By drift partner, in the spirit of Femslash February.
I read a lot of young adult books, and specifically a lot of YA books about queer women, because, well, that’s what I’m interested in. At this point, I can go down a given list of “essential reading for lgbt+ teens” and have read anywhere from half of the lesbian/bisexual girls section to all of it. This doesn’t mean that I’ve liked all of it, of course. A lot of the ones I’ve read just haven’t worked for me, for whatever reason. And I’ve loved quite a few books that I hardly ever see people talk about when they talk about queer YA, or that I’ve had to work to hunt down. This list is showcasing those books: a handful of the ones I wish got the attention they deserve.
5. Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour
The only reason this one is so far down on the list is because it’s the newest (not even 2 years old), and because I saw it displayed in the YA romance section in Barnes & Noble for weeks, so technically it’s probably not underrated. But it’s gorgeous and I love it and I want everyone to love it too. It tells the story of Emi, a charming human disaster who has a gift for set design but is terrible at real-life things like healthy relationships. Until, that is, she meets aspiring actress Ava, who is tangled up in a mystery that Emi’s determined to solve. I am biased as all hell because Emi has a frank conversation with somebody about how her being white-passing does not disqualify her from being multiracial, and also because this book made me all fluttery and it was very romantic. It’s one of those books that when you finish, you feel like you’ve woken up from a wondeful dream.
4. Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
I found this one hanging out on the queer YA spotlight shelf at Powell’s Books, and snuck it into my stack hoping my homophobic parents wouldn’t see. It’s historical, set in the Victorian Era, and is partially about the unfair institutionalization of queer people and partially about the terrible practices present in mental institutions at the time. That being said, HUGE GODDAMN TRIGGER WARNINGS for, like, ableism and terrible medical/psychological practices all out the ass and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Because, of course, the heroine Louisa is not actually crazy, it’s all been a terrible misunderstanding! And the mystery of why she’s there is…well, pretty easily solved if you’ve had it spoiled for you like this. If that’s going to bother you, please protect yourself and steer clear. BUT I thought it was a fascinating book and the romance was really well-done and sweet, so if you can, uh, overlook the problems, it’s a gripping read.
3. Sister Mischief by Laura Goode
I am convinced a hardcover of this book does not actually exist outside my library system because I have literally never seen one. I’ve also only ever seen it in two independent bookstores (and I find the paperback ugly so I refuse to buy it), so good luck tracking it down, I guess. Anyway, it’s about a group of four friends who live in the middle of the Bible belt and who have created an all-girl hip-hop group. The lyricist, Esme, is an out-and-proud Jewish lesbian, and the other group members are equally disinterested in what their conservative community thinks. About half of the book is centered around the social upset they cause just by existing in public, and the other half is devoted to Esme’s romance with Rowie, her co-MC. This book is just really fun, honestly. I’m going to buy a copy just as soon as I can find an acceptable one, and until then I just talk it up on the internet a lot.
2. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
This book is very sad, just to warn everybody. If you are looking for happy lesbians read #5 or #4 but not this one! It is about an Iranian lesbian, Sahar, who is in love with her best friend Nasrin, although they know that their lives will be in danger if anyone finds out. When Nasrin’s parents announce plans for her arranged marriage, Sahar panics at the prospect of things changing. Then she lands upon a solution: homosexuality is a crime in Iran, but sex reassignment is legal and accessible for transgender people. If she poses as a transgender boy, she might have a chance at being with Nasrin for real. I’ve seen this book called transphobic, and I can see how it could be taken that way, but the author, who is Iranian, as well as a friend of mine who is Iranian, have confirmed that queer couples do take this route in Iran in order to legally be together. Still, if that will bother you, be cautioned. Also it will make you very sad, but it’s beautiful and well worth a read.
1. Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
I feel like I literally never see anyone talking about this book, in any context, and that makes me so sad because it’s gorgeous. It’s a dystopian retelling of The Odyssey, about a girl named Pen who has lost her family in the aftermath of a disaster. It’s part Hero’s Journey metaphor, part acid trip/fever dream, part road trip story, part found family story, and something else that I can’t describe, except to say this book kept me up to an obscene hour because it demanded to be finished. Pen is bisexual, which is why I put it on the list, but as opposed to those other books it’s kind of incidental – there are at least two or three other queer characters who find her and they create their own group in lieu of having anyone else. I want people to write analytical essays on this book, because I want to know how they interpret certain scenes. I want there to be either a big-budget movie or a multi-part miniseries. This book is beautiful and weird and I fucking love it and I want everyone else to experience it.