The Positive Side of LGBTQIA+ Representation in Adolescent Books

The middle school age is when preteens become the most curious about the world. Here are five books for young adolescents that display LGBTQIA+ representation.

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Two people with a rainbow fag held behind them with different color books

Since it is Pride Month, we here at Bookstr wish to spread awareness of the harmful book bannings for children’s books and how limiting it is for LGBTQIA+ young readers who are still trying to figure out who they want to be in this world. LGBTQIA+ representation always matters.

Pride Month is also a time for celebration and to reflect on how, decades before, it wasn’t possible to have gay leads in movies or TV shows, let alone in novels… or novels for young adolescents. One side would say that this is a sign of indoctrination. They tend to forget that kids are naturally curious creatures, and they should be allowed to understand people with different backgrounds than them. 

Let’s get one thing straight (haha, I’m punny); books do not turn your kids gay! It allows them to see different people experiencing similar or dissimilar life experiences. Think of it this way. If your kid loves watching scary stuff, such as horror movies or scary novels, does that make them a psychopath? NO! They like that genre because it’s entertaining. Middle school age between eleven to thirteen years of age, is a time our youngsters are formulating their own opinion on things, and this would be a perfect time to read LGBTQIA+-centric reads with an extended plot.

Here are five examples that bring us joy and all the feels.

1. Spin with Me by Ami Polonsky

A girl and a nonbinary person on a playground twister- spin with me book cover-- LGBTQ+

The book that caused me to write this piece…

I’m a tutor for k-3rd grade students. One of my students is a bit of a bookworm, and he got this book from his school library. I thought the book cover was adorable, and honestly, it’s quite rare to see a young boy read a romantic book openly, so I was curious what the title was about.

After reading the book jacket copy, I was deeply surprised and excited. I began to question my student about what the book was about. He grew timid, so instead, I asked who his favorite character was. He said Essie, and then he began explaining the plot.

Essie is a thirteen-year-old girl who recently moved after her dad took a temporary teaching position in a different town during the summer. She’s counting down the days so she can go home. However, Essie meets Ollie, who identifies as nonbinary and prefers the pronouns they/them. They are incredibly dreamy to Essie, and she develops a crush on them. Ollie feels the same. They must balance queer advocacy while crushing on a girl who will leave by the end of summer. Will they work out, or will separation tear them apart?

Nonbinary person(s) will love to see the representation and the very natural narrative. Middle-grade bookworms will love this story based on the cute storyline and the interesting characters. This will also inform them what a nonbinary person is and how they might stumble across someone who is nonbinary at school or somewhere else. Nonbinary people are just like us, except they use different pronouns.

2. Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas-- two boys

When you’re at this age, kids usually feel the most alone and out of place, which is entirely normal! So any adolescent, no matter what economic, racial, or gender expression, will relate to Thanks a Lot, Universe

Meet Brian. He’s constantly anxious everywhere he goes, even at home. His dad wants him to stand up for himself, and his mom is as supportive as she is. Everything changes, though, when Brian and his brother are placed in the foster care system. He begins to experience panic attacks. 

Then he meets Ezra. He’s the popular guy around school who’s friends with everyone on the basketball team. He might be ‘too friendly’ to Brian, but that’s only because he’s developed a crush on him. Everything becomes a bit more fickle with Brian and his brother running away. It’s now or never for Ezra to reach out to Brian. The two get closer, so they will have to open the doors of vulnerability sooner or later. 

This book shows how you can find your community in the most peculiar places and how you should trust your heart over anything else. 

3. Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff

Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff two girls

Annabelle develops a crush on the new kid, Bailey. She loves getting to know their life in Seattle and hanging out with their silly parents. It’s the little things that make Annabelle fall for them– like Bailey’s hands and how they smell. Things change more so when Annabelle’s father comes out as transgender. Her community isn’t as welcoming as she thought it was.

It’s all about respecting and treating people how you want to be treated. Simple labels such as boy, girl, gay, straight, fruit, vegetable– anything with labels can get a little confusing. But in Different Kinds of Fruit, young readers can try to navigate this ever-changing world. 

4. Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass-- Girl with red hair over a city

Ellen Outside the Line is a heartfelt story about a young neurodivergent girl named Ellen. She’s the most at peace when everything is planned out, and everyone and everything has a specific category. Ellen has crushes solely on girls and never on boys. Her bestie Laurel helps her navigate the awkward times of middle school. She’s the best friend Ellen could ask for until Laurel begins making new friends and consequently spends less and less time with Ellen. 

Ellen hopes that a trip to Barcelona can help mend their friendship. However, that doesn’t seem like that’s going to work out. Meanwhile, she meets a new classmate, Toss. They are nonbinary, which causes Ellen to question the very gendered-centric world. Getting homesick, learning Spanish culture, and making friends with Toss seems like her lovely planned-out life isn’t going to plan. 

Sexuality is fluid. I don’t know about you, but I started developing crushes in elementary school but didn’t take it seriously until Ellen’s age. This is a time for preteens to recognize what they like and don’t like. Ellen has a lot of thinking to do when she meets Toss.

5. The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan two girls under the sea-- LGBTQIA+ representation

Stevie is a curious girl. She knows a lot about things, yet she still has a few things she’d like to learn. Such as: how does the ocean work? What’s the big deal about the stars and constellations? How do you use a cellphone? What happened to the daring Princess Anastasia and the most random question of all… knots? What’s the big deal?

The more she knows, the more Stevie feels safe. Yet there’s one thing that she wants to understand the most. Why exactly does Stevie get warm fuzzy feelings when she looks at her friend, Chloe? Stevie wants to tell her mom how she feels, but something is holding her back. 

This book is filled with poetic prose about exploring your identity and anxiety; it’s best to uncover these mysteries while building connections. The Deepest Breath helps guide readers on how to discover authentic relationships. 

These books create new and improving conversations with parents, and it’s great to help our young readers with new feelings and discoveries about themselves and their peers. I wish I had been exposed to these novels in middle school. I feel like I’m playing catchup, but with the next generation, we can navigate new feelings, new ideas, and acceptance for all. 

It’s okay to be confused about someone’s label or how someone identifies. We are all humans trying to find a place in this world. The best thing to do is try to understand and be respectful at all times. 

For more books for young readers, click here

For more LGBTQIA+ book recommendations, click here.