First crushes and first loves are always made out to be these beautiful, happy, life-changing, coming-of-age experiences. But anyone going through puberty can probably tell you that first loves can be confusing and scary and there’s a reason why they call it a “crush” (because it hurts!).
Life in middle school and high school are already hell on earth, but add to that a budding sexuality and a queer identity, and these years can become even more difficult to navigate. Thankfully, there are many books that tell important truths about love and adolescence as a young queer person. It’s not always pretty or joyful, but it can lead to some wonderful discoveries about the self and the vast world outside of the ones we already know.
Here are 10 books, comics and graphic novels that tell stories of young love and embracing an LGBTQ identity in a world that could use a little compassion.
“The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee
This hilarious historical fiction tells the story of Monty, a bisexual British noble about to embark on a grand tour of Europe with his sister, Felicity, and his best friend, Percy, whom he is secretly in love with. Early on, however, their trip takes an unexpected, adventurous turn. Even though the plot takes place in the 1700s, the themes of family, identity and teenage recklessness will be relevant to readers of any age.
Choice quote: “We are not broken things, neither of us. We are cracked pottery mended with lacquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so very loved.”
“Odd One Out” by Nic Stone
This novel, from the author of “Dear Martin,” shows that you can’t put a label on love. It’s told in three parts from three different perspectives: Courtney, the basketball star who’s in love with his neighbor and best friend; Jupiter, the girl next door who has eyes for one girl only; and Rae, the new girl in town who wants very much to kiss her ― and him. In the backdrop of it all is a mystery that the characters work together to solve. But can they find a solution to their budding love triangle?
Choice quote: “Life is a journey without a map, and as such, we’ll all encounter twists and turns that force us to correct our course or change directions entirely.”
“Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli
Becky Albertalli’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story about Simon, a shy, gay high school student who’s forced to come out of the closet when he’s blackmailed by another student who finds emails Simon has been sending to another boy. This story is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Choice quote: “I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. ... And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.”
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Identity is the theme of this story of Aristotle, a lonely and brooding teen who’s struggling to fit in with his family. One summer he meets Dante, a kind know-it-all who teaches Aristotle how to swim. Over the summer, the boys develop a close friendship that teaches them important lessons about themselves, their families, their Mexican-American heritage and who they want to be.
Choice quote: “Sometimes, you do things and you do them not because you’re thinking but because you’re feeling. Because you’re feeling too much. And you can’t always control the things you do when you’re feeling too much.”
“They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera
Don’t worry, the title isn’t a spoiler; it’s a fact. In the alternative reality of this book, an app tells you the exact day you’re going to die. Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio, two strangers, both get a call that today is their last day alive. Using another app called LastFriend, the two meet up for one last adventure and attempt to live a lifetime in a single day.
Choice quote: “Maybe it’s better to have gotten it right and been happy for one day instead of living a lifetime of wrongs.”
“Autoboyogaphy” by Christina Lauren
Tanner, a bisexual teenage boy, is forced back into the closet when his family moves from California to a conservative religious community in Utah. During a writing class in his new high school, Tanner falls in love with Sebastian, the class’ mentor, and has to decide whether to make a move. This young adult novel artfully shows a world where love and religion can exist together.
Choice quote: “A God worthy of your eternal love wouldn’t judge you for who you love while you’re here.”
“The Witch Boy” by Molly Knox Ostertag
“The Witch Boy” is the first book in a series of graphic novels about a 13-year-old boy named Aster, who was meant to be a shapeshifter like the other boys in his world, but feels as if he’s born to be a witch, like the girls. This gorgeously illustrated middle-grade novel teaches important lessons about family, stereotypes and courage in a world full of magic.
Choice quote: “We treat the things that soak up energy and resources like they’re valuable, and the things that generate them like they’re disposable. We don’t celebrate the batteries. And I think that’s wrong.”
“The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang
The second graphic novel and historical fiction on this list tells a tale of gender identity in the face of great odds. At night, Prince Sebastian wears fabulous dresses and becomes Lady Crystallia, the fashion icon of Paris. No one knows the prince’s secret identity except his best friend and dressmaker, Frances, who must hide her talent as a seamstress in order to protect her prince. But how long can both these friends keep their secrets before breaking?
Choice quote: “My whole life is other people deciding what’s acceptable. When I put on a dress, I get to decide what’s silly.”
“Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
This graphic novel tells the important story of how to navigate ― and how to leave ― toxic relationships, like the one between Freddy and Laura Dean. Laura Dean is funny, cute and popular, but particularly thoughtless when it comes to her girlfriend, Freddy. And all Freddy wants is for Laura Dean to stop breaking up with her. In this tale, Freddy eventually learns what a healthy love looks like and how to embrace it by letting go.
Choice quote: “I think it’s true that the older you get, and I am very old, the more you see that being in love and breaking up have a lot in common.”
“Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera
Juliet is a lesbian from the Bronx who lands a summer internship with her favorite feminist writer. But what she thought would be a dream job fails to meet her expectations when her icon doesn’t have all the answers to love and life that Juliet is looking for. Through parties, a fling and self-reflection on race and sexuality, Juliet eventually learns that only she has the power to change her world.
Choice quote: “To love another woman is to look at yourself in the mirror and determine that you are worthy of the galaxy and its fury. To love another woman is to love yourself more than you love her.”