12 LGBT YA Books with Transgender Protagonists

As an #OwnVoices trans YA writer, I get asked for recommendations of YA books about transgender characters. Over the past few years, I’ve been happy to see a significant increase of transgender characters in YA literature. And not only are these characters often protagonists, but they’re more likely than ever to have been written by trans or non-binary authors.

Read on to discover twelve transgender YA fiction books featuring trans/non-binary main characters. I have highlighted books written by transgender or non-binary authors with an asterisk (*).

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo * : Amanda Harvey moves in with her father after transitioning to female to start fresh at a new school. But when she meets Grant, all of her plans to lay low and avoid falling in love go out the window.

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Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin: Riley Cavanaugh is a genderfluid teenager who blogs about their identity to release some of the pressure of having a conservative congressman father. When their blog goes viral, Riley must make a decision to live authentically in a community that doesn’t always understand deviations from the norm.

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When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore: Sam and Miel are inseparable friends–roses grow from Miel’s wrists, and Sam hangs moons that he painted in the forest. But when the Bonner sisters threaten to take Miel’s roses for themselves, Sam must protect her while risking the exposure of his most personal secrets.

This is one of my favorite transgender YA books featuring a FTM character because the portrayal is so unique and well-written (maybe in part because the author’s husband is trans). I have a soft spot for magical realism YA so if you do as well, this is an excellent choice.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang: Young Prince Sebastian has a secret: at night, he transforms into a Parisian fashion icon named Lady Crystallia. When he hires the seamstress Frances tot help him explore his gender expression and identity, what follows is a sweet and unconventional love story.

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Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills: Not everyone accepts Gabe’s identity as a transgender man, especially not his family. But as a radio DJ for the community radio channel “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children,” he’s able to find a safe outlet for him and others who don’t fit in neat boxes.

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I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver * : Ben de Backer’s parents kicked them out after they come out as non-binary, so they move in with their sister Hannah. This LGBT romance book follows Ben as they meet their classmate Nathan and learn what it means to be loved unconditionally.

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson: Fourteen-year-old David’s biggest secret? Although she was born male, she wishes she was born a girl like her sister. When her school’s aggressive new student Leo stands up for her in a fight, she’s challenged to determine whether anyone is normal, really, and if that’s even a goal worth pursuing.

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Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart: Lily Jo is a thirteen-year-old girl who’s struggling to transition in a home where one parent is accepting and the other refuses to acknowledge his daughter’s identity. But when Lily meets Duncan, a new neighbor who struggles with bipolar disorder, both of their lives change for the better through their unconventional friendship.

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Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin: Discovering that your gender identity doesn’t align with your body can be a journey equally full of beauty and challenges. This non-fiction YA book follows the stories of transgender youth as they come to terms with their identities.

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I am J by Cris Beam: J always felt different from the moment he was born, but he wasn’t able to give it a name until he was a teenager: transgender. This is one of the best-known books about a trans guy, and I think it’s a useful read for both those within and outside of the queer community.

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What We Left Behind by Robin Talley: Toni and Gretchen fell in love the moment that they met in high school and, when they’re accepted to different universities, they thought that their relationship could survive the long distance. But when Toni’s shifting gender identity puts a strain on their relationship, they discover how love can change over time in unexpected ways.

* = written by a transgender or non-binary author

YA Review: Kiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

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TitleKiss Number 8 by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Mads never understood why people loved kissing so much. Until her eight kiss, which calls into question all she understood in her conservative upbringing.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: In case you couldn’t guess from that blurb, Mads is a cisgender lesbian who discovers and grapples with her identity as a teenager. Between hormones and internalized shame from her family and Catholic high school, Mads faces a lot of pressure to bury her sexuality. Mads is intuitive and skilled at self-introspective, and what she uncovers about herself and her family leads to powerful conversations about identity.

Homophobia in general, both internalized and external, is a major theme in Kiss Number 8. Although the title sounds more like a romantic comedy, this is an introspective story that doesn’t always offer easy choices for our protagonist Mads.

What I liked: This book reminded me a bit of a queer, contemporary take on The Scarlet Letter. Although I didn’t go to Catholic school like Mads, I did attend high school in a conservative community who mostly belonged to the same religious background. Not many students came out as openly LGBT, and those who did often faced social consequences.

Kiss Number 8 accurately portrays what it’s like to be outed as gay when you’re young and still figuring yourself out in a place where it’s not safe to do so. As soon as word gets out that she kissed another girl, gossip spreads through her high school and kicks her out of a social group she’d belonged to for her whole life. It can be devastating as a religious queer person to feel alienated from a community that defines how you understand the world and yourself, and that fear and uncertainty is portrayed excellently here.

Recommended: I’ve sung my praises towards queer graphic novels many times on this blog, and this book is an excellent example of the genre. If you’re interested in a story with family secrets, religious crises, and high school drama, Kiss Number 8 is worth checking out.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Birthday by Meredith Russo

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TitleBirthday by Meredith Russo

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Morgan and Eric are two teenagers who were born on the same day. That makes them bonded for life, even if their journeys take them in very different (yet connected) directions.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Morgan is a transgender girl whose identity develops over the course of the novel. We’re able to see these characters once a year (on their birthdays) and so we watch her as she discovers that her inherent femininity won’t just go away. But because she realizes these truths in her conservative community, it takes her some time to find a place in the world where she belongs.

What I liked: I already had a lot of faith in this book before I started reading it because Meredith Russo is one of the best writers I’ve read in queer YA. Not only does she write unique characters whose stories are important to hear, but her prose itself is so beautiful. Although we only get to experience Morgan and Eric’s worlds for six birthday, she crafts lives and emotions for these characters that feel real. It’s vulnerable and authentic, and it’s not just a story about queer identity – it’s a story about what it means to accept yourself and others in a world that sometimes teaches the opposite.

As far as the novel’s format goes, I usually have extreme reactions to experimental novels like this: I’m either crazy for them or I hate it. In this case, I loved that we follow Morgan and Eric throughout their birthdays over the course of the novel. What I think Birthday makes clear overall is that so much can change in a year. It’s powerful to see Morgan and Eric change and become more authentic versions of themselves over time, as well as how they influence each other to face who they are inside.

“Maybe that’s what life is about: surviving what you can’t control and clinging to the good things the winds whip up.”

Recommended: Meredith Russo is one of my favorite queer YA writers. Her book If I Was Your Girl is my go-to recommendation for transgender fiction because she portrays the emotional complexity of being trans so well. I’d recommend Birthday for similar reasons. Both Morgan and Eric face real and meaningful challenges as they come to terms with who they are, and I think that the author does an excellent job at writing a story with equal parts humanity and heart.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

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TitleDeposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After Nate’s best friend Cam attacks him, he’s called to court to deliver a statement that would convict Cam. But their relationship had never been easy or simple, and Nate’s emotional conflict sends him spiraling to his limits.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Nate is a cisgender queer guy whose relationship with Cam is messy. But so many things in life are, including those that matter most. As the two boys fall apart, their friendship unravels as they get to the heart of what happened between them. There are no easy answers as to why Nate ended up in the hospital and Cam in court, but Nate tries to analyze his questions anyways and find some sense of closure.

Deposing Nathan deals heavily with themes of domestic abuse between Nate and his aunt. If that subject matter could potentially be triggering to you, I’d recommend researching the book a little further before reading it. It can be intense at times.

What I liked: Deposing Nathan is one of those books that takes you in a very different direction than you expect. One of the heaviest themes in this book is what makes a decision right or wrong. Nate knows that if he testifies against Cam, his best friend will serve a long jail sentence. The two boys are the only people who know the truth about what happened, and this burden weighs on Nate because he desperately wants to do good. But people don’t often fit into well-defined categories of “good” and “bad,” which heightens Nate’s problems all the more.

I also loved how well the author portrays Nate’s faith crisis. People whose religious beliefs and queer identity are equally important to them often have a hard time getting the two halves of who they are to coexist. Throughout Deposing Nathan, Nate grapples with his beliefs – his spiritual beliefs, his beliefs about his moral conscience, and his beliefs concerning his family. Challenging these beliefs is one of the hardest things for Nate to do but only through self-discovery is he able to reach peace.

“If you think you need to earn enough points on someone’s rubric for them to accept you, then either you’re wrong to assume they won’t love you for who you are, or they never loved you in the first place.”

Recommended: If you’re looking for a book that will just emotionally destroy you, here it is. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith

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TitleSomething Like Gravity by Amber Smith

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary:  Chris and Maia meet after a car accident, so it makes sense that their relationship begins with a rocky start. But as Maia grieves her late sister and Chris deals with a traumatic assault from the year before, the healing process brings them together.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Chris is a trans man who falls in love with a straight, cisgender woman. While many books about trans characters focus on the coming out process, Chris is portrayed as comfortable in his own skin and already taking steps toward the transitioning process.

As far as content warnings go, Chris spends part of the novel processing an assault that happened a year prior to the novel. It is in the past, but the emotions that Chris feels towards the attack can be intense at times. If you think this could be triggering for you to read, I’d recommend checking out a few more reviews before reading it.

What I liked: Finally, a FTM main character that doesn’t spend the whole novel ruminating about their self-hatred! I feel like that’s a theme especially in AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans YA novels and have no idea why. It’s definitely not healthy for cis or trans readers. Chris was a lot more comfortable with himself. I think that’s important to portray and gives a lot more nuance to the typical stories written about trans characters.

Also, I liked that Chris’s entire story didn’t revolve around him being trans. It is a huge part of his identity, but he’s also interested in getting to know Maia and helping her come to terms with the loss of her sister. Sometimes, a trans character’s gender identity overpowers YA books to the point where there’s no other plot points or characterization. This book does explore how many trans people feel and what it’s like to be attacked for choosing authenticity. This book is not an easy read because Chris and Maia are both going through hard things, but their relationship gives them a person to talk and empathize with as they go through the healing process.

Recommended: I think that this could be an especially helpful book for teens who aren’t as familiar with the trans community who want to understand and have more compassion for them. For trans teens, I might recommend an #OwnVoices YA book for a more authentic depiction but overall, it’s sweet and humanizes both the grieving process and what it’s like to be transgender.

Note: I received an ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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TitleThe Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: This #OwnVoices book follows seventeen-year-old Evan Panos, the son of Greek immigrants who he knows couldn’t understand or condone him being gay. But when Evan has his first kiss at summer camp and finally finds someone who loves him for who he is, he runs the risk of coming out whether he likes it or not.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Dangerous Art of Blending In follows Evan, a cis gay teenager, as he falls in love with his best friend Henry and comes out to his parents. His family comes from Greece and strictly follow Orthodox Christianity, with his parents reacting to his sexual orientation in different ways. While his dad is hesitant, he makes it clear how much he loves his son and tries to support him. His mom, on the other hand, seems to struggle with an undiagnosed mental illness and is both physically and emotionally abusive after he comes out and throughout his life because he has a strong feminine side.

If domestic abuse is triggering to you, you may want to read a few more reviews before deciding whether or not this queer YA book is for you. While the depictions of abuse are pretty intense and difficult to read, they aren’t graphic, and Evan (without spoiling anything) is also eventually able to escape the situation.

What I liked: Evan’s voice was so authentic and bold that it really drove the heart of this story. Part of this is because the author himself is gay and a child of Greek immigrants. The reason that Evan’s story felt so real was that in the endnote, Aurelis explained how so much of it had been based on his own experiences. I think that this book is a reminder that sometimes “write what you know” can lead to unique and much needed voices coming through in LGBTQ YA, especially when it’s done thoughtfully.

I also thought that Evan’s relationship with his dad, while definitely not perfect, was beautiful. It was clear that Evan’s dad came from a very different culture from his own and was raised seeing LGBT people in a negative light. But despite how he struggled to understand his son, he genuinely tried to. It didn’t excuse how long it took for him to get Evan out of the abusive situation with his mom. But it offered a little hope that Evan would someday find the support that he deserved in and outside of his community.

You may notice at this point that, while this book is a gay romance, I haven’t mentioned that element yet. That’s because I didn’t really like the relationship between Evan and Henry. It felt sort of imbalanced, with Evan putting all of his self-worth and confidence into how Henry saw him. While I think that’s understandable, given how little acceptance Evan had felt for being gay, I didn’t like that it wasn’t addressed. And at times, Henry seemed to be aware of that one-sidedness and used it against Evan (especially when kissing and being intimate). Maybe I’m just overanalyzing it too much, but I think that even though it was trying to be a cute gay romance book, it ended up feeling a little forced and maybe unhealthy.

Quote: “Maybe I’m not so ugly after all. Maybe no one is really ugly, and maybe no one has the right to call someone that or tell them that they are.”

Recommended: While reading this book, I fell in love with the sweetness of Evan’s personality and his story. This queer romance is a pretty light read– I think I finished it in around three sittings – but it’s a brave portrayal of what it’s like to authentically love others and yourself despite the pressure to stay guarded.

YA Review: Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve

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TitleOut of Salem by Hal Schrieve

Rating: 3/5

Two-sentence summary: Genderqueer witch Z feels like a loner thanks to their new status as a zombie. After teaming up with unregistered werewolf Aysel, the two team up to combat the hostility against them in their town of Salem, Oregon.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues:  Out of Salem features a genderqueer protagonist named Z who deals with misgendering and dead-naming (which is kind of clever, considering that they’re a zombie). Z seems to use this term interchangeably with non-binary and use they/them pronouns. This book also includes a Muslim lesbian werewolf main character, and the interplay between these identities made the book a lot richer than some speculative fiction stories.

What I liked: I thought that the social commentary about LGBT discrimination via how these “monsters” are treated was a pretty unique concept. The queer representation was also very complex and well-written, especially the relationship between Z and Aysel. While there aren’t any major romances in this book, the friendship between this two is so authentic and uplifting for each other. Watching them learn to respect and genuinely care for each other through shared hardships is one of the best parts of Out of Salem. It makes the book feel so real for a story about zombies and werewolves.

The one complaint I had was that the writing felt a bit stiff, and that made it hard for me to engage with the story as much as I wanted to. It was an innovative idea, but it didn’t always translate over well into words (in my opinion). But that being said, this seems to be the author’s debut novel and even without that taken into consideration, it was still an enjoyable read.

Recommended: This was a pretty new concept for queer YA, especially within non-binary representation. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky, gay read. Perfect book to get your Halloween fix any time of the year!

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.