Men’s figure skater Adam Rippon has made history, charmed crowds, and inspired young people at the Olympics this month in Pyeongchang. Making his Olympic debut at the advanced age of 28 — His teammates Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou are both 17 and also made history with their quadruple jumps — Rippon is the first openly gay athlete to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
Just as the LGBTQ community is new to the Olympic spotlight, they’re also relatively new to mainstream literature for youth. Author Malinda Lo has documented the recent rise of LGBTQ books for teens on her blog. In 2016, mainstream publishers published 79 LGBTQ YA books. Back in 2003, when she started tracking, fewer than 20 were published. Shining a spotlight on LGBTQ books is the mission of groups like the American Library Association Rainbow List committee. The Rainbow List recommends quality books with significant and authentic LGBTQ content for people from birth through age 18. This year’s list debuted the same week that Adam Rippon made headlines. It’s a wonderfully diverse list, featuring authors and characters from across the spectrum.
Here are just a few of my favorites from the list:
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
A Stonewall Award Winner, Printz Honor and YALSA Nonfiction Honor, this is the true story of Oakland teenagers Sasha and Richard, and the near-fatal prank that forever impacted their lives. Sasha is agender, and likes wearing skirts. Richard is egged into lighting Sasha’s skirt on fire as they sleep on the bus, thinking that they’ll wake up and put out the flame before any harm is done. The skirt ignites, and Richard — who is black — is charged with a hate crime and tried as an adult. Slater presents empathetic portraits of both teens, and exposes some of the major flaws of our criminal justice system.
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Winner of the National Book Award for youth, this novel is about three siblings who are raised with different families and meet as teenagers. Grace struggles with many emotions after giving up her own baby for adoption, but most of all longs to meet her own birth mother. Her younger sister Maya’s “perfect” family, as well as the loving relationship with her girlfriend are both cracking apart. Their older brother Joaquin, who is Latinx, has finally found foster parents who love him. By telling three very different adoption stories with one family, Benway highlights how personal an experience it is.
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
The accidental drowning of his best friend/first love, Theo, leaves Griffin despondent. He’d always thought they would eventually get back together, even after Theo moved on to another boyfriend, Jackson. Griffin finds himself obsessed with Jackson soon after he arrives for Theo’s funeral. Meanwhile, Wade, the third in Theo and Griffin’s trio of friends, seems desperate to reach out to Griffin despite his neglect. This is a gut-wrenching tale of grief, trust, and love that lingers in your mind long after the final page is turned.
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Another Stonewall Winner, this novel documents the complex relationship between black/white step-siblings who develop feelings for the same girl. Suzette deals simultaneously with a painful breakup and with a confusing new attraction to her childhood friend, Emil. Her older brother Lionel struggles with bipolar disorder. Then he meets Suzette’s new co-worker, Rafaela, who finds both him and Suzette attractive. Suzette can’t help feeling jealous, even as she’s happy for Lionel and developing real feelings for Emil. Every character in this book is messy and complex, just like in real life.
Radio Silence by Alice Osemon
Biracial Frances has focused solely on preparing for University, until the fan art she posts about her favorite podcast catches the attention of her white neighbor Aled Last, its reclusive creator. Identifying as “partly asexual,” Aled asks her to become his artistic partner, and a passionate friendship is born. Weighing heavily on Frances’ mind, however, is the guilt she feels for kissing his sister years before, on the night that she ran away. The mysteries layered within the characters and their story emerge gradually, building more and more suspense until finally resolving in the end.
Since I’m a Teen Services Librarian, my reading focuses on books for this age group. For the full list, including books for babies and elementary-age youth, visit the official blog of the Rainbow Book List.