Recommended Books with Gay Male Characters
By Rob Bittner
Rob Bittner is a queer lecturer and researcher who lives near Vancouver, BC. He has an MA in Children’s Literature and a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, and his current research focuses on LGBTQ+ representation in YA literature, and trans and nonbinary parents in children’s picture books. His most recent publication was on celebrating #OwnVoices queer literature in classrooms and libraries. Find out more about him at his website.
How this list was created:
The early days of gay literature for young adults was populated mostly by white gay protagonists, and sometimes white lesbian protagonists. But in recent years (the last decade especially) representation has become much more diverse. There are queer trans boys and nonbinary teens, and queer boys of many different races and ethnicities. We are at a time when instead of two or three LGBTQ+ books for youth coming out in a year, we are instead seeing dozens in a single month. This is an amazing thing! But it also means that this Best Of list was a challenge to create. I went through my shelves at home, scoured other websites and book lists and tried to find books that exemplify various aspects of gay possibilities in YA novels. In this list there’s fantasy, sci-fi, romance, realism, happy stories and sad stories, graphic novels, YA novels and novels for middle grade readers. I could do a different list every month, or a different list for each genre or format, and I would still miss so many incredible books. So instead of seeing this as just a Best Of list, think of it as a cross-section of the possibilities for gay representation in books for children and teens.
Like a Love Story focuses on three young people over the summer of 1989 during the height of the AIDS crisis, in New York City. Reza is gay and a recent immigrant to New York City, having left Iran with his mother to live with his new stepfather and stepbrother. Judy aspires to be a fashion designer and is best friends with Art. Art is having a hard time being openly gay, wanting to become an activist like his uncle Stephen, and constantly arguing with his conservative parents. Together, the three help each other through trying times with humor, sensitivity, and love.
This memoir lays bare Hutchinson’s high school and early college years, from coming out, to depression, to difficulties with friends and family, and other more difficult moments. He writes with brutal honesty, revealing much about himself and the world he has grown up in. Although the overall narrative arc is straightforward coming out story, the depth and complexity of his recollections serve to illustrate to readers the many ways in which society creates paradoxical and near-impossible expectations for queer youth. But in the end, the important part is, he made it through.
While trying to get his traditional Latinx family to accept him as a boy, Yadriel attempts a magical ritual to find his cousin’s killer, but instead summons the spirit of a boy named Julian Diaz. And now Yadriel can’t seem to get rid of him. As the two boys, along with Yadriel’s best friend Maritza, try to find out why Julian was summoned instead of the killer, feelings develop between the boys, complicating the task of returning Julian to his dead body. An adventure, a love story, and an exploration of gender, family, and expectations, Cemetery Boys has much to offer all kinds of readers.
By Bill Konigsberg
Openly Straight focuses on Rafe, an athlete who is openly gay and accepted by his family and community. In fact, he’s so accepted that he even gives talks about his experiences at other schools, but he’s also getting worried that being gay has become a defining part of his identity. He decides to transfer to an all-boys’ boarding school where he plans to keep his sexuality a secret, starting over with what he hopes is a clean slate. But then an unexpected crush, a challenging classroom assignment, and a classmate is trouble make him rethink his attempt to keep his sexuality hidden.
By Adam Silvera
It’s shortly after midnight on September 5th, and Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio get calls from Death-Cast, telling them that they are going to die within the next 24 hours. The two boys don’t know each other at the beginning of the night, but through an app that helps people find friends to stay with them through their final day, they meet and try to create a lifetime of memories before they die. As they embark on a series of random adventures to distract them from the inevitable, they develop a connection deeper than they ever would have thought possible.
By Lev Rosen
Sex education is not always a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ young people, so when he is approached by a friend on the school paper, Jack Rothman starts writing a sex advice column and makes waves in the school and surrounding community. Jack’s own sex life often makes him the subject of gossip, so writing the column gives him an opportunity to set the record straight (pun intended.) Jacke of Hearts (and Other Parts) is an unabashed and celebratory novel about relationships, sex and sexuality, and pushing back against a world that only approves of certain kinds of queerness.
By Adib Khorram
Darius Kellner considers himself to be a “Fractal Persian,” half Persian on his mom’s side. He doesn’t speak Farsi very well, which he doesn’t think is a huge problem, until his grandmother gets sick and the family heads to Iran for a visit. There, he meets his extended family, as well as Sohrab, the boy next door. This is a quiet novel exploring mental health, identity, and subtle queerness. The sequel, Darius the Great Deserves Better continues Darius’s story as he navigates a new relationship with another boy.
Running with Lions
Sebastian Hughes is the star goalie of the Blooming High School Lions. His senior year should be an exciting prospect, but while attending a summer training camp, an estranged childhood friend, Emir, shows up and changes everything. Now Sebastian isn’t sure if he will be able to regain Emir’s trust. But spending time together on the field and trying to bond outside of practice just might lead the two to become more than just friends this time around.
Yesterday is History
Andre Cobb has been sick for a very long time, but finally he is up for a liver transplant. After the operation he feels like things are looking up, but weeks later he is still not feeling all that great. And then he ends up in the 1960s. It turns out that Andre’s liver donor was a time traveler, and now Andre’s falling for a guy in the 60s, as well as his donor’s brother in the present. Torn between two different decades and two different boys, Andre needs to make some choices before he runs out of time. Oh, the irony!
Aiden Navarro is away at summer camp, after which he will be starting high school. And he is frightened. He is trying to navigate family issues, bullies, friendships, and even his feelings for another boy who may or may not feel the same way about him. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel from Mike Curato looks at sexual awakening and sexual identity as it intersects with family drama, religion, and societal expectations around masculinity.
Erick Bittle is a figure skater who likes baking and vlogging. But when he sends a video of his skating skills to Samwell University, he ends up part of Samwell’s hockey team. His cheerful disposition and baking skills make him an almost instant hit with the other guys, but Eric is still not sure how comfortable they would be if they knew he was gay. And it certainly doesn’t help that he is developing a crush on Jack, the team captain. Check Please! is a charming and upbeat graphic novel series that’s sure to bring a smile to any reader’s face.
The Best At It
By Maulik Pancholy
Rahul Kapoor is about to start seventh grade in small town Indiana. He is feeling very anxious and unsure about the new year, unable to find anything that will help him feel like he is worthy of friendship and respect. His grandfather gives him a piece of advice: Find one thing you’re really good at, and then become the best at it. Rahul really wants to find that “thing,” believing it will stop him from being bullied, and maybe it will keep him from staring too much at his classmate, Justin Emery. Pancholy’s debut is delightful, charming, humorous, and full of heart.
King and the Dragonflies
By Kacen Callender
When twelve-year-old King’s brother Khalid dies, King is convinced that his brother has turned into a dragonfly now living down by the bayou in the small Louisiana town. King would like to be able to talk to his best friend Sandy, but at Khalid’s urging just before his death, King publicly outs Sandy and creates a rift between them. But when Sandy goes missing, hiding from his abusive father, King is forced to confront his own feelings, and his sexuality, as he and Sandy work to mend their relationship.