Senior marketing executive at Vintage UK Carmella Lowkis‘s SPITTING GOLD, a queer historical debut, set in 19th-century Paris, following two sisters—on the outside, gifted mediums, but in reality, astute con-artists—and when they reunite for one last con at an aristocratic family’s old estate, they begin to question whether they really are at the mercy of a vengeful spirit, and wonder just what other deep, dark secrets the family are hiding, to Loan Le at Atria, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Ginger Clark at Ginger Clark Literary, on behalf of Rachel Neely at Mushens Entertainment (NA).
Author of THE CHARM OFFENSIVE Alison Cochrun‘s HERE WE GO AGAIN, a queer road trip rom-com in which two childhood best friends-turned-rivals team up to help fulfill their former teacher’s dying wish by driving him across the country—only to end up wildly off course, to Kaitlin Olson at Atria, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2024, by Bibi Lewis at Ethan Ellenberg Agency (world).
Charlie Castelletti writing as C. A. Castle‘s THE MANOR HOUSE GOVERNESS, pitched as a love letter to the British Classics—and particularly JANE EYRE—in which a young, queer, nonbinary teacher takes a job as a governess for an eccentric family and becomes swept up in the family’s tangled past while also navigating an inconvenient attraction to his employer’s adult son, to Jess Verdi at Alcove Press, for publication in fall 2023, by Caroline Eisenmann at Frances Goldin Literary Agency (world, excl. UK).
Essayist and author of Lambda Literary Award Finalist SOME HELL Patrick Nathan‘s THE FUTURE WAS COLOR, about a gay Hungarian immigrant working as a studio hack writing monster movies in 1950s Los Angeles, facing the McCarthy-era studio system filled with possible Communists, spies, and the life of closeted men along Sunset Boulevard, whose friendship with a famous actress unlocks memories of his postwar life in Manhattan, pitched as a narrative mix of GODS AND MONSTERS and Eve Babitz, spanning from sun-drenched Los Angeles, to corners of working-class New York, to a virtuosic climax in the Las Vegas desert, to Dan Smetanka at Counterpoint, in a nice deal, for publication in 2024, by Erik Hane at Headwater Literary Management (world English).
Authors of THE VERY NICE BOX Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman‘s TRUST & SAFETY, about a newlywed straight couple who leave NYC in an attempt to buy their way into a “wild and precious” existence in the Hudson Valley, where they encounter—and quickly become entangled with—a queer couple living the dream analog life; examining questions of authenticity, betrayal, paternity, and entitlement, while poking fun at contemporary fear of the “gay agenda,” moving with Pilar Garcia-Brown at Dutton, by Faye Bender at The Book Group (NA).
Colombian poet Fatima Velez‘s GALAPAGOS, following a group of bohemian artists who are dying of AIDS as they embark on a final voyage through the Galapagos islands, their decaying bodies cloaked in the skins of their dead; a lyrical novel in which the alliance between female and queer male bodies is deeply fraught, and the intersection of AIDS and motherhood are interrogated in love, friendship, and abjection, to Deborah Ghim at Astra House, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2024, by Maria Lynch at Casanovas & Lynch Agency (world English).
Elaine Tipping‘s PATHWAYS: CHRONICLES OF TUVANA, a queer fantasy epic graphic novel that takes place in a world under siege by an ancient empire bent on restoring its perceived rightful control, following a small band of characters and the journey they take to become heroes, pitched as perfect for fans of Lord of the Rings, The Adventure Zone, and Monstress, to Brett Israel at Dark Horse, in a three-book deal, for publication in fall 2024, by Claire Draper at The Bent Agency (world English).
Sex and culture critic Ella Dawson‘s THE REUNION, about a burned-out bisexual young woman who attends her five-year college reunion only to encounter her estranged chosen family, old demons, and the ex she maybe shouldn’t have walked away from, to Maya Ziv at Dutton, in a pre-empt, by Jamie Carr at The Book Group (NA).
Author of NEVER BEEN KISSED and YOU’RE A MEAN ONE MATHEW PRINCE Timothy Janovsky‘s THE GAMES WE PLAY, a queer romance where a man auditions for a Supermarket Sweep-style reality show with a fake boyfriend following a breakup and falls head-over-heels in the process, to John Jacobson at Harlequin Desire, in a three-book deal, by Samantha Fabien at Root Literary.
Author of the Lambda Award-winning THE SAVAGE KIND and the Macavity Award-winning DODGING AND BURNING John Copenhaver‘s HALL OF MIRRORS, the second book in the Nightingale Trilogy, pitched as a twist on the traditional noir exploring LGBTQ issues, race, and corruption during Eisenhower Era DC, in which the suspicious death of a famous mystery author forces the tenacious heroines of THE SAVAGE KIND to face difficult truths about themselves amid the darkest days of McCarthyism and the Lavender Scare, to Claiborne Hancock at Pegasus Crime, by Annie Bomke at Annie Bomke Literary Agency.
Author of PAPER IS WHITE Hilary Zaid’s FORGET I TOLD YOU THIS, about a queer artist who, while toiling away in obscurity, stumbles into a scheme to upend a social media giant gone berserk, to Courtney Ochsner at University of Nebraska Press, in a nice deal, for publication in September 2023 (world).
Karelia Stetz-Waters and wife Fay Stetz-Waters’s SECOND NIGHT STAND, about a high-strung former ballerina and a burlesque dancer who have a memorable one night stand on a lesbian cruise and then meet again when their dance companies make the cut on a reality TV show, to Madeleine Colavita at Forever Yours, by Jane Dystel at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (NA).
Jane Kindred’s MASTER OF THE GAME, the third book in the queer Demons of Elysium series, set in a Russian-inspired heaven, to Rachel Haimowitz at Riptide Publishing, in an exclusive submission, for publication in 2023, by Sara Megibow at kt literary.
Rae Valtera’s HER DARK GRACE, in which a woman, in a queer-normative world of magic, battles gods who despise having a shadow-marked rule their realm, and in order to survive the gods’ wrath, she must find allies among those who sanctioned the killing of her kind, to Brittany Weisrock at Lake Country Press, for publication in fall 2025 (US).
National Jewish Book Award winner Nancy Churnin‘s picture book THE RAINBOW BRIGADE, pitched as inspired by true events, the story of kids who stood against hate and rallied their neighborhood together to support a lesbian couple whose pride flag and home were vandalized, illustrated by Izzy Evans, to Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books, for publication in spring 2024, by Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary for the author, and by Lucie Luddington at The Bright Group for the illustrator (world).
Young Adult Fiction
Debut author Anthony Nerada‘s SKATER BOY, a queer spin on an Avril Lavigne classic that follows resident a bad boy and his star-crossed romance with a ballet dancer, to Alexa Wejko at Soho Teen, for publication in spring 2024, by Rena Rossner at Deborah Harris Agency (NA).
Author of SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND David Valdes‘s FINDING MY ELF, a queer rom-com about a boy who’s trying to find the “the one” and also trying to find himself while spending winter break working at a hectic Santa’s Village, to Stephanie Guerdan at Harper Teen, for publication in fall 2023, by Annie Bomke at Annie Bomke Literary Agency (world).
Lambda finalist author of CAMP Lev Rosen’s EMMETT, pitched as a queer contemporary take on Jane Austen’s Emma, to Alvina Ling at Little, Brown Children’s, for publication in fall 2023, by Joy Tutela at David Black Literary Agency (world).
Author of MANU Kelly Fernandez‘s PRINCE FELIX AND LA PLUMA MAGIA, a queer YA romantic adventure featuring a prince who receives a magical feather from the bird of many colors and is led to a hunter instead of a princess, to Cassandra Pelham Fulton at Graphix, in a good deal, in an exclusive submission, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2024, by Tanya McKinnon at McKinnon Literary (world).
Leslie Vedder‘s THE CURSED ROSE, the third and final book in her debut LGBTQ+ fantasy trilogy that began with THE BONE SPINDLE, pitched as a gender-flipped retelling of Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones, in which a cursed treasure hunter and an axe-wielding huntswoman must team up in the treasure hunt of a lifetime to save a lost prince—and now the kingdom, to Ruta Rimas at Razorbill, for publication in early 2024, by Carrie Hannigan and Ellen Goff at HG Literary (NA).
Erin Baldwin‘s debut WISH YOU WERE(N’T) HERE, pitched as THE HATING GAME for teens, a f/f rom-com following childhood rivals who are forced to be summer camp cabin mates and must decide what they want more: to kill each other, or to kiss, to Aneeka Kalia at Viking Children’s, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2024, by Lauren Spieller at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world English).
Emily Riesbeck and Bayleigh Underwood‘s LUCKY 555, a queer sci-fi YA graphic novel pitched as The Expanse meets Paper Girls, where the citizens of the sky resign themselves to a slow, miserable decline, and a self-centered orphan teen meets a stowaway android who is hiding a secret that could turn the sky upside down, but her wealthy and domineering father won’t let her—or his secret—go that easily, to Charlotte Greenbaum at Amulet, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2024, by Claire Draper at The Bent Agency (world).
Nita Tyndall‘s HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL, a thriller about a North Carolina teen whose father is a notorious imprisoned serial killer, and when another girl is murdered, and signs point to the girl they love being next, they’ll have to confront their father as well as the ghosts that haunt them, to Stephanie Stein at Harper Teen, for publication in winter 2024, by Eric Smith at P.S. Literary Agency (world English).
Author of BEAUTY AND THE BESHARAM Lillie Vale‘s HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST CHARM, a sapphic paranormal adventure pitched as YA THE EX HEX by way of Casey McQuiston, where a skeptic accidentally hexes her romantic rival (and secret crush) with dangerous bad luck and must team up with her rival’s exes on a quest to undo the damage she’s done, to Dana Leydig at Viking Children’s, for publication in fall 2024, by Jessica Watterson at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency (world English).
Dr. Angelo Robinson PhD’s NOT THE BOY FOR YOU, using both literary and epistolary forms to chart the author’s journey to unapologetic wholeness as young, Black, and gay in the 1960s South and finding internal acceptance after being rejected from all sides via country, culture, family, and religion, while examining the complex reality of how the Black male body has been perceived, exploited, and explored through the lens of James Baldwin’s political and narrative thought, to Alicia Sparrow at Chicago Review Press, for publication in fall 2023 (world).
Poet, director, and songwriter W.J. Lofton‘s SUE CITY, a memoir of the author’s childhood experience of family separation via Chicago’s foster care system, the bond that persevered between him and his sister Willette as they relocated to the South, his discovery of his queer identity, and his development as a young Black queer artist, to Catherine Tung at Beacon Press, by Kent Wolf at Neon Literary (world).
Mark Jason Williams and Amy Scher‘s untitled LGBTQIA-focused travel guide, highlighting inclusive destinations around the world, with itineraries that highlight what to do, where to go, what to see, where to stay, what to eat, and more, to Allyson Johnson at National Geographic, in a pre-empt, by Steve Harris at CSG Literary Partners (world).
I’m so excited to have two of my favorite gay YA sophomores on the site today, chatting about their newest books! Lev Rosen is the author of Jack of Hearts (and other parts)and Camp, the latter of which released this past Tuesday (along with Jack‘s redesigned paperback), and Cale Dietrich is the author of The Love Interest and the upcoming The Friend Scheme, which releases on July 28! Make sure to check out all four of those titles, and to read on below for their conversation about the books, toxic masculinity, internalized homophobia, and more:
Lev: Hi Cale! I’m so excited to talk to you about your forthcoming novel, The Friend Scheme, and my new novel, Camp, which came out on Tuesday. I really loved your last book The Love Interest, so getting to read The Friend Scheme was very exciting! And I love the setup – closeted son of a mafia family falls for a guy who he knows is the son of the rival mafia family who may be seducing him to destroy his family. Love, lust, trust, betrayal, family loyalty. Who could say no to all that? But let’s get this out of the way: There’s a minor character named Lev in The Friend Scheme, and he’s a shmuck. Should I be deeply insulted or merely offended?
Cale: Hi Lev! First up: DEEPLY OFFENDED. Obviously. Just kidding, that schmuck Lev has nothing to do with you, because I adore you. Jack and Camp are two of my all time favourite-YA books, they’re so smart and really explore the modern queer identity while being fun and romantic. I love them. I’m so happy I get to talk to you about Camp! One of the things I loved most about it was its exploration of masculinity, and the complicated relationship it has with being queer. Was this something you’d always wanted to explore in a novel, or did something inspire you?
Lev: WELL! I shall be deeply offended then. Let me get out my burn book…
And yeah, Camp is so much about navigating patriarchal gender nonsense as a queer man, and how somehow, even when we’re out and proud, that straight mindset can creep in and cause a lot of pain. But the original inspiration was actually old Doris Day/Rock Hudson 60s screwball sex comedies. And, if I’m being honest, the post-modern redo of those movies, Down With Love. That was the big inspiration – I wanted a contemporary queer YA version of those movies, because I love those movies. I love Down With Love. But of course, those movies center around the idea of “the battle of the sexes” – very 60s. And making that queer wasn’t going to work quite right, until I realized it could be battle of the masc/femme. And once that occurred to me, everything fell into place – masc4masc stuff, the summer camp setting. I always love exploring post-coming out stuff, though, so I imagine something would have snuck in there eventually. I just knew it needed to be in a queer space to work. If you’re out in the world with this, straight people are going to seriously interfere and try to tell you that masc gays are better, or femme gays are more fabulous, really try to put you in a category. In an entirely queer space, the characters can play with these ideas of gender performance and it can be seen as just exploring identity. Straight people seldom let queer kids do that. And queer community was so interesting to me in your book, The Friend Scheme, as well, because it’s Matt’s lack of queer community that really kind of puts him in this impossible situation – he’s closeted and has no queer friends, so the first one that comes along becomes his everything, his entire community, and he has to rely on that one person so much that it becomes dangerous. I was wondering if that was intentional? Like, did you go into this wanting to show the dangers of being an isolated queer person?
Cale: AHHH. I wonder who else is in that burn book!
INTERESTING. You mention that the straights in relation to saying masc gays are better, or femme gays are more fabulous etc, but what do you think about the pressures of being masculine coming from within the gay community itself? To me it feels like there is a lot of pressure on social media and the like within the gay world to live up to a certain standard of masculinity, (which is really rubbish). I understood why Randy decided to act more masc to attract Hudson – scroll Instagram and you’ll see a specific type of gay sexuality continually heralded as the most attractive – the buff, masc gym gay. I’m just wondering where you think the pressure on gay guys to be masculine is coming from — is it from straight people, or is it from other gay men?
As for TFS and Matt being isolated, absolutely! I think we were both trying to explore queer masculinity in two different ways, which I think is so great and I’m so bummed we no longer share a release date so we could be a double feature! To me, Matt’s whole story is about him not living up to the kind of man his father wants him to be, and a lot of that has to be with his masculinity. As much as he tries to push himself into the guy that his family set out for him, he only really finds happiness once he starts accepting he isn’t the kind of guy his dad wants him to be. I was trying to explore that feeling through a genre story. And to answer your question: it was intentional! I did want to show how that lack of support and community can be incredibly painful, especially when you’re cut off from them by being closeted. I ratcheted things up to fit the genre, but mostly I was trying to explore how that feels. I don’t want to spoil anything but hopefully the epilogue shows how things can improve once you’ve found a queer community!
Lev: The Burn Book is large and long. Top of the list right now is whoever is responsible for the pre-9AM jackhammering directly outside my window during all this social distancing. They are a terrible human being.
And yeah, Camp deals with that internalized homophobia, too, the way the community can essentially take part in that! But I think that problem isn’t exactly exclusive to the gay community. It’s a problem of patriarchy and toxic masculinity – being queer doesn’t save you from that. It can even make it worse; when Hudson starts to explore why he values masculinity so much, it comes out that it’s a form of protection. A lot of “masc4masc” guys think it makes them better because it makes them pass as straight, it makes them acceptable to straight people – which is something I don’t think queer people need to be worrying about. Because while being queer doesn’t save you from the patriarchy, it gives you an opportunity to sidestep it. Being gay is a gift. When you come out, you have a chance to step aside from all that nonsense and look at patriarchy and say “okay, so I’m not into ladies like they want me to be, which makes me less of a man, supposedly, but… what if all those ideas were nonsense? What if everything is meaningless and behaviors we attribute to genders are made up? What if I get to be whatever I want, and fuck gender conforming?” Being given that opportunity – and I genuinely think its a lot harder for straight people to be given it – is a gift. Sadly, its not one a lot of gay people unwrap because coming out is so traumatic for them that they cling to the patriarchy even harder than straight people do, hoping it will make them not actually straight again (well, probably some of them), but make them essentially “count as” straight in the eyes of society. And that sucks so hard for them. There’s nothing wrong with being “masc-acting” and queer (in Camp, Brad fills that role, that’s just who he is, there’s no performance). But to be trapped feeling like you have to be masc acting, like it effects your value as a human being? That’s awful. So I actually feel sorry for those guys on instagram. I mean, I have no problem with a guy who’s built and bearded or whatever (I, myself am bearded, and I DO have a build). But a guy who says he’s “manly” or “masc” – that’s where it gets sad for me. And those guys being more praised for their masculinity by the community makes me sad, too. Like… we were all given this gift guys. Unwrap it.
And yes! Friend Scheme is all about a very old school, very blunt form of masculinity. I keep thinking “murder is masculine,” so you should see if that can be the tagline of your novel. I think, in fact, Matt’s whole story is about having that gay gift I talk about – his queerness is what allows him to see himself outside this mold they try to put him in, this future they want for him. And I love how you somehow manage to combine that exciting mafioso action with what is essentially a really sweet romance. You did it in The Love Interest, too. And they’re both about how these guys know they’re not who they’re supposed to be and fall for a guy who they know they can’t trust. It makes me think about dating in the closet, how you want to be with this person but also by being with them you’re kind of giving them the power to destroy your life. Is that why that theme comes up for you? Do you think dating as a queer person is more fraught with issues of distrust?
Cale: This is such a good answer!!! I agree with everything you say. It’s such a complicated issue, and I’m so happy that you explore it in Camp, as I think it’s a question that’s extremely relevant to modern queer people. I’m such a fan of yours!! Ah!
Omgosh, “murder is masculine,” is the perfect tagline for TFS! I love it! And I totally agree about Matt having the gay gift that you talk about – it is 100% what I was going for! I wanted to explore exactly what you talk about in your answer — I feel like being queer does force you to have these sorts of conversations with yourself, and makes you see yourself outside of the mold people try to put you in. That leads to a lot of questioning and growth. As for the danger of dating in the closet – that has appealed to me as it just made sense for the characters and the stories I was trying to tell – it definitely adds a layer of distrust and danger and that’s what my books are sort of built on! But my book three hero is out and proud, so I think I’ve explored closeted characters as much as I would like to (for a while, anyway).
I’m really curious, what would be your response to someone who says that they have a preference for masc guys?
Lev: I mean, I think I’d say that’s fine. Randy clearly is into Hudson is who is masc… but I think it’s also worth interrogating your own desires. Some people are like “that’s my type, tee-hee, don’t need to think about it,” but if your type is hyper-specific, it worth taking a moment to wonder why. Are you attracted to guys like that because society has always told you to be? Because they represent something you want to be? Because you think being seen with them in public, or by your parents, is what will make people accept you? Is your lust determined by societal approval? Lust isn’t just lizard-brain. Or it can be, but then it gets tempered. I think a lot of about guys who are into plus size women, but never ever admit it. It’s a different issue and I’m not the one to talk about it, but it’s something that happens a lot and at least part of the reason why has to do with societal pressure to punish women for being fat. Likewise, there’s a lot of societal pressure to punish gay men for not being a certain way. And sometimes that effects desire. So if you’re into muscles cause you’re into muscles, cool. But if you’re into “straight-acting” guys, or even just full on straight guys (and many of us have been at some point), ask yourself why. Why do you want someone you know will never want you? Why do you want someone who represents something you’ll never be but which culture is constantly telling you to be? And this can be applied to more than just “masc.”
That being said, I did want to show a character whose masc-ness wasn’t about performance and trying to be the “special gay” who isn’t like those other gays, all in your face, etc. That’s why Brad is there. He’s just as butch as Hudson, but it’s not an entire identity for him. He lets the guy he likes put nail polish on him because it makes that guy happy, he doesn’t care about what his partner is like, socially – even if he clearly likes a man with body hair. And I think that’s the distinction. Are you into a type of guy because of something physical only, or are you into a guy because of something social – some conception of things? A lot of stuff can end up being either, so it’s really about YOU. (and in case anyone is wondering, saying you’re not into a guy because they’re a certain race is always a racist social thing). So yeah, I’d say to a guy “why?” and see what he says. Especially since ‘masc’ is one of those terms that can mean different things to different people. There, that was a long meandering way of getting to the answer. But hey, long meandering way of getting to the answer is just another word for novel.
But I think on that note our word count here is probably becoming perhaps too long and meandering, so I just wanted to say thank you again for talking with me! It was a lot of fun and I’m so excited for people to get their hands on The Friend Scheme. It’s a really fun, sexy novel.
Cale: No, thank you for talking to me! Camp is such a wonderful, important and fun book. I’m so happy teens (and everyone else) will be able to get it starting today!
There’s a New Queer Year upon us, and so much goodness within it can hardly be contained in a single post! Below are 72 (!) new US and UK YA titles releasing in the next six months, filled with representation across genres and genders, races and orientations.
If you’re looking for trends and landmarks, as I always do, you might notice the continued rise of queer (and especially Sapphic) YA fantasy, or the record-setting number of trans guy protags, or the first traditionally published bigender and demiboy MCs in YA. You might notice that a significant number of these books are set outside the US (yes, even the ones publishing there), and that you know some of these authors names quite well but have never seen them write queer YA before. You might notice that these covers are particularly phenomenal, so a huge shoutout to everyone responsible for them. (You can find info on a bunch of them here.)
(You also might notice that this post was a ton of work, so please do avail yourself of those affiliate links for Amazon and especially IndieBound and preorder yourself some goodness while also helping financially support the site!)
Moving on from her m/m fantasy series with a bang, Sim tackles a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristowith a literal vengeance, alternating between the points of view of Amaya, who’s been in servitude on a debtors’ ship for way too long, and Cayo, who’s in a similarly precarious though far more privileged situation, especially when someone he cares about is harmed. When she finds an opportunity for revenge and he falls into her crosshairs, sparks fly in all the ways, which is perhaps inconveniently timed for all the betrayal going on around them. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Relationship breakups may be heavily covered in YA, but friendship breakup stories are still few and far between. Enter the story of James and Kat, two girls who were once beyond close and now watch their friendship unravel as college nears. Things are complicated for both girls: James’s mother has left her and her father for another guy, and she doesn’t know how to talk about it, not even to Kat or her still-too-present ex, Logan. Kat’s discovering that her feelings for her new friend Quinn aren’t strictly “friendly,” and in fact, she’s realizing she’s bisexual and falling head over heels for a girl. It’s a bittersweet story to be sure, and while it definitely has its fun scenes, close moments, painful familial interactions, and tingly romance (what Spalding book doesn’t??), you’ll spend much of the book wishing you could push the characters together and say “Justtalkalready”…but isn’t that exactly how life goes? (Amz|B&N|IB)
If you’re a fan of queer YA, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re familiar with this particular pioneer of it, which will make this short story collection all the sweeter. Want to revisit “A” of the Every Day series? How about the characters of Two Boys Kissing? Or would you rather meet some new romantics entirely? Perhaps some non-fiction? Maybe even verse? This book inspired by Levithan’s tradition of his writing his friends a story each Valentine’s Day has got a little something for everybody, whether or not you’ll find a paper heart on your desk come February 14. (Amz|B&N|IB)
The author who brought you lesbians surviving a bloody apocalypse is back with a main character named Amelia who’s questioning a whole lot more than her sexuality (though there is that too); when she wakes up in the hospital in recovery from a fall, she doesn’t remember a thing…except that she was pushed, no matter how hard everyone else tries to deny it. The only person she can trust to help her find the truth is her new boyfriend, Liam, but maybe she doesn’t want the truth…or maybe trying to find it will be the last thing she ever does. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This newest McLemore title will make their fourth queer book in four years, and I think I can safely speak on behalf of the entire queer community when I say we are emphatically lucky for it. (And that there’s no sign of them letting up, either, with at least two more queer books slated for the next couple of years.) While McLemore generally writes with a sort of timelessness, this romantic and magical dual-timeline narrative is half set in 1518 Strasbourg, inspired by the dancing plague, where it stars a Romani cis girl in love with a trans boy, and half set in modern day, where centuries later, dancing fever threatens to return to Rosella Oliva, who happens to have the affectionate of attention of Emil, descendant of that same Romani family and the only one who might know how to help her. (Amz|B&N|IB)
That’s right, your contemporary (and so lightly speculative it’s basically contemporary) fave is diving headfirst into magical fantasy with his fifth book, and while it’s definitely a departure, there’s plenty you’ll recognize, including characters from the Bronx, diverse racial representation, and, of course, queer main characters. And yes, that’s an intentional plural! There are four points of view in this series opener: brothers Emil (who’s gay) and Brighton, who are obsessed with the powerful Spell Walkers and anxiously awaiting the discovery of whether or not they’ll be among them when their eighteenth birthday hits; Maribelle, who’s already a super well-known Spell Walker, and Ness, who’s…complicated. (And bisexual, as is Maribelle.) The Spell Walkers aren’t the only magical game in town, though, and having to watch their backs from the magic-siphoning Specters is getting both tiring and violent. When one of the twins’ (and only one’s) powers manifest during a fight, it rocks their world, especially when it turns out his powers are greater than anyone could’ve imagined, and it’s about to land them both in an all-out war. (Amz|B&N|IB)
If you dig SFF with a heavy dose of shenanigans, England is your author. Here they’re jumping from sci-fi over to fantasy but maintaining the zany, troublesome cast, led by Diz, who, together with her three best friends, make their cash the less-than-legal way by siphoning highly illegal maz, aka magic, which used to be free to all but has now gone the way of the drug trade. When they uncover an explosive new strain, it’s up to Diz and her gang to dig into the conspiracy behind it and save the world as they know it. Is there also a little time for kissing with one of those friends, nonbinary spellweaver Remi? There might be. Theeeeeere might be. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Finally, ’tis the year for trans guy main characters, and Canada’s kicking us off with this intense contemporary thriller about a grieving trans boy named Jason who’s out to prove his sister’s death was no accident. When a clue leads him to a boxing gym, Jason finds not just a mystery but a pastime he actually enjoys, especially given he’s got plenty of experience fighting. But balancing his (actually pretty wonderfully affirming) new friendships with his deadly quest might be more than he can handle. This is a hi-lo title, meaning it’s specifically designed for “high-interest, low-reading level” book lovers, and it definitely delivers when it comes to pacing, action, mystery, and representation. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This f/f YA horror set in 17th century Hungary recounts the story of a scullery maid working for Countess Elizabeth Báthory, which is just about the most awesome damn thing I’ve ever heard. (I am here for allll the horrifying and bloody Sapphic villains, to be clear.) But Anna doesn’t stay a scullery maid for long, because when Elizabeth takes a shine to her, she promotes her to chambermaid and keeps her, uh, pretty close. Close enough that Anna is drifting completely away from her old life to be absorbed into the countess’s, until she realizes she’s nothing more than a prisoner. And there’s nothing to keep a prisoner safe from becoming a serial killer’s next victim. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Fresh off one of my favorite YA fantasy duologies of all time, queer or otherwise (though it is most definitely queer), Miller is back with another magic-filled fantasy with a dual-POV, one of which belongs to a biromantic ace girl named Annette who comes from humble beginnings but gets a chance to shed them and pursue her love of the Midnight Arts when our other heroine, the aristocratic Emilie, begs her to do an identity swap so she can run off to become one of the few female students of medicine. (And might there be an attractive, charming, and intelligent trans guy at that school? There might.) As the land around them tilts toward revolution, both Emilie and Annette will have to figure out their places and how to work together to bring peace and justice. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This is a lovely and bighearted debut chock full of space nerdery, big dreams, new beginnings, and social media scandal. Cal’s life is completely uprooted when his dad shocks them all by being chosen for a space mission, something his family had never taken seriously as a lifelong dream. Worst of all, he’s forbidden from documenting life in the new compound, forcing him to leave his massive social media following behind. On the bright side, there’s Leon, son of another astronaut on the program and immediate thief of Cal’s heart. But when things go awry in the program and secrets are revealed, Cal will have to decide exactly what he’s willing to do to get the truth out there, and who he’s willing to lose. (Amz|B&N|IB)
The post-apocalyptic zombie-filled UK YA debut stars Peter, a resident of a community called Wranglestone that’s survived thus far by living in a national park surrounded by water that serves as a barrier to the Dead. But when winter comes and the water ices over, the water can no longer save them…and Peter puts them all in grave danger by bringing in a stranger. Now he’s been exiled, and all he can do is help Cooper, the rancher he’s been crushing on forever, herd the dead before the lake completely ices over. But as the two work together and fall for each other, they uncover a dark secret that’ll change everything. (The Book Depository)
Celia and Anna are “inklings,” Profeta devotees who use magic to tattoo flowers that represent the will of the Divine and steer the inked to action. Once upon a time they believed like everyone else that it was a noble calling, but now they know the truth: that their marks strip away free will and the temple is actually a prison. When they finally get a chance to escape, it seems like a bright future is ahead…until the very deity they sought to escape comes a-calling. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Janelle “Ellie” Baker is a Black demisexual girl living in a center in NYC controlled by the Ilori, aliens who invaded Earth two years earlier and who keep all humans in fear of death by punishing emotional transgressions by death. All manners of art are illegal, but Ellie flouts the rules with a secret library…a library from which a book disappears, putting her life on the line. In fact, lab-born M0Rr1S is sent to bring her to her death, but he has his own “moral failing”: he’s obsessed with human music. Together, they bond over their love of the forbidden arts and embark on a dangerous road trip, armed with books and music, toward a destination thousands of miles away that may be their only hope for salvation. (Amz|B&N|IB)
The Inn at Havenfall has protected refugees for generations, with one major rule: if you disrupt the peace, you are never to come back. Maddie loves it at the inn, where her uncle serves at innkeeper, as she will too someday; it’s an escape from her traumatic family, the place where she fell in love with soldier boy Brekken, and her future. But then the peace is completely shattered by a murder, and now her uncle is injured, Brekken is missing, and Maddie is in charge, which means she’s the one who has to learn the truth of what’s happened…together with Taya, a new staff member at the inn who’s both way too compelling and knows too much. (Amz|B&N|IB)
The Winner’s Curse happens to be my favorite YA fantasy series, so I am especially thrilled to see Rutkoski return with a new one that’s f/f! It stars Nirrim, who lives in a shady society with strict rules for all but those of high status; someone like Nirrim isn’t allowed to enjoy so much as a cupcake. Then she meets Sid, a charming traveler who encourages her to seek out the same magic the High Caste enjoys. It’ll mean giving up her old life, and on the suggestion of someone who probably can’t be trusted. But both the head and heart want what they want… (Amz|B&N|IB)
Greasegoes gay YA in this rom-com about two boys whose dreamy summer fling comes crashing into a harsh reality when our lead, Oliver, transfers to Will’s school thanks to a family crisis-driven move, only to find out Will isn’t Out and isn’t about to be. As Ollie finds his own ways to settle in, he can’t seem to shake Will’s presence. But whether there’s a future for them remains to be seen. This sophomore novel is warmly delightful and delightfully warm, with some tears on the side for the aforementioned family crisis, and some hard-earned queer solidarity is the icing on the cake. (Amz|B&N|IB)
2019 and 2020 are truly the years of the Sapphic YA witches, and we are here for every single one. Latimer’s debut utilizes ancient Celtic mythology in its story of Dayna, a girl with somatic OCD who’s just been outed as bi in her conservative Irish town and seen her long-lost mom return. But the only things she really wants to focus on is that she about to finally become a full witch, at least until another coven comes to town and gets in her way. Worst of all is the granddaughter of the coven’s leader, Meiner King, who’s charming, maddening, and Dayna’s only hope at helping her find a serial killer who’s returned to targeting witches. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Ekata lives in perpetual danger, but when her brother is named heir to the dukedom of Kylma Above, she’ll finally be able to leave her deadly family for good, even if it means leaving behind everything else she loves. Then her entire family falls under a mysterious sleeping sickness, and Ekata alone is left to be duke and to find a cure. At least it comes with one perk: she also gets her brother’s warrior bride, which will have to make up for the fact that the rest of her life is now filled with diplomacy, war, power, war, and magic she’s never wanted and will now have to learn to use to her advantage if she’s going to survive. (Amz|B&N|IB)
What do you do when you’re conquering the hell out of adult SFF? If you’re Gailey, who barely seems to need to breathe before authoring another critically acclaimed novel of awesomeness, you come to the place the real magic happens: YA! Their debut young adult novel brings together a group of magical girls who accidentally kill a boy on prom night and have to work together to fix it. Unfortunately, it’s not going so well, and it makes things a little more complicated each time they fail, which sucks since things were already a little complicated what with Alexis being in love with her best friend and all. Yikes all around? Yikes all around. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This bi YA may not be new to the UK, but it’s newly jumping over the pond to the US this year, and I am very grateful for that! It stars sixteen-year-old Vetty, who’s kept things pretty close to the vest since her mom died and her family relocated. But now, four years later, they’re moving back to their old neighborhood, and that means Vetty just might start to get her life back. Item one on the agenda? Reconnecting with Pez, her childhood best friend. But Pez has changed a lot in the last four years, and it isn’t easy to find who he was beneath who he’s become. It is, unfortunately, easy to fall for March, who happens to be Pez’s girlfriend. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Speaking of UK YA by authors who’ve crossed into the US (though not with this title yet, so hint hint, American publishers!), Steven’s first queer YA is a bi rom-com about a physics genius named Caro who’s crushing it at school but not so much at romance. Then she figures out how to use her academic skills to help her love life, and finds herself in a new sort of mess: juggling her new relationship with her longtime crush (and whether or not the feelings are real) with the fact that she’s suddenly into her female best friend. How much is the experiment and how much is her heart? Can’t wait to find out! (The Book Depository)
Claire is a superhero fangirl, a card-carrying member of Warrior Nation. And when she finds an unexpected way (with some unexpected help) into winning an internship with the Chicago WarNat branch, it should be everything she’s ever dreamed of. But that unexpected help is proving very difficult to work with; it’s in the form of Girl Power (aka Joy), the newest hero and a pain in Claire’s butt. A very, very cute pain in Claire’s butt. But distraction or no distraction, Claire’s determined to prove herself, especially when she and Bridgette, a WarNat, who’s tired of being “the girlfriend” to an even more famous hero, decides to mentor her and they end up having to be exactly the heroes Chicago needs. (Amz|B&N|IB)
The cover of Sproul’s historical (Yep, 1999 counts as that now) debut may be dreamy, but having a crush on your best friend? Is kind of a nightmare. Such is the situation for Taylor, who’s queen of her high school both literally and figuratively, but isn’t interested in settling for a cozy life of 2.5 kids and a dental hygienist job with a homecoming king. The time has come for Taylor to move the hell on from her school, her town, her boyfriend, and Susan…but how? (Amz| B&N|IB)
Lulu may be a bit of a social media celebrity, but That Video wasn’t meant for public consumption, and it certainly wasn’t meant for her boyfriend to see. But anyway, it’s all happened and then suddenly there’s Cass, a girl who doesn’t care about Lulu’s online fame, or about online fame at all. She only cares about getting to know Lulu at The Hotel, and Old Hollywood-style spot that’s become Lulu’s dream getaway from it all. But can she really get out of the spotlight, or is she doomed to become a social media cautionary tale? What will it take for Lulu to get her own life back? (Amz|B&N|IB)
One of my favorite things about how much queer YA we get these years is that we’re finally allowed to have the messy stuff, the representation that isn’t the neatest and most pristine and clear cut and dare I say the whitest? In no 2020 YA that I’ve read is this more evident than in Kanakia’s sophomore, about a boy named Nandan who surprises everyone, including himself, by hooking up with new boy Dave. But what starts with him being pretty chill about this development starts to increase his anxiety about what it means that he’s now with a guy. Is he bisexual? Is he in it to be more interesting? Is he always going to be “different” now, even more than before? So many questions and no great answers, but exploring the complexity of it all is the beauty of this book. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Talley is one of queer YA’s most prolific genre jumpers, but she seems to be making herself beautifully at home in historical with this follow-up to 2018’s Pulp, again set amid a context of vital queer American history. This time around, it’s 1977, and Tammy Larson would love more than anything to come out of the closet as a lesbian, but that’s a major no-go where she lives. Her only outlet is to write “letters” to the activist Harvey Milk, at least until she’s matched with a pen pal to whom she can write letters for real. Sharon makes for a much better companion than Tammy’s diary, and she can sympathize, given her brother is gay and feeling all the same misery in the wake of Anita Bryant’s leading to a successful repeal of their protections. Together they’ll find their own brand of activism and learn to fight back against a world of hate. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Oseman’s crossed the pond before with Radio Silence, so this American’s fingers are crossed she’ll do it again with her newest, about a girl named Georgia who’s struggling with the fact that she’s eighteen and has never had so much as a crush. She’s sick of people thinking she’s broken or weird, and it isn’t like she isn’t into romance; she’s just not into it for herself. When she gets to university, she thinks maybe she can “fix” things with her roommate’s help. But what if it turns out there’s nothing to fix, and Georgia’s great and perfectly capable of happiness just as she is? (The Book Depository)
This f/f standalone fantasy stars Lia, a teenage queen, and Xania, the spymaster she brings in who, unbeknownst to her, actually agrees to the job as part of a plot to avenge her father and figure out who killed him. It’s a tricky situation full of secrets, treason, betrayal, and, oh yes, romance. At present it’s publishing strictly in Ireland, but thankfully, we have ways of getting our hands on it anyway because seriously, who could pass up an f/f queen/spymaster romance?? Not I, said the person who preordered this book while writing this blurb! Not I. (The Book Depository)
You know we’ve gotta sound the airhorn whenever a First for traditionally published queer lit is involved, so step up and take note of its first on-page bigender main character! That character is Aleks/Alexis, who gets a fresh start by moving in with their uncle, who happens to be a priest. But their new home provides something they definitely didn’t anticipate: an earful of confessionals, which inspires them to want to help these “sinners.” But all the enjoyment of finding a goodwill mission crumbles when they overhear a confession that rocks them to their bones and brings back the very trauma they’re escaping, trauma they’ll have no choice but to face now. (Want a sneak peek? Click here for the entire first chapter!) (Amz|B&N|IB|Lerner)
Breaking up is hard to do, but breaking up with your best friend is even harder, and when your school’s got slim pickins in terms of out queer kids? Well. Let’s just say Quinn is not taking it all that great, especially when she suspects Jamie might be recovering much faster than she is. But when sexy, heretofore-thought-unattainable Ruby Ocampo suddenly comes back on the market and turns out to be bi, it looks like Quinn might just get her second chance at happiness. But what if that second chance is happening with the wrong person? This YA debut is sweet, funny, and heartbreaking in all the right places. (Amz|B&N|IB)
When this was originally published in the UK in early 2019, it sounded so good I begged to know when it was coming over. Turns out I got both my answer and my confirmation that yes, this is an A+ queer thriller. It stars a girl named Sydney who’s not just grieving the death of her dad, but investigating it; it seems impossible he just went off the road like that, and the creepy texts she’s been getting since his funeral seem to confirm that. Another mystery? Why June, the most popular girl in school, with the most perfect relationship, seems to be one of her dad’s top mourners. That’s a mystery more easily solved when she reveals she was one of Sydney’s dads psychological patients, but why she’s still hanging around Sydney? That’s another story. (B&N|IB)
Think The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco meets The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis plus a little John Steinbeck (yeah, I said what I said) and you’ll have something like this fantasy about an experimental town in mid-20th-century Oklahoma led by a witch and created at the whim of the goddesses. Our (seemingly unwitting?) Sapphic, Sal, has been the town outcast ever since she predicted a rain that never came, but she’s making up for it now that she’s been chosen at the successor to Mother Morevna, the witch who runs the entirety of Elysium and makes all its rules. Of course, the job isn’t all what she imagined, and the arrival of Asa, a demon disguised as a human who has his own wild powers, just makes things even more confusing. When Sal and Asa screw up and find themselves exiled into the Desert, they’ll have to join up with a girl gang led by a fellow exile and do whatever they can to halt the inevitable apocalypse. (Amz|B&N|IB)
To traditional publishing, Quindlen is a debut, but those of us who’ve been following queer-girl YA for a while know she’s behind one of its biggest indie titles, the Catholic Louisiana-set best friends-to-lovers romanceHer Name in the Sky. Whether you knew her before or not, though, you’re definitely gonna wanna get on board for this deeply felt and highly relatable one about a girl trying to find her way forward out of late-bloomerdom and into happiness. Codi’s never been kissed, which doesn’t put hertoofar behind her best friends Maritza and JaKory, but far enough that despite all of them being late bloomers, she’s the one they both seem to agree is hopeless. So when she stumbles into a new social circle, one in which she’s valued and no one knows her as a dork, she decides to keep it all for herself, even if it means not telling her best friends she’s falling in love. But Codi doesn’twantto abandon them, so what’s she supposed to now that she’s been lying for weeks? Is there a way to have everything she wants with just the right amount of who she used to be? (Amz|B&N|IB)
Dugan debuted with one of my absolute favorite queer YA rom-coms (seriously, if you haven’t yet read Hot Dog Girl, do yourself a favor), so I’m thrilled to see her returning with another one, this one an m/f pairing where both halves of the couple are bi (or, more accurately, one is bi and one is still figuring it out). Juliette is an elite cellist with a major audition coming up and a side job working at her stepmom’s indie comic shop. Ridley works at his parents’ comic shop too, only theirs is a big chain, and no friend to the little guy. Which makes it a little difficult when the two meet at a comic-con prom and immediately hit it off, despite their family feud. I’ll take Romeo & Juliet with a much happier ending and heaps of bisexuality any day, wouldn’t you? (Amz|B&N |IB)
The one non-fiction entry on this list is a memoir-manifesto by noted queer Black activist and journalist George M. Johnson, about his life from childhood through college in New Jersey and Virginia, including bullying, sexual relationships, and other ups and downs. Intended to serve as “a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color,” clearly this is a book that is not to be missed. (Amz|B&N|IB)
One of the things I’m often asked to recommend is books that feature mlm and wlw solidarity, and I especially love giving answers that show it not just in characters but in authorship. Here, two Canadian rock stars of queer YA come together with a story about cousins named Mark and Talia who are reunited from their respective Canadian coasts after a death in the family and decide to take a road trip together to Toronto so Talia can see her non-binary partner and Mark can get to Pride. The two don’t have much in common, and they’ll have to let Mark’s little sister tag along, but they both know some kind of magic awaits them in TO, and they can’t wait to get there. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Whether you’re a fan of queer pirate novels, queer witch novels, or just dreamy, adventurous romance, this just might be the book of your dreams. Flora knows the only way to get by on the pirate ship she calls home is to be the merciless Florian to everybody else, but when she’s charged with guarding a beautiful passenger on a voyage that will see all its ticket holders turned into hostages, she hits her limit. There’s no way she can destroy Evelyn’s life like this, which means the two have no choice but to escape and find a notorious witch who might be able to help them. But the witch has plots of her own, and no one is safe in this tremendous journey of the unexpected. This is one of the most breathlessly romantic and adventurous queer fantasies I’ve ever read, and also one of the best explorations of gender fluidity I’ve read in YA. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Klune’s doing double duty this year (or maybe even more? Damn, it’s hard to keep up), following up an adult contemporary fantasy with his first entry into YA, about a boy named Nick who happens to be the Extraordinaries fandom’s most popular fanfic writer, and who aims to be even more extraordinary when he meets the hero he’s been crushing on. (But maybe he’s in love with his best friend, Seth? It’s complicated. It’s always complicated.) (Amz|B&N|IB)
I swear Kat Dunn must’ve been reading my dream journal to come up with an f/f fantasy set during the French Revolution. It stars Camille, the daughter of a revolutionary who’s a rebel in her own right, leading a group of misfits under the banner of the Battalion des Morte. But when they save a girl who isn’t the aristocrat-in-hiding she seemed to be, they all have questions: what is up with her dangerous powers and why are people on both sides of the revolution hunting her? (The Book Depository)
Allen’s been a personal favorite of mine since her subversive feminist debut, 17 First Kisses, and I’m thrilled to see her releasing her first queer YA, which basically looks like a gay Traveling Pants except not all the girls actually wanna be spending the summer together at the lake house where their moms became besties. Most of them can’t even stand their moms right now. All of them have secrets. And two of them…well, two of them are in love with each other, so one way or another it’s gonna be a hell of a summer. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Callender is having a monster of a publication year, having released both an adult fantasy (Queen of the Conquered) and a queer Middle Grade contemporary (King and the Dragonflies) in the last six months. Now they’re capping it off with this extraordinary trans YA about a boy (usually, which is another part of the story, and one that I will happily spoil results in trad-pubbed YA having it’s first on-page demiboy) named Felix who’s hell-bent on getting revenge against a transphobe at school, only to find the person he assumed was the culprit might actually be the exact person he needed in his life. (Amz|B&N|IB)
You may have already heard me talking about this sophomore novel by the author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass as maybe my new favorite f/f YA fantasy, and if not, lemme tell you right now, if you haven’t heard me say it before, you’re gonna wanna hear it now: do not miss this Persian mythology-inspired book. It stars a girl named Soraya who’s been cursed from birth to poison anyone she touches, and who finally emerges into the public on the day of her brother’s wedding, setting off a chain of events that have her finding love, acceptance, and power in the most unexpected of places. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Eliopulos has brought you some of your queer faves as an editor, but thrillingly, this is his first time bringing the rainbow goodness on the author side of the desk. Sam and his best friends, James and Delia, live in a small Georgia town where magic is frowned upon, but their school provides a respite in the form of a magic club. Then Sam realizes he might be in love with James, Delia’s getting tired of the club, and James has accidentally screwed them all over by getting involved with some shady magickers over the summer. So much for a great senior year… (Amz|B&N|IB)
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1929 at the Cloak & Dagger in the French Quarter, and Millie’s serving as the speakeasy’s MC while her best friend, Marion, aka “The Boy in the Red Dress,” stars in the show. Then a fancy stranger sashays in with a mouth full of questions a photo of a boy who happens to look just like Marion. When she’s found dead in the back alley, Marion becomes the prime suspect, which Millie will not let stand. While she pursues proof that her best friend is innocent, she’s also got two other attractive distractions: waitress Olive and bootlegger Bennie, the latter of whom promises to help her on her quest. Can she find who’s framing Marion before time runs out for them both? (Amz|B&N|IB)
Sideways is a misfit lesbian witch, which sounds awesome to you and me but less so to the West High social food chain. At least until three of its most popular girls pay her cash to cast a spell at their Halloween party, luring her into their clique and forming a coven. She never expected to become best friends with these girls, but they’ll all have to learn to count on each other if they’re going to save themselves from fundamentalist witch hunters! (And yes, this is the first in a trilogy!) (Amz|B&N|IB)
Okay, so get this: Enemies-to-lovers. With rival henna businesses. Set in Ireland. And both protags are WoC. (I KNOW.) Our heroine, Nishat, is a Bengali lesbian who’s maybe not quite as artistically talented as our love interest, the gifted and new-to-school Afro-Brazilian Flávia, with whom Nishat reunites at a Desi wedding after going to school together as kids. The girls have instant chemistry, but they also have a pretty instant problem, as Flávia not only creates a competing henna business for their class project, but sees no problem with having appropriated a cultural custom of Nishat’s to do it. (Not to mention that her partner is the school’s most notorious racist.) So now Nishat’s gotta contend with Feelings she really doesn’t wanna have, competition with a business that shouldn’t even exist, the fact that her coming out to her family didn’t go so well…but wait, there’s more! Is there possibly a happily ever after to be found amid all the drama? (Amz|B&N|IB)
If this book looks like the cutest, fluffiest, most make-you-melt kind of romance, it’s because it is…at least in the little romantic bubble that ensued when when Kai took advantage of a dare that requires Bryson Keller to agree to date the first person to ask him out every Monday morning for that week. But outside the bubble, the world is still wondering who Bryson Keller’s mystery girlfriend is, the one person not to shout from the rooftops that she’s got the guy. And Kai isn’t gonna be the one to tell them it isn’t a girl at all; his spontaneous request made Bryson the first and only person he’s ever come out to. But when both the answer and Kai himself are forcibly outed, he and the boy he’s come to fall for, the boy who’s only just realized he himself is gay, will have to band together and put their relationship through the ultimate test. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This post-apocalyptic debut set in the aftermath of a modern-day plague has trans, intersex, bisexual seventeen-year-old Pip taking fellow survivor twelve-year-old Iris under her wing. Together, the two are forced to flee Spokane to avoid slave traders, gangs, and all manners of violence, but they do find a third member of their new found family in a brave older girl named Fly. Now they must all work together to survive in their terrifying new reality. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Fresh out of UK YA’s 2019 lineup, this coming-of-age novel-in verse tells the story of a mixed-race (half Jamaican, half Greek Cypriot) gay kid named Michael who’s struggling to balance his identities and being different from other kids while growing up in London. It isn’t until he heads off to university that he finally finds his identity and style as a drag artist named The Black Flamingo. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Rosen already has one of my favorite queer YAs of all time with Jack of Hearts, but he managed to deliver another one packed with heart and important conversations in this wonderful love letter to queer spaces. When Randy returns to Camp Outland as Del in the hopes of finally landing The Guy (who happens to be an athlete, and who would never be caught dead with nail polish on his fingers), he’s convinced that if he can just land Hudson, the object of his long-time affection will fall in love with not just who he’s pretending to be that summer, but who he really is. It…goes about as well as you’d expect! But it also sets up an important exploration of masc4masc culture and what it means to change yourself for someone else. (Amz|B&N|IB)
The subtitle of this follow up to theAll Outanthology is “Queer We Go Again,” and if that’s not the best thing you’ve ever heard than we are very different people. This time around, the collection is going contemporary, with voices like Julian Winters (How to Be Remy Cameron), Katherine Locke (The Spy With the Red Balloon), CB Lee (Not Your Sidekick), Candice Montgomery (By Any Means Necessary), Caleb Roehrig (Death Prefers Blondes), Mark Oshiro (Anger is a Gift), and more taking a variety of genres set in the here and now and with one major thing in common: every main character is queer and/or trans. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This coming-of-age debut stars a trans boy named Pony who’s keeping his transness under wraps in his new school, exhausted with how much attention it garnered at his old one. Still, it’s hard not to stay on his guard, especially when he meets Georgia, a gorgeous cheerleader who’s ready to put her “keep a low profile” plans on hold when sparks fly with the new boy. The chemistry between them is utterly adorable, and Pony knows he can’t enter a physical relationship without telling her. He’ll have to decide whether she’s worth the risk, and whether his heart can take it if she isn’t. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Mashing romance with the unexpected is kinda Dietrich’s thing, for those who haven’t read The Love Interest, and here it’s romance and thriller that are going head to head. What happens when the son of a mobster and the son of a police commissioner realize they’ve got a thing for each other? Probably nothing neat and easy, but that’s the problem facing Matt and Jason, even if they don’t know it yet. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Sign me the hell up for literally every enemies-to-lovers f/f rom-com, but especially this one, where the girls who hate each other at Alabama’s Conservatory for the Arts have no idea they’re falling for each other online as they collaborate on a graphic novel for a fanfic site under their online identities. That’s…everything I love in book? Yep, pretty much! (Amz|B&N|IB)
Ami’s been living in seclusion her whole life at Heavenly Shepherd, her family’s survival compound. And it’s been fine, and even lucky, or so she thought. But then her grandfather arranges a marriage for her, and Ami realizes she’s not ready to live out her “destiny” to procreate, even if she’s one of the last few at the compound who can. And so she escapes on a search for her long-lost mother, and meets people her age for the very first time, including a girl she hadn’t even known she was capable of wanting. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Dylan and Ellis’s relationship is a secret, or at least it was until it was exposed online. Now Dylan’s been forced out, but is pleased to find the reception to his news is surprisingly positive. Wasn’t it? Because something has to explain why Ellis’s personality has suddenly changed, and why he lost control of the car. Something has to explain why Dylan lost Ellis to the lake that night. And as he mourns the loss of the boy he loved, Dylan is determined to figure out what it was, no matter how much it hurts. (The Book Depository)
Sapphic witches meets enemies-to-lovers in this bi f/f YA fairy tale about a girl named Lina who gives herself up to the queen in order to save the boy she loves from Caldella’s annual custom of sacrificing a boy to the full moon to save the city from the deadly tide. Queen Eva gladly accepts Lina’s sacrifice; as long as someone dies and the city is saved, that’s all that matters. Until they spend time together waiting for the full moon to come. Until Lina and Eva start to fall for each other. Until the streets begin to fill with water. Until a choice must be made whether to save themselves or their city. (Amz|IB)
Sage and Charlie are that non-couple, the one everyone things are destined for love, if only they’d figure it out. But Charlie isn’t the Carmichael twin Sage is into (that’d be his brother, Nick), and Charlie’s more interested in new boy Luke, something he isn’t comfortable with anybody knowing. As Charlie worries his secret relationship will get out and Sage stresses about things with Nick moving too fast, the two will have to find solace in each other and their friendship to make things work with their respective boyfriends. (Amz|B&N|IB)
When an earthquake quite literally rocks Sasha’s world, it leaves her effectively orphaned and living with her estranged grandparents, who have a vision of exactly how to turn Sasha into the perfect girl. But Sasha isn’t interested in their plans, including a relationship with the boy of their choosing; all she can do is try to make it work and find solace in the time she spends with Lily, a new friend who gives Sasha a serious case of Feelings. Being with Lily is definitely not The Right Path, but can Sasha put herself first even if it means upsetting the last family she has left? (Amz|B&N|IB)
Attending Pennington College and becoming a doctor has always been Liz’s plan for getting out of her small town, but when her financial aid falls through, the one thing she wanted most now looks impossible. Of course, there’s one shot at winning a scholarship, but that would mean winning becoming prom queen, and there’s no way she can deal with all the crap that involves, is there? With her eyes on the prize, Liz shoves her fear of the spotlight, trolls, and all the rest to the side, determined to one thing crown, and soon, there’s only one thing in the way: the fact that she’s falling for her competition. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Queer YA that discusses HIV are few and far between, but the slow climb has been one of the best trends of the past couple of years. Adding to that conversation in a big way is this Brazilian import set in Rio, and revolving around three boys: Ian, who was recently diagnosed positive; Victor, who was recently diagnosed negative, and Henrique, who’s been living with HIV for three years. Victor and Henrique are boyfriends, but Victor is seriously pissed to have learned of Henrique’s positive status only after they had sex. But when he meets Ian while they’re both getting tested and Ian’s test comes back positive, he knows Henrique’s guidance is too invaluable not to connect him with Ian, even if it means staying in his life. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Kisner is three for three in putting gloriously queer YA on shelves, and I am in love with the idea of this newest, which takes the famous “Twelve Angry Men” and situates it in Mock Trial with an ace lead. Raina’s killing it at life, until suddenly she isn’t. Millie’s in a similar spot, having just been ousted from the all-male Mock Trial team. When the two pair up to start a rival girls’ team, it isn’t just their opponents they’re gunning for—it’s the whole motherfluffin’ patriarchy. (Amz|B&N|IB)
‘Tis the year for political YAs, for obvious reasons, and this contemporary romance also does double duty of being a touching demisexual coming out story that happens to take place across the aisle. (The political aisle, that is.) When Dean, the son the of the Republican candidate, and Dre, son of the Democratic candidate, find themselves locked in close quarters, they’re surprised to find that they quite enjoy the company of someone else who knows what it’s like to be in the junior spotlight. Soon, romance sparks, which is a bit of problem considering the whole “opponents” thing, not to mention Dean still trying to figure out how to deal with and discuss the fact that he’s demisexual. But someone out there seems determined to make their problem much, much bigger, and they’ll have to figure out who wants their relationship outed, how they can make it work, and how they can reconcile a future. (Amz|B&N|IB)
Alex Sanchez is the author of the first gay YA I ever read, so it’s very cool to see him and Blue is the Warmest Color illustrator Julie Maroh picking up the pens for DC’s Aqualad. Set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, our hero Jake is decidedly not a swimmer, but he still loves the ocean and dreams of going to college on the coast. And so he secretly applies to Miami University, against the wishes of both his mother and his best friend. Hell, he’s already living dangerously just by having a crush on the rebellious swim team captain, Kenny. And there’s also the small matter of the blue marks on his skin that light up when they touch water…what’s the deal with those, anyway? (Amz|B&N|IB)
Love books that make you laugh, swoon, and cry? Then you are going to fall head over heels for Smyth’s debut, an Ireland-set romantic contemporary about a girl named Saiorse who’s losing her mother to early-onset dementia and is determined never to get involved with anyone as a result…until she meets Ruby, and all bets are off. The girls agree to a no-strings-attached summer of just the good parts of romance, the movie montage where the couple does all sorts of fun things as they fall in love. But when the end of the summer comes, will they be able to let go? (Amz|B&N|IB)
Yadriel’s family isn’t buying that he’s a boy, leaving him just one choice: prove that he’s a real brujo by finding and freeing the ghost of his murdered cousin. The only problem is that whoops, he’s accidentally summoned Julian Diaz, school bad boy, instead, and Julian isn’t having it, not without solving the mystery behind his death first, even if it means dragging Yadriel along as an unwilling participant. But the more time the boys spend together, the less, uh, “unwilling” their hanging out gets to be in this paranormal trans Latinx debut that promises to have your heart flip-flopping all over the damn place. (Also, let the record show that Thomas has another book releasing next year, and though it isn’t queer, that’s still pretty badass.) (Amz|B&N|IB)
Duet Books, the all-queer publisher responsible for Summer Love, among many other wonderful queer titles, is back with another short collection, this one populated by Julia Ember (The Seafarer’s Kiss), Jude Sierra (Idlewild), Tom Wilinsky and Jen Sternick (Snowsisters), and Kate Fierro (Love Starved). For more info on the book and the stories within it, click here. (Amz|IB|Book Depository)
In this queer retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, Ivory and Rosie have been on the road for years with their mother’s circus, and finally, they’re returning to Port End. But it’s a different Port End from what they remember, filled with preachers and fundamentalists and portents of doom. Still, they prepare a dazzling homecoming show, but when Rosie’s tightrope act goes wrong, Ivory and the magician she loves will have to find an evil priest and save their family. (Amz|B&N|IB)
This YA sci-fi Dystopian stars Nate, a genetically engineered medical surrogate (GEM) who was created to be a cure for the elite of Gathos City to help with the rapidly traveling fatal lung rot and was smuggled out of the lab as a child and kept prisoner in the lawless region of the Withers. There, he becomes a Tinker, fixing broken technology for room and board, and he meets and falls for the sweet Reed, who comes with a gang of misfits that feels like the first group Nate could ever call family. But as a GEM, Nate is reliant on a medication controlled by the city in order to stop from aging, and violence in the Withers cuts off his supply and harms Reed. Now Nate has to make a choice, whether he’s going to join a terrorist group to get the meds he needs to stay alive, or remain in the Withers with Reed and watch their lives ebb into nothing. (Amz|B&N|IB)
2020 is seriously Lee’s year, debuting with an MG series (yes, series—you can already preorder three of them) and with this bi K-pop that’s got one of my favorite covers ever and also happens to have a sequel in the works. Skye Shin knows no one thinks she or any other fat girl has any business on stage, but she doesn’t care what they say; she cares about becoming a K-Pop star. When a successful audition allows her to do just that, it’s a dream come true, even as trolls and fatphobes do their best to turn it into a nightmare. And then there’s Henry, who’s supposed to be Skye’s competitor, so why does she want nothing more than to, uh, make beautiful music with him? (Amz|B&N|IB)
Queer thrillers are having a fabulous day in the sun, and if you’re as big a fan of the genre as I am, then check out this one starring a bi girl named Flora who’s haunted by having found a classmate’s body years earlier and has all that pain brought to the forefront when a text from her old flame, Ava, has her showing up just in time to see her die. Now Flora’s on a determined mission to find not only who shot Ava, but who’s responsible for the deaths of all the girls whose killers have never been found and brought to justice. But she doesn’t expect the massive conspiracy she uncovers, and threats from the killer aren’t helping. If she gives up the hunt, she’ll never get justice. But if she doesn’t, she might not live to see another day. (Amz|B&N|IB)
But wait, there’s more! Stay tuned for a separate post on upcoming queer sequels! And until then, tell me: what YA are you dying to read in 2020?
This year adds some particularly wonderful and nuanced books to gay YA, and I’m so excited to have authors of two of them on the site today! When Greg Howard, author of Social Intercourse (which releases today!), contacted me about writing something for the site about sex in gay YA and the disparities and perceptions related to it, I immediately thought of Lev “L.C.” Rosen, whose Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) releases in October and deals with those things a lot. So I asked them to read each other’s books and discuss for the benefit of all of us, and here they are!
Lev: Hi Greg! I’ve been avoiding you on social media because I knew we’d end up talking about one another’s books, and I was trying to save that for this, so now we can let loose. Your book, Social Intercourse, opens with out-and-proud Beck trying to lose his virginity on what is essentially grindr. I loved that opening, and I was totally revving up for a queer American Pie style book (or, something like Not Another Gay Movie), but then you actually went in this sweeter direction—much more John Hughes. And I kept thinking about how Hughes’ films were fairly explicit for the time, while also being really sweet and romantic, and how you captured that spirit. So I guess my first question is—were you inspired by Hughes at all? Do you think that writing queer YA is sometimes about trying to capture those experiences that prior straight generations had, in terms of the stories they told? Hughes was, on some level, revolutionary in how explicit he was, but all his stories were straight. We never got to see ourselves in stories like those—are you trying to fix that?
Greg: Hey, Lev! I’ve been so excited to talk to you. Those are some interesting observations. When I first starting writing Social Intercourse, I did think the story was going to go in a different direction as you describe. But you know how it goes when characters take control of the story. The have a mind of their own! While Beck is out and proud and completely confident with who he is, there’s a vulnerability there that’s undeniable and sweet. And now that you mention it, (and I swear I didn’t realize this before), but I can see the John Hughes-esque similarities, but in a queer way. I grew up watching those movies—The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, et al, and yes, I always wished there was a LGBTQ equivalent. Even though I didn’t set out to accomplish that, I hope I did in some way. LGBTQ kids today need to see themselves represented in books and in movies. All of them, not just one type of queer kid.
What I love about my Beck and your Jack is that they are bold characterizations of gay boys that we don’t see very often taking center stage in YA lit and movies. They don’t blend in. They’re not straight-acting and they’re not afraid of exploring their sexuality. I swear I laughed so many times reading your book, Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), thinking “OMG! Beck and Jack are like twins separated at birth, one sent to live in New York and the other sent to live in South Carolina!” Jack is such a great character, and I love how sex positive he is. But I’ve learned with SI that there’s a bit of a double standard when it comes to het YA and LGBTQ YA as far as how far you can go. Did you get any push-back from your editor or agent to tone it down, or to pull back on some of Jack’s narrative about his sex life? And did you set out to show a queer boy who embraces his feminine side and so confident in his sexuality? Any similarities between Jack and your teenage self?
Lev: So many questions!
It’s funny, though I get what you’re saying about Beck and Jack—they’re both out and don’t mind wearing makeup—to me Beck is such a romantic, and Jack definitely isn’t. Beck might be trying to lose his virginity to some dude on grindr, but he says he wishes he could lose it to a real boyfriend who he has feelings for. Jack is way past the losing his virginity stage and didn’t lose it to a boyfriend—didn’t want to. He’s had plenty of sex, but just one boyfriend, and isn’t in any rush to repeat that. His best friend, Ben, on the other hand, is a total romantic, like Beck. I think Beck and Ben are more the twins. But they’re still really different, too. And that’s important. It’s so important for teens to see a variety of queer men in the world—there’s no wrong way to be gay. That’s why I put in so many queer characters. To show that everyone has their own way of being queer.
As for my editor, I was shocked, but no, she never asked me to pull it back. There’s one sex advice column towards the end that gets into some kinky stuff, and I put that in basically assuming she would be like “nope, too far”—I even had a backup column ready! But she had no problem with it. It was amazing. The whole thing has been kind of amazing. I wrote 99 pages of this in a strange furor, because I really wanted to explore the idea of “the good gay”—the way liberal straight society says they’re okay with queer people, but really they just mean queer people who behave to certain standards. In teens, that usually means sweet, romantic hand holding and a little making out—cute, essentially. Cute couples for straight society to go “awww” over and feel good about because it makes them feel accepting. But put an unapologetically slutty teenage gay boy in front of them, and suddenly it’s like “are you sure you’re making the right decisions?” or “maybe if you weren’t so in-your-face about it.” Queerness is acceptable to cisheteropatriarchal society within a set of limits – but go outside those limits and you become a “bad gay”—somehow who is broken, or self-hating, or just bad, and frowned upon. That’s what I really wanted to talk about.
So I write these 99 pages, in like a week or two, but I have this rule: once I pass the 99 page mark, I have to finish the book. Luckily, I’m friends with Alvina Ling, who edited one of my previous books, and I asked her if she would read these 99 pages and tell me if I should just stop, because it would never get published. I literally said “I think it might be a terrible idea.” So, she read them, and when she finished she said “have your agent send these pages to me officially.” So I didn’t have any pushback, ever. Alvina may have though, because I think that the conversation about sex and YA and queer sex and YA is one that’s happening a lot in the editor/gatekeeper/reader.
There have been more and more YA books with gay sex. Look at Release, by Patrick Ness. That has quite the gay sex scene in it, but, and this is the interesting thing: you don’t hear about it that much. And that’s the thing editors are looking out for. There’s a double-standard about sex and queer sex in YA, but it’s not coming from writers. It’s coming from what books people are talking about. And part of that might be gatekeepers—gay books of any kind (with sex or not) are challenged and banned FAR more often than straight books with sex. And when that happens, publishers see it and go “oh, gay sex doesn’t sell” and then even if they love some queer sex-heavy YA, getting it through acquisitions becomes much more difficult. Queer books have to make up for that banning and pushback by gathering fans elsewhere, which isn’t easy.
I feel like the good fight is happening with editors and publicists, and all we can do is give them the weapons to fight with. Readers need to flock behind books with gay sex to get more of them, need to shout about them from the rooftops and tell everyone they know… but readers, even queer ones, are often nervous about saying “I loved this book with teens having gay sex!” Which I get, adults talking about teens having sex is weird. But with abstinence only education on the rise again, maybe it’s time we start talking more about sex, gay sex, and teenagers having safe, consensual sex. Otherwise, kids won’t be hearing about sex from anywhere except from porn sites.
Personally, I’d love to hear about how it’s going for our editors and publicists, though, the ones who have to push for the books even when these things are harder to talk about. (Perhaps a good followup Dahlia?) (Blogger’s Note: EXTREMELY HERE FOR IT.)
As for me in high school, no, I was not much like Jack. My high school was like Jack’s though: a private school in Manhattan with an emphasis on ethics. It was only like five years ago I was there, of course, but there weren’t as many of us out students (my old teachers who still work there tell me that now over 20% of the student body identifies as some kind of queer). So I don’t know who I’d be were I a student there today, but then, I was way more like Jeremy, Jack’s ex, and president of the GSA. I was GSA co-head, and like Jeremy, I was concerned that anything other queer men did would reflect on me, and so I wanted them all to behave in a way that would make sure people took us (me) seriously.
That was always my big issue—if you acted “too gay,” then I felt like no one took anything you said seriously. I also always felt like people were trying to make me act more “gay,” too—even other queer people—and I don’t respond well to being told what to do (what teenager does?), so I tried to avoid that. I remember there was an article in Vogue or something when I was in high school about how every girl needed a gay BFF, and it talked about us like we were purses, like we were actual accessories for straight women. And after that article came out, girls I hadn’t been friendly at all with suddenly were talking to me and trying to be my friend. That made me so angry. I’m still fucking angry. Anger wrote this book.
How about you? Any pushback from your editor on the sexier stuff in the book? I was most surprised by the masturbation scene. We don’t see a lot of that—much less asshole fingering—in YA, and it was definitely the most graphic moment in your book. Is that because it was the one scene they let you keep? Was there any pushback on it?
And was either Beck or Jax based on your own teenager-hood? You’re from the south, I know, but did you go to a lot of Drag Queen Beauty Parlors as a kid? Did you have a drag name?
Greg: I guess you’re right about Beck having some Ben in him too. (I was crushing on Ben, big time.) In my book, Beck wants to be get his slutty phase out of the way so he can be ready for Mr. Right down the road. And Jax, the closeted bi-sexual football star obviously complicates matters for him. Beck is terribly attracted to Jax but really doesn’t want to be, so he fights it.
And I think that’s so interesting that you identified more as the Jeremy in your book when you were in high school. I like to say, Beck is the kid I wish I had been in high school. I graduated a few years (*ahem*) before you, and honestly I didn’t know of one out gay person in my high public school of 1500 students. I knew of some that were in the closet like me, but I was also busy trying to “pray the gay away.” I came from a very religious home and one of those small Southern towns with a church on every street corner. That’s why religion plays such a prominent role in Social Intercourse. Even so, I had a great high school experience, and was popular—but only because I hid who I really was. I dated girls and fooled around with other closeted guys on the side, and then felt guilty and prayed to God for forgiveness. It was an icky and unhealthy cycle. And newsflash: “Praying the gay away” doesn’t work!
I was unagented when I wrote Social Intercourse, so during the querying process, I received several requests for additional pages and the full manuscript, but I also got several “this is too much for YA” kind of responses, which I found perplexing. I didn’t think my book was very racy at all. Not compared to some cishetero YA romances. Luckily I found the perfect agent who “got it” right away and helped me polish it—but not tone it down. I told her I didn’t want to water it down and she was okay with that. When she started submitting the manuscript to editors, we got a similar response. “Hilarious, love the writing, love the voice, but might be too much for us to publish.” Again—me—perplexed. Other than the one gay masturbation scene and the one het oral sex scene, there’s no sex on the page! Sure there’s a lot for frank discussion about sex, and that anal masturbation scene is kind of graphic, but come on—that’s it!
Fortunately David Gale at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers also “got it” right away and made a pre-empt offer pretty quickly. So props to our publishers Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Little, Brown! And no—David never asked me to tone down the racy bits. I don’t know if he received any pushback internally. If he did, he never told me about it. But we had the discussion and he agreed that yes—there is a double standard when it comes to LGBTQ YA and cishetero YA.
I also learned about yet another double standard. A straight female writer can go “a lot farther” with gay stories in regards to sex than an Own Voices author. Somehow it’s deemed “safer” when a straight woman writes it, and when it comes from a gay male writer, it’s perceived as more “subversive”. I had several professionals and established authors in the publishing industry confirm that to me also. Nobody was saying it was right…just that yes—it’s a thing. But I feel that it’s as much as reader issue as a “gatekeeper” one. Some non-queer readers want safe, sweet, romanticized representations of queer kids like you said. Gay men tend to write more from their own experiences which is a little too raw, real, and authentic for some readers.
I have a very liberal straight female friend who loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and was trying to convince her very conservative friend who was leery of the gay content, to let her teen daughter read it—who was dying to. And it was only when my liberal friend told her conservative friend that the book was written by a straight woman, that she let her daughter read it. Ugh! But at least that kid got to read the book. But you’re right, I think it is slowly getting better from the publishing end of things and hopefully readers will love and support characters like Jack and Beck, just as much as they love Becky Albertalli’s Simon if they give them a chance. And I do think writers like Becky Albertalli are opening mainstream doors for us Own Voices writers, which I know is important to Becky, so I say thank you and more power to her and those like her.
And I will be honest, when I was in high school, I didn’t even know what a drag queen was, much less have a drag name! I only “came out to myself” after college when I moved to Nashville and a drag show was my first gay bar experience (at 23 y/o). I remember thinking what the hell is this?! But I felt right at home in that bar, with those other LGBTQ people…something I’d never felt before and that was powerful.
And speaking of feeling right at home, I love that both Beck and Jax have supportive parents in Social Intercourse. That was pure fantasy for me when writing the book. I wish I would have had a relationship with my dad like Beck has with his. And I loved the relationship between Jack and his mom in your book. So real. So easy. So loving. Also, Beck and Jack both have some great, supportive close friends. Beck’s best friend Shelby is amalgamation of my three best friends now. Were Jack’s close relationships inspired by yours with your parent(s) and friends when you were a teen?
Lev: I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. I’m lucky in that I skipped over most of the shame/fear parts of coming out and went right to the angry. I was in a liberal environment, my parents and friends were generally great about it, it was the folks who didn’t really know me—the ones who watched me and assumed things about me – that I had the biggest issue with. I did go to an orthodox temple, where the rabbi told me homosexuality was immature and something people needed to get over (not knowing I was gay), but I was able to give up on going there after my bar-mitzvah. It did fuck up my relationship with Judaism for a while, but I don’t know how that could have been avoided.
When I moved to Ohio for college, that’s when I experienced more of the fear of being openly queer in the world. It’s not like New York is a bubble—I still get people shouting “faggot” on the street at me—but I never feel like I’m entering enemy territory here. Maybe because I grew up here. But Ohio, and other rural places I’ve visited—that’s where I get that fear feeling. I change the way I walk, lower my voice. If it feels like a place that would be unfriendly to Jews, I change my name to Lee, too. Growing up with that must have been really terrible. Especially if you thought prayer was going to help. Being gay is a gift.
But, getting less somber—that story about your friend’s friend only giving her daughter Simon when she found out it was written by a woman is FASCINATING. I just did an interview with i-D about m/m ownvoices in YA and why they’re important. What I said was that when straight people write queer characters, they do so seeing queer people through a “straight gaze”—and they’re pretty much writing them for other straight people. They’re telling our stories for themselves, and we become these adorable little puppets they can project things onto—lust, pity, whatever. It’s objectifying. And then those are the stories that are out there—the ones little queers see, the ones straight people see and use to form their opinions about queer people. We become objects and then no one has a chance to see our humanity. And maybe that humanity, as you say, is too real, too raw, and that’s what straight folks are afraid of. That they’ll see what this world really is like for us, instead of for these symbols of us. Seeing someone else’s humanity when you’re part of a society that crushes that humanity can be a terrible thing.
I don’t mind straight people writing queer characters—that’s diversity, and it can be good when done with love and sensitivity readers. But when they take on specifically queer stories, before any of us have a chance to tell those stories from our POV? It’s cutting in line. It’s usurping our stories for their puppet shows. And it ain’t cool. I hope you can smuggle a copy of your book to that girl who was so eager to read Simon.
I loved how you distinguished between the types of Christianitys (Christianities?)—how there were loving Christians who had no problem with queer folks, but there were also the ones with the signs and the angry faces (we had those in Ohio) who protested a dance. You didn’t just say “Christians are bad”—you said “these Christians are bad.” I feel like that’s a nuance we don’t often see when we talk about religion and queerness. If it’s not too personal, have you found a sort of Christianity that works for you? That doesn’t ask you to pray anything away? Or do you think that upbringing really screwed up your relationship with religion? Do you think there is a way to be happy, Christian and queer?
I’m glad you brought up the parents in your book, though, because Jax’s mom? I was SO angry at her. Beck’s dad was great, and JoJo was amazing, but Jax’s mom was outing her son all over the place! I kept yelling at her “you’re queer! You should know this isn’t cool!” What made you want to write that kind of a character—one who’s perhaps so supportive they end up being harmful? Because I found her fascinating, even as I felt she needed a scolding. You know any moms like that? It’s so interesting, as we get more supportive parents, I’m curious about where the line is between supportive—and too supportive. Where do you think it is?
Jack’s mom in Jack of Hearts isn’t at all inspired by my parents. My parents are supportive (fun fact: they’ve read the book), but I don’t think either of them ever partied at Studio 54. Jack’s mom really came from a desire for a cool mom, who wouldn’t mind her son writing a sex advice column, but not so cool that she’d brush off him hiding a stalker from her. Someone Jack felt a need to protect, on some level. All of Jack’s friends have parts of people I know, but I didn’t consciously think “I shall base this person on that one” or anything. Jeremy was kind of me, like I said, but so is Ben, and so is Jenna… everyone is me. I write from a place of pure narcissism. But I think we all do, to some degree.
Greg: Wow. Sounds like you had your own interesting journey with religion and being gay as well. I did finally reconcile my faith with my sexuality and what a burden lifted that was. If you believe in God talking to you, it was kind of like hearing them say “Well, duh. Of course there’s nothing wrong with you. I made you perfectly.” But alas, the older I get, the more agnostic I become. But I absolutely believe there is a place in the Christian church for LGBTQ people. And I knows lots of happy queer Christians. We have several Christian churches here in Nashville that are open, welcoming, and affirming to the LGBTQ community. And I’m SO glad you didn’t think the message in my book was that all Christians are bad or that Christianity, in general, was bad. That was not my intent at all. But I guess is was important for me to show the “good” Christians, who are truly about love and compassion and core principles of the teachings of Christ. So many queer people were hurt by the church and the “bad” Christians get all the press, so that’s all some queer people see of the church—the hate.
But, getting less religiousy—just like there are all types of queer teens, there are all kinds of parents of queer teens. And like you said, as we get more supportive parents out there, it’s breaking new ground and some are figuring it out as they go. They just know they love and support their kids. So with Beck’s mom and dad, and with Jax’s moms, I wanted to show supportive parents, but different types of support! Beck’s dad, Roger and Jax’s mom, JoJo get it right most all the time, Beck’s mom, Lana is supportive, but she doesn’t always get it right. Poor Tracee, Jax’s other mom, tries a little too hard, but she means well. And she has quite the story arc herself. I get why you had such a strong negative reaction to her and so does Beck in the story.
Okay now, I HAVE to ask you about those letters and columns! WOW. Bravo to you for going balls to the walls on those. (no pun intended). I believe I read in the acknowledgments that you had a little input or got some ideas from friends, right? Did like your friends ask you some questions then you formulated the emails to Jack and his responses? Any first hand experiences sprinkled in those letters or columns? (Okay—that’s probably too personal). But tell me EVERYTHING about that part of the process of writing this book.
Oh—and by the way—that fourteen-year-old girl who wanted to read Simon so badly, my friend talked her mom into bringing her to my launch party for Social Intercourse!
Lev: Okay, that’s an amazing happy ending for the Story of the Girl Who Wanted to Read Simon. I am thrilled, please send me photos of you giving her a copy of the book and her subsequent review.
As for the letters and columns, many I came up with on my own, but I did also crowdsource actual questions. Usually, they were short, and I made them into big longer questions. So, the one from the guy who wants to sleep around but keeps developing crushes on his one night stands? That was just someone asking “how can I not fall in love with every guy I fuck?” I switched the sexes around, because I wanted to play with some toxic masculinity tropes, and made it into a longer letter, but the inspiration came from a friend.
Some of my friends’ teen kids asked questions, too. I got the asexuality one from one of them. I didn’t get to every question people asked (some I didn’t think Jack would have the answer to, especially if they were more vaginally focused), but I definitely wanted to reach out and get questions from teens or people who had been teens because I think even as adults these days we have a lot of questions.
One of the things they say in the book is there’s no talk of queer sex in sex-ed classes, and with kids coming out earlier and earlier, that’s an issue. They can figure out the basic premise of giving a blowjob, but if they want to try anal sex? That’s more complicated, and if they’re only getting sex-ed from porn, it is not going to go how they think it will.
Did you see the article in the Times magazine a while back about teens learning so much sex stuff from porn? It’s fascinating and kind of terrifying, too. And that’s for straight porn, which admittedly has different issues, but I think about gay teens going “okay, sex for us MUST be anal, and spit will be a fine lubricant.” So I definitely wanted to cover some of the basics, too, to counteract that idea of easy porn sex. And I brought in a sex-educator to help me make sure nothing Jack said was actively harmful. I didn’t want him to give perfect advice, but I wanted to make sure it was still solid, working advice. But writing the questions was fun. Writing Jack answering the questions was fun, too, because he’s finding his voice there, and he’s really in control of his own narrative for once, instead of being the subject of gossip about how slutty he is.
I really wanted Jack to control the stories of his own sex life, so I fade to black for most sex scenes, but then tell his stories through the column. I wanted to show him really controlling his own sexual narrative. And I’m going to control my own sexual narrative by saying I won’t be talking about my sex life, but I’m sure people will assume Jack’s experiences are based on mine. Which is hilarious, since so much of the book is about not assuming things about peoples sex lives. I did have a bunk-bed, though.
So, I think we should wrap this up before people get bored, But thank you for having us and let us ramble, Dahlia! And as my final question, I know I’m just starting to get ready for Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) coming out at the end of October, and I have some other projects I can’t talk about, but you’re about to launch! You have a launch party you said, anything else coming up? I think I read you sold a middle-grade book, too?
Greg: That is all so fascinating to me. You did a superb job on the both the letters to Jack and his columns. It really was a breath of fresh (and as you said, much needed) air for queer YA.
Well – I call foul on this “some other projects I can’t talk about” business. But I get it, and I look forward to when you can share more. I am SO excited for Jack, Ben, and Jenna to get out into the world and I will be cheering you on every step of the way.
As for me, yes, my launch party for Social Intercourse is fast approaching and I have a few other upcoming events related to that release. And you alluded to my debut middle grade book coming up. It’s called The Whispers and will be published by Putnam/Penguin some time in the Spring of 2019. (Available for pre-order now!) It’s completely different from Social Intercourse, focusing on a queer eleven-year-old boy who’s mother goes missing and he seeks out mythical wood creatures called the Whispers, who he believes can help him find her. It has hints of magical realism and fantasy while also being firmly rooted in the reality of the deep South. It’s the most personal story I’ve ever written, and even so, I can’t wait to share it with the world. Because, yes, Virginia, there ARE queer eleven-year-olds!
Thanks, Lev. It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you. Good luck! And thanks Dahlia for letting us ramble!
Lev: Yes, thanks so much Dahlia! And thank you, Greg! It was a lot of fun!</p>
Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina, or as he fondly refers to it, “the armpit of the American South.” By the time he could afford professional therapy and medication, the damage had already been done. His hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South,” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination.
Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. After running away to the bright lights and big city of Nashville, Tennessee with stars in his eyes and dreams of being the Dianne Warren of Music City, he took a job peddling CDs and has been a cog in the music business machine ever since.
Now an adult with a brain, Greg finds the South Carolina coast to be a perfectly magical place where he vacations yearly and dreams of the day when he can return to write full time in the most tastefully decorated beach house on Pawleys Island.
Greg’s debut adult paranormal novel, BLOOD DIVINE, was released by Wilde City Press in September 2016. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers acquired Greg’s debut young adult novel, SOCIAL INTERCOURSE, which will be released in Spring 2018
LEV AC ROSEN is the author of books for all ages. Two for adults: All Men of Genius (Amazon Best of the Month, Audie Award Finalist) and Depth (Amazon Best of the Year, Shamus Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Science Fiction for April). Two middle-grade books: Woundabout (illustrated by his brother, Ellis Rosen), and The Memory Wall. His first Young Adult Novel, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) is forthcoming in 2018. His books have been sold around the world and translated into different languages as well as being featured on many best of the year lists, and nominated for awards.
Lev attended Oberlin College, where he majored in creative writing, and then Sarah Lawrence College, where he received his MFA in fiction. Just after graduating from Oberlin, his short story Painting was the inaugural piece for the ‘New Voices’ section of the renowned Esopus magazine. He has written articles for numerous blogs, including booklifenow and tor.com, and been interviewed by several magazines and blogs including Clarkesworld and USA Today.
Lev is originally from lower Manhattan and now lives in even lower Manhattan, right at the edge, with his husband and very small cat.