Summer of Lesbian YA

14 Nov

A YA or MG novel featuring LGBTQIA+ characters but not focused solely on sexuality, suitable for teaching to 12/13-year-olds.

That’s what I was asked to find by my boss this summer, in an attempt to diversify our teaching and promote a more tolerant school community. Turns out it’s a really difficult brief to fit. Not only are there few novels featuring any LGBTQIA+ characters (although the number is growing – see Gay YA for a list), most are for an older audience. Whilst there is some debate to be had over whether it is right to seek out novels that don’t foreground sexuality, I also had to bear in mind that my boss wanted something that centred around something else.

With that in mind, I tried out four different books in the hope of selecting something that could be trialled with one of my classes (Year 8). As I work in a girls’ school, I decided to narrow my search to focus on female characters, and ended up choosing four novels with lesbian protagonists as they looked most promising in relation to the brief. The process turned out to be a lot of fun – I had not read many LGBTQIA+ YA books before, so it definitely broadened my reading horizons, as well as introducing me to new authors.

I read:

Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler


This was a really interesting read, although somewhat out of my normal genre choice as it is firmly contemporary. It tells the story of Ash, a seventeen-year-old college student dealing with the break-up of her parents’ marriage. In the midst of this turmoil, she turns to her English teacher for help, and, despite having a boyfriend, begins to fall for her.

I picked this up because the lovely Charlie pointed it out to me at YALC and I was actually able to meet Liz Kessler. Whilst I have already recommended and lent this book to friends, the more mature tone, the sexual content and the fact that it has a teacher-student relationship in it ultimately made it unsuitable for the project. However, I’d wholeheartedly endorse it for older readers. The story treats coming out with complexity, showing how it is simultaneously scary but also empowering for the heroine, as well as a key part of Ash’s journey to adulthood.

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin


This book is multi-award-winning and deservedly so. Silhouette of a Sparrow follows Garnet, a spirited young woman living in 1920s America. Her family are keen for her to marry for financial reasons, but she would much rather pursue her passion for bird-watching. A summer job leads to meeting a flapper girl, whose rebellious, sparky personality is hard to resist.

The historical context of the book caught my eye, as I figured it would be a fascinating teaching point. Unfortunately, whilst the story was brilliantly readable, a sex scene partway through, whilst very tastefully done, meant I couldn’t choose this for my class. I have, however, added it to my library for older students, and have already lent it to some.

Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton


I’ve followed Keris on Twitter for a while and often seen her books recommended. This is the first in a series (Reel Friends) focusing on a group of girls living in a small town. It has with a strong theme of female friendship as well as the usual elements of contemporary YA: relationships, family problems and negotiating the secondary school social scene. In this novel, Kitty and her friends decide to enter a film competition. Things get complicated when Kitty gets a crush on her Gran’s neighbour, a girl called Dylan, but feels that her friends won’t understand.

Although Kitty’s growing understanding of her sexuality is pretty much the main story line here, I decided it would actually be a great choice for the age group I’m targeting. I’d recommend this particularly to those who are not confident readers as the language is fairly simple and very clear. Teaching points could also include the portrayal of Sunny, a Muslim girl, and also the ways in which their town and community have changed over time.

Ash by Malinda Lo

ash 2

Ash is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages, so this was a good reason to get on with it! Lo retells the story of Cinderella, moving the action to a fantasy kingdom where belief in magic is suppressed but some retain contact with the old ways. Our heroine, Aisling, loses her mother and then her father, leaving her in servitude as per the traditional tale. However, the story takes a twist when she falls not for the handsome prince, but his huntress instead.

This is a fairly long read and quite dense in parts. However, its use of folklore and fairy-tales makes it ideal for teaching, as links could be made to the ways in which the oral tradition has evolved over time. This is also a little different from the other texts as Aisling doesn’t spend much time worrying about being in love with a woman rather than a man, fitting a little better with the brief in that coming out is not the key plot line. Because my class is a top set and fairly confident with longer books, I therefore decided to go with Ash.

I haven’t started it with them yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. It should be an opportunity to have some really important and much-needed conversations. In the meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my eye out for more diverse reads – feel free to recommend any others in the comments.

2 Responses to “Summer of Lesbian YA”

  1. Soizic January 30, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    I’ve been meaning to read Ash for a long time too. I didn’t even know it had LGBTQ themes in it – I mostly just liked the cover.


  1. What I Read in 2015 | Catherine Queen - December 27, 2015

    […] Ash by Malinda Lo (read my thoughts at the link) […]

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