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Boy meets book: 4 Young Adult novels that taught me it was okay to be gay

June 4, 2018

I was a senior in high school, hanging out in the library during my free period. For a school of only 150 students, our library had a vast selection of books. I was walking down the aisles when I saw it: "Boy Meets Boy" by David Levithan. I pulled it out, making sure no one was in the aisle watching me. I stared in fascination at the light blue cover with candy hearts that spelled out Boy Meets Boy. I held it like it was the most precious artifact, because to me, it was. I sat down on the tile floor, hidden by the towers of books, and started reading. I must’ve lost track of time because the next thing I knew my free period was over and I was 40 pages in.

I peeled the library bar code off the cover and stole the book. I needed to finish it, but I couldn’t have anyone—not even the librarian—know I was reading about gay boys. They’d then logically deduce that I was gay and soon the whole school would know. I couldn’t take that risk, so I put Boy Meets Boy in my backpack, took it home, and read it in my room with the door closed.

The book focuses on Paul, a 16-year-old openly gay high school student living in an open and accepting town. A generic teen romance story ensues, except in this case a boy falls for a boy. Reading about an out gay high school student gave me hope that not only would I be out one day, but I would be happy and accepted, too.

Though I had encountered queer characters in books, it wasn’t until Boy Meets Boy that I found one in which a queer character’s identity was paramount to the story. After devouring Boy Meets Boy, I started combing the library for other books that centered around queer narratives. For the first time, I felt like my identity was seen and validated. Reading about these happily ever afters made me start to think that I deserved one, too. I would go to sleep dreaming about how my life would compare to the lives of the fictional characters I had found.

Over the years, I’ve collected books that were important in my journey as a queer reader, and this May, I’m stanning hard for their authors. It is my hope in creating this list that you, too, will find a book that makes you feel seen. 

1. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

My senior year of high school, I found myself on book forums and blogs trying to find more books about LGBTQ+ teens. I winded up finding I’ll Give You The Sun and loved it! It’s a story of two twins, Noah and Jude, who are inseparable until a tragic event pulls them apart. Noah narrates the past and Jude the present, allowing the reader into the minds of the drifting siblings at different times. The novel is split between past and present, with Noah narrating the past and Jude the present. It's an endearing story about family, loss, and honesty. I’ll Give You The Sun is the 2015 Printz Award winner for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and a movie adaptation is currently in development.

2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The first time I read this book was for my YA literature class at Stanford and I can easily say I’ve never read a book that left me feeling more affirmed. Most of the stories I read featured white LGBTQ characters, while I felt like my queerness was being appreciated, the intersection of my Mexican and queer identity went unacknowledged. Aristotle and Dante is a coming-of-age novel that centers Mexican-American culture and community, and talks about queerness and the masculinity that’s “required” to be a “Mexican man.” If audiobooks are your thing, there’s a Lin-Manuel Miranda narrated version that’s calling your name.

3. You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

David Levithan makes his second appearance! This book splits the story between two narrators: Kate, who just ran away from the girl of her dreams, and Mark, who’s in love with his best friend. The story follows both characters as they help each other find happiness. It’s set in the Bay Area, and as a local, I couldn’t have been happier to read something set in my hometown.

4. Boy Erased by Garrard Conley

The only non-fiction book on the list, Boy Erased tracks author Garrard Conley’s experience as a young college student forced into conversion therapy after he’s outed to his deeply religious, Baptist parents. An emotionally intense story, this memoir reinforces the importance of protecting LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy, which, as of the publication of this piece, only 12 states have banned.

Honorable Mentions

  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Hero by Perry Moore
  • How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan
  • The Gilded Razor by Sam Lansky
  • Binge by Tyler Oakley
  • Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

As a young gay man, I found myself gravitating toward books about that identity. However, there are YA books that center a variety of queer and trans identities. Barnes and Noble, Pride.com, and The Hub by the American Library Association have great recommendations for books centering other identities, including trans stories, lesbian novels, books with bi+ characters, and stories with asexual characters. Happy reading!

#WeStan is an amp original series honoring LGBTQ legends in media because we know that representation matters. Follow along on GLAAD social mediaFacebook, Instagram, Twitterto see who our fans stan!

Adrian Vega is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a junior at Stanford University studying Communication with a focus on Digital Media. He served as the Youth Engagement Intern at GLAAD in 2018.

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