We were both really pleased to be asked to write a blog post for Gay in YA and we decided that what we most wanted to talk about were our favorite books. There are many wonderful novels for teens and adolescents with GLBT characters, but if you are a fan of fantasy and the paranormal — as we are — the pickings are slightly more limited. With every year, there are more offerings, but there are also older titles that we come back to again and again.
We selected mostly books published as YA to discuss, along with a few adult books that we feel have crossover appeal. And, although we tried to concentrate on books with GLBT protagonists, we did sneak in two books with secondary GLBT characters that we couldn’t not mention.
1) SWORDSPOINT by Ellen Kushner
Cassie says: I like this book because the relationship between Alec and Richard is complicated and dynamic and interesting and messed-up, but messed up in the way that all human relationships are messed up sometimes. Despite the fact that both of them are flawed characters, you root for them and you want them to be together. Neither is a stereotype — Alec is a dashing student with a death wish, and Richard is the best swordsman in the city. Their relationship is treated with absolute matter-of-factness in a society where everyone’s sexuality is fluid
Holly says: To me, Swordspoint remains one of the few perfect novels I’ve ever read. Beautiful language, wit, and a majestic sense of place sweep you along into the tale. Plus the book features two of my favorite characters ever, ever, ever — the half-mad scholar, Alec, and lethal swordsman, Richard. Alec and Richard begin the book living together, and all the complications of the story impact their existing relationship, which makes for a very different tension from the more familiar tension of a couple just beginning to fall in love. I love this book beyond all reason.
2) ASH by Malinda Lo
Holly says: I have long been a fan of fairy tale retellings and this one manages to both use the original Cinderalla story as it’s spine and still leaves the reader guessing at what will happen next. Lo’s beautiful prose perfectly sketches out the story of a girl coming to discover who she really is, of daring to dream of a different life, and of finding true love with a woman as enigmatic and fascinating as herself.
Cassie says: I adore Ash. I also have to throw out a recommendation for Huntress by the same author, which is just as good, and the perfect blend of magic/adventure and romance between two extremely likeable female characters
3) GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY by Libba Bray/HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins
Holly says: The Gemma Doyle series, which includes Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, features four Victorian girls discovering their own power and chafing against the limitations imposed on them. We see different sides of Felicity over the course of series as she becomes someone with whom we sympathize intensely. Her love for her best friend Pippa is not her most dangerous secret, but it’s certainly up there.
Cassie says: Hex Hall is a lot of fun and one of the great additions to the cast is the main character’s roommate, Jenna, who is a vampire, and a lesbian. That she is a lesbian is incidental — it’s a part of her, but not the whole part. She’s a great, well-rounded character, and her love life is given the same treatment as all the other characters’: no less important or nuanced.
4) KISSING THE WITCH by Emma Donoghue
Holly says: Told in a series of thirteen linked fairy tales about girls and women that meld into one another, Donoghue takes old tropes and remakes them into lyrical, feminist stories. Not all of the characters are queer, but many are, and all the stories are both lush and stunning.
5) CYCLER by Lauren McLaughlin
Cassie says: Lauren Mc Laughlin’s Cycler is a tale that seems screwball on the face of it, but explores interesting issues of sex and gender underneath. The main character “cycles” back and forth between being male and female, Jill and Jack — the same person, but distinctly differently personalities. Add in Jill’s bisexual boyfriend, one of the few bisexual male characters I’ve encountered in YA fiction, and Jack’s attraction to Jill’s female best friend, and you have rich territory to mine.
Holly says: Cycler is such an interesting book, doing what the best fantasy is able to do — take something like gender, which we often discuss in certain ways and along familiar lines and tell the story of gender, but tell it slant, so that we see it with new eyes.
6) BABY BE-BOP by Francesca Lia Block
Cassie says: Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat cycle, of which this is a part, can best be described as magical realism. Baby Be Bop explores the origin story of Dirk, a character we first meet in the book Weetzie Bat, and his origin story: from first realizing he’s gay, to dealing with homophobia and finding love, all told in a dreamlike and beautiful manner.
Holly says: Block brings Los Angeles to life in a fever dream as she tells the story of Dirk coming to terms with a broken heart, his own anger and fear, and being badly hurt. His Grandma Fifi, family stories of self-acceptance and the promise of future love get him through, so he can become the Dirk we know from Weetzie Bat and the other books in the series. No one uses language like Block and here she crafts a slender jewel of a book.
7) VINTAGE: A GHOST STORY by Steve Berman
Cassie says: A shivery ghost story in which the main character, never named, happens to be gay. He falls in love with the ghost of a boy he meets walking along a lonely road in New Jersey late one night. The romantic outcome may not be what you think, but it is satisfying.
Holly says: Written by my long-time critique partner, Vintage is always going to have a special place in my heart, but it’s also a fantastic book. The narrator and his best friend, Trace, visit cemeteries, watching funeral after funeral, waiting for something to happen. But when the narrator stumbles on a real ghost and that ghost follows him home, he discovers that romanticizing death has a price. A deceptively sweet ghost story told with realism, humor, and haunting beauty.
8) THE LAST HERALD MAGE TRILOGY by Mercedes Lackey
Holly: This is a series that readers either love or hate. Like Cassie, I read this when I was pretty young, and I loved it. Rich and haughty Vanyel comes to be tutored by his aunt in a high fantasy world where Heralds have magical powers and bond to intelligent steeds called Companions. Vanyel starts out miserable and somewhat obnoxious, but gradually lets down his guard as he falls in love with shay’a’chern Herald trainee Tylendel. The first book is Magic’s Pawn, followed by Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price.
Cassie: I read these books when I was really young, but I remember they made an impression on me as they were literally the first fantasy with a gay main character I’d ever come across. I think that’s the case for a lot of people.
9) TRIPPING TO SOMEWHERE by Kristopher Reisz
Holly says: When Gilly and Sam run away to the Witches’ Carnival, they only know that they have to leave everything behind. That seems like it’s going to be easy for them, since there’s nothing in their Alabama town that they think they’ll miss. But as they go on this adventure together, it becomes more clear that leaving everything is harder than it seems. This is a beautifully written, incredibly honest book, with magic that seems numinous and real. And the relationship between the two girls is just as honest, sometimes painfully so. A truly magnificent contemporary fantasy.
Cassie says: I love a road-trip book, and this one is rich with the elements of fantasy America, especially the legendary Witches’ Carnival. The relationship between Gilly and Sam isn’t like anything else I’ve read in YA. A dark and sometimes brutal book, with flashes of beauty.
10) BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan
Cassie says: I would call this magical realism, like Baby Be-Bop. It paints an achingly lovely picture of a world we all wish we could live in, where tolerance is the rule of the day, and the high school’s homecoming queen is the cross-dressing Infinite Darlene. The passages where main character Paul proves his love to Noah, the object of his affections, by spending seven days making seven romantic gestures, like decorating his locker with flowers, are adorable.
Holly says: Set in a small New Jersey town that’s just on the border of the world we know, in a place where Paul’s high school homecoming queen is also be the football quarterback, this novel defies categorization. Paul is absolutely comfortable with his sexuality — and has been supported by teachers and parents his whole life — but still struggles with changing friendships, maturity and first love. Fantastical worldbuilding creeps in at the edges, as in a scene in a graveyard where instead of flowers, this town attaches books to headstones, so that visitors can write to the deceased.