Before we get into June’s book recommendations, I just want to let everyone know that there won’t be a book list for July, and possibly not one for August. As a children’s librarian, summer is my busiest time of the year. Much as I wanted to create a book recommendation list for every month this year, I’m a little overwhelmed right now and it’s just not in the cards.
June is my favorite month for many reasons: my birthday, the start of summer, and many good memories I have of school ending. June is also Pride Month! First established in 1999, Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots that are often used to mark the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. LGBTQIA+ rights have come a long way since then, but it is still an uphill battle, particularly for the trans and nonbinary community.
I live in Florida, which has passed extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, including the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law (which recently was extended to eighth grade); HB 1521, which regulates bathroom use; and SB 245, which bans gender-affirming care for trans minors and allows the state to remove children from their families if they receive gender-affirming care. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQIA+ group in the U.S., has even issued a travel advisory for individuals traveling to Florida.
I am obviously disgusted and enraged by the bigotry and cruelty present in these new laws, and my heart breaks for the trans and nonbinary community. I often feel frustrated and small, and that there should have been something more I could have done to stop this from happening.
One way I can fight back is through my job. I’m a public librarian, which means that (for now) I don’t have the same restrictions on talking about gender and orientation as school staff do. At the time of this writing, public libraries also don’t have the same restrictions on what books people can have access to. I take my job very seriously. I feel that I have a responsibility to help fill the gaps that kids and teens no longer have easy access to.
I do a lot of the ordering for YA books at my library, and I’m really pleased to see that there is a lot more LGBTQIA+ representation than there has been in the past. Certainly much more than when I was a teen, and more positive representation as well! Queer and non-binary characters are no longer relegated to being one-off jokes, side-kicks, or dying gruesomely, but are fully realized characters whose orientation or gender identity does not define them.
There are still many areas where LGBTQIA+ fiction is lacking. For example, I’ve come across way more books about trans boys than trans girls, and very few books have asexual characters as the lead. Also, the majority of LGBTQIA+ fiction I come across is contemporary romance. I think all of these things will improve with time, but it’s the last one I want to talk about right now. There’s nothing wrong with contemporary romance, of course, though it’s not my favorite thing to read. There still isn’t a large amount LGBTQIA+ representation in genre fiction (though it’s improving!), which is disappointing. Queer and nonbinary individuals should still be able to see themselves in their favorite genres – historical, fantasy, sci-fi…and yes, even contemporary romance, if you insist.
For the fiction half of this list, I’m focusing on genre fiction. Because you know what’s better than two boys finding true love? Two boys finding true love IN SPACE!
This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
This Book is Gay has the honor of being one of the most challenged books in the U.S. for two years running, for “LGBTQIA+ content” and “providing sex education.” Dawson’s book seeks to educate both queer and straight teens on same-sex relationships, including the physical aspects of those relationships. But sex is far from the only thing this book covers. It’s got everything from coming out, dating apps, discussions of queer culture, and the downsides of being LGBTQIA+. The breezy, upbeat writing is frequently witty and always informative, and black and white cartoons add humor into even the hardest topics the book covers, like harassment and discrimination. But I honestly can’t describe this book any better than the summary itself: “There’s a long-running joke that, after coming out as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex person, you should receive a membership card and instruction manual. This is that instruction manual. You’re welcome.”
The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker
While there is much better queer representation in the media today, asexuality is an orientation that often gets left out. It’s also frequently misunderstood, or treated as a joke. Because of this, it can be difficult for someone on the asexual spectrum to understand their orientation or have it be taken seriously. It can be a huge relief to find the right word to describe yourself, and know that you’re not the only one who feels this way. The Invisible Orientation discusses asexuality and other ace-spectrum orientations, while emphasizing fluidity and that asexuality can change over time. It also addresses myths about asexuality, that being asexual is healthy and not the result of a physical or mental illness, and includes a chapter for friends and family of asexual people. I’ve known for awhile now that I’m on the ace spectrum, and while the label doesn’t matter to me much anymore, seeing myself in this book made me feel validated in a way I’d never been.
Say it with me: we’re here, we’re queer, we don’t wanna touch your rear!
Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
You’ve probably heard of Gender Queer before: maybe because it’s a Stonewall Honor Book, or maybe because it’s been the most frequently challenged book in the U.S. for the past two years. Gender Queer is a graphic novel that chronicles Maia Kobabe’s (e/eir/em) journey from childhood to adulthood, as e discovers eirself as nonbinary and asexual. The book starts in Maia’s childhood, and covers eir confusion about eir orientation, gender identity, and dating. Even after Maia discovers that e is gender queer, eir journey continues with coming out to friends and family, changing pronouns, and coming into eir own as a nonbinary person. This is a great choice for older teens and adults who are nonbinary, or seek to understand what it means to be nonbinary.
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Richard and Sasha’s paths probably would have never crossed if not for the 57 bus, which runs between Sasha’s middle class home Oakland’s foothills, and Richard’s crime-riddled community in the flatlands. Agender teen Sasha fell asleep on the bus, and woke to find their skirt in flames. The fire was set by Richard, and left Sasha with severe burns. Sasha’s recovery would require a lengthy hospital stay, multiple surgeries, and months of follow-up treatments. Richard was arrested and charged with two felonies and two hate crimes, potentially facing life in prison. The 57 Bus tells both Sasha’s and Richard’s stories: Sasha’s love of language and all things Russian, discovering their gender identity, and life after a devastating attack; Richard as a troubled kid trying to turn his life around, despite many obstacles. The book examines prejudice, discrimination, and even danger faced by individuals, as well as the injustices of the juvenile justice system.
Queerstory: An Infographic History of the Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights, published by Tiller Press, with forward by Linda Riley.
Queer history in the United States didn’t begin with Stonewall, and it didn’t end with the legalization of same-sex marriage. You can find a number of books about LGBTQIA+ history – especially if you’re looking for information about Stonewall or the AIDS Crisis – but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you’re just looking for a quick overview of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement, a jumping-off point for more in-depth learning, or a very colorful way to learn queer history, then Queerstory will not disappoint. Loaded with illustrations, timelines, brief biographies, and facts, Queerstory presents LGBTQIA+ history in a visually appealing and digestible way. While not as in-depth as other books on queer history, the colorful presentation and infographic format add a splash of fun into what is often a weighty topic.
Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Lea wasn’t just Rumi’s sister. Lea was Rumi’s best friend, the other half of her soul. Writing songs with her was one of the greatest joys of Rumi’s life. Lea understood Rumi in a way that no one else did, like how Rumi felt left behind when her friends started dating and she just doesn’t understand why romance has to be such a big deal for everyone but her. When Lea is killed in an accident, Rumi is lost, unsure of what to do with her life without her sister in it. Her distant mother, consumed by grief, sends Rumi from their home in Washington to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Rumi navigates her grief, survivor’s guilt, and deep rage over her sister’s death and mother’s abandonment, while trying to understand her asexuality and complete the last song she and Lea would ever write together. At first, she wants nothing to do with Hawaii or her new neighbors – Kai, the cheerful boy next door, and the curmudgeonly Mr. Watanabe. But maybe, with their help, she can find her way back to the music that she once loved so much.
Dreadnought by April Daniels
Danny Tozer has known for a long time that she’s a girl, even if she has a boy’s body. She’s afraid to come out as trans, but her secret’s out when the world’s greatest superhero, Dreadnought, falls out of the sky. Dying, Dreadnought transfers his superpowers to Danny, giving her super strength, flight, and the body she always wanted. Transitioning suddenly and gaining superpowers makes life a little complicated: Danny’s vitriolic and verbally abusive father is looking for a way to “cure” her; the Legion Pacifica of superheroes are in disagreement if Danny should be the new Dreadnought; even Danny’s best friend has abandoned her. “Caping” with fellow superhero Calamity helps Danny escape from her civilian troubles. The girls start small, but Danny is determined to track down Utopia, the super villain who killed Dreadnought. Danny doesn’t feel that she deserves the gift that he gave her, and this is how she can repay him. Yet as her journey as a trans girl and a superhero go on, she comes to understand that she deserves Dreadnought’s mantle – and more – as much as he did.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Melinda Lo
It’s 1954, and seventeen-year-old Lily struggles to find a place where she belongs. While other girls her age are worrying about boys, Lily instead dreams of working at the Jet Propulsion Lab, like her aunt. She and her classmate Kath connect over an ad for a male impersonator at the lesbian bar, The Telegraph Club, and both girls’ lives are forever changed. Lily gradually realizes she is a lesbian and falls in love with Kath, but following her heart is a huge risk. McCarthyism is in full-swing, and Chinese-Americans like Lily and her family could face deportation if they are accused of being Communist sympathizers. Being a lesbian only adds to the danger. Lily learns how to switch between ostensibly straight, Chinatown Lily and Telegraph Club Lily. But when the two halves of her life collide, she will have a difficult choice to make that will change everything.
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
Ambrose Cusk wakes to find himself in space, but he has no memory of a launch. Apparently, he was injured in an accident at launch and has been in a coma for weeks. Even so, Ambrose remembers his mission clearly: he is being sent to Saturn’s moon, Titan, to rescue his sister. He’s also surprised to find that he is not alone on the ship. Spacefarer Kodiak Celius is from Demokratia, the country locked in a cold war with Ambrose’s home country, Federacion. At first Kodiak keeps his distance, but Ambrose gradually draws him out of his chosen seclusion. As their journey progresses, both boys discover that there’s something sinister happening on board. Why can’t they get in touch with mission control? Is the ship’s AI telling them the truth about Ambrose’s sister? These two sworn enemies must work together to discover the deadly secrets being kept hidden from them, at the same time coming to understand each other in the stark isolation of outer space.
On a personal note, I recommend that you don’t read this on your lunch break at work. Once your break is over you’ll have to go back to work and try to be normal and not act like you’ve just been emotionally destroyed at the hands of a paperback.
The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas
In the beginning, Sol and Tierra made the gods: the “powerful but vain” Golds, the “kind but focused” Jades, and the “passionate but selfish” Obsidians. But Sol and Tierra loved humans the most, and the jealous Obsidians turned them into mindless slaves. Sol sacrificed their body to protect humans, leaving the Sun Stones behind. Every ten years, the Sunbearer Trials are held, in which the children of the gods, or semidioses, compete to be chosen as the Sunbearer who will rekindle the Sun Stones. The loser of the trials has the dubious honor of being sacrificed to fuel them for another decade. Teo, the trans son of the goddess of birds, has no interest in the Trials. As a Jade surrounded by more talented Gold peers, he’s certain he’ll never be picked. But he and his best friend, Niya, must both compete against each other in the Trials, alongside Aurelio, Teo’s old friend turned enemy. Then there’s Xio, the thirteen-year-old trans son of the god of bad luck. No matter the outcome, Teo and Niya are determined to protect Xio from being sacrificed. The Hunger Games meets Mexican mythology in a lush, queer positive fantasy.