Top 6 Hella Queer YA Novels You Need to Read

by Laila Winters

As an avid reader of young adult science fiction and fantasy, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and the fiancée of a graduate student who needed to live near campus, I managed to fit an ever-growing library into our quaint, 600 sf apartment. With 5 bookshelves lining the wall in our living room, we have more than 300 novels in our collection, effectively covering our windows. 

When it comes to selecting new books for our shelves, I am a thousand times more likely to buy a novel with an LGBTQ+ cast of characters. Although we don’t have every young adult novel marketed towards the LGBTQ+ community, we do have several that we’ve grown to love and cherish. Some of these novels took the publishing world by storm with booming success and movie deals, while others slipped quietly under the radar. 

Pulling from our miniature library, here are 6 hella queer YA novels that should be on your summer reading list. 

6. Aurora Rising by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff

With a diverse cast of humans and aliens alike, Aurora Rising is a newly released space opera that is currently being adapted for the small screen. First in in the Aurora Cycle series, the next unnamed novel is slated for a May 2020 release. 

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch.” — Goodreads 

Of the main cast, the aptly dubbed ‘Gearhead’ of Aurora Rising is Fin, a smart-mouthed alien who suffers from a disease that weakens his muscles. Fin wears a mechanical exo-suit that helps him move and function normally, and he is the king of sexual innuendoes, especially when the commentary is least appropriate. While his sexuality in Aurora Rising is never explicitly stated, Fin makes passes at both men and women, leading readers to believe that he falls somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. 

Representation: possible gay, bisexual, and pansexual characters, physical disability

5. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

While most of us enjoy the dreaded betrothal where the future bride falls in love with the wrong member of the court, Of Fire and Stars puts a refreshing LGBTQ+ spin on the trope. The story’s companion novel, Of Ice and Shadows, is slated for an August 2019 release. 

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit.” — Goodreads

Although the novel kicks off at a slow start, the chemistry between Princess Denna, a girl with forbidden magic, and Princess Mare, the wild younger sister of Denna’s betrothed, is undeniable. Homosexuality appears to be widely accepted in Of Fire and Stars, and Denna and Mare’s relationship is never used as a plot device to provide them with added trial or tragedy. 

Representation: lesbian characters

4. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Before picking up this book, please be aware that it contains scenes of violence and sexual assault. There is a content warning listed before the first chapter begins. 

Girls of Paper and Fire is the first novel in a trilogy by Natasha Ngan. The second book, Girls of Storm and Shadow, is set to be released on November 5th of this year. 

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love.” — Goodreads

A beautifully written and Asian-inspired fantasy novel, Girls of Paper and Fire features an LGBTQ+ relationship between Lei and Wren, two girls who have been taken from their homes and trained to serve in the king’s palace as concubines. This novel is a hard read in terms of content, but is a powerful story about love and reclaiming both your body and mind after dire and disheartening circumstances. 

Representation: lesbian characters, Malaysian mythology and characters 

Content warning: violence, abuse, sexual assault, attempted rape

3. The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Cassandra Clare controversy aside, my queer little heart has been waiting for a novel featuring Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane for years. The Red Scrolls of Magic is a spin-off of Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, and it was co-written with Wesley Chu, author of Time Salvager. 

All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend.” — Goodreads

Alec and Magnus’ relationship is heavily regarded as “forbidden” in the first several books of the Mortal Instruments franchise, Alec being a closeted Shadowhunter and Magnus a “free-willing bisexual” and warlock. Although the pair defy these odds to later get married and adopt children, The Red Scrolls of Magic gives a great and sometimes explosive insight into the earlier aspects of their relationship. 

Representation: gay, bisexual, Indonesian main character

2. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera 

A stand-alone written by Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End is headed for the small screen after being optioned by HBO.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.”

True to the book’s description, both Mateo and Rufus die at the end of the novel. Strangers before it begins, Mateo and Rufus meet through an app after they receive a phone call informing them they’re going to die. Determined to live a lifetime in just the span of a day, Mateo and Rufus are on the verge of blooming love just before they die at the end. 

Representation: gay, Puerto Rican, Cuban-American 

1. Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Written by a Muslim author, Tell Me How You Really Feel is an #OwnVoice standalone that tells the story of Sana Khan and Rachel Recht. 

There’s only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.” — Goodreads

We all love a good enemies-to-lovers novel, and Tell Me How You Really Feel gives this trope an LGBTQ+ spin. Sana and Rachel are forced to come together for a senior project, and after a misunderstanding years prior, Rachel hates Sana even though she needs her help. Throughout the course of the production of Rachel’s senior film, where she’s cast Sana as the leading lady, enemies do indeed turn to lovers, and Tell Me How You Really Feel is a fun, modern coming of age story. 

Representation: lesbian, POC, Muslim main character 

Honorary Mention: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

While not necessarily marketed for young adult readers, The Song of Achilles is a beautifully written historical fiction novel that should be on everyone’s TBR list this summer. 

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles.” — Goodreads

Diving into the story of Achilles, a legendary Greek warrior who fought in the Trojan War, The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, his lover (though some historians debate whether Achilles and Patroclus were cousins, lovers, or both). Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship is tender and heartwarming despite Achilles’ rage on the battlefield, and The Song of Achilles follows them together from boyhood, to death, and even briefly into the afterlife. 

Representation: gay, Greek mythology 

Laila Winters (she/her) is an anxious, cosplaying YA author of science fiction and fantasy. Also an avid reader, she squeezed a small library into her 600sf apartment and continues to add to her collection, much to her fiancée’s dismay. Laila is part of the LGBTQ+ community and identifies as both a lesbian and asexual. When she’s not writing, Laila enjoys cosplaying, crocheting, and watching documentaries. She’s a shield maiden at heart, has a love for snarky pirates, and is distantly related to Blackbeard. She lives somewhere deep in the Midwest with her fiancée and bulldog, Moo.^

^ biracial author

Other articles by Laila Winters:

Bury the Trope, Not Your Gays

Columbus Pride Festival: Then vs. Now, In vs. Out of the Closet