8 of the Best Queer YA Novels of 2018

2018 has been an incredible year in terms of new releases featuring queer characters! I say this every year, but I honestly think there have been more new books featuring LGBTQIAP+ characters during 2018 than any year previously. It’s amazing! More queer novels, please!

I’m just so happy that this year, the majority of the books I’ve read have included explicitly queer characters, if these characters aren’t the protagonist. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined being able to pick off more than a handful of these books off the shelves at stores – and look where we are now! My glittery rainbow soul is singing.

I’m already looking forward to all the glorious queer releases of 2019, but before then, I’d like to share my top 8 queer reads of 2018! I utterly adored all of these and I could have put 100 more on this list, but I had to narrow it down to my absolute favourites. I hope you loved these ones too!

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LGBTQ+ Middle Grade Recs

As much as I’m an avid reader of YA novels featuring queer protagonists, I haven’t actually read that many middle grade books / younger YA novels with LGBTQIAP+ characters. Well, I don’t usually get to read that many middle grade novels, period. But I’ve been wanting to read more of these books recently so that I can recommend them to the younger readers in my life and the tweens that come into the bookstore I work at asking for recommendations. I’m sick of talking about the same hyped middle grade series, and I want to give these people novels that they might see themselves in.

The first book I ever read with a queer protagonist was The Flywheel when I was about 15, and that book holds so much emotional significance to me. It was the first book I saw my feelings represented in. It was the first time I recognised that having feelings for other girls was valid and didn’t make me unnatural or unlovable. If I’d have read more middle grade novels with queer protagonists in my early teen years, perhaps I would have been able to come to terms with my identity as a biromantic asexual sooner.

Although there are undoubtedly a lot more middle grade and YA novels now than there were five years ago, I would still love to hear more buzz about middle grade novels with queer protagonists—and there’s always room for more! So if you have any recommendations for books I should check out, specifically featuring LGBTQIAP+ characters under 14, I would love to check them out. In the meantime, here are three novels featuring younger teens who happen to be queer!

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‘Sad’ Queer Stories are Still Important

2017 has already been a great year for new LGBTQIA+ YA novels, and I’d have to guess that at least half the books I’ve read so far have been diverse in terms of sexual orientation and identity. What I’ve discovered from reading so many of these gorgeous books is that they usually fall into one of three categories. They’re either predominantly happy and cute, heart-wrenching and emotional, or a character’s identity isn’t the centre focus. On occasion, they do fall into more than one of these categories. But something I’ve seen a lot of people discussing is whether authors should be writing tragic queer stories, and what that really means.

To the most drastic extent, a ‘tragic queer story’ is one where the a member of the LGBTQIA+ community dies, or is killed. It’s even considered a trope now. Thankfully, I haven’t read many novels that conform to this notion, and I don’t really want to if the person’s identity is a major part in the narrative. Seeing these people have tragic endings isn’t just heartbreaking, but it can be damaging to young queer readers picking up these books. Yes, not all stories should be happy ones, but I think it’s harmful to see yourself represented in a narrative, only to find the character has a tragic ending. I’m not here to read about that.

But does that mean that all the novels with LGBTQIA+ protagonists have to be sunshines and rainbows? I don’t think so. Yes, I adore reading books where a person’s identity or sexual orientation isn’t made a big deal of or where they are able to be who they are unashamedly, but I think it’s important to still have stories where people are struggling to come to terms with who they are, or where others around them are. My experiences as a bisexual young person haven’t all been positive, and we need to see that other people might be struggling with the same things we are. In the end, books help us realise that we aren’t alone, and by erasing all ‘sad’ LGBTQIA+ novels, we could be tilting the scales in the other direction. Read More »

The “Gay Best Friend” Trope

“I hope he’s gay. And cute. I’ve always wanted a gay best friend.”

I was at work last night when one of my slightly younger colleagues said that, upon hearing that we were hiring a new, 14-year-old boy to work with us. Even though she was serious, I tried to play it off with a laugh, hoping she would somehow backtrack and say she was joking or that of course his sexual orientation was none of her business and who he’s into shouldn’t make a difference. And so I, an openly (to some degree) queer girl with glitter on my face and a girlfriend waiting outside, replied with:

“But you’ve got me.”

“You know what I mean. It’s not the same.”

I was still thinking about that short exchange an hour later, and it was only until I really dissected why my friend could possibly want “a gay best friend” and how that can be seen as a reflection of some of the stuff we read, as well as what we see on TV. And it was then that I realised how problematic and hurtful that really is. But here’s why I, personally, felt offended by her remarks.Read More »

Binge – book review

Binge by Tyler Oakley

Binge is an honest and hilarious memoir written by the YouTube sensation, Tyler Oakley.

Pop culture phenomenon, social rights advocate, and one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ voices on YouTube, Tyler Oakley brings you his first collection of witty and hilarious personal essays written in the same voice thats earned him more than 10 million followers across social media.

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I’ll admit, when I heard that Tyler Oakley was releasing a book, I was a little skeptical. I’m sorry, I know it’s turned into a cliché, but I’ve just got to say it. Every. YouTuber. Is. Writing. A. Book. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s something that’s happening. I must admit, I’m a little sick of clicking on videos titled ‘I’m ready to tell the truth’ or ‘My huge announcement’ because chances are, we can all guess what these people are going to say before they say it. We get it! You wrote a book! You’re famous! But it’s time for me to stop ‘dragging’ these people, as Tyler would say. I will admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by YouTubers, and Binge was no exception.

For those of you who don’t know Tyler Oakley, he’s a YouTuber. And in case you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what a ‘YouTuber’ is, he basically talks about various topics in front of a camera and uploads them to the internet where he has almost 8 million subscribers and over 520 million views. He also runs a weekly podcast called ‘Psychobabble’ with his friend Korey Kuhl, has a documentary coming out this December titled ‘Snervous’ and is an ambassador for many important issues, particularly raising awareness and funds for The Trevor Project, a non-profit organisation focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. He’s best known for his loud and passionate personality, his ability to rally together his followers to contribute towards a better society, and his unashamed self-promotion.

Check out his YouTube channel here, his podcast Psychobabble here and his Wikipedia here.

Anyway, let’s talk about Binge, shall we? Binge is Tyler’s first book he’s written and takes the form of a memoir of the first 26 years of his life. And boy, has he achieved a lot in just 26 years. You don’t need to have any prior knowledge about Tyler to enjoy this book, but to make the most of it, I recommend watching a few of his videos beforehand to fully understand his sense of humour and what to expect. This book is written exactly how Tyler himself speaks and I could read it all in his voice, which was very enjoyable. For an older audience, his use of slang and how he openly and unashamedly discusses his sexuality may lose some readers, so I’d recommend knowing what you’re getting into before going out and buying this book. Lucky for you, I’m about to tell you everything you need to know!

Let’s just get this part out of the way. If you’re homophobic or you don’t like people sometimes swearing in books or talking about some mildly ‘inappropriate’ things, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book. If you’re under the age of 12, I’d also definitely recommend reconsidering whether you want to read this or not. I absolutely loved this book, but that doesn’t change the fact that some parts might offend some readers or might not be conservative enough, so please know what you’re getting yourself into before you read this book. If you’re already a fan of Tyler however, this book is definitely for you.

I was honestly so surprised to find that Tyler still had so many interesting stories to tell in Binge! When he started his podcast, saying it contained ‘stories [he’s] never told in videos’, I was excited to hear more about his life. But when he said that his book contained things that he’s never discussed in videos or in the podcast, I was thinking, gee, how many secrets does Tyler have?! Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed. I definitely learnt a lot more about Tyler from reading this and I now have more of an insight into Tyler’s humble beginnings and how he made it to where he is today. I loved getting some ‘behind the scenes’ knowledge of his life, such as his experience with One Direction and that time he met Michelle Obama. Everything was incredibly interesting to read about – I can’t believe there are no boring aspects to Tyler’s life! I honestly don’t know how I’d write a memoir without running out of things to write about after the first chapter! Congratulations, Tyler, on having such an fascinating life. I’m just slightly jealous.

Another thing I was pleased to find was that Tyler didn’t hold back with anything. He discussed things such as his eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, abusive relationships, coming out as gay and his slow rise to fame. I admire his honesty in these topics and I understand that a lot of them would be very hard for a lot of people to write about openly. I can’t imagine sharing these things with the entire world would be anything less than frightening, so I want to congratulate Tyler for his courage and candour. I know that a lot of people who are famous don’t deserve to be and that some people don’t use their position in society to benefit others and shouldn’t be looked up to, but I honestly believe Tyler Oakely is such an inspirational person who deserves all the love and support he has. He deserves every bit of it and I’m so thankful for the positivity he adds to not only the online community, but the world.

All in all, I can’t praise Binge enough. If you’re a fan of Tyler Oakley, I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book if you haven’t already. Or, alternatively, you can listen to the audiobook where Tyler himself narrates Binge, and I’m told he also adds in some special details just for the listeners. So let’s talk! Have you read Binge yet? Are you a fan of Tyler Oakley? Do you read many memoirs? Have you read any other books written by YouTubers? Let’s discuss these things down in the comments! 🙂

All of the Above – book review

All of the Above

All of the Above is an absorbing and moving novel, written by Juno (formerly ‘James’) Dawson.

When sixteen year-old Toria arrives at her new school, she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets Polly; funny and foul-mouthed and the coolest person Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing.

That’s when Toria meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band. In the small faded seaside town of Brompton-on-Sea, Toria hardly expects to fall in love once, let alone twice. But life has a habit of pulling you in strange directions, and when it comes to matters of the heart, sometimes you just have to let love chose you.

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My thoughts for this book are a little all over the place, but are overall positive – much like this book, to be honest. Let’s start with me trying to decipher my thoughts. So I liked this book – really liked it, in fact. However, there’s also that overwhelming feeling that this book simply attempted to incorporate so many factors into it that it kind of felt like a big jumble of less significant factors. You might know some of those overly inclusive teachers that try to use a name from each country and religious background in a test paper – like, If Stacy had twelve pieces of candy that she shared equally between Johann, Joseph, Nan, Salla, Anisha and Bob, how many pieces of candy would each person get? But instead of just on test papers, now this is happening with books in regards to mental illnesses, sexuality and literally everything. I understand that this book is trying to reflect society and how people are all unique, blah blah blah, but it felt like too much was going on. For instance, one character had an eating disorder, another was closet-gay, another had depression, another was asexual, another self-harmed, another was an alcoholic, another was effectively a pansexual who was against labelling… exhausted yet? I know I am.

I felt like this book would have been a lot more effective if it focused on just a couple of these issues instead of trying to do it all. I applaud this book for trying to incorporate different types of people into this book, but it felt confusing and unnecessary. I would have much preferred it if there were only a few issues we had to deal with. Instead everyone had a ‘problem’, and this simply isn’t representative of society. I know that a lot of people have mental illnesses and a lot of people have a different sexuality to heterosexual, but let’s just look at the facts and figures here for a moment. One in four people have a mental illness and one in two aren’t ‘textbook heterosexual’. So um… is it just me or is not everyone different from the ‘norm’? This book makes it seem like a person has to have a mental illness or not be heterosexual in order to be ‘interesting’. And I know that this isn’t what the author was trying to say at all, but it felt that way at times.

BUT… there was an aspect to the whole jumble of themes that I enjoyed. It meant that everyone reading this book could relate to at least one of the characters, if not all of them. It meant that everyone could feel represented and feel heard. I think that’s a big part of what literature is trying to do today – write stories that lots of people can relate to, not just the heterosexual white members of our society. So yay for diversity! The one character that I really related to was Polly. I would have been happy to read an entire book on her, to be honest. She was complex and interesting and there was a lot about her that I could see in me. Reading about her was a great experience. Never before had I read about a character that I could relate to so much and see so much of myself in. I connected to her so deeply and really felt like she could have been my twin. Except, she did swear just a little bit more than me…

Even though Juno Dawson is a big advocate for diversity in YA novels, she did include quite a few phrases that can be offensive to many people in regards to mental illness. What I don’t understand is that he tries to show that people all struggle with different things, including mental illnesses, and then just casually drops in mental illnesses to describe a behaviour or action? Inexcusable. I understand that he was trying to sound like a teenager, but what kind of uneducated teenager would say things like – ‘does that make me sound autistic’, ‘it was pretty OCD’ and Toria even described herself as ‘borderline mentally ill’ for obsessing over a boy – and think that it was completely okay? I’m a teenager and I find it quite offensive that she thinks we actually say things like that. Some people might, but surely the majority of us must know what is right and wrong when talking about mental illnesses.

It feels like I’ve just been dragging this book in this review, but I did quite enjoy it. One of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much was because of the beautiful array of vibrant characters. Each of these characters had a specific thing that you could identify them by, sure, but that didn’t define them. I speak a lot about mental illnesses and sexuality in this review and all of these people are different and unique in the problems they are facing, but these ‘issues’ don’t define them. I don’t see a character’s name and think ‘oh, she’s the one with the eating disorder’ or anything. I think one of the best points that the author makes about this book is that people have issues and their flaws, but these don’t have to define them. I liked getting to know these people for who they really are, not just the label that society puts on them.

There was definitely a lot of characters in this novel, each of them starkly different from the next. Some of them I connected to more than others, Polly being a character I really connected with. However, I didn’t feel as though I completely connected with Toria. I felt like she was always going on about how hot she was and how much all the guys were checking her out in the beginning and how annoying it was, and that was part of the reason why she felt kind of distant to me. Of course women shouldn’t be objectified and ogled at, I’m just saying that she sounded quite arrogant about her looks and treated people at her new school according to the people they hung out with, judging them as a group rather than individuals.

However, that leads onto another point of this book that was heartwarming to read about. I loved seeing the breakdown of stereotypes throughout the novel. It was beautiful to see people realising that they aren’t just one thing and that they’re a sum of all their experiences, good and bad. Each of these characters are so human. They make mistakes and they’re flawed and that’s why I loved them. Another thing I particularly loved about this book was the inclusion of poetry. Toria secretly writes poetry, and it was honestly like magic pouring out of the pages. It was delightful to turn the page and see another poem. Each word was carefully chosen and stringed together to hit you right in the feels. But those weren’t the only times that ‘the feels’ were induced. A lot of the novel is beautifully worded and peppered with metaphors. I could feel the life in these characters and hear their heartbeats. This book really felt alive.

So there’s a mix of good and bad in my review, but my overall feeling about this book was that it was good. It has its flaws – heck, what doesn’t? – but it’s an absorbing read that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I haven’t read any other books by Juno Dawson but I’m thinking I’ll have to now! I’d give All of the Above a score of 8 out of 10. I’d recommend reading this book if you like high school drama/romance with a lot of diversity in characters – but it’s probably best to give this one a miss if you get offended easily and are sensitive to issues such as mental illness. So what did you think? Have you read this book or any other books by Juno Dawson? Have you read a lot of other books with character diversity? Do you have any opinions on the issues I’ve raised? Let me know! 🙂

Thank you to Hot Key Books Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – book review

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is an honest and funny book, written by Becky Albertalli.

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being shoved into the spotlight. Now Simon is being blackmailed and if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With dynamics in his friendship group changing and his emails with Blue becoming more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten complicated. Now Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out – somehow without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or losing his shot at happiness with the most confusing, yet adorable guy he’s never met.

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So this is a book that I’ve been hearing a lot about recently. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. All of the things I’ve heard have been good things, so I thought I’d give this book a go. It honestly feels like I’m the last person to have read this book! Better late than never, I guess. And this book was definitely worth my time. I couldn’t be happier that I decided to pick up this book. For those of you who don’t know, this book revolves around this guy named Simon who is gay. I really really like reading YA with LGBTQ+ characters because I feel like these people are really underrepresented in literature. However, we are seeing some more of these books now with not only with this one, but also with The Flywheel and Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You and I guess to an extent the Mortal Instruments series, plus more that I can’t think of at the moment. It’s actually really fitting that I read this book at this point in time because my school just started up a LGBTQ+ club at my school and I showed support for my LBGTQ+ friends and went to the meeting. Love who you love, people!

So while we’re on the subject of LGBTQ+, I think it’s only suitable that we discuss Simon. Simon is just the most honest, realistic, smart, funny and adorable character I’ve probably ever read about. He was what made this book so unique and entertaining. He’s a sassy gay teenager with perfect grammar and he loves Oreos. What more could you want in a person? I guess what I want is for Simon to exist outside of this novel so I can adopt him as my new best friend. I also loved seeing his character develop. In the beginning, he was really conscious about making sure no one discovered he was gay because he didn’t want anyone to know. As the novel progressed, he came to realise that it’s better to be who you are and be happy rather than be someone you’re not for the sake of other people and hate yourself because of it. And a main theme of this book was to accept who you are and to accept other people, even though they might seem different to us. Simon raised a really important point – ‘white shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default’.

Another thing I loved about this book was the air of mystery about it. We know that Simon is emailing someone named ‘Blue’ and that he goes to Simon’s school, but we don’t know who Blue is until the very end. I was always trying to guess which character Blue was and look for any hints, but I was totally clueless. However, I was more than happy with who it turned out to be. I was just as surprised as Simon about learning who Blue was, and I loved that! Contemporaries with a bit of mystery are the best. Let me tell you, Blue and Simon are the cutest couple ever. Their moments together, even via email, made me smile and swoon and fall head over heels for their relationship.

While we’re on the topic of characters, I suppose I should talk about all the other wonderful characters in this book. But before I do, let me say one thing. Okay, knowing me, it’s probably going to be more than one thing, but let’s see! All of the characters in this book, even the really really minor ones, were incredibly well-written. Each character had their set of defining characteristics and traits and flaws and they we’re at all one-dimensional or conformed to their stereotypes. Simon’s family was also really awesome to get to know. I loved how he had so much support from his family and how they accepted him for who he really is. It was really heartwarming that they were so understanding and how learning Simon was gay didn’t change anything for them. I really think that’s the way our society should be. I don’t think that ‘coming out’ should have to be a thing because like Simon said, ‘straight’ shouldn’t be a default and that we shouldn’t assume a person’s sexuality and it shouldn’t even matter all that much to us. But that’s a rant for another day.  I’ll just say that 100% supportive of every single one of you.

Friendship was also a thing that I found was really realistically portrayed in this book. I loved how even though Simon and Leah and Abby and Nick all shared a certain connection, that didn’t stop them from fighting sometimes or getting jealous of one another. It was great to see that their relationships weren’t unrealistically positive. One thing that I would have liked to have seen more of was Nick and Leah. I feel like while I got to know them, I could have known them better. However, I can understand that this book is mostly focussed on Simon’s journey and Blue and therefore Simon’s friends didn’t need to be so prominent that I could see into their souls.

One thing that made this book really stand out was that some of the narrative was told in the emails that Blue and Simon sent one another. Reading those emails gave us a lot of knowledge about both Simon and Blue. I could definitely see how Simon fell in love with him. Those email exchanges were honestly the cutest things. I just really loved the writing style of this novel. It was so well-written and honest. This book also deals with some pretty hard subjects in an exceptional way. Bullying, blackmailing and finding and expressing ourselves and our identity are all topics included and I’m really happy we got to explore those issues. This book was amazingly addictive as well. I finished this book in a day and honestly, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. A part of me wanted to savour it and nibble away at it for a few days, but I ended up completely devouring it. Talk about self control.

This book was exactly what I had hoped for, even more so. It was honest and humorous and a lot of fun to read. I’d give Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli a score of 10 out of 10. So tell me – have you read this book? What did you think of it? Do you love Simon and Blue? Is this book on your TBR? Let’s discuss all things Simon! XD