Alternate Summer Reading List: Dahlia Adler's LGBTQIA+ YA Book Recommendations

Author of Cool for the Summer and Founder of LGBTQ Reads Dahlia Adler offers eight LGBTQIA+ book titles for Parents 2023 Alternate Summer Reading Lists for teens.

Going Bicoastal by Dahlia Adler


Summer's here, and as an antidote to those stale—and sometimes problematic—school-suggested summer reading lists, Parents has collaborated with some of the most stellar names in book publishing to offer Alternate Summer Reading Lists, curated by authors and educators to reflect the world as kids today really see it.

This one comes from author Dahlia Adler, who is also the founder of the stellar book discovery site, which champions queer voices across genres and categories.

Here, Adler offers eight titles that offer stellar queer rep—while also being superfun summer reads.

Having grown up the younger sibling of two much older kids, the teen years held a certain glamour for me from a young age. And so when I was done with whatever children's books I was reading, I would dig into the teen novels left around my house and fall in love with characters like the blond Wakefield twins of Sweet Valley High. Whatever I read, though, one thing was consistent: I had no expectation of seeing myself in these books and no comprehension of what that would even look like. And so for years, when I wrote novels, over and over again I wrote exactly the same kinds of characters over and over again, subconsciously reinforcing that these were the only kind of people whose stories were worthy of being told.

Fortunately, I dropped that pretty quickly when my work actually started getting published, and I realized the magic of helping readers find themselves in literature, of helping them confront or find comfort in seeing elements of themselves they hadn't had much—if any—opportunity to do. I learned what a difference it makes for kids to know that somewhere out there are authors who care about doing the same, and then to further increase visibility and accessibility, I started LGBTQ Reads, my website dedicated to helping readers find all kinds of representation under the rainbow umbrella.

Now I'm the proud author of a number of queer books (most recently Going Bicoastal and Cool for the Summer) with more on the way, and an even prouder fan of so many authors doing this work, showing kids they are seen, they are respected, and they are loved, even while bans and laws would tell them they are something to be hidden, erased, and perpetually misunderstood.

With this list, I hope to share a few of the many wonderful queer books out there filled with joy, commiseration, empathy, adventure, and above all, love for their readers.

01 of 08

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), by L.C. Rosen

Jack of Hearts and Other Parts
Little Brown Books for Young Readers

At the top of many banned books lists throughout the U.S., Rosen's YA debut is a fantastic example of what an invaluable resource queer literature for teens can be. Jack is an out-and-proud gay teen, who happens to be the voice behind the school paper's inclusive anonymous sex advice column, helping readers figure out everything from mechanics to desires to what it means if attraction isn't there at all. But when a stalker tries to force him to tamp his out-and-proud personality down, he'll have to figure out who's out for his blood to stop them from hurting everyone he loves.

02 of 08

Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Flatiron Books

Bashardoust doesn't miss, as far as I'm concerned, and my major favorite of hers is this gorgeously lyrical epic fantasy romance inspired by Persian mythology and starring a girl named Soraya who's been cursed to kill with her touch. It takes finding two minds who don't view her as a wild animal to be trapped for Soraya to come into her own in this beautiful crafting of a girl finding her own worth, voice, and love.

03 of 08

Man O' War, by Cory McCarthy

Man O War By Cory McCarthy
Dutton Books for Young Readers

McCarthy spins an incredible gender journey in their newest, a contemporary coming-of-age story about a teen figuring out who they are, who they love, and where they go from there. When River lands in the shark tank at their town's infamous water park, it kicks off an internal questioning that spans years, miles, and relationships (one in particular). As River battles internalized homophobia, gender dysphoria, and small-minded peers, they also find the joy in finding themself, making for a wonderful and relatable read for so many.

04 of 08

Black Wings Beating, by Alex London

Black Wings Beating
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Fantasy fans will find much to love in Alex London's truly epic trilogy about killer birds, toxic parents, and siblinghood. For Brysen, it's a struggle to learn his own worth, between his toxic father, the questionable boy he pines for, and the fact that his abilities as a falconer pale in comparison to his sister Kylee's. For Kylee, her gift is more of a curse, as she has no desire to practice the magical art for which her brother craves her skill. But then war approaches, and two must make a journey neither one is guaranteed to survive.

05 of 08

You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson

You Should See Me In a Crown

This contemporary romance about a queer Black girl named Liz who runs for prom queen in order to win a scholarship that'll help her leave small-town Indiana behind her, only to fall for one of the other competitors, is absolutely guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It's warm, it's funny, it's romantic, and it has a heroine who will absolutely have you cheering for her all the way to the crown.

06 of 08

The Witch King, by H.E. Edgmon

The Witch King

Found family is a hallmark of queer fantasy, and Edgmon assembles a fantastic crew here in this absorbing journey of trans witch Wyatt's return to the fae realm he once fled. Once upon a time, Wyatt was betrothed to his best friend, fae prince Emyr, and now that the time has come for Emyr to wed, he's come to collect his groom in order to keep his throne. Initially resistent, Wyatt comes to find he still has feelings for Emyr, and a whole lot of good left to be done for his people.

07 of 08

It Goes Like This, by Miel Moreland

It Goes Like This
Feiwel and Friends

One of my absolute favorite books of 2021, this contemporary YA is centered on a broken-up all-queer band, and does a fantastic job using different perspectives and elements to seamlessly discuss everything from fame, romance, and friendship to gender identity. It's fun and relatable and surprising and especially great for music lovers or anyone who's ever been part of a fandom. (Which, frankly, is a whole lot of queer readers of all ages.)

08 of 08

The Mirror Season, by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Mirror Season
Feiwel and Friends

Truly, you cannot go wrong with a book by McLemore. There's a reason YA's master of magical realism has earned an incredible number of accolades, including finaling for the National Book Award twice. In this Snow Queen-inspired romance, a pair of teens (pansexual narrator Ciela and new student Lock) are sexually assaulted at a party. But in the aftermath, only she remembers the details, and when she loses her magic, she's desperate to make sure he never suffers the same metaphorical fate. An incredibly resonant read for anyone who's lost a piece of themselves to trauma or found it bonding them to another. Read it, and then read everything else McLemore's ever written.

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