Two absolutely wonderful friends of mine asked me for summer reading lists, quite a few weeks passed, and now I’m finally writing it (I’M THE WORST). I’m not a theory kid, I don’t care about the next “great American novel,” I like quick amusing compelling lit: I only read YA. Which is to say this is a summer YA book list. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you to read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, because there are plenty of amazing books that haven’t been turned into mainstream Hollywood movies (yet…). So here are some of my favorites:
The Summer Prince, By Alaya Dawn Johnson
So, I’ve already reviewed this book, but it needs to be on this list because it’s perfect, so here it is. This dystopian novel takes place in Brazil (not the United States!), it only has POC in it, it’s so queer I didn’t realize that some relationships in it were queer at first (had to take off my heteronormative goggles), there’s a healthy affectionate polyamorous relationship in it, female masturbation, class divisions and oppression, rebellion (and difficulty choosing to commit to rebelling). It’s everything. Read it.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This book is absolutely beautiful, Like, I can’t even, it’s just, dang. This is the story of two Chicano teen boys living in El Paso Texas who meet and instantly become friends, the carefully told narrative of their tender relationship is absolute ecstasy to read. This is one of the few books that I know of that explores a Questioning queer identity, which is absolutely genuine and excruciating. One final point to make in this micro review about this story is how it depicts loving, supportive, and accepting Mexican American families (it’s a shame that such depictions are a rarity).
Eleanor & Park + Fangirl, By Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell is my new favorite author, she tells deliciously rich stories, with the most lovable characters. John Green (another YA author worth reading) said it best : “[Rowell’s books] reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a [person], but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”
Eleanor & Park tells the story of two misfits who start to form a friendship as Eleanor reads comic books over Park’s shoulder on the school bus. It explores poverty and fat experiences, mixed race identities in mostly white towns, and non-masculine male identities with complete care and realness. It’s an absolute delight (I may or may not have framed fan art from this book on my bedroom wall).
Fangirl tells the story of Cather, her intense social anxieties, her twin sister pushing her a way, her incredibly popular online fanfics, her confusing relations with boys, her creative writing teacher pushing her to write original stories, her bitchy promiscuous and downright lovable roommate: all while negotiating her first year at college. Fangirl doesn’t hit the same amount of anti-oppression points as other books on this list, but it’s still marvelous, honest, and a entirely unique young woman’s narrative.
The Lunar Chronicles, By Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles re-imagines classic fairy tales in a sci-fi future. For instance: Cinderella is a cyborg mechanic (I know! Right?), named Linh Cinder. Her prince charming is the crown prince of The Eastern Commonwealth (to simplify talking inter-planetary politics Meyers had all the countries conglomerate into continent sized nations. Fairly problematic as the last thing American youths need is a reinforced idea that Asia and Africa are countries…) which means both Cinder and her prince charming (the dreamiest man on Earth) are Asian- which I think is pretty cool. I can’t give a way too much more about the other twists on the fairy tales in the books without spoiling all over the place; but these are really fun girl centered narratives, where the girls get to be cool and baddass in ways distinct and unique from each other. The Chronicles aren’t over yet, Cress just came out this year, so we’ve got some waiting to do before the story concludes with Winter.
The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, By Holly Black
Ok, so it’s a vampire book. And I wanna be very clear: I do not like vampire books. But The Coldest Girl In Coldtown is the exception to the rule. First of all Tana, our protagonist, has agency she makes her own choices about who and what she’s gonna be, and sticks with them no matter what some “dreamy” vampire thinks. It’s hella refreshing. Also the book spends a lot of time juxtaposing romanticized fantasies of vampires drinking human blood, with what the horrific violent and brutal reality of vampires sucking humans dry would be like. And the final thing I’ll share with you in this review is my favorite character: a transgender girl of color named Valentina, who’s identity is always respected, is crushed on by a punky vampire hunter named Jameson (another cool character I can’t get into now!), and who’s narrative was an amazing metaphor for young queers who flock to Urban Centers trying to find community and acceptance. It’s cool, read it.
Wandering Son, by Takako Shimura
Wandering Son is a manga series that I’ve only been able to read the first book of so far (there’s at least 5 more…). It’s a sweet story about two gender non-conforming children. The first is Shuichi Nitori a feminine child who is MAAB. One day when working on a group project one of Shuichi Nitori’s classmates has them try on a headband and matter-of-factly says that they look like a girl. This fascinates and excites Shuichi Nitori, who instantly starts wearing their sisters accessories and dresses at home. Wondering Son is also the story Yoshino Takatsuki a masculine child who is FAAB, and gleefully discovers that with a shorter hair cut and their brother’s old school uniform they can wonder around the city and pass as a boy. It’s a sweet story about gender experimentation, self exploration, and building friendships with these experiences. Getting through 2-5 is the next thing on my reading list.
Locke & Key, by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Trigger Warning: abusive relationships, violence, loss of family members. These graphic novels (6 trades in all) are incredibly dark, and often really creepy. And they’re amazing. The plot line is about a white family who moves to their ancestor’s house in Eastern Massachusetts after tragedy strikes, and then how the children begin to discover magic and a mystery within those walls. But thematically the story is about the magic that you have as a child and loose when you grow up, the intense way you love your friends when you’re a teenager, the incredible strength and ingenuity you can muster to protect your family, and forgiveness (not my usual favorite theme, but I dug it in this narrative). Despite it being about a white family the books go out of their way to discuss racism and racialized relationships, they also do a good job talking about class tensions in the Cape Cod. I also REALLY love the daughter in the books, Kinsey is one of the first (maybe only?) comic book girl(s) that I completely relate to. When reading them I found myself desperately wanting to be in them, not entirely unlike how I desperately wanted to go to Hogwarts.
I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly, illustrated by J.M. Ken Niimura
Barbara is a social outcast, a trouble maker, but most importantly a killer of giants who wears bunny ears. Ok, so maybe the giants Barbara’s always talking about, worrying over, and setting traps for are in her head. And maybe her inability to connect with anything or anyone else is causing problems for her both at school and at home. But when a new girl comes to school someone else is finally interested in learning about this magical world that only Barbara can see. And perhaps the giants she must defeat are no longer something she uses to push people a way but may be a way to become closer with those she loves.
Ok, that’s my list. It’s by no means an exhaustive radical friendly YA list, it’s just the books that came to mind and stuck as I mulled this idea over. I hope you enjoy them, I’d be stoked to know what you think!