Today on the site I’m excited to be sharing the entire first chapter from Jessica Verdi’s upcoming Follow Your Arrow, which releases from Scholastic on March 2nd and centers on setting biphobia on fire. Or I could just let the publisher describe the book in a slightly classier way:
CeCe Ross is kind of a big deal. She and her girlfriend, Silvie, are social media influencers with zillions of fans and followers, known for their cute outfits and being #relationshipgoals.
So when Silvie breaks up with her, CeCe is devastated. She’s lost her first love, and now she can’t help but wonder if she’ll lose her followers as well.
Things get even messier when CeCe meets Josh, a new boy in town who is very much Not Online. CeCe isn’t surprised to be falling for a guy; she’s always known she’s bi. And Josh is sweet and smart and has excellent taste in donuts… but he has no idea that CeCe is internet-famous. And CeCe sort of wants to keep it that way.
But when CeCe’s secrets catch up to her, she finds herself in the middle of an online storm, where she’ll have to confront the blurriness of public vs. private life, and figure out what it really means to speak her truth.
And here’s the first chapter of Finding Your Arrow!
I study the app post like it’s a Renaissance painting, dissecting and analyzing each detail before tapping the button that will send it out to the world. It took me ten minutes of crafting and deleting and rewriting to land on this combination of words and images and emphasis, but I’m still not sure about it.
Do the all-caps and exclamation points convey the right level of enthusiasm, or does the tone tip over into annoying? And I purposely limited the hashtags to three, because too many and people will just scroll right by instead of putting in the effort to read, but maybe I should have hashtagged #spring and #news too? For discoverability? And the emojis . . . I love emojis, but sometimes I wonder if everyone else in the world is over them and I’m showing how out of touch I am when I use them too much. Not that anyone’s said, “Hey, CeCe, you might want to rethink how many emojis you use” or anything. I just . . . I don’t know. I worry.
“Does this look okay?” I ask Silvie, holding the screen out. We’re lying on the floor in her room—our usual hangout spot. My leg is draped over hers, and we’re both scrolling on our phones—our usual position.
Silvie’s room is spacious, artfully designed, and looks like an #ad. Lots of white furniture, framed photography, and intentional pops of color. We spend most of our time at Silvie’s house, especially on weekends when my mom’s working long hours, or when we have a video to record or a livestream to do, like today. The sleek lines and bright light of her bedroom make for a way more professional backdrop than the chaos of mine.
Silvie skims my post draft in one point five seconds, then glances back at me. “Looks good. Why haven’t you posted it yet?”
“I needed to get it right.”
She rolls her eyes. “Ceece, we go live in”—she checks the time on her own phone—“ten minutes. Just post it; it doesn’t need to be perfect.”
She doesn’t get it. She could post Hey. Live video at 1. Watch it. and get fifty thousand likes and a hundred new followers within minutes. Everyone loves Silvia Castillo Ramírez.
I, on the other hand, have had to work incredibly hard to get people to like me and care about what I have to say.
I hold my breath and tap post. “Okay. Done.” Silvie goes back to scrolling.
When I first joined social media in seventh grade, @Hi_Im_CeCeRoss was a lot different than it is now. Not only my follower count and reach, but the content itself. The few people who actually read my posts probably got a kick out of the twelve-year-old white girl in the Midwest going on epic rants about #gerrymandering and #prisonreform and #healthcarepolicies. But I’d been fighting against my father’s conservative beliefs pretty much since I was old enough to speak. It was not only all I knew; it was who I was. And at first, the app felt like a natural extension of that: a chance to express my views without my dad telling me I was wrong, or that I’d understand when I was older, or that I was embarrassing myself. I didn’t edit, didn’t self-censor, didn’t obsess. I posted whatever was on my mind.
But then my father left.
And everything changed.
Suddenly I didn’t want to be The Girl with All the Opinions anymore, the girl who was so strong-willed, so defiant, it had torn her family apart. I just wanted to be happy, for once. I wanted—needed—a chance to breathe.
When Silvie and I met, she already had a following online—people actually listened to her, looked to her for her thoughts and perspective. Sure, her feed was mainly about stuff like #fashion and #style, but still. She was happy.
So I followed her lead.
For over two years now, I’ve done everything I can to make it look like my life is as shiny and special as Silvie’s. And that’s the thing about social media: You get to decide how people see you. You can become a casual, confident, carefree girl with more friends than she can keep track of and not a single problem to be seen. Every post, each comment, is another stitch in the tapestry of my online world. A heavily filtered selfie here, a post with a potentially controversial opinion edited out before being posted there, and about a zillion tongue-biting, sugary-sweet replies to haters. And honestly, even the haters are tolerable, because #lifestyle influencing might invite eye rolls, but it rarely invites the vitriol that fighting over immigration policies does. It certainly doesn’t lead to shouting matches so intense they make the walls of your house shake. It doesn’t stretch the limits of family, and it doesn’t result in divorce.
“You really need to stop overanalyzing everything,” Silvie says, clicking her phone off, untangling her leg from mine, and standing to stretch. It’s an unseasonably warm day for late March in Cincinnati, but the loss of skin-to-skin contact sends an instant shiver over me. “It’s not good for you.”
That’s where she’s wrong.
Overanalyzing—though I prefer to call it curating—has worked. Silvie may have 1,200,000 followers, but I have 985,000. She might have six sponsorships at the moment, but I have four. We’re both continually featured on Famous Birthdays’s “trending influencers” list.
Life isn’t perfect, the world isn’t perfect, but the time I spend on the app is as close to perfect as I’ve found. It’s my loophole. And I’d like to keep it.
Speaking of, I need to retouch my makeup before we go live. I sit at Silvie’s vanity and uncap the eyeliner I keep at her house, while she comes up behind me and grabs her brush. People often do double takes when they meet my girlfriend in person for the first time, because her combination of blue-green eyes, dark hair, and olive skin is unexpected. But those same people invariably go back for a third and fourth glance. Silvie is truly one of the most beautiful people most of us have ever seen, even online.
I, along with most of the world, am a little more ordinary-looking than Silvie. But in moments like this, studying our side-by-side reflections, it’s not hard to see what our fans see: Silvie and I don’t only look good together; we look like we go together. Our hair is almost the same shade of dark brown—Silvie’s long, mine falling in a blunt bob to just above my chin. And even though Silvie’s seven inches taller than me, we fit. My skin is pale, and my eyes are a basic brown, but I think I have nice eyebrows and shoulders, and my earlobes are just the right shape for earrings. The ones I’m wearing right now are little yellow dangly houses; they were a birthday gift from Silvie last year. Silvie’s wearing the lesbian like whoa T-shirt she got at a thrift store.
She finishes fixing her loose side pony, and I wordlessly hand her a bottle of hand lotion. Whenever she brushes her hair, she likes to rub a tiny bit of lotion into her hands, then gently tamp down the frizzies on the top of her head. After being together for over two years, we know each other’s quirks like they’re our own. “This stuff is the best, isn’t it?” she says as she squeezes a small amount of lotion into her palm and massages her hands together.
“What, the hand cream?” I lean closer to the mirror and dab some of Silvie’s coral-tinted lip gloss onto my lips.
“Yeah, all the Dana & Leslie stuff. It’s insane that they’re not more mainstream.”
“Well, that’s what they have you for.” I give her a smile, then quickly devote my attention to applying a pointless second layer of lip gloss.
Dana & Leslie is the gender-inclusive, organic, cruelty-free skincare brand Silvie’s an ambassador for. I fully support their mission, and the partnership has been great for Silvie, but if I’m being honest, I can’t stand the cloying smell of that lotion. And the face wash dried my skin out.
I’ve been avoiding sharing my opinions on Dana & Leslie with Silvie, because she’s really proud of her collaboration with them, and I don’t want to start a fight or come across as unsupportive. I even purposely left all the products she gave me out in plain view on my bedside table at home just so she would see them when she came over.
But I guess I don’t have her fooled. She’s staring at me, unblinking, in the mirror, clearly waiting for a more emphatic agreement that Dana & Leslie products are, in fact, “the best.”
Silvie and I mastered the art of the face-off long ago, and I have no choice but to allow myself to stare back. I know what she’s thinking, she knows what I’m thinking, and we both know we’re on a moving bus, just a stop or two away from The Argument of the Day.
But we’re only four minutes out from one p.m., so Silvie returns the Dana & Leslie lotion to its home on the vanity and wordlessly finishes her hair.
“Looks nice,” I say gently, an attempt at keeping the atmosphere light.
Silvie and I have always bickered. It used to be a point of pride for me. It proved, I thought, that you can be in a committed, long-term relationship with another person but still have your own thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes. Like this painting I saw once at a museum of two people forehead to forehead, balancing on a board placed on top of a ball. I remember thinking that, apart from it being a man and a woman in the painting, the depiction could have been me and Silvie. Two individuals, each unique and strong-willed, yet when they’re together, perfectly balanced. Not halves of a whole, but two wholes who do better together than apart.
Lately, though, the board has tipped, and our balance is off. It seems every little thing I’ve said or done these last few days has annoyed Silvie. She hasn’t been smiling as much, hasn’t been finding excuses to touch or hug or kiss me all the time like she used to. The bickering has turned into arguing, and the arguments are taking longer and longer to rebound from.
I know she’s stressed about the prom planning. It’s part of her responsibilities as president of our school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (I’m vice president—our dynamic is nothing if not consistent). Silvie and I had planned to spend this afternoon brainstorming not-cheesy prom theme ideas to bring to our next GSA meeting. We also wanted to put out feelers to @DJRio, a Chicago-based DJ who follows us both on the app, to see if he’d consider DJing our prom. But I can’t help but feel like there’s something else going on with her.
“Just don’t post about it,” she says finally, her tone clipped.
“Post about what?”
“That you don’t like the Dana & Leslie products. It was really nice of them to send extra freebies for you.”
In one second flat, the air in the room goes stale.
“Are you kidding me?” I splutter.
“Since when do I post about stuff like that?”
This makes no sense. I don’t post anything without double- and triple-checking it. I would never do anything to jeopardize Silvie’s career, or the work we both do, or our freaking relationship.
She knows that. But all she says is “Just saying.”
“Right, okay.” I mimic the action of typing on my phone and pretend to read aloud. “Hey, just thought you’d all like to know that Dana & Leslie, the company my girlfriend, Silvia Castillo Ramírez, is an ambassador for, is overpriced garbage and I don’t know why anyone would ever want to use the stuff. ’K’ byeeee!”
I wait for her to apologize. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it. She doesn’t. She simply picks up her phone again and asks, her voice flat, “Ready to go live?”
NO, I’m not ready to go live, I want to retort. You’re being a brat and really unfair and we need to talk about this.
But it’s one o’clock. We have work to do.
I check my teeth in the reflective, silvery material of my phone case, and nod. Without further discussion, we sit on Silvie’s bed. Our bodies inch closer together and our smiles appear. Silvie hits the go live button.
“Hey, everyone!” I say, giving a little wave as the screen projects our images back to us.
“Happy Saturday!” Silvie says.
“And happy spring!” I add. Today is March 20, the official first day of spring. I love spring. The hours of sunlight stretch longer, you can wear dresses without tights underneath, and avocados are in season again.
“Oh yeah! Spring break is only three weeks away!” Silvie says. “I’m going to Mexico to visit my grandparents, and we have plans to spend a few days at the beach. I cannot wait.”
“Bring me back a seashell?” I squeeze her hand, and she laughs.
“I’ll bring you a hundred seashells, babe.” She looks at me with hearts in her eyes, and I take my first real breath since the lotion debacle. We’re back at equilibrium, I think with no small measure of relief. It was just bickering, not fighting. She’s not mad at me. Everything’s fine.
“We have lots to share today, so let’s get to it, shall we?” Silvie says.
“Yes, let’s!” I slide a sealed brown box across the bed into the camera frame and grab scissors from Silvie’s nightstand. “This package just arrived this morning from an awesome new company called Benevolence.” Silvie holds the camera steady as I slice the packing tape open. Our followers love a good #unboxing vid, and I have to admit, I do too. There’s something inherently relatable about the feeling you get when a new package arrives on your doorstep, the little thrill that zips through you as you open it up, eager for its secrets to be revealed. Will the item inside match your expectations? Will it fit? Will it be the right color? Or maybe it’s a gift from someone, and you have no idea what you’ll find beneath the cardboard box flaps.
Silvie and I don’t have an official commission-based or pay-for-posts arrangement with Benevolence, but companies often send us free stuff in the hopes that we’ll share the products on our app accounts. We almost always do. Once or twice we decided not to because the company that sent the stuff was well-known for supporting politicians whose values didn’t align with our own, but that doesn’t happen often.
I remove the packing materials and extract the pieces of clothing one by one, holding them up for the camera. Scrunchy blue socks. A soft tank top in a red-and-white geometric pattern. A forest-green cropped-length hoodie. A pair of mustard-yellow short-shorts with white polka dots.
“Oooh, give me those!” Silvie says, propping the phone up on her nightstand so she’s free to duck out of frame and try the shorts on.
I keep talking, keep describing the clothes to our over 70,000 real-time viewers. “This stuff is super cute,” I say honestly. “And the best part is it’s all eco-friendly.” I take the little information card out of the box and read aloud. “Benevolence clothing is made from one hundred percent hemp, which requires fewer chemicals and much less water than cotton to produce.”
I have a captive audience—I could totally take this opportunity to talk more about the importance of choosing carbon-neutral and sustainable products when buying new, but I don’t. Environmental efforts are considered political, and I make sure to keep politics far away from my content. “Everything is so soft!” I say instead, sliding the fabric of the tank top between my thumb and pointer finger. “I bet this would look great under a pair of overalls.”
Silvie pops back into the shot, doing a spin and showing off the shorts, which fit her perfectly, surprising literally no one. Her legs are so long that shorts always look good on her. The girl is like a freaking mannequin.
“These shorts are mine now, thank youuu,” she says with an adorable gleam in her eye.
“You look amazing, babe,” I tell her, and she grins.
She picks up the phone again and leaps onto the bed beside me, bouncing us both. “Okay! Ready for the other big news?”
“Yes!” I say eagerly, though of course I already know what she’s about to say.
“June is a little over two months away, and you know what June is?” She grins at me.
“June is Pride month!” I reply.
“Yup! Each year, throughout the month of June, Pride parades and celebrations are held in cities across the world.” Silvie’s facing the camera again. “And . . .”
She pauses for dramatic effect, and I do a little drumroll sound. “CeCe and I have been asked to lead this year’s march on Cincinnati! We’re going to be the grand marshals at our hometown Pride parade on June fifth!” She sends up a confetti filter over our faces.
“Not only that,” I add, “but we’ve been asked to give a speech at the pre-march rally!”
Talk about #goals. By its nature, this event will be slightly more political than our usual thing, which is a little scary. But I’ve worked so hard to get people to like me, and this invite is proof that I’ve made it. People want to hear me and Silvie speak. They care what we have to say. Even just the idea of that is a dream for me. How could I say no? And besides, Silvie and I will be doing it together, standing side by side, addressing a crowd full of allies with a speech we both wrote.
Silvie gives our now 78,000 real-time viewers a few more details and sets a countdown clock on her app profile. “We still have some time before the event, obviously,” she says, “but mark your calendars if you live in the Cincinnati area! We want to meet as many of you as we can!”
We end the live session the same way we always do: I throw an arm around her and kiss her on the cheek. Sometimes Silvie kisses me in these moments, and sometimes I kiss her. But it’s always on the cheek, and always right before we sign off.
The feed stops.
“Hey, I’m sorry about earlier . . .” I begin lightly, riding the high from our announcement, but Silvie pulls away.
And just like that, the energy bleeds from the room, seeping under the door and through the air conditioner vents.
She’d only been pretending everything was normal during the live feed; I see that now. I should have seen it earlier, but I wanted everything to be fine so badly that I chose to pretend her way-too-fast mood shift was real.
Silently, Silvie adds the video to her stories stream and tags me, then starts scrolling mindlessly, her eyes affixed to the screen.
“What’s wrong?” I ask after a moment. It comes out whinier than I’d planned. I want to add, Don’t make me guess. Just talk to me—we’ll figure it out. I love you. But I don’t say anything more.
She shakes her head. “Forget it.”
“Forget what?” I honestly don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore.
“Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But I do want to talk about it.” I need answers. Clarity.
Silvie doesn’t say anything. She’s still looking down at her phone, scrolling so quickly I know she’s not actually absorbing the posts.
“I’m sorry I don’t like the Dana & Leslie stuff, okay?” I continue. “But is that a requirement? That we have to like all the same things?”
“Of course not.”
“So what, then?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbles after a beat. Still not looking at me. Still avoiding me.
“You do know,” I press, starting to feel like I’m asking for her to yell at me. “Something is on your mind, Silvie. Just tell me.”
“I don’t want to!” she finally blurts, clicking her phone off and dropping it onto her bedspread. “Stop pushing me!”
I gape at her. “Pushing you? I’m not pushing you! I’m trying to catch up to wherever it is you are. You keep snapping at me. I just want to know what I did to make you so mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you,” she says. “I already said I wasn’t mad at you. Jeez, CeCe.”
“Well, you didn’t say that, actually,” I half shout. “But how about I’m mad at you now?”
She has the audacity to look shocked at that. “For what?”
“Silvie, you just accused me of planning to trash-talk both you and an entire company online. For literally zero reason. Don’t you know me at all?”
“I didn’t mean that, all right?” Her chest rises and falls with a shuddering breath. “Can you just let it go? Please?”
Let it go. I’ve gotten really good at letting things go over the years. I know how to put my feelings aside for the sake of keeping the peace. I know how to shut up and smile when all I want to do is scream. I just didn’t think Silvie would ever request that of me. “No.” My voice comes out on a strange waver, as if I’m battling to stay upright on a tightrope. “I think I deserve an explanation.”
The seconds pass.
Eventually she nods, like she’s decided to give in.
I wait, anticipating some semblance of an explanation.
But that’s not what I get. Out of nowhere, Silvie pitches forward and kisses me. It’s not what I was expecting, but, hey, I can roll with this. I immediately slide closer, kissing her back. We’ve done this countless times; I know the give of her lips, the curves of her face, the taste of her lavender tea obsession so well they’ve become a part of me.
But this kiss . . . It’s different.
Oddly, it reminds me of our very first one, when we were younger and pent up with not only those unbearable, impossible-to-articulate feelings of unexplored need, but also that added layer that all queer kids have to deal with. That feeling of something akin to delicious danger. Of everything feeling so freaking right for once, even with all the people telling you it’s wrong.
This kiss isn’t that, exactly. But it is just as loaded. And it stops as suddenly as it began.
Silvie pulls back, putting her palms out to carve some distance between us.
“We need to talk, Ceece,” she whispers, picking at the stitching of the bedspread. Her lips are still pink and the tiniest bit swollen from our kiss.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” I insist.
“I really wasn’t planning on doing this today,” she continues, almost to herself.
My stomach grows cold. “Doing what?”
She turns her phone over, so the screen is facedown, and she finally, finally looks at me fully. Her meaning is crystal clear in her eyes.
Need to talk. Wasn’t planning on doing this.
I suddenly feel woozy, like I’ve been pitched headfirst over a precipice. I leap off the bed just to feel the sturdy floor beneath my feet.
“No.” Only after the word is out there in the room do I realize I’m the one who whispered it.
JESSICA VERDI is the author of And She Was, My Life After Now, The Summer I Wasn’t Me, and What You Left Behind. She is a graduate of The New School’s MFA in Writing for Children program and lives in New York. You can find her online at jessicaverdi.com.
We’re honored to have Jay Coles on the site today, revealing the cover of his sophomore novel, Things We Couldn’t Say, which releases from Scholastic on September 21st, 2021! (Preorder links down below!) Here’s the story:
There’s always been a hole in Gio’s life. Not because he’s into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio’s life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her … and now, just as he’s started to get his life together, she’s back.
It’s hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio’s started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio’s not sure … especially because he’s not sure what he wants from anyone right now.
There are no easy answers to love – whether it’s family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity — hoping at the other end he’ll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.
And here’s the beautiful cover, designed by Baily Crawford and accompanied by a few words from the author!
I’m so very, very excited for the world to see the cover for Things We Couldn’t Say and for the world to eventually read what’s inside it! I’m a huge fan of James Baldwin and how he writes about the unique intersections and complexities of Blackness and queerness, racism and homophobia. I’ve always wanted to write a book attempting to explore that, too. I was and (continue to be) inspired by Mr. Baldwin. In fact, two of the main characters in Things We Couldn’t Say are named after the two main characters in Mr. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.
During the process of writing this book, I faced trials of many kinds: crippling anxiety, depression, family conflicts. Together, we faced horrific racial injustices and a global pandemic, among other things. Throughout all of this, I felt burnt out, broken, beaten down, defeated, and thought I’d lost my way, my voice. I thought I couldn’t write anymore. But I kept thinking about what this book might mean to a Black kid and QPOC all over the world. This story sort of demanded that I write it. And I’m so, so thrilled that I did. This book saved me in so many ways. It helped me fight. It helped me process the things I couldn’t say. It made me brave. At the very least, I hope this book inspires you to be brave to talk about all the things you couldn’t say before!
24-year-old Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing for various music publishers. His acclaimed debut novel Tyler Johnson Was Here is based on true events in his life and inspired by police brutality in America. He resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Rachel Lacey‘s READ BETWEEN THE LINES, pitched as an #OwnVoices sapphic retelling of You’ve Got Mail, featuring a bisexual bookstore owner and a property developing corporate executive with more than one secret, to Lauren Plude at Montlake, in an exclusive submission, in a two-book deal, by Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency (world).
Katharine Schellman‘s LAST CALL AT THE NIGHTINGALE, an #OwnVoices queer murder mystery set in 1920s New York, where a seamstress escapes drudgery at a speakeasy, but when she discovers a body behind the club, she finds herself caught between the dangers of New York’s underground and the world of the city’s wealthy and careless, where money can hide any sin and the lives of the poor are considered disposable—including her own, to Nettie Finn at Minotaur, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2022, by Whitney Ross at Irene Goodman Agency (NA).
2020 National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree and author of BESTIARY K-Ming Chang‘s RESIDENT ALIENS, a short story collection that evokes the splendor and peculiar nature of families, the grotesque and wondrous parts of the body, and the wild and poignant battles of queer love, to Nicole Counts at One World, by Julia Kardon at HG Literary.
Ally Wilkes‘s ALL THE WHITE SPACES, set in the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, in which a trans man narrates the fate of an expedition as something unnamed and terrible picks off his shipmates one by one, against the backdrop of the pitch-black polar night, to Lara Jones at Emily Bestler Books, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Oliver Munson at A.M. Heath (NA).
Helena Greer‘s MY FIRST NOELLE, pitched as a queer and Jewish Hallmark-style holiday rom-com about a free-spirited bisexual artist who’s forced to return home when she inherits her family’s Christmas tree farm, and has an unexpected romance with the farm’s grumpy butch manager, to Amy Pierpont and Sam Brody at Forever, in a two-book deal, for publication in winter 2022, by Rebecca Podos at Rees Literary Agency (world).
Winner of the 60th Gunzo New Writer’s Award for Excellence in 2017 Li Kotomi‘s SOLO DANCE, depicting the painful coming-of-age of a gay woman in Taiwan and the salaryman’s world in Japan; an account of a person’s search for hope after trauma and depression, to Judith Uyterlinde at World Editions (Netherlands), in a nice deal, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2022, by Li Kangqin at New River Literary (world English).
Three-time Pushcart prize winner and Stegner fellow Lydia Conklin’s RAINBOW RAINBOW, a collection of stories exploring the complex inner lives of queer, trans, and nonbinary characters, pitched as appealing to fans of Garth Greenwell, Jenny Zhang, and Katherine Dunn, to Leigh Newman at Catapult, for publication in June 2022, by Samantha Shea at Georges Borchardt.
Center for Fiction First Novel Prize nominee Celia Laskey’s THE BRIDESMAID, exploring contemporary female friendship, platonic queer-straight dynamics, and the absurdity of the wedding industrial complex; and UNDER THE RAINBOW, her debut novel, to Cicely Aspinall at HQ, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Jennifer Helinek at Trident Media Group, on behalf of Alexa Stark.
Hazel Newlevant‘s QUEER AND HOW WE GOT HERE, in which the author blends their personal story of coming out with explorations of important moments from queer history to draw a parallel between the growth of a community and the growth of the author’s personal identity, to Andrea Colvin at Little, Brown Children’s, in an exclusive submission, for publication in early 2024, by Tanya McKinnon at McKinnon Literary (world).
Will Taylor‘s THE LANGUAGE OF SEABIRDS, in which a 12-year-old boy confined to two weeks at a beach house with his freshly divorced father meets a local boy and his world is flipped as he struggles find some way to share the truths flooding his heart—things he’s never spoken to anyone, not even himself, to David Levithan at Scholastic, for publication in summer 2022, by Brent Taylor at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world).
Detroit-based illustrator and designer Oli Franey’s MONSTER CRUSH, pitched as BEETLE AND THE HOLLOWBONES meets Teen Wolf, in which a 16-year-old closes herself off from the world after her parents split, until she meets a girl; as the two of them fight off school bullies, the girl accidentally reveals her ability to transform into a monstrous beast, and reveals the world of monsters, to Brett Israel at Dark Horse, for publication in 2023, by Claire Draper at The Bent Agency (world English).
Young Adult Fiction
Epic Reads founder Margot Wood‘s FRESH, a queer coming-of-age story that follows a freshman at Emerson College as she navigates the highs and lows of her first year away from home, to Maggie Lehrman at Abrams Children’s, at auction, for publication in fall 2021, by Joanna Volpe at New Leaf Literary & Media (world English).
Author of THE DEAD AND THE DARK Courtney Gould’s ECHO SUNSET, following two sisters who, after their mother dies, learn about her mysterious ties to an isolated Arizona town; when they decide to investigate, nothing and no one is who they seem, including the daughter of the town’s enigmatic leader, to Jennie Conway at Wednesday Books, for publication in 2022, by Claire Friedman and Jessica Mileo at Inkwell Management (NA).
Illustrator and comic artist on Tapas The Kao’s MAGICAL BOY, in which a trans man just trying to get through high school as his true self has his life turned upside down when he discovers that he is descended from a long line of magical girls tasked with defending humanity from a dark, ancient evil; with a sassy feline sidekick and loyal group of friends by his side, he must take on his destiny, save the world, and become the first magical boy, to Michael Moccio at Scholastic, for publication in fall 2021, by Liz Parker at Verve Talent & Literary (world).
Author of the #murdertrending series and GET EVEN Gretchen McNeil‘s DIG TWO GRAVES, pitched as a YA Strangers on a Train with a queer twist in which a school pariah meets her new best friend at summer camp where they jokingly fantasize about killing each other’s bullies, until those fantasies become disturbing realities and she finds herself blackmailed into committing murder, to Kieran Viola at Disney-Hyperion, in a two-book deal, by Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown (world).
Author of ACE OF SHADES Amanda Foody and author of THE DEVOURING GRAY Christine Lynn Herman‘s ALL OF US VILLAINS, set in a blood-soaked city, where seven families compete every generation in a tournament to the death for control of high magic; one powerful, villainous family has won nearly every tournament, but this year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, each of the other families has the means to win, to Melissa Frain at Tor Teen, with Ali Fisher editing, in a major deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2021 and 2022, by Whitney Ross at Irene Goodman Agency for Foody, and by Kelly Sonnack at Andrea Brown Literary Agency for Herman (world English).
Naz Kutub‘s THE LOOPHOLE, pitched as a speculative SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA with a focus on identity, found family, and friendship, following a queer Indian Muslim boy traveling the world for a second chance at love after a possibly magical heiress grants him three wishes, to Claire Stetzer at Bloomsbury Children’s, in a very nice deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Natalie Lakosil at Bradford Literary Agency (world).
Cayla Keenan’s RAVENSONG, the first in a contemporary fantasy duology with Northeastern Gothic vibes, in which a 17-year-old girl is one third of a war goddess triad, sworn to slay demons with her sisters and guard the gate to hell in their coastal town, yet is stuck in high school, counting down the days until her 18th birthday, when her powers fully unlock—until she meets a girl with secrets of her own who’ll force her to choose between duty and love, to Amanda Ramirez at Simon & Schuster Children’s, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2023, by Patrice Caldwell at New Leaf Literary & Media (NA).
Dahlia Adler ed.’s AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT, a collection of classic fairy tales reimagined by authors Melissa Albert, Tracy Deonn, Hafsah Faizal, Brigid Kemmerer, Stacey Lee, Darcie Little Badger, Malinda Lo, Alex London, Anna-Marie McLemore, Rebecca Podos, Rory Power, Meredith Russo, Justin Reynolds, and Randy Ribay, to Sarah Barley at Flatiron Books, for publication in fall 2022, by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency (world).
Andrea Mosqueda’s debut JUST YOUR LOCAL BISEXUAL DISASTER, following a self-described romantic disaster, a bisexual Chicana living in the Rio Grande Valley, as she tries to figure out whom she wants to ask to be her escort at her little sister’s upcoming quinceanera: her charming ex-boyfriend twice over, her first crush and gorgeous best friend, or the mysterious new girl with the romantic baggage?, to Kat Brzozowski at Feiwel and Friends, for publication in 2022, by Lauren Macleod at The Strothman Agency (world English).
Saundra Mitchell’s OUT THERE, the future-set third and final anthology in a series that began with the historical ALL OUT and contemporary OUT NOW; its contributors include Kayla Ancrum, Kalynn Bayron, Z Brewer, Mason Deaver, Alechia Dow, ZR Ellor, Leah Johnson, Naomi Kanakia, Claire Kann, Alex London, Jim McCarthy, Abdi Nazemian, Emma K. Ohland, AJ Sass, Nita Tyndall, and two slots to be filled through an open call, to Natashya Wilson at Inkyard Press, for publication in spring 2022, by Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (world).
Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year finalist for his poetry collection TONGUES OF FIRE Sean Hewitt‘s ALL DOWN DARKNESS WIDE, an excavation of the year following his partner’s suicide attempt, a confrontation with the specters of shame, and a love letter to queer literature that illuminates a path ahead, to Caroline Sydney at Penguin Press, in a pre-empt, by Adam Eaglin at The Cheney Agency on behalf of Matthew Marland at Rogers, Coleridge & White (NA).
Cultural historian, performer, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English at the University of Cambridge, and BBC New Generation Thinker Diarmuid Hester’s NOTHING EVER JUST DISAPPEARS: A NEW HISTORY OF QUEER CULTURE THROUGH ITS SPACES, a history of queer identity from the late 1800s to the present, following seven artists and writers whose lives and work are inextricable from a sense of place, including E.M. Forster, Josephine Baker, Claude Cahun, James Baldwin, and Derek Jarman; interweaving their stories with the author’s own experiences as a queer person, arguing for the centrality of place in the formation of identity, culture, and politics, while showing all that is lost when queer spaces are forgotten, to Maria Bedford at Allen Lane, at auction, for publication in November 2022, by Matthew Marland at Rogers, Coleridge & White (world English).
Sibling duo, journalist, and archivist Alison Nastasi and PJ Nastasi’s QUEER ICONS AND THEIR CATS, a celebration of LGBTQ+ icons past and present, and their furry feline friends, to Bridget Watson Payne at Chronicle, with Natalie Butterfield editing, for publication in May 2021 (world).
Assistant Books Editor at O, the Oprah Magazine Michelle Hart‘s WE DO WHAT WE DO IN THE DARK, about a young woman who has an affair with an older, married female professor during college, and how that relationship reshapes the rest of her life; a story of desire, loneliness, and the secrets we keep, even from ourselves, to Laura Perciasepe at Riverhead, in a pre-empt, by Sarah Burnes at The Gernert Company (NA).
New Yorker contributor and University Fellow at the Syracuse MFA program Anthony Veasna So‘s AFTERPARTIES, in which young Cambodian Americans grapple with race, sexuality, and their inherited traumas from the Khmer Rouge genocide, even as they carve out lives in the California Central Valley and Bay Area, and STRAIGHT THRU CAMBOTOWN, about three Cambodian-American cousins who inherit their late aunt’s illegitimate loan sharking business and then become embroiled in a Hollywood conspiracy, to Helen Atsma at Ecco, in a significant deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2021, by Rob McQuilkin at Massie & McQuilkin (NA).
Sidney Bell‘s THIS IS NOT THE END, a polyamorous romance in which a deeply reserved songwriter is invited to join his best friend and his wife in bed for a night, and what starts as a fling may just turn into forever, to Stephanie Doig at Carina Press (world).
Author of LILY AND THE OCTOPUS and THE EDITOR Steven Rowley‘s THE GUNCLE, about a reclusive television star who takes his young niece and nephew into his Palm Springs home after a family tragedy, and how his outsized lifestyle and unusual life wisdom bring about a season of healing that redefines their understanding of family and finally leads him back to himself, again to Sally Kim at Putnam, by Rob Weisbach at Rob Weisbach Creative Management (NA).
NYT-bestselling author of THREE LITTLE WORDS and THREE MORE WORDS Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s SAM IS OUR SISTER, a picture book based on the experiences of the author’s family that follows three siblings, one of whom is transgender, as they play astronauts, learn about what it means to become your true self, and realize they will always be together, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley, to Wendy McClure at Albert Whitman, for publication in spring 2021, by Jacqueline Flynn at Joelle Delbourgo Associates for the author, and by Samantha Groff at Advocate-Art for the illustrator (world).
Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby’s THIS IS OUR RAINBOW: 16 STORIES OF HER, HIM, THEM, AND US, a middle grade anthology that collects short stories, poetry, and comics about LGBTQIA+ characters and experiences by contributors Locke, Melleby, Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Mariama Lockington, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aida Salazar, and A.J. Sass, to Marisa DiNovis at Knopf Children’s, for publication in fall 2021, by Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (world).
Stephanie Stein at HarperCollins has bought, at auction, in a two-book deal, middle grade novel THE INSIDERS by Schneider Family Award winner Mark Oshiro (ANGER IS A GIFT). The book features a queer boy who, fleeing from bullies, discovers a magical closet that not only provides him sanctuary, but also unites him with two other kids facing persecution at their own schools across the country, helping them find friendship and strength in one another. Publication is slated for fall 2021; DongWon Song at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency negotiated the deal for North American rights.*
Natashya Wilson at Inkyard Press has acquired THE WITCH KING plus a sequel from debut author H.E. Edgmon. The YA fantasy duology tells the story of witch and angry trans boy Wyatt Croft, who wants nothing to do with his mediocre magic or his betrothal to fae prince Emyr North, but his plans to change his fate are shattered when the kingdom is threatened by a coup and Emyr comes to claim him. Publication of book one is planned for summer 2021; Rena Rossner at the Deborah Harris Agency brokered the deal for North American rights.*
Krista Marino at Delacorte has bought, at auction, Victoria Lee’s (THE FEVER KING and THE ELECTRIC HEIR) A LESSON IN VENGEANCE. Pitched as The Secret History meets Genuine Fraud and The Craft, the YA novel follows Felicity Morrow, a senior returning to school after her girlfriend’s tragic death, only to meet a new student and teenage literary prodigy who transferred to research the school’s bloody history, and recruits Felicity into a murderous experiment of their own. Publication is set for 2021; Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary negotiated the deal for North American rights.*
Maya Marlette at Scholastic has bought Leah Johnson’s (YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN) new YA romance, RISE TO THE SUN. Set over the course of four days at a music festival, the novel features strangers Toni and Olivia, who meet and realize that the music is more than just a way out; it’s a way through… if they are brave enough to face it together. Publication is scheduled for summer 2021; Sarah Landis at Sterling Lord Literistic brokered the deal for world rights.*
Sarah Rees Brennan‘s FENCE: STRIKING DISTANCE, based on the comic series created by C.S. Pacat and Johanna The Mad, following the rise of a sixteen-year-old outsider in the world of competitive fencing as he joins the team at an elite boys school and experiences intense rivalries, lifelong friendships, and romance between teammates, to Mary-Kate Gaudet at Little, Brown Children’s, for publication in fall 2020, by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media (world).
A.M. Strickland‘s IN THE RAVENOUS DARK, a LGBTQIA+ dark fantasy featuring a teen blood-magic user bound to an undead guardian, to John Morgan at Imprint, for publication in summer 2021, by Hannah Bowman at Liza Dawson Associates (world).
Jonah Newman’s OUT OF LEFT FIELD, a semi-autobiographical young adult graphic novel in which a gay teen boy, determined to excel at baseball but decidedly much more at home in a history book, discovers himself, to Andrea Colvin at Little, Brown Children’s, at auction, for publication in summer 2023, by Chad Luibl at Janklow & Nesbit (world).
Oxford University research fellow and LitHub contributor Jack Parlett’s WRITTEN IN THE SAND, a blend of memoir and literary history, exploring the queer identity, idyllic beaches, and famous locales of an iconic destination—Fire Island; pitched as in the vein of Hugh Ryan’s WHEN BROOKLYN WAS QUEER and Olivia Laing’s THE LONELY CITY, examining a number of key literary figures like W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, and Jeremy O. Harris, who together tell the story of what it means to create a queer space, to John Glynn at Hanover Square Press, at auction, by David Forrer at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Jane Finigan at Lutyens & Rubinstein (NA).
Kelly Delaney at Knopf has acquired, in a preempt, ALL THE THINGS I’VE KEPT FROM MYSELF by Karina Manta. This YA memoir tells of the champion figure skater’s experiences as a professional athlete, coming out as bisexual in a hyper-feminine sport, and her continually evolving body image. Publication is scheduled for fall 2021; Jess Regel at Foundry Literary + Media brokered the deal for North American rights.*
Arkady Martine’s A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE and A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE, to J’ai Lu (France), in a two-book deal, by Danny Baror at Baror International; also to Mondadori (Italy), in a two-book deal, by Danny Baror at Baror International; on behalf of DongWon Song at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.
Morgan Rogers’s HONEY GIRL, to DTV (Germany), by Heather Baror-Shapiro at Baror International, on behalf of Holly Root at Root Literary.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, to Locus (Bulgaria), by Katalina Sabeva at Anthea Agency, on behalf of Taryn Fagerness Agency and Carly Watters at P.S. Literary.
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?
Yep, it’s a brand-new feature celebrating book deals! This is a combination of deal announcements that have been submitted through the site and copied from Publisher’s Marketplace and Publishers Weekly, with some minor editing. If you’d like to submit a deal, you can do so here.
Rob Sanders’s BLING BLAINE, about a child who is all about bling and glitter until complaints pour in and bling is banned from school, but then allies come to the rescue, illustrated by Letizia Rizzo, to Christina Pulles formerly at Sterling Children’s, with Eve Adler editing, for publication in fall 2020, by Rubin Pfeffer at Rubin Pfeffer Content for the author, and by Emily Coggins at Astound US for the illustrator (world).
Vicki Lame at Wednesday Books has acquired LGBTQ Reads founder Dahlia Adler’s YA novel, COOL FOR THE SUMMER, about a girl named Lara who finally lands the guy of her dreams, only to have her unexpected(ly female) summer fling transfer to her school for their senior year. Publication is slated for summer 2021; DongWon Song at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency brokered the two-book deal for North American rights.
Author of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE and BURN BABY BURN BABY, and board member of the Ontario Writer’s Conference Kevin Craig’s THE CAMINO CLUB, in which six wayward teens are given an ultimatum after getting in trouble with the law: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain; when it becomes clear the long walk isn’t really all that much of an option, they set out on a journey that will either make or break who they are and who they are to become, to Annie Harper at Duet, in a nice deal, in an exclusive submission, for publication in October 2020.
Rights: Mary Jo Courchesne, Gryphon Publishing Consulting
Jess Verdi’s‘s FOLLOW YOUR ARROW, after breaking up with her long-term girlfriend and falling for the new guy in town, an openly queer social media influencer faces blowback from her fans and is forced to define what it means to be bi—to the world, and to herself, to Aimee Friedman at Scholastic, by Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall‘s SQUAD, about a clique of teen girls whose favorite pastime is to get dressed up; go to parties; target entitled, date-rapey bros; turn into wolves; and eat them, illustrated by Lisa Sterle, to Martha Mihalick at Greenwillow, for publication in fall 2021, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA).
Alexandra Cooper at HarperTeen has acquired, at auction, Laurel Flores Fantauzzo’s THE HEARTBREAK OF CORAZON TAGUBIO. Cory Tagubio is an outcast at her all-girls Catholic high school. In the wake of an accident, Cory grows close to her history teacher, Ms. Holden, but when the crush turns into something more, Cory is shipped off to her half-brother in the Philippines, leaving her to discover how her family and their country have shaped her past and how they might change her future. Publication is set for winter 2021; Andrea Morrison at Writers House sold world English rights.
Jessica Garrison at Dial has bought, on exclusive submission, Stephanie Oakes’s THE MEADOWS, which centers on a queer girl who has pretended to “reform” following years in a government-sanctioned conversion therapy center, but can’t forget the girl she left behind, and resolves to find her. Publication is set for fall 2021; Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency handled the deal for world rights.
Daniel Ehrenhaft at Soho Teen has bought Carly Heath’s debut YA novel, THE HEATHENS OF MUSKOX HOLLOW. Set in 1904 Norway, the novel follows a trio of queer teens—two boys and their best friend, Asta—who decide to defy the expectations of their rural Scandinavian village by leaving their families, living on their own, and challenging the town’s patriarch in the region’s annual winter horse race. Publication is set for fall 2021; Steven Chudney at the Chudney Agency brokered the deal for North American English rights.
Cassandra Rose Clarke‘s FORGET THIS EVER HAPPENED, queer speculative fiction set in a run-down Southern town where space and time are inconsistent, to Mora Couch at Holiday House, for publication in fall 2020, by Stacia Decker at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner (world).
Diana Pinguicha‘s A MIRACLE OF ROSES, pitched as an f/f #ownvoices retelling of the Portuguese miracle of the same name, where the Princess of Aragon enters a bargain with an Enchanted Moura so she can reverse her gift that turns all the food she touches into flowers, to Lydia Sharp at Entangled Teen, by Travis Pennington at The Knight Agency (world).
Brianna Shrum‘s 13 WAYS TO START A FOREST FIRE, in which a 17-year-old girl is trapped by a freak mudslide and, in order to survive the cruel Rockies in the dead of winter, decides to trust the one boy she knows she shouldn’t, to Nicole Frail at Sky Pony Press, by Steven Salpeter at Curtis Brown.
Deya Muniz’s THE PRINCESS AND THE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH, in which a lady, a denizen of the Kingdom of Fromage, must disguise herself as a man in order to inherit her father’s estate, but her secret becomes difficult to keep once she falls in love with a royal princess, to Andrea Colvin at Little, Brown Children’s, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2021 (world).
SashaLaurens’s A WICKED MAGIC, the story of two teens and new witches whose friendship comes to an abrupt end when a spell they foolishly cast summons an ancient force that steals one of the girls’ boyfriends; they are then forced to work together with a new friend who is harboring a magical secret of her own to rescue him, to Ruta Rimas at Razorbill, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2020, by Jennifer Udden at New Leaf Literary & Media (world English). Publication is set for July 27, 2020.
Karelia Stetz-Waters‘s untitled book, in which two very different women find themselves running a sex toy shop that one of them inherited and soon fall in love as the business struggles for survival and family obligations threaten to tear them apart, to Madeleine Colavita at Forever Yours, by Jane Dystel at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (NA).
Juliette Wade’s sci-fi MAZES OF POWER, in which a fever strikes the cavern city of Pelismara, and Tagaret must represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne, but a power struggle and an exploitative brother stand in his way, to Sheila Gilbert at DAW by Kristopher O’Higgins at Scribe Agency (NA). Publication is set for February 4, 2020.
Anbara Salam’s BELLADONNA, a story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s, following two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year, to Amanda Bergeron at Berkley by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Hattie Grunewald at Blake Friedmann, now at The Blair Partnership (NA). Publication is set for June 9, 2020.
University of Louisiana in Lafayette PhD candidate Caitlin Vance’s THE PAPER GARDEN, a darkly humorous, gothic, and speculative story collection that explores contemporary queer romances, mother-daughter relationships, and mental illness by reimagining fairy tales or myths, to Hasanthika Sirisena at 7.13 Books, for publication in spring 2021.
Director of Creative Writing at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of five books Timothy Schaffert‘s THE PERFUME THIEF, about a queer American expat with an infamous past as a thief of rare scents who retires to Paris to become a legitimate perfumer, crafting unique scents scents for the city’s cabaret performers and sex workers, until the Nazis occupy the city and seek her expertise for a sinister purpose, to Margo Shickmanter at Doubleday, in a good deal, for publication in 2021, by Alice Tasman at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (world English).
Kristen Arnett‘s SAMSON, a novel of motherhood, expectations, and toxic masculinity within a queer household, and WITH FOXES, a diverse, blackly humorous story collection, to Cal Morgan at Riverhead, in a major deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Serene Hakim at Ayesha Pande Literary (NA).
Griffin Poetry Prize winner Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A HISTORY OF MY BRIEF BODY, a meditation on grief, joy, love, and sex at the intersection of indigeneity and queerness, to Eric Obenauf at Two Dollar Radio, by Stephanie Sinclair at Transatlantic Literary Agency (US).
University of Georgia MFA in narrative nonfiction and Lamba Literary fellow Martin Padgett’s MIDNIGHT AT THE OASIS: A DECADE OF DRAG, DRUGS AND DISCO AT THE SWEET GUM HEAD, following the intersecting journeys of drag queen John Greenwell, also known as Rachel Wells, and civil rights activist Bill Smith through the gay rights movement and drag culture in 1970s Atlanta, to Amy Cherry at Norton, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2021, by Beth Marshea at Ladderbird Literary Agency (NA).
Jacqueline Carey‘s KUSHIEL’S LEGACY series, which spans three epic trilogies set in Terre d’Ange and deals with a remarkable courtesan who saves her nation, the adventures of her adopted son, and ultimately, the trials of Moirin, a descendant of the legendary ruling house, to Lionsgate, with Dan Hadl producing, by Jane Dystel at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
K.D. Edwards‘s THE LAST SUN, a queer tarot-inspired fantasy, to Escape Artists, by Kim Yau at Paradigm, on behalf of Sara Megibow at kt literary.
Tom Ryan‘s KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF, in which a group of lifelong friends is shattered when a serial killer strikes their small town and claims one of their own; one year later, unable to let go, a teen finds himself investigating new clues, and begins to wonder if he can trust anything, including his feelings for his best friend, the boy who died, optioned by Robert Munic of Pull the Pin Productions and Cheryl Bayer of Living Popups, with Munic and Baker producing, by Kim Yau at Paradigm, on behalf of Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agency.
Adiba Jaigirdar‘s THE HENNA WARS, to Emily Parliman at Listening Library, by Brent Taylor at Triada US, on behalf of Uwe Stender.
I don’t know what we did to get so lucky, but queer kidlit seriously struck gold when it got Kacen Callender, who seems to be multiplying their glorious catalog every five minutes. Their first MG, Hurricane Child, is both a Lambda and Stonewall award winner, so you know this newest, King and the Dragonflies, which releases from Scholastic on February 4, 2020, had better fly onto your TBR ASAP! Here are the details:
In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.
Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.
It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”
But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.
The Thing About Jellyfish meets The Stars Beneath Our Feet in this story about loss, grief, and finding the courage to discover one’s identity, from the award-winning author of Hurricane Child.
And here’s the incredibly stunning cover, with art by Tonya Engel and design by Baily Crawford!
But wait, there’s more! Keep reading for a guest post by author Kacen Callender on the inspiration behind the book!
Elizabeth Gilbert has a beautiful TedTalk on the expectations of artists, and the concept that there’s a source of ideas and creativity that we humans are sometimes granted access to. It’s a thought that’s stuck with me for years now: that writers are only tools who tap into some sort of stream of energy and creativity, gifted with stories by the universe—stories that the divine wants us to tell.
It may seem a little too New Age-y for some, but I feel this is true even more after my experience with King and the Dragonflies. I had a deadline approaching and sat down to write the novel, nervous and unsure of where the story would go, or what I wanted to say. As if I’d heard a whisper, I suddenly knew that the main character was a boy named King, and that he thought his brother Khalid had turned into a dragonfly. Almost the entirety of King and the Dragonflies came to me as though a dream over the next few weeks after that, spilling onto the page—the fastest manuscript I’ve ever drafted.
When the novel begins, King’s brother Khalid has already unexpectedly and tragically passed away. King has also decided that he can no longer speak to his best friend Sandy because he’s gay, and King is afraid others will think he’s gay as well. It doesn’t help that King is questioning his identity and is afraid that others will learn his secret. As the novel progresses, King struggles with his identity as a gay black boy in the south, centering around something I myself had been told as a child: “Black people can’t be gay. If they are gay, it’s because they’ve been around a white gay person too much.”
It sounds ridiculous, but after writing and sharing this novel with some early readers, I’ve learned that other black people have been told the same thing. We’re in a society that usually only celebrates queer people who are white. Black queer people tend to be invisible, to the point that others have tried to speak us out of existence. If there aren’t enough stories showing black, queer people, then where is the proof that we do exist—not only for ignorant folks, but for the black queer people who need to know that they aren’t alone?
Beyond the idea that black people can’t be queer, there’s also the fear of facing two stigmas: bad enough that we’re black in a racist United States, but to have to face homophobia from all sides, regardless of race, as well? It’s a real fear that many black, queer people struggle with, and one that I explore in King and the Dragonflies for any young reader who worries about the same things.
By the end of the novel, King has evolved, both due to grief for his brother, and for the courage he must find to face his identity. I’ve always been super interested in symbolism in dreams, so months after finishing the first draft and working on revisions, I suddenly had the urge to look up the dream meaning of dragonflies. Change, transformation, self-realization. I can’t think of a stronger symbol for this novel.
Writing King and the Dragonflies was an emotional, raw experience, exactly like waking up from a vivid dream, one that I’m still reeling from in some ways. I can’t take the credit for being a transmitter or antennae of some kind, passing along messages and stories from the beyond, but I can be grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to help share King and his story with the world.
One of the rarer things in gay YA is books geared toward younger teen readers. Walton’s debut is forever on my rec list for having a 14-year-old protag dealing with a crush on his straight best friend and…that’s mostly it. It’s real, it hurts, and it’s life.
When you’re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen.
Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend. For his part, Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels – and Tretch can’t tell whether that makes it better or worse.
The problem with living a lie is that the lie can slowly become your life. For Tretch, the problem isn’t just with Matt. His family has no idea who he really is and what he’s really thinking. The girl at the local bookstore has no clue how off-base her crush on him is. And the guy at school who’s a thorn in Tretch’s side doesn’t realize how close to the truth he’s hitting.
Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he’s got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world. Because like love, a true self can rarely be contained.