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PRIDE WEEK: YA Recommendations by John

If you’re interested in any of the books I’m about to mention in this post, comment below about your favorite LGBTQ YA romance or why you’re interested in reading the book(s) I’ve mentioned.  This will enter you in a giveaway for these three books that will end 4AM EST on Friday.

As most people know, YA isn’t in the same genre as romance novels.  A lot of YA (Young-Adult) fiction deals with strong romances at the center or background of its plots, and it’s always a challenge to find YA novels that feature a strong, central romance that is LGBTQ.  Today, I’m going to highlight my three favorites that I consider more genre-oriented.  There are classics like Annie on My Mind and The Geography Club that feature romances as well – and they are worth a look as well – but they also feature a lot of angst over coming out.  The three YA LGBTQ romances I think everyone should read focus more on the relationships and encompass what I consider to be a great amount of LGBTQ pride because they don’t have a care about their sexuality.

Just in case this wasn’t established, this list is personal.  It’s by no means comprehensive or the definitive on good LGBTQ YA romance.  Without any further jabbering…

John’s Top Three LGBTQ YA romances:

Boy Meets Boy by David LevithanBoy Meets Boy by David Levithan

This book is probably my all-time romantic read for people who want to see a regular romance.  The plot is predictable and the romance is a basic boy-meets-(boy) story.  It is all done with a purpose, though, and that’s what makes it a win.  Levithan sets out to masterfully show readers that the formula can work no matter what sexuality the main couple represents.  It’s also been around for a while, but manages to have a pretty ethereal feel for a contemporary book.

The thing that readers will either find jarring or (in my case) spectacular is the fact that the world Levithan creates is a completely gay-friendly one.  The town the novel takes place in banned the Boy Scouts because it excludes gay people and created the Joy Scouts.  Can you imagine the star quarterback also being Prom Queen?  The transgendered star quarterback in Boy Meets Boy is.  LGBTQ teen romance is represented with a pure simplicity in this world, and it’s the perfect read for a reader – especially an LGBTQ teen – to escape in and realize that things can and will be good.  A great example of a book that has pride in its representation of LGBTQ YA romance.

ash malinda loAsh by Malinda Lo

A fairy-tale with Chinese influence.  A retelling of Cinderella.  A lesbian main pairing that’s garnered a lot of well deserved attention.  These are some of the things that have made Ash a new break-out book in the YA genre, and Malinda Lo does a lot of them with fluidity and grace.  Her world is surreal and the romance that blooms between her characters is sweet and gentle.

What makes this book a worthy choice for pride week is something similar to what makes Boy Meets Boy worthy.  Ash shows an alternate, fairy-tale world where the pairing between two women is not the main conflict of the romance.  The romance between Ash and the king’s Huntress is one conflicted by rank more than anything.  Their gender means nothing to the love that blooms between them, and it’s pictured effortlessly.  The book itself is also more genre-fiction than most LGBTQ YA novels, which means the book hardly puts up a fuss about what identities its characters believe themselves to be.

 The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick BurdThe Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

The most angst-ridden of my choices, The Vast Fields of Ordinary is a YA novel that is criminally under-appreciated in my opinion.  It, unlike the other two, does take place with a character coming out, but he accepts his sexuality itself with gusto.  It also focuses on the romance the most.  The writing blew me over with how emotional and connective it was.

What makes this worthy of the pride week?  The romance is a big deal in this book.  It’s the main conflict and it’s angst ridden and filled with a lot of characterization in the mix.  The main character is in a fuck-buddy relationship with a closeted athlete, but quickly falls for a guy who isn’t popular or normal by any means.  The relationship is sweet and tender, and it explores a lot of feelings and emotions that go with being an LGBTQ teen in a relationship.  It’s the most ‘literary’ in terms of genre type of the three choices, but it’s a powerful book.

These books all hold a special place in my heart because of how they treat LGBTQ YA romance.  It’s not an afterthought of coming out.  The romance is important and, whether the mainstay or the in background  of the plot, it is well-done.  These books show LGBTQ teens that they can get into a relationship and have it be like every other relationship.  From first-hand experience, that is a truly awesome quality for an LGBTQ YA book to possess for readers.

Ever since a good friend brought him a copy of Johanna Lindsey's Gentle Rogue, he has been hooked on the romance genre. Though he primarily reads in young-adult, he loves to spend time with paranormal, historical, and contemporary adult titles in-between books. Now, he finds himself juggling book reviews, school band, writing, and finding time to add to his TBR pile.

29 Comments

  1. Zola Affley
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 04:18:54

    Hi John,

    I’m Australian. I would like to recommend a new release here to you. It is published by Walker Books. Written by Aimee Said titled “Little Sister” It is YA and very well done. It deals with homophobia in school as the little sisters big sister comes out and the social networking bullying that then occurs.
    It really is worth your time to have a look at.
    Thank you
    Zola

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  2. Leontine
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 06:10:50

    Hi John,
    Out of the three rec’s my book addictions starts to really purrrrr with The Fast Fields of Ordinary. You describe all I want in a story; focussing on the romance, has conflict, angst ridden, lots of characterization! Oh yeah, me wants ;)

    As it so happens I’m completely absorbed by Josh Aterovis’ Killian Kendall Mystery series. I started the first book last saturday and currently reading book four. It has exactly what you said about The Fast Fields of Ordinary with very good suspense and mysteries to boot :)

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  3. Melissa
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 06:25:57

    I really want to read the first two books – the third book sounds like it may be a tad too angsty for my tastes.

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  4. Sirius
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 07:29:37

    Hi John, I would love to try for Ash by Malinda Lo, I have the other two books, but I only recently started to read lesbian romance (or fantasy, or action adventure) and i still feel that I do not quite know the authors I would love, etc, so good recommendations are great and this one sounds right up my valley).

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  5. Tabs
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 07:48:52

    I don’t know that I’d consider it a romance, but I really loved Maureen Johnson’s Bermudez Triangle. I thought it explored experimentation with teen sexual identity really well.

    I’d really love to read Leviathan. Seems right up my alley.

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  6. Sarah Frantz
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 09:31:40

    Wow, John, I don’t read YA, but really want to read these three after your descriptions.

    Question: my son is 11yo with way advanced reading ability and above average maturity but he doesn’t really like too much kissing stuff. Obviously the last one is not good for him. What about the first two?

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  7. John
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 09:45:57

    @Sarah Boy Meets Boy is still focused on the romance…but it could work. Ash and probably Huntress would be good for him. I haven’t read Huntress yet, but from what I understand it’s more action oriented than Ash was.

    Also, there is a MG ‘series’ called The Misfits and Totally Joe, about a group of middle school outcasts and the gay character in those outcasts respectively. I haven’t read them yet, but could be something to look into!

    @Leontine I meh-ed the first Killian Kendall, but I have the next two and will probably read them. They are very angsty. Vast Fields is, too. Drugs, alcohol, complex emotions. Be warned it doesn’t have a direct HEA, though, as YA doesn’t always follow romance-style conventions. The hardcover was also much better looking.

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  8. Ruth
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 10:36:47

    I really liked Will Grayson, Will Grason.

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  9. Darlynne
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 11:00:09

    John, thanks for such a thoughtful discussion. I love the idea of the first two books, where acceptance is a given and the norm. What a fabulous and oh-so-welcome/needed concept. I’ve had my eye on Ash for some time, but you’ve intrigued me with Boy Meets Boy.

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  10. Leontine
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 11:05:16

    @John – Thanks for the warning, John!! I’m still recovering from the shock Reap The Whirwind gave me. I love complex in my reads so win or not, Vast Fields is going to be bought!! :)

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  11. willaful
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 11:05:45

    Boy Meets Boy is my fav, and the library has Ash, so please put me in for The Vast Fields of Ordinary.

    For another good romance, I’m thinking Empress of the World, though I can’t remember if it had a happy ending or not.

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  12. Mia
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 11:33:44

    Will Greyson, Will Greyson (written together by David Levithan and John Green) is definitely one of the best YA LGBTQ novels I’ve read recently, and not JUST because of Tiny Cooper (although he does help). I was also blown away by Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, although it’s not a romance by any means, and the LGBTQ aspect of it is almost slipped in as secondary to other things (at least in the main character’s mind). Both incredible books and I would gladly recommend them to anybody.

    Of the three you’ve listed, I haven’t heard of the third one, and the other two are easily accessible at my local library, so I’m intrigued! (It’s funny how books playing hard-to-get just make me more interested.)

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  13. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:09:50

    Hi John! The review I’m posting tomorrow is for a YA book, Sister Mischief by Laura Goode. I really, really loved it.

    I’ve had my eye on Ash but I don’t read much fantasy. I’ll have to check it out.

    I’m wary of Levithan because I think I’m the only person in the world who hated Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Is the writing style similar? If so, not for me. The cover is very cute though.

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  14. John
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:31:45

    @Mia Someday This Pain May Be Useful to You was indeed very good, although it felt more adult fic than YA fic to me. I have Will Grayson and need to read it ASAP.

    @Jill I liked Nick and Nora, but his co-written work is MUCH different than his single-title work. I think with Boy he’s very light and cute, and with all of his books I find them to be emotionally deep and interesting. I’d try him once more before giving up on his style. :)

    And Sister Mischief looked wonderful! Can’t wait to read your review of it.

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  15. Lindsey
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:49:02

    You’ve made all of these books sound amazing, I couldn’t possibly pick just one. Ash has been on my radar for awhile, but I hadn’t gotten it yet because of the price. It’s still on my wishlist, though, so I’ve been scouring the used bookstores for it. The Vast Fields of Ordinary and Boy Meets Boy both also sound great, though I’d probably like to win the Vast Field of Ordinary, since you mentioned that it is the most romance-focused of the books, and I do love a good romance.

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  16. John
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 13:48:15

    @Lindsey I think it’s a giveaway as a bundle set, but I could be wrong. xD

    Also, to anyone who is thinking about THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY, I do want to mention that the ending is NOT HEA. YA doesn’t follow romance conventions to a T, especially when it’s kind of a romantic angsty contemporary thing like Vast Fields, so the ending is more realistic. There is supposedly a sequel in the works that may follow the other character in the couple, so there may be a more romance-ish conclusion then.

    It’s still really worth it. It’s a book I would never take off of my keeper shelf!

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  17. Joder
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 14:14:11

    I’m enjoying many m/m genre based books and very excited to see a list of YA books with the issue of coming out at the forefront. I love the sound of all of these and very much love angsty reads. Thanks for the list.

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  18. Kimberly B.
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 20:45:21

    These all sound terrific! I’m particularly interested in reading Ash, because I love retold fairy tales, and the queer twist reminds me somewhat of Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch, and possibly also Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales duology. Both works play around with sexual identity and orientation as well as fairy tale tropes and expectations. I love them both, and I think I’d love Ash as well!
    Thanks for the great giveaway!

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  19. JennH
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 21:12:56

    I have to second (third? fourth? the “Will Grayson, will grayson” suggestion – that book was incredible and made me cry. My middle school students loved it too, and it was extremely powerful for some of my more conservative students to read it and to connect with the characters as much as they did.

    I’d love to read “The Vast Fields of Ordinary” as it sounds like a piece of incredible writing … I’ve already read “Boy Meets Boy” and really enjoyed the writing as well as the story; it’s a great “starter” book for those students who are just beginning to explore books with alternative sexualities as primary storylines, and they are usually eager for more once they’ve finished it!

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  20. sephy
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 21:46:39

    I really like Ash, by Malinda Lo. It was a great book for light reading and the little fairytales here and there in the story were a cute touch.

    Boy meets Boy was a bit heavier reading, but full of interesting character. This book made me laugh out loud at times with its funny scenes, and the ending was sugar sweet.

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  21. willaful
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 01:18:42

    I almost mentioned WG, WG, but IMO, there isn’t really a satisfying romance for the gay characters, although there’s a suggestion of one in the future. Awesome book though.

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  22. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 07:29:13

    I’m going to be terribly shallow and say I freaking love the cover of “Ash.”

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  23. LG
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 07:50:56

    @Jayne: If you’re shallow, then so am I. In fact, the cover was part of the reason why I decided I’d read that one first, rather than Boy Meets Boy.

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  24. Jayne
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 08:58:28

    @LG: Okay it’ll be you and me together, sitting in the kiddie pool with sunglasses on and our beverage of choice, grinning at this cover!

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  25. hapax
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 13:44:17

    Boy, I wanted to read THE VAST FIELDS until I read there was no HEA. I have enough sad endings in real life; I want happy in my books! So it will be BOY MEETS BOY for me. (I’ve already read, and loved, ASH)

    As far as my favorites go, I’d have to plug HERO by Perry Moore. A superhero fantasy with a twist; by the end I was cheering nearly every character with tears in my eyes.

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  26. Mia
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 16:03:17

    @John It’s kind of funny, I felt the same way about Someday This Pain… being more adult-oriented than YA-oriented, but it was strongly marketed as YA (possibly because the main character is 18), and I read a bunch of reviews saying “oh, such a shame this was marketed as YA, it’s such a good book,” which sort of made me stop and go, “dudes, please!” It’s sad when being called YA is considered derogatory, like it’s less “literary” or “important” because it was marketed as such.

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  27. Steven
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 18:28:32

    Thanks for the recommendations John! I’d love to read all of these books, but the one that interests me the most is The Vast Fields of Ordinary. The idea of a character moving from hot-fuck-buddy to lovable-average-joe and quick acceptance of his sexuality makes this seem different from the typical “gay man comes to terms with his sexuality and finds true love” trope. Not saying the trope is bad, just that I’ve read a little too much dealing with it.

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  28. Jessica
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 01:02:10

    I haven’t read any of these, and they all sound great!

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  29. Tasnim
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 01:30:04

    David Levithan is a favorite author of mine. I really recommend Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and The Realm of Possibility. The Realm of Possibility is really amazing to me because I feel like it has captured everything I felt, everything I wanted to be like, and everything I hated in high school.

    John’s recommendations sound really great. I really can’t decide between David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy and The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd. But since I’ll probably buy Boy Meets Boy the next time I go to the bookstore, I’ll go with Nick Burd’s book, which sounds fantastic. All full of gushy adolescent angst and identity crises. Can’t wait to read these!

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