by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez
There remains a great need for Latinx Gay young adult literature. The list below is a compilation of texts that center and complicate these experiences. I’ve decided to make this list a space dedicated to stories written by self-identifying Latinx authors who have created gay Latinx protagonists. There are certainly other books with gay Latinx minor characters and books with gay Latinx characters written by non-Latinx. Many of the protagonists in the novels listed below express a feeling of isolation when they come out or at simply existing as a gay Latinx person. This isolation stems from a lack of familiarity with gay Latinx history and cultural productions, from an assumption that they are the only gay Latinx in their family, community, or school, and from the misconception that gay identity and Latinx identity cannot be one in the same. These are very real concerns that LGBTQI Latinx youth reading these novels might have and while it is important that they see themselves represented in fictional characters they must also see themselves reflected in the people that write these stories.
Many of the novels below deal with coming out as gay and the violence that one might experience because of it. Many of the protagonists are marginalized by their family and friends and many must literally fight for their lives. For example, in Charles Rice-Gonzalez’s Chulito Chulito, a 16 year-old gang member, is physically accosted by the gang leader after learning that Chulito is gay. Altercations with the quintessential hypermasculine character also occur in The Mariposa Club, Rainbow High, Aristotle and Dante, and More Happy Than Not. The depictions of violence in these novels signal that as a community we need to work harder to create safe spaces for queer Latinx youth to come out. Creating safe spaces includes challenging rigid gender roles, challenging trans and homophobia, and challenging white supremacy.
A common critique of gay YA novels is often their focus on coming out narratives. Clearly, gay youth are more than their coming out experiences and there is certainly a need to see gay characters live lives that represent that. However, these stories continue to be extremely valuable for Latinx communities. Consider for a minute that there aren’t many YA novels written by Latinx authors that center Latina lesbian and queer experiences. While the coming out narrative may feel overdone in stories that center dominant and white experiences, this is not the case for many underrepresented communities. Mayra Lazara Dole’s Young Adult novel Down to the Bone and Gabby Rivera’s more recent New Adult novel Juliet Takes a Breath are the only novels written by Latinx authors that center Latinx gay experiences that I know about. E.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s award winning Fat Angie is written by a Latinx author, Charlton-Trujillo identifies as a “Wexican” or the whitest Mexican-American, but there aren’t any cultural signifiers that indicate that Angie is a Latinx character. It is also dangerous to assume that Angie is a white Latinx just because that’s how the author identifies. In any case, we need more novels that center Latinx lesbian and queer experiences.
There is also a lack of trans Latinx characters. Rigoberto Gonzalez’s The Mariposa Club introduces readers to Trinidad Ramos, a trans Latina. There’s also a minor trans character in Chulito, Puti. Trinidad and Puti experience the most violence in these novels. Trini is beat up by the school jocks and needs to transfer schools, her father burns her with cigarettes, and is ostracized by many of her schoolmates. From the little we get to know about Puti it is clear that she also experienced some violence and that her family does not respect her. However, in the face of adversity Trini, and even Puti, remains resilient.
The turbulent and painful moments in these novels are countered with yet more powerful and beautiful scenes. The parent figures in Aristotle and Dante, More Happy Than Not, and The Mariposa Club are supportive of their gay Latinx child. The tension that might exists between the gay protagonist and their parent often times has more to do with other issues not necessarily tied to the characters’ gay identity. For example, in Aristotle and Dante Aristotle has a strained relationship with his father because of Mr. Mendoza’s past war experiences and because of Ari’s older brother’s imprisonment. Despite these complications, it is Mr. Mendoza that helps him realize he is in love with Dante. In More Happy Than Not, Aaron’s mom knows he’s gay and gives him the space to figure it out and come out on his own terms. Their relationship is complicated by the father’s suicide and the memory-erasing procedures offered by the Leteo Institute. Mauricio’s dad in The Mariposa Club is also very nurturing. He provides support not just for Maui but for all the fierce mariposas. Mauricio’s dad has a difficult time connecting to his son because he doubts his own parent skills, especially since his wife passed away.
Furthermore, the romantic relationships in these novels are tender and complex. At the beginning of Rainbow Boys Jason is dating the head cheerleader but later develops a crush for Kyle, who is being crushed on by Nelson. Aristotle and Dante’s relationship is sweet, quirky, and everything you want love to be. Heartbreak is way too real in these novels as well. Aaron from More Happy than Not and Juliet from Juliet Takes a Breath get their hearts broken and these scenes will bring readers to angry-filled, hot tears.
The books listed here are only the beginning. I can’t say I’ve read every gay YA book in search of Latinx characters. Hopefully this list will serve as a catalyst to find gay Latinx characters and Latinx authors in the literature we read.
Tommy Stands Alone (Piñata Press, 1995) by Gloria Velásquez
Publisher description: The third novel in the Roosevelt High School Series focuses on the difficult issue of a young man’s struggle with his sexual orientation — a conflict made more difficult by his family’s traditional Hispanic expectations.
Rainbow Boys (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003) by Alex Sanchez
Publisher description: Jason Carrillo is a jock with a steady girlfriend, but he can’t stop dreaming about sex…with other guys. Kyle Meeks doesn’t look gay, but he is. And he hopes he never has to tell anyone — especially his parents. Nelson Glassman is “out” to the entire world, but he can’t tell the boy he loves that he wants to be more than just friends. Three teenage boys, coming of age and out of the closet. In a revealing debut novel that percolates with passion and wit, Alex Sanchez follows these very different high-school seniors as their struggles with sexuality and intolerance draw them into a triangle of love, betrayal, and ultimately, friendship.
Rainbow High (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003) By Alex Sanchez
Publisher description: Jason Carrillo, the best-looking athlete in school, has had his eyes on the prize form day one: a scholarship for college. But then his eyes turn to love-and Kyle.
Kyle Meeks, swim team star and all-around good guy, is finally in the relationship he’s wanted. Being in love feels so good, in fact, that he can’t imagine giving it up to go to Princeton. Something he’s worked for his entire life.
Nelson Glassman, outgoing and defiant, might be HIV-positive. Jeremy, the boy he loves, is HIV positive. Although Nelson fears testing positive, if he is infected Jeremy might stop protecting him and pushing him away. They can be together.
High school’s almost over. Graduation is ahead. Life’s a bowl of cherries, right? Right….
Rainbow Road (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005) by Alex Sanchez
Publisher description: It’s the end of the road…
Jason Carrillo came out to his basketball team and lost his university scholarship. Now that he’s graduated, he’s been asked to speak at the opening of a gay and lesbian high school across the country-but what is he going to say?
Kyle Meeks is getting ready to go to Princeton in the fall. When his boyfriend, Jason, mentions the speaking invitation, he jumps at the chance to go with him-but can their romance survive two weeks crammed together in a car?
Nelson Glassman is happy that his best friend, Kyle, has found love with Jason. Now he wants to find a soul mate of his own and is going to start looking during the road trip-but will being “third wheel” ruin his friendship with Kyle and Jason?
The God Box (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007) by Alex Sanchez
Publisher description: How could I choose betwen my sexuality and my spirituality, two of the most important parts that made me whole? High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they’re good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he’s also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel’s interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel’s outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.
Down to the Bone (Harper Teen, 2008) by Mayra Lazara Dole
Publisher description: When Shai receives test messages from Marlena, the love of her life, and reads them during class, her dramatic mother finds out what her A-student daughter’s been doing behind her back and kicks her to the curb.
Soon Shai becomes involved with an unusual group of friends in exotic Miami. Can a discarded free-thinker turn the corner into a wild as wild, hilarious, and painful as her first love-and create a new kind of family?
The Mariposa Club (Alyson Books, 2009) by Rigoberto González
Publisher Description: As they embark on their final year of high school, the Fierce Foursome-Maui, Trini, Isaac, and Liberace-decide to do something big, something that will memorialize their friendships for when they all go their separate ways and begin their new “adult” lives. Already accustomed to the hardships that come with being openly gay in high school (not to mention in their homes), the boys can’t begin to imagine what they will be faced with when they set out to create Caliente Valley High School’s first GLBTQ club. But once the Mariposa Club is formed, they will not only have a place where they belong and that is all their own, but it will be a place for future students who feel as displaced as they do.
Mariposa Gown (Tincture, 2012) by Rigoberto González
Publisher description: In the sequel to The Mariposa Club, devoted Maui, fabulous Trini, and Goth-boy Liberace discover that the miedo and drama of life as a senior in high school is never-ending. The cure: friendship. But the bonds between the trio are tested; Sebastian, the handsome son of a wealthy developer crushes on Maui’s eye-and the attraction is mutual but oh-so-complicated; Trini must go back to living with her parents, which means dressing as a girl is no longer allowed; and Lib has to decide his future after graduation, one that could take him far away from Caliente Valley High and friends he’s known for years. But before caps and gowns can be donned a different, crucial event is fast coming. Prom. And this new Fierce Foursome wants to make a statement about acceptance and diversity. Which means one of our activists will be wearing a gown at prom. Chic Manifique! Maybe. Hopefully, he’ll still have a strong arm-and friends-to lean on when wearing matching heels.”
Chulito (Alyson Books, 2010) by Charles Rice-González
Publisher description: Set against a vibrant South Bronx neighborhood and the queer youth culture of Manhattan’s piers, Chulito is a coming-out, coming-of-age love story of a sexy, tough, hip hop–loving, young Latino man and the colorful characters in his vibrant neighborhood. Chulito, which means “cutie,” is one of the boys, and everyone in his neighborhood has seen him grow up—the owner of the local bodega, the Lees from the Chinese restaurant, his buddies from the corner, and all of his neighbors and friends, including Carlos, who was Chulito’s best friend until they hit puberty and people started calling Carlos a pato . . . a faggot. Chulito rejects Carlos, buries his feelings for him, and becomes best friends with Kamikaze, a local drug dealer. When Carlos comes home from his first year away at college and they share a secret kiss, Chulito’s worlds collide as his ideas of being a man, being macho, and being in love are challenged. Vivid, sexy, funny, heartbreaking, and fearless, this brilliant work is destined to become a queer classic.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012) by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher description: Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself. But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in the way, and only by believing in each other—and the power of their friendship—can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
Tommy Stands Tall (Arte Publico Press, 2013) by Gloria Velásquez
Publisher description: Tommy is excited to finally be a senior at Roosevelt High School. There was a time when he thought he’d never graduate, especially after he tried to kill himself to avoid dealing with his sexual orientation. But when Albert, a new student at Roosevelt High, is beaten so badly he winds up in the emergency room, Tommy can’t help but wonder if he was attacked because he’s gay. Soon, rumors about Albert are reverberating down the school’s hallways, and Tommy fears Albert might seek the same solution he himself did two years before
In spite of being busy with school, his job at the local theater and tutoring a young immigrant boy, Tommy finds other students both gay and straight interested in starting a club to raise awareness and seek equality for gay students. But will it really make a difference? Will they be able to modify the school’s anti-discrimination code? And will the group be able to help Albert?
Mariposa U (Smashwords Edition, 2015) by Rigoberto González
Publisher description: The third installment in Rigoberto González’s beloved series of young adult novels featuring a diverse band of southern California Latino friends finds thoughtful Maui Gutiérrez as a freshman at university and struggling to navigate life away from the support of his loving, old friends and family. University life can be lonely. He has no idea that his education is going to include a course in relationships-there have been dates with boys before, but Maui finds himself falling for Diego And where there is new love there is drama and heartbreak, something that the Fierce Foursome of his high school days would have warned Maui about.
More Happy Than Not (Soho Teen, 2015) by Adam Silvera
Publisher description: In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.
When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is. Why does happiness have to be so hard?
Juliet Takes A Breath (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016) by Gabby Rivera
Publisher description: Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet had a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding things. Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle? With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.
Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez’s research focuses on the various roles that healing plays in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. She currently teaches composition and literature at a community college in Chicago. She also teaches poetry to 6th graders and drama to 2nd graders as a teaching artist through a local arts organization. She is working on her first middle grade novel. Follow Sonia on Instagram @latinxkidlit and on twitter @mariposachula8