel tries to save her mom, she and her friends risk everything to find answers. Along the way, she begins to understand who she is as a young queer woman and as part of a lineage of Dominicans who have stood up to injustice. Tirado’s inventive imagination provides a heart-rending parable (including scenes of violence and trauma) that utilizes fantasy and spiritualism to cultivate a deeper understanding of systemic disenfranchisement of Dominican and other Afro-Latine immigrant communities. The author (a nonbinary Afro-Latine Bronx native) has personal connections that inform the thoughtful, creative depiction of lived experiences that many readers will find relatable. The sounds, smells, spirits, and shadows of the Bronx are vividly portrayed with lively language, making the fantastical seem totally possible. NICHOLAS A. BROWN

From the June 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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