In this blogpost, I wanted to recommend three of my absolute favourite books of the year. You can find my reviews of these books in my July and August Wrap-up posts, but I wanted to share them in a separate post as well to give them the attention they deserve!
I recently really got into YA books about LGBTQ+ history, because it’s just so healing to read about. It’s really helped me understand my community, and even myself, a lot better.
Abdi Nazemian – Like a Love Story
It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.
Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.
Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.
Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.
As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.
This first one I read is Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian. This book is a beautifully written love story to the LGBTQ+ community. I haven’t read very many books about the AIDS crisis, and this was just so well done. Yes, it was heartbreaking, but everything about it was so loving and respectful, and I absolutely adored this book. If you’re up for a heavy read, I would very much recommend picking this up.
Robin Talley – Pulp
In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.
Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.
In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.
Secondly, I read Pulp by Robin Talley, and I was again blown away. This book follows teens from two different time periods, which makes it clear how much has already changed and how much is still the same or at least similar. On the one hand, there’s a lesbian girl in the 1950s who has to keep her identity a secret for safety reasons and who writes a lesbian pulp novel under a pseudonym. And there’s a lesbian girl in present day as well, who reads this pulp novel and becomes obsessed with it, wanting to track down the author. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about LGBTQ+ history through reading this novel.
James Brandon – Ziggy, Stardust & Me
The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.
Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.
A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.
The third book I read is Ziggy, Stardust & Me by James Brandon, which I didn’t just love because of the historical aspect, but also because, you know, David Bowie!! This might have been the heaviest book to read out of all three of these, but it’s also so important. The main character is a boy dealing with and trying to overcome internalized homophobia in a time where homosexuality was still seen as a mental illness. At the start of the book, he genuinely believes he’s sick, and then he starts to grow as a character, which I thought was so well done.
All of these books made for such a special reading experience, and I can only hope we’ll be blessed with many more books like these.
Do you have more recommendations for YA books about LGBTQ+ history?
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