Books with LGBTQIA+ themes for kids and teens

“It’s okay to be yourself.”

It’s a pretty universal piece of advice that many kids and teens hear, and it makes sense. After all, the difficulty in trying to maintain a façade – to be somebody you aren’t – is a huge burden, especially when you’re already going through the turbulent years of growing up. But with the current opposition to the Safe Schools program and the fact that many people are calling into question the suitability of the material, which addresses same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, there’s a very real danger that young people might get the message that it’s not okay to be themselves after all.

While the struggle for acceptance goes on in the political sphere, it might be heartening to some young readers to know that they can find some solace in the pages of a good book. That’s why we’ve put together a collection of our favourite books that focus on characters who are sex and gender diverse. Through shared experiences and characters they can identify with and look up to, there’s the hope that kids and teens will come away from this knowing that it’s okay for them to be themselves.

We love… Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

This one is for the fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower; it’s about a girl, her gay best friend and the boy who loves them both.

Told from the points-of-view of Jeremy, Sebby and Mira (in first-person, second- and third- respectively), readers are treated to the highs and lows of growing up and all the complications that entails. Mira is depressed, and her chronic fatigue coupled with her low self-esteem drags her down. Sebby, on the other hand, is a burst of sunlight despite his tough upbringing in the foster system. And Jeremy is the newcomer trying to get to know these two friends despite his tendency towards being the shy introvert.

These are three characters who grow so much over the course of the book, meeting what life throws at them with such warmth and humour that you won’t want to say goodbye to them.

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We love… This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

If you’re after a frank and funny factbook to being gay, look no further – in this guide, Juno Dawson covers topics like biology, sex education, role models and how to deal with prejudice.

While This Book is Gay has drawn some criticism for not being as inclusive as it could be (i.e. the focus is mainly on gay and lesbian subjects, and tends to gloss over asexuality and non-binary genders), the general consensus is that there is still a lot of great information here, told in a highly accessible way that will appeal to people of all ages.

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We love… Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

This graphic novel memoir explores the author’s own childhood summers in the all-girl Camp Bellflower. Set in the 2000’s with all its nostalgic references to boy bands, Maggie takes us through her days spent deep in the heart of Georgia, excelling at the rifle range and making friendship bracelets. And then she meets Erin – the older, wiser camp counselor who plunges Maggie into a world of confusion and self-examination.

With its strict religious morality, Camp Bellflower isn’t the place to be out and proud, but could it be possible that Erin feels the same way about Maggie as Maggie does about her? Romance and heartbreak are brought to life in this spot-on memoir.

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We love… The Flywheel by Erin Gough

Delilah’s life is in disarray. After her mother took off, she sent her father on a much-needed vacation with the promise she could look after the family’s struggling café, the Flywheel. She’s not about to let dad know she’s not exactly coping, even though her managerial grip on the staff is a little shaky, and she’s also dealing with the shame of being mocked at school for having a crush on a girl. Instead she distracts herself with Rosa, the beautiful flamenco dancer at the Spanish bar across the road and hopes that life might work out for once.

This is such a funny and heartwarming read, you’ll fall in love with Del!

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We love… Eon by Alison Goodman

Eon has been training for years to become the next Dragoneye – somebody chosen to commune with the power of a dragon. He has given up many things under the harsh tutelage of his master, foremost amongst them his own identity. Because under the exterior of a young man lies the young woman Eona, a secret that she must keep hidden from a society who would cast her out if they were to learn the truth.

This is an utterly absorbing read for fans of fantasy and Eastern mythology that has some brilliant characters who redefine our traditional notions of gender.

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We love… Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews

Arin might have been born a girl and given the name Emerald, but deep down he always knew he was Arin. It was convincing the rest of the world that was the problem.

This is the memoir of one teen’s journey through the difficult high school years of love, rejection, discrimination and what it’s like to go through gender reassignment when you’re still in high school. And through Arin’s eyes, we also see him meet Katie Rain Hill – another teen going through gender reassignment surgery – and fall in love.

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We love… Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Warm and fuzzy and oh-so-funny – this is the kind of book you reach for when you just need a little pick-me-up. Simon isn’t openly gay, but after he carelessly leaves his emails open on a school computer, he finds himself in the middle of a blackmail attempt. And even though Simon doesn’t want his own dramas being scrutinised, he’s more worried for the person on the receiving end of the emails – the mysterious Blue.

That might all sound a little dire (and don’t get me wrong, this book definitely tackles some heavier issues) but Simon is such a lovable character to spend time with that it never feels like a misery memoir.

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We love… George by Alex Gino

When George’s school announces that they’re doing a production of Charlotte’s Web, she’s desperate to play the lead of Charlotte. But when she goes to audition, her teacher tells her she can’t even try out because she’s a boy. The problem is that when people look at George, they don’t see her for who she truly is inside – she knows she’s not a boy, and so with the help of her best friend Kelly, George hatches a plan to reveal the real her.

Many of the books on this list are aimed firmly at teens; they don’t shy away from some of the more graphic bits that might not be appropriate for primary school aged kids. George, on the other hand, is perfect for this age group – great characters and a wonderful plot that any reader will enjoy.

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We love… Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Fifteen year old Austin is chronicling the end of the world as it descends into chaos: an unfortunate mishap has transformed the human race into giant praying mantises who want nothing more than to have sex with and then decapitate each other. Austin, on the other hand, just wants to have sex with both his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. How is he meant to save a world turned upside down when he can’t even control his own hormones?

Grasshopper Jungle is unlike anything you’ve read before – a wild romp that explores the fluidity of sexual attraction and identity. Plus, y'know, giant praying mantises.

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We love… Clariel by Garth Nix

In a sea of romance, heartbreak and love triangles that are often the focus of young adult novels, it can be hard for kids or teens who identify as asexual or aromantic to find representation. Clariel is the latest in Garth Nix’s phenomenally popular Old Kingdom series, and follows the struggles of the eponymous Clariel.

After her family moves to the bustling capital of Belisaere, Clariel finds herself drawn into a web of political intrigue and a plot involving dangerous Free Magic. There are also plans to marry her off, and for Clariel – who explains that she has no interest in either men or women – to be tied down in such a way would mean the end of her freedom. Clariel is a brilliant character: flawed and troubled but so strong, and Nix, as always, delivers a masterful fantasy tale full of darkness and light.

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