Teens Read the Rainbow

The cover of When the Moon was OUrs by Anna-Marie McLemore has a deep blue cover with a water tower in black. White moons hand from tinydoted lines amd the title and two figures stand out in yellow against the black. There are roses decorating the text.

Reviews by Sarah C.

Looking for some excellent teen fiction featuring LGBTQ+ main characters and/or written by LGBTQ+ authors and illustrators? Look no further! We have you covered with different books from various genres, as well as our Rainbow Reads teen reading list from 2019. Many of the authors listed below have other titles, too. So if you find one you really like, keep reading!

The hard part is choosing which to review, but that’s a great problem to have, honestly. Each year we see so many more awesome books published, and are especially excited to see those written in our own voices because representation matters. ❤️

The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy follows seventh grade Rahul as he tries to find his place in the world. He navigates the ups and downs of middle school and his supportive, but at times super embarrassing, Indian family. Clever, funny, and an anxious perfectionist at heart, Rahul slowly realizes he might have a crush on his popular neighbor, Justin. While the book is technically part of the teen collection, I would easily recommend this to late elementary readers as well.

If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann features Winnie, a self-confident fat queer Black girl from a small town, who enters a cooking competition to try and save her family’s diner.  On top of that, she is also trying to figure out her many complicated relationships – romantic, friendship-based, and with her family, especially with her opinionated grandmother. 

Birthday by Meredith Russo spans six years in the lives of two best friends, Eric and Morgan, as they each grow up in different ways while facing various challenges that involve family, school, identity, and each other.  Morgan has a huge secret that he fears will destroy their friendship, but it becomes harder and harder to keep it from Eric. This story is one of destiny as well as heartbreak, so be prepared!

Mariam Sharma Hits the Road by Sheba Karim gives you an epic road trip adventure story when three close friends head to New Orleans and have new experiences along the way. They have some hilarious and adorable moments like finding your inner drag queen and celebrating your true self, and some more serious ones like dealing with Islamophobia and deadbeat dads, and, of course, lots and lots of delicious food.

Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells presents an engaging rescue quest tale with all the traditional fantasy elements, especially DRAGONS! Marin journeys to the palace to save her kidnapped love, Kaia, only to find herself mixed up with an ancient prophesy, a lost prince, and a dangerous rebellion. She also might have some hidden powers of her own. Read it now, so you’ll be ready when the sequel is published in October.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi takes place in a not so distant future where evil has been totally eradicated and everyone lives safely in their utopian society…or maybe not. One day a deadly magical creature made all of teeth and claws and feathers emerges from Jam’s mother’s painting. Only it’s not the monster, it has been sent to hunt a real monster, one that is lurking nearby and hurting one of Jam’s friends. 

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore is a gorgeously written and haunting fairy tale that features a memorable, lovable cast of characters. Miel has roses growing out of her wrists and Sam hangs his painted moons all over town at night, and together they must ward off the wicked Bonner sisters who seek to steal their magic.

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee stars Jess, a Chinese-Vietnamese bisexual daughter of two famous superheroes with no powers of her own, who inadvertently interns for the local villain and her parents’ arch-nemesis. In her new job, she gets to work with her crush and maybe finally find her own powers, all while uncovering a secret plot. This is the first book in a series with three books in print and a fourth one in the works, all full of diverse queer characters.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power hits a bit too close to home, with an isolated boarding school under quarantine from a dangerous illness and no vaccine. Unlike current events, the so-called “Tox” causes all sorts of horrifying mutations and mostly affects the students and the island wildlife. Will anyone escape alive?

Proxy by Alex London is an action-packed sci-fi adventure that modernizes the fable of the Whipping Boy with added Hunger Games elements. When Syd is sentenced to death as punishment for Knox’s actions, the boys escape together but they are up against the world.

Happy Pride and happy reading! 

P.s. There are a ton of great LGBTQ+ graphic novels as well.

Sarah C. is the teen instructor at HCLS Savage Branch and she always has time to talk, about books, comics, school, or whatever you need to talk about.

Celebrating Pride Month

A photograph of a rainbow flag with red at top and purple at bottom, symbolizing gay pride.

For members of the LGBTQ community and our allies, June is not just the start of summer: it is Pride season, a time of year dedicated to celebrating our authentic selves and affirming our right to exist. In the United States, Pride Month is held in June to honor the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which catalyzed the Gay Liberation Movement in response to police brutality and social stigma.

The fight for equal rights is ongoing. Discrimination is far too common, especially for our black sisters and brothers and gender-diverse siblings. There is still much work to be done. We must learn about and remember past struggles. We must take action towards further social change. And to maintain strength, we must also find moments of hope and joy.

In my own attempt to share queer hope and joy, I have put together this brief list of book and film recommendations available online via RBdigital, cloudLibrary, OverDrive, and Kanopy. Whether you identify as LGBTQ, I hope the following titles provide a source of entertainment, education, and inspiration.

If you would like advice on how to browse LGBTQ content on these digital platforms, or are interested in more recommendations, you can Ask HCLS or (eventually) visit me at work.

eBooks

Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son by Richie Jackson

The LGBTQ community is unique from many other socially marginalized groups in that most LGBTQ youth do not grow up with community members who share the same marginalized identity. However, this is not the case for Richie Jackson and his son, who are both gay.

Short in length but full of heart, Gay Like Me is an engaging, intimate work of nonfiction that addresses the joys and the challenges of being a gay man in America. Jackson connects the past, present, and future as he recounts his life experiences and offers advice to his college-bound son. I found this book to be a quick, engrossing read. I was deeply moved by Jackson’s fierce celebration of being a proud, openly queer person in a society that doesn’t always recognize or support our truest selves. This message is even more inspiring within the context of a father addressing his son. That’s the core of this book: a father’s love.

With broad themes of love, parenting, and self-discovery as well as specific experiences of gay culture, history, and sexuality, Gay Like Me resonates with both LGBTQ people and allies.

Available on OverDrive.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

This title appeals to readers interested in highly lauded, nonconventional literary fiction. Written with a lack of standard punctuation or capitalization, the style blends poetry and prose in a way that Evaristo refers to as “fusion fiction.”

Girl, Woman, Other portrays the interconnected lives of a dozen black, British characters—all female or nonbinary—with a diversity of ages, sexual orientations, occupations, and so on. With its exploration of intersecting identities, told from the varying perspectives of characters that share a racial identity, I am fondly reminded of There, There by Tommy Orange. Where Orange challenges the idea of a singular Native American experience, Evaristo also makes clear that there are many narratives for black British women.

This novel requires one’s full attention. The poetic structure gives weight to each line, beckoning the reader to focus and truly listen to each character. With its celebration of underrepresented voices, the characters of Girl, Woman, Other deserve to be heard.

Available on OverDrive.

eAudiobooks

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 

Written by Benjamin Alire Saenz, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda 

I can confidently say this is my favorite YA novel of all time, as well as one of my favorite novels, period. I own the audiobook on Audible, and I have two treasured physical copies on my bookshelf. 

The simple yet poignant writing style tenderly captures the voice of a lonely Mexican American teen named Aristotle, or “Ari” for short. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s narration beautifully brings this story to life. Set in El Paso, TX in the 1980s, the center of the story centers on the development of Ari’s relationship with Dante, a boy his age who is his opposite in so many ways—and yet, they complement each other. Through joy and tragedy, the two boys grow to understand deeper truths themselves, each other, and who they want to be. 

If you enjoy a “slow burn, friends-to-lovers” storyline with a wonderfully satisfying ending, this one is a must! A beautiful celebration of love in all forms, I cannot recommend this book enough.  

Available on cloudLibrary and OverDrive.

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Revised and Updated) 

Written and narrated by Kate Bornstein 

One of the first gender-focused books I read when I was coming to terms with being trans, it has a very special place in my heart.

Originally published in 1994, Gender Outlaw has been described as, “ahead of its time,” but I would argue that it is the rest of the world that has been lagging behind. Bornstein, now aged 72, is living proof that nonbinary gender identities – those that do not fit the male/female, man/woman binaries – are not new. However, the language used to describe gender identity has significantly evolved since 1994, which is why Bornstein updated this book in 2016 to reflect those changes.  

While our cultural and communal understandings of gender still continue to shift and grow, the core ideas expressed here are forever revolutionary, and listening to Kate Bornstein’s narration feels like wisdom from a loving, quirky, genderqueer grandmother. 

Available on RBdigital.

Films

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

This comedy-drama is quite possibly my favorite queer-inclusive movie that I’ve watched with my parents. The central storyline tells of a daughter and father bonding over music, struggling with the decline of business at their record shop, and adapting to change as the daughter prepares to move across the country for college. The father-daughter bonding over music is beautiful, especially given that a source of musical inspiration for the daughter is her relationship with another girl. I love how her queerness is a non-issue; she simply gets to exist and love as her authentic self.

Stories that highlight LGBTQ+ struggles are certainly important, but it’s also important to have stories in which queerness is not a source of conflict. There is no grappling with internalized homophobia, experiencing harassment, or even “coming out,” and that makes Hearts Beat Loud so refreshing. The film celebrates this story of two girls falling in love, which is naturally intertwined with a story of growing up and moving forward while still remaining connected to one’s roots.

Available on Kanopy.

Vito (2011)

To all lovers of history and activism—this documentary is for you. The film follows Vito Russo, a gay activist, film historian, and author. Russo took a leading and long-lasting role in creating social change, as a founding member in organizations such as GLAAD and ACT UP. His research regarding representation of gay themes in film was groundbreaking, bringing awareness to the power that media images have, and remaining relevant to this day.

My own interest in studying LGBTQ media representation was ignited when I first watched The Celluloid Closet, an adaptation of Russo’s landmark book. My appreciation and respect for Russo only increased when I watched Vito. It is a moving portrayal of him, his accomplishments, his struggles, and the social context in which he lived and died. This story is inspiring, heartbreaking, and so important to LGBTQ history.

Available on Kanopy.

The Way He Looks (2014)

Are you a hopeless romantic interested in foreign films with satisfyingly cute endings? Look no further than The Way He Looks, a tender Brazilian film about Leonardo, a blind teenager who grows increasingly fond of Gabriel, the new boy at school. Frustrated with the taunts of his peers and the concerns of his overprotective mother, Leo strives to gain independence and live his life on his own terms.

This inadvertently strains his relationship with his best friend Giovana; fortunately, their friendship grows stronger. The friendship that develops between Leo and Gabriel has its drama too, full of romantic uncertainty, burgeoning sexuality, and mutual pining. Fortunately, their feelings for each other are brought to light in the most tender way possible, and my heart is flooded with warmth whenever I watch their final scenes.

Available on Kanopy.

Ash Baker is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS Central Branch. They have been working at HCLS since graduating May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and LGBT Studies. Their favorite TV shows with LGBTQ representation include Steven Universe, Pose, and The Bold Type.