Books

21 LGBTQ+ Authors On The Books They Wish They’d Had As Teenagers

Future generations won’t have to grow up without these reads.

'Memorial,' 'Freshwater,' 'Sadie,' and 'A Safe Girl to Love' are among the books LGBTQ+ authors recommend.
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With summer just getting into full swing, you’re going to want to stock up on reading material for the sun-soaked weeks ahead — and if you’re looking to celebrate Pride Month with some pertinent reads, you’re in luck. Bustle asked 21 LGBTQ+ authors to recommend the books they wish they’d read as teenagers — the books that could have helped them, been there for them when they were figuring out who they were, showed them how to navigate the world as themselves. We’ve compiled their answers for you here, along with links to the contributors’ latest work.

The books listed include YA fiction, literary novels and collections, memoirs, poetry, and everything in between. Several selections have been nominated for prominent literary awards, including the Stonewall Book Award, Lambda Literary Award, and Women’s Prize. Many of the contributing authors — including Charlie Jane Anders, Sarah Gailey, and Aiden Thomas — have also been recognized with these and similar accolades, while others — such as C.L. Clark, Isaac Fitzsimons, and Alex McElroy — made their publishing debuts this year. All are talented and insightful, and eager to uplift their peers. Check out their recommendations below.

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Charlie Jane Anders

“My copy of Whipping Girl is dog-eared on almost every other page, because there are so many insights about the complex nature of gender here. I devoured this book as an adult, soaking in Serano's reassuring-yet-fierce tone and her incisive gaze. This is the book that introduced me to the concept of ‘trans-misogyny,’ which changed the way I think about my life as a trans woman. If I'd had this book as a teen, I might not have taken nearly so long to understand myself and the shape of my life in the world.”

Charlie Jane Anders’ Victories Greater than Death and Whipping Girl by Julia Serano are available now.

Kristen Arnett

“I wish that I'd had T Kira Madden's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls to cling to when I was a closeted baby dyke growing up in Florida. Reading this book took me back to my childhood in deeply meaningful ways. Madden is an expert at digging down into the wound; she does tender excavation work. It's a book I see myself inside of, even now, as an adult. It's deeply Florida and deeply queer. It would have been so wonderful to see those things embrace each other when I was younger. I feel so lucky that young queer women growing up in Florida have this book. It's profoundly beautiful art.”

Kristen Arnett’s With Teeth and T Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls are available now.

John Paul Brammer

“One book I really wish had come out earlier so I could read it as a kid is Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. Growing up in my little corner of the world in Oklahoma, I had some pretty limited visions of what queerness looked like. Reading Freshwater a couple years ago, even as an adult who’d since moved to New York City, really blew my mind and expanded my perceptions of what identity is, how it functions, and what it can look like. The way the book approaches spirituality, family, and self-discovery truly resonated with me.”

John Paul Brammer’s ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons and Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi are available now.

C.L. Clark

"It feels a little silly to say my own, so I won't — even though, like many queer authors, I did write it in response to what I found myself craving. Let me say instead Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton. When I was a teen, I loved knights and dragons, realms full of magic, desperate love, rivalries for the throne. Lady Hotspur gives me all of that and the one thing that was missing — all of the key players are women, many are women who love, or have loved, women, and the bonds of friendship are just as desperate as the bonds of romance. To top it all off, the writing is beautiful and lush, as well. The whole time I read it, I said to myself, This is what I’ve always wanted.”

C.L. Clark’s The Unbroken and Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton are available now.

Georgia Clark

“I listened to this as an audiobook for the first time in April 2020, and while it did help me get through the zombie apocalypse that was COVID in New York, it would’ve been even more of a gift as a teen. I attended a coastal suburban public school in the ’90s where homosexuality was yet to be invented. Maybe if I’d read this book’s clever, open-hearted, hilarious discussions of gender and sexuality, I could’ve cracked onto (that’s Australian for ‘hit on’) all those girls I had such close, obsessive ‘friendships’ with. Le sigh.”

Georgia Clark’s It Had to Be You and Can Everyone Please Calm Down? by Mae Martin are available now.

Alison Cochrun

“If only I could shove The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth into a Lake House-style mailbox so my 16-year-old self could read it. Growing up, I was obsessed with romantic comedies and I watched my Sleepless in Seattle VHS until it fell apart. Reading Smyth’s hilarious and heartwarming lesbian rom-com about two girls falling in love by recreating their favorite movie moments (and critiquing the heteronormativity of the genre) was so impactful for me as a 33-year old. I loved watching the character rewrite the rules of romance to make space for their experiences. I wish I’d had this book as a teen so I would have had the chance to see that my true self could co-exist with the stories I loved so much.”

Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive is out on Sep. 7 and is available for pre-order today. The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth is available now.

Charlotte Nicole Davis

"I'll sound like a broken record to anyone who's talked to me about my favorite queer books before, but for me, the one I absolutely wish I could have read as a teen is Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth. As well as being one of the best fantasy/sci-fi books I've ever read, its wealth of messy, complex, and deeply relatable queer girl characters, along with the aching love story at its heart, is just unmatched for me. It would have meant so much to my younger self to be able to see that kind of representation in the kind of sweeping genre fiction I loved."

Charlotte Nicole Davis’ The Sisters of Reckoning is out on Aug. 10 and is available for pre-order today. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is available now.

ZR Ellor

“The book I wish I had as a teen was When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. This magical book discusses identity and coming-of-age through the gentle lens of fairy tales and makes any sort of transformation feel possible. When the Moon Was Ours portrays a trans character not only accurately, but in a way that makes clear he is worthy of love. A heartwarming story that every queer teenager finding their way in the world should read.”

ZR Ellor’s May the Best Man Win and When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore are available now.

Isaac Fitzsimons

“This novel-in-verse follows Michael as he transforms from a shy boy into the fierce Black Flamingo, showing readers that they shouldn’t clip their wings to conform to other people’s limited imaginations. Like Michael, I often found myself caught between two worlds and feeling like I never fully belonged in either one. I wish I had this book as a teenager so that I would have known that one world is vast enough to contain all my identities.”

Isaac Fitzsimons’ The Passing Playbook and The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta are available now.

Sarah Gailey

“A book I wish I'd been able to read as a queer teen is Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. Squad (out this October) is a story about how tempting the idea of belonging can be, and how easy it is to choose that over all else. I love the way the story normalizes a desire to be accepted, even into a small group of friends, and makes space for the mistakes a young queer person can make in the pursuit of that belonging.”

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife is available now. Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall is out on Oct. 5 and is available for pre-order today.

torrin a. greathouse

“I think a lot about time travel; about what books I would gift my teenage self if I could travel back to her. I struggled so much with the distance between how I perceived my gender, and how the outside world did — kept this small secret close to my chest. If I could have had any book back then, I would have wished for J. Jennifer Espinoza's I’m Alive. It Hurts. I Love It. The poems in her first collection are so brutal, witty, and honest in their portrayal of transness, family, and suicidal depression. They're poems in which I could immediately see myself, ‘listening to screamo and binge eating barbeque chips / i want to die, i want to be dead.’ And maybe if I'd read this book, read Jennifer saying how ‘she gives herself a name / and a body / she says it's just for now,’ I might have found the bravery to admit my transness to myself years before I did.”

torrin a. greathouse’s Wound from the Mouth of a Wound and I’m Alive. It Hurts. I Love It. by J. Jennifer Espinoza are available now.

Joss Lake

“If Akwaeke Emezi's Dear Senthuran had come out when I was a teenager, I would have glided through it, drunk on their power and their reshaping of the world. I would not have understood many of its layers, but the book would have opened a door for me that I could later walk through. As a teenager, the question of queerness and the self was answered in the same way: with hiding. And in Dear Senthuran, Emezi is pouring luminous light onto all of their selves, their incarnations, their spirit, their fractures, and the potency of their existence.”

Joss Lake’s Future Feeling and Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi are available now.

T Kira Madden

“There is no book I wish had come out sooner, because to suggest so would suggest I'm in possession of an oracular ability to know that the writer was ready for the book, and the book was ready for the world, and the world ready to meet the characters of the book (often not the case), though I've frequently found divine timing when meeting books myself, picking them up exactly when I needed them most. That said, I wish I'd found the work of Kristen Arnett sooner. If I'd read any of her stories, essays, and novels as a teen, I think I'd find home not only in her crookedly perfectly imperfect characters, but in the state of Florida, a place in which I never felt true belonging until long after I'd left it. Arnett's sense of humor and celebration of queerness, absurdity, Florida heat and outsidership would have felt like permission to live with more joy and less fear. Her work still does that for me.”

T Kira Madden’s Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls and With Teeth by Kristen Arnett are available now.

Alex McElroy

“I doubt my teenage self — obsessed with sports and video games — would have read McKenzie Wark’s Reverse Cowgirl. However, if it had existed in the mid-’00s, there was a chance I might have stumbled upon it at Borders. Wark writes movingly about being trans without knowing you’re trans, capturing flights of ambivalence and desire and pain, all the things that I wish I had known were normal for someone like me, who had been doubting my assigned gender identity since childhood. Reverse Cowgirl is smart and fearless and funny and sexy. It not only strives for a new language to speak about trans experience, it thrillingly captures that language.”

Alex McElroy’s The Atmospherians and Reverse Cowgirl by McKenzie Wark are available now.

Casey McQuiston

“The best course of action might have been tricking my confused teenage self into letting herself be seen by queer fiction. Back then, I was obsessed with stories that left me haunted and reeling, especially if they were about a scrappy young orphan with the world against them. Sadie is absolutely that, while also being a deep dive into the interiority of one young, queer girl. Younger me may have been too nervous to pick up a sapphic rom-com back then, but she would have picked up Sadie for the angsty survivalist murder mystery. By the end, she'd have been left with no choice but to examine why exactly she related so much.”

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop and Sadie by Courtney Summers are available now.

Torrey Peters

“I spent a lot of time as a teenager not quite understanding the ways that my sexuality and my gender went together. The theory and medicalized literature about trans women at the time was so rigid. I couldn't find my place in it, except in derogatory and alienating ways. I think, however, I would have found myself in the stories of A Safe Girl to Love, would have realized that I wasn't alone, that even more, my way of being trans could be cool, could find me love, even as I probably would have cried a lot. I think the characters from this book would agree: better to be introduced to moments of beauty and despair than linger in the safe gray fog of unknowing."

Torrey PetersDetransition, Baby and A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett are available now.

Vivek Shraya

“I wish that Kama La Mackerel's ZOM-FAM had come out sooner as it would have given me the QTBIPOC poetry I didn't know I needed and would have made me feel less alone.”

Vivek Shraya’s How to Fail as a Popstar and ZOM-FAM by Kama La Mackerel are available now.

Tasha Suri

The Henna Wars is a contemporary YA novel about Nishat, an Irish Bengali teenager who has to navigate coming out to her parents, her burgeoning romance with a girl named Flávia, and very realistically complicated relationships with her friends and her sister. Growing up, I never saw any depictions of queer South Asian teens — or adults, for that matter. Teen me would have been so seen and comforted by this sweet, compassionate book that doesn't provide any easy answers to Nishat's trials, but always depicts her story with kindness, optimism and hope for the future.”

Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne and The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar are available now.

Meredith Talusan

“Alexander Chee's groundbreaking novel Edinburgh came out in 2000, but I didn't read it until five years later. As a teenager in the ’90s who arrived in the U.S. at 15, I had no access to queer books, and the ones I read in college were all written by white people (except for Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, which only featured white characters). While I don't believe that we need to see our exact selves in the books we read, I do believe that the books through which we refract our own lives must represent the broadest breadth of experiences and not just of the majority. Had I read Edinburgh earlier, I would have grasped so much sooner that there are great Asian writers in English, how great art can spring from the confusion of multiple identities, and how profound pain can also be the subject of myth.”

Meredith Talusan’s Fairest and Edinburgh by Alexander Chee are available now.

Brandon Taylor

“I wish teenage me had been able to read Bryan Washington’s Memorial. So much of the queer literature I read then was fraught and painful and all about queer suffering, and there’s something moving about how casual queerness is allowed to be in Washington’s novel and stories. I read Memorial during a hard time in 2020, and it was like sinking into a warm bath. Just so comforting with the right amount of melancholy, and I think teenage me could have used more of that in his reading life.”

Brandon Taylor’s Filthy Animals is out on June 22 and is available for pre-order today. Memorial by Bryan Washington is available now.

Aiden Thomas

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa is definitely the book I wish I'd had when I was younger! It's a sweet rom-com with a Latino main character who falls for his Twitter crush after messily coming out to the internet. It's the first time I saw a character going through similar experiences I had growing up as both Latinx and queer, and how complicated those intersections can be. I also deeply relate to the love interest, Mat, because we're both certified California Himbos and I love his chaotic and charming energy. I can't wait for Jonny's next book, Ander and Santi Were Here, which features a nonbinary, Latinx main character!”

Aiden Thomas’ Lost in the Never Woods and Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa are available now.