10 LGBTQ+ YA Books That Helped Me Define My Sexuality—As an Adult

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I was a 13-year-old high school freshman in the year 2004. I lived in a small town in northern Connecticut, and my graduating class had about 50 people in it. Not a single one of them was out, and the bullies still used “gay” like it was an insult that meant “dumb.” I didn’t know any adults in gay or lesbian relationships, and same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in the United States. 

When I was a 13-year-old high school freshman, I had no idea I wasn’t straight.

Now, I am 31 years old, and the year is 2023. I live in a city in North Carolina with thousands of people moving to it every day. I have friends and family members who identify as lesbian, gay, queer, and trans. One of the best weddings I have ever been to was my cousin’s wedding with her wife, and same-sex marriage has been legal in the United States for almost a decade.

Now, I am 31 years old, and I can confidently say that I am bisexual.

And these are the LGBTQ+ YA novels that helped me define my sexuality. They’re the books that introduced me to queer communities. The books that helped me stop questioning why Rachel McAdams was the first name that came to mind when someone asked me who my celebrity crush was. The books that helped me see that there had always been more depth to the way I liked how a woman styled her hair or wore her clothes. They’re the books that reassured me I can be bisexual even though I’ve been with my husband for ten years. They’re the books I wish I had in high school. And they’re the books I’m so happy that 13-year-old high school freshmen have now.

Becky Albertalli

Imogen, Obviously

Imogen Scott may be hopelessly heterosexual, but she’s the greatest ally to her queer sister and two best friends. She’s such a great ally that when her friend Lili admits she’s told all her college friends that Imogen and Lili used to date, Imogen agrees to go along with the lie. And just like that, none of Lili’s friends know that Imogen is a raging hetero—not even Tessa. Of course, the more time Imogen spends with chaotic, freckle-faced Tessa, the more she starts to wonder if her truth was ever all that straight to begin with.

Robyn Schneider

You Don’t Live Here

When Sasha Bloom’s mother passes away in a Southern California earthquake, she has no choice but to move in with her estranged grandparents. Her grandparents’ world of khakis, country clubs, and scheduled dinners is nothing like what Sasha is used to. She tries to be who her grandparents want her to be: a lawyer in the making and girlfriend to a boy from a good family. But then Sasha meets Lily Chen and discovers that she might not be able to hold her true self back any longer.

Amy Spalding

No Boy Summer

After a year marred by relationship disasters, Lydia and her sister, Penny, decide to spend their summer with their Aunt Grace and her boyfriend Oscar in Los Angeles while their parents are off on a European cruise. The change in scenery is perfect for the pact the two sisters make: they won’t kiss any boys this summer. But when Lydia meets Fran, she convinces herself that Fran is a loophole because Lydia is bisexual, a fact Penny doesn’t know yet. Lydia has never dated a girl before, but she wants nothing more than to kiss Fran. Penny won’t mind as long as Lydia’s happy, right?

Tess Sharp

6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)

After years of bickering, Penny and Tate have called a truce: they’ll play nice. They have to. Their mothers (life-long best friends) need them to be perfect, drama-free daughters when Penny’s mother becomes a living liver donor to Tate’s mom. Forced to live together as the Moms recover, the girls’ truce is essential in keeping everything—their jobs, the house, the finances, the Moms’ healing—running smoothly. They’ve got to let this thing between them go. But there’s one little hitch: Penny and Tate keep almost kissing.

Dahlia Adler

Cool for Summer

Lara had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. And now, he’s finally noticing her, too. The problem? Lara is haunted by the memory of Jasmine, a girl she spent a confusing, romantic, and strangely perfect summer with. Lara finally has the guy, so why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Jennifer Dugan

Some Girls Do

When it turns out that being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct, Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer schools. There, she meets Ruby, who wishes she could spend all of her time tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino instead of competing in local beauty pageants to please her mother. Drawn to each other, the two can’t deny their growing feelings. But Morgan is out and proud, and Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path, will Morgan and Ruby be able to make their relationship work?

Casey McQuistion

I Kissed Shara Wheeler

After Chloe Green’s moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, the only thing that’s kept her going is winning valedictorian. And the only thing that’s stood in her way is Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny. But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes. On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers Shara also kissed Smith, her longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, her bad boy neighbor with a crush. As Chloe, Smith, and Rory untangle the clues Shara has left behind, Chloe starts to suspect there is more to this small town than she thought—and more to Shara, too.

Leah Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, and too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But she doesn’t mind: she’ll soon be at Pennington College on her way to becoming a doctor. That is, until the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through and her only hope is to win the scholarship money given to prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less, and the only thing that makes it bearable is new girl Mack, who is smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams or make them come true?

Auriane Desombre

I Think I Love You

Emma, a bisexual teen and die-hard romantic, has the perfect idea for the film festival competition she’s entering with her friends: a rom-com that will finally make her feel seen. But Sophia, a pragmatic lesbian who doesn’t believe in big romantic gestures, is convinced an artistic film with a message will win the competition. The film is doomed from the start. That is, until Emma and Sophia’s rivalry starts to turn into an actual rom-com.

Margot Wood

Fresh

Elliot is a bisexual incoming freshman at Emerson College in Boston who says, “If you must label me, my sexuality is horny.” Picking a major is the last thing on her mind because she’s too busy experiencing all that college has to offer—from dancing all night at off-campus parties to testing her RA Rose’s patience, to making new friends, and having the best sex one can have on a twin-size dorm-room bed. But when things start to get serious—when finals creep up on her, when the sex she’s having isn’t that great, when the friendships she’s built aren’t as solid as she thought—Elliot will have to take the time to figure out who she wants to be.

 

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