Book Talks: YA Pride Reads!

June is Pride Month, and as an avid reader of LGBTQIA stories, especially YA. So I figured I would create a list filled with recommendations for some of the wonderful LGBTQIA+ stories I have read relatively recently (and give me an opportunity to book talk them here).

Book Talks: YA Pride Reads! History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera.
Published by Soho Teen on January 17th 2017. Hardcover: 294 pages.
Genres: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Diverse Characters & Stories, LGBTQIA

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Once again, Adam Silvera has completely demolished me. He just has a way of drawing you in to a character’s emotional experience and making it your own. From the first page you are thrust into a realm of emotion and loss. And you continue to stay there as Griffin works through his grief and anger over losing his best friend and first love, Theo.

This story is heartbreaking. It is rough, it is full of emotion, and it is intense. It does not shy away from the rawness of loss; it does not shy away from the nuance of first love. It is passionate, it is angry, it is tormented; it is sweet, it is quirky, it is hopeful. It tosses you back and forth between all of these emotions and feelings, creating a roller coaster reading experience. Griffin is a fully fleshed out character that you will feel for and probably identify with. His grief is real and heavy, and his reaction to the death of Theo is completely realistic. The way he deals with his grief–isolation, confusion, anger, withdrawal–is heartbreaking and completely relatable. It drives this story in a way that makes you want to keep reading even though you are overwhelmed with raw emotion.

The other thing this story does is include a realistic representation of OCD development. Griffin beings suffering from “quirks” like a preference for even numbers and walking on the left, and through his loss and grief his compulsions get more intense. From what I know and understand about OCD (and from other ownvoices reviewers), this is a realistic representation of the presentation and development of OCD compulsions. And we need all the realistic mental health portrayals in YA that we can get.

This is not an easy read by any stretch. But it is beautiful and deserves to be read.

Book Talks: YA Pride Reads! Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee.
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young People on June 6th, 2017. DRC: 384 pages.
Genres: Young Adult, Diverse Characters & Stories, LGBTQIA, Realistic Fiction

Vir(tu)ally yours

After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka suddenly finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust in the limelight: She’s gone viral.

Her show is a modern adaption of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.

And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.

Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top?

What would Tolstoy do?

My love for this book is so loud! When I heard that Katie was writing a nerdy book with an asexual character, I knew I would be there for it! And Tash Hearts Tolstoy does not disappoint! It is a book for the film nerds, for the YouTube series fans, for the lovers of Russian lit. All with fantastically realistic ace-rep.

Tash is someone you want to be–she is passionate, she is unabashedly nerdy, she is reserved and shy. She is someone who doesn’t know how great she is, and that resonates with readers in a really relatable way. Her best friend Jack complements her well, adding sass to the story. Their friendship highlights the ups and downs of what it truly means to be best friends, and I loved that so much. Paul is a presence that you feel throughout the story, someone who just adds a level of comfort to the story. These three characters play to each other’s strengths, creating an ensemble that you just want to keep reading about.

This story does a great job of explaining what being asexual (specifically a romantic asexual) means without it feeling like an info dump–everything is told organically in a way that makes sense to the story and the characters. Tash explains her own process of seeking information and reading forums and doing research, which is a very relatable experience for teens who are trying to figure something out about themselves. Everything about this story felt natural; it felt “next door”. Just a normal story about a normal teenage girl and her normal family and her normal friends who help her make an epic Russian lit adaptation. No big deal. It is just lovely.

Other awesome character qualities: Vegetarian, Buddhism, Czech heritage.

I cannot express my love for this book. So refreshing, so real, so needed, so FUN. Very realistic ace-rep, very touching characters, very nerdy plotline. All the love, forever.

Book Talks: YA Pride Reads! None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio.
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 7th 2015. Hardcover: 352 pages.
Genres: Young Adult, Diverse Characters & Stories, LGBTQIA, Realistic Fiction

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex... and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She's a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she's madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she's decided that she's ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin's first time isn't the perfect moment she's planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy "parts."

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin's entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

I first read this book soon after publication a couple of years ago. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop reading it. I started rereading it the other night and pretty much stayed up all night reading because I just couldn’t stop reading it. Again. This story is one of those stories that grabs you and keeps you until you reach the last page and realize that it’s already over. And that marks a book that is worth talking about.

None of the Above centers around a high school senior finding out she is intersex. I first learned about what being intersex means when I took my human sexuality course while in undergrad. It was a reality that completely challenged my world view and made me expand my understanding of gender and sex and humanity in general. When I found out that there was a YA book about a girl finding out she is intersex, I knew I had to read it. And it is quite wonderful and profound. This book strikes a balance between informing the reader and keeping the pace (which is really difficult to do).

Readers will learn what it means to be intersex through Kristin’s emotional journey. It captures each character’s raw emotional response–from confusion to anger to disgust to supportive. Honestly, many of Kristin’s schoolmates respond and react in ways that you would expect teenagers who have never been exposed to a worldview outside of their own understanding, and THAT is why this book is important. To expose teens to a reality that challenges their own understandings and experiences through diverse stories is what YA lit should always be about. This book needs a place on your personal bookshelf and your library shelf. So make sure that happens.

Book Talks: YA Pride Reads! Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy.
Published by Balzer + Bray on May 9th 2017. ARC: 432 pages.
Genres: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Diverse Characters & Stories, LGBTQIA

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

Brilliant, wonderful, relatable story! Well-written, well-executed, well-developed. Ramona Blue is a real character, one who knows exactly who she is and what she is and how she is until something happens that makes her think and challenge herself and grow. A very real depiction of growing up and figuring out who you are.

There was (still is) internet controversy surrounding this book and the queer representation because of the original blurb. All I can tell you is that this book beautifully represents a real bisexual experience that is definitely worth taking up space on your shelf.

I love that this book is set in the rural south. It is a very realistic setting, and not too many books are set in Mississippi. It really captures the post-Katrina realities of the rural communities outside of New Orleans that were also affected but not talked about as much. So yay for that!

Ramona Blue is a universal story about loving yourself and giving yourself permission to love others. It’s about becoming your true self and learning how to forgive. It’s about family and friendship. It is a feel good story that will just make you smile. So pick it up, read it, and make yourself smile.

And here is a list of some other GREAT LGBTQ+ reads that I have already talked about before. Titles link to my book talks/reviews!

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Obviously a big hole in my recommendations is Spec Fic. I just don’t read as much Fantasy & Sci-Fi. But I know there are some fantastic novels out there that are very representative of LGBTQ+. One of my goals is to read some more LGBTQ fantasy over the next year. But for now, enjoy my recommendations!

Do you have any favorites? Share them with me in the comments!


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