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Book review: Top 250 LGBTQ Books for Teens

Get ready for a crash course in LGBTQ YA books! Top 250 LGBTQ Books for Teens: Coming Out, Being Out, and the Search for Community by Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins packs a lot of information in this slight book (164 pages). Their previous book together, The Heart has its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queen Content 1960-2004 (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2006) focused on the most important books on the 70s, 80s, and 90s, with annotations of titles, and looked at novels published in between 2000 and 2004, too. The focus here is primarily books from the 90s and on.


They begin with a look at the history of LGBTQ books, noting an increase in the inclusion of bisexual and transgender characters, as well as more diversity in characters and their stories. They also discuss where we need to go with these books, suggesting we need more books with sexual identity as a given and not the focus of the story, more middle grade LGBTQ titles, and more “with characters of color and characters from other cultures, ethnicities, religions, abilities/disabilities, and other forms of diversity.” They would like to see more same-sex parents and more bisexual characters. They make interesting observations, like 1997’s “Hello,” I Lied by M.E. Kerr was the first YA book to feature a self-identified bisexual character. “It wasn’t until 2011 that the next YA novel with a bisexual character appeared in Alex Sanchez’s Boyfriends with Girlfriends.” (But–is that right? Isn’t Jason from the Rainbow Boys series bi? And Nic from Empress of the World?) They bury one of the most interesting details in a footnote: “The first LGBTQ character of color in a YA novel appeared in 1976, with Rosa Guy’s Ruby; the second appeared 15 years later in Jacqueline Woodson’s 1991 novel The Dear One.”


This dense introduction helps provide a context for the annotations that follow. The authors focus on 195 fiction titles, rounding out the remaining 55 entries with nonfiction, graphic novels, and professional resources. They also generate fiction codes for each title: HV for Homosexual Visibility (or coming out stories); GA for Gay Assimilation (stories about people who just happen to be gay); and QC for Queer Consciousness (stories in context of LGBTQ people and their allies). I  don’t think the codes are necessary–many books include all of these elements, and I also don’t like the codes, period. They sound clunky and awkward.


The titles included are predominately from the past 20 years, though some older novels, like Dance on my Grave by Aidan Chambers (1982), Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982), and Night Kites by M.E. Kerr (1986) are included, too. The reviews often sound stiff and use the same language over and over. And speaking of language, I don’t love some things that they say, like “the cloudy issue of bisexuality” or things like “there is some explicit talk of sex…but happily, none of it is gratuitous.” Or how about “the dialogue has a realistic lilt that is, unfortunately, rare in books for teens.” All of these examples feel judgmental and negative in ways I don’t appreciate.


I have two questions about this book: Who is the audience and what is this book’s purpose? Published by ALA, it would seem maybe the audience is librarians and the purpose is collection development and readers’ advisory. With a heavy focus on “older” books–pre-2000–many of the titles already look and sound dated. If this is a history resource, it’s useful. If this is used as a textbook, it’s useful. I’d like to think that this is a book that would be grabbed off a shelf by actual teenagers looking to read every LGBTQ book they can find. The annotations will help them with that, but the stilted and often scholarly tone sometimes manages to make even the most interesting books sound boring. I also wanted something more in the back matter than just an index. A quick reference list of the books they mention that are middle grade, or feature transgender characters, or non-white characters would be so useful.


Overall, despite some issues with its tone and usability, I definitely think this book should be in all library collections. It provides a lot of information about a large number of titles in a quick and (mostly) accessible format. This would be an excellent resource for any class on contemporary YA, too.


ISBN-13: 9781937589561

Publisher: Huron Street Press

Publication date: 3/2/2015


  1. THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS was very important to my master’s thesis and I have read it to pieces, so I wanted to add a couple of contextualizing comments:

    –the plot codes (HV, GA, and QC) were developed as a variant of Rudine Sims Bishop’s categories for children’s books about African American people: “social conscience”, “melting pot”, and “culturally conscious.” (You can read an article from Bishop here: http://www.childrensliteratureassembly.org/docs/38-2-Bishop.pdf ) . For me, both sets of codes serve as shorthand for an analysis of who the book is “for” and whose reality it’s centered in. (For instance, some books exist so that straight, cis people can start to feel empathy for queer folks, and they will rarely be useful texts for actual queers.) This may be a distinction that’s more important for scholars and for members of the group being depicted than for general readers, but particularly with LGBTQ representation, I think it’s an important consideration in balancing your collection.

    –along those lines, my perception of these texts is that they exist primarily as an initial analysis and a catalog of what is available and how it is changing over time. I have used THE HEART… as a collection development tool, but only in combination with other sources. I have not read this book yet, but it’s notable that we’ve come to a place where we can have a list of the TOP books; I believe THE HEART… was an exhaustive list (under certain parameters).

  2. Amanda MacGregor Amanda MacGregor says

    Thank you so much for this comment, especially your thoughts on the codes. I agree with you–the fact that there can be a book of the top 250 books with LGBTQ content is definitely notable. I’d be interested in hearing more about your master’s thesis if you wanted to share:)

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