Though one could make a case that gay literature dates back to centuries B.C. when Homer wrote about Achilles and Patroclus and the “union of their thighs,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a book with a main character who represented the LGBT community or the struggles of growing up gay.
Until now. Over the last few decades, there’s been an increase in coming-of-age books with gay protagonists. In fact, most bookstores have a section dedicated to the sub-genre.
And guess what: You don’t have to be gay to enjoy gay literature. Whether you are simply wanting to look beyond your own experience or are an LGBT youth looking for a character who relates to you, the following classic and current coming-of-age LGBT novels teach love and acceptance. And that’s something everyone can relate to.
Read books by LGBT authors and more. Subscribe to Early Bird Books to receive offers for free and discounted ebooks delivered daily to your inbox.
Originally published in 1982, A Boy’s Own Story was one of the first books be frank about homosexuality.
As the unnamed narrator struggles with his emerging sexuality, embarrassed by his desire for male affection in the heteronormative and homophobic 1950s, he retreats into his own imagination and a purely physical relationship with his young neighbor.
The most interesting part? The novel is a largely autobiographical account of White’s own childhood and initial struggle to embrace his identity.
Though written in 1914, the book wasn’t published until 1971. Like A Boy’s Own Story, it was quite ahead of its time. It describes the life of a young man named Maurice who happens to be homosexual. It follows his life from teenage years to adulthood as he struggles to find happiness in a time when loving men is far from accepted.
Fun Home, by Allison Bechdel
This graphic novel memoir covers Bechdel’s life from childhood through college as she navigates life as a lesbian with a gay but closeted father who runs the town funeral home. And if you like this tragicomic tale, you can also go see the new Broadway musical adaptation.
This book is one of the newer additions to this subgenre, but it already boasts a host of awards and a big fan following.
Aristotle (Ari) and Dante are both loners, but they meet and discover they have a lot in common. As they grow closer, Ari struggles with his strong feelings for Dante and the realization that he might want to be more than friends.
Another LGBT classic published in the same era as A Boy’s Own Story.
Jeannette is adopted and raised by her fundamentalist mother for the purpose of being a missionary. As she grows, however, she begins to have some differences of opinion with her mother’s church. After she falls for recent convert Melanie, they begin an affair. Though Jeannette is able to reconcile loving both God and Melanie, her church is less understanding.
This coming-of-age tale features Liza and Annie, two teens with very different backgrounds on a journey of self-discovery. Though Annie seems willing to accept being gay, Liza struggles with guilt and fear over her new identity, threatening their relationship. This classic novel was infamously burned in the ‘90s in a homophobic Kansas school district.
Perhaps better known for her adult romance, Desert of the Heart, Rule also wrote this story of Katherine George, a young woman whose journey to adulthood and acceptance of her sexuality is told in a series of letters, which constitute the book.
Levithan is known for pioneering books on LGBT young adults, including Every Day and his partner novel with John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but this instant LGBT classic was a National Book Award Nominee and Lambda Award winner. Based on real-life events, Two Boys Kissing tells the tale of Harry and Craig, two teens embarking on a 32-hour kissing marathon to set the Guinness World Record. Their story also becomes a rallying point for several teens navigating the world of a modern young gay man.
Growing up is hard enough when your gender matches your name. By night, Liam becomes Luna using his sister’s clothes and makeup. He wants to, unlike his namesake, come out and be himself during the day. But as Luna prepares to make her debut, the fear of how her family will react bubbles over.