Hello there! Welcome to the inaugural edition of Queer Tested, Teacher Approved! I’m a queer educator who’s been working with kids since I was still a wee baby queer myself. This column aims to use that specific lens to navigate the sometimes tricky genre that is young adult. Today, I’m recommending a spectrum of queer YA science fiction and fantasy novels. 

What the heck is “Queer Tested”?

Don’t just take my word for it. These books have gone through a rigorous testing methodology. I’ve read at least part of each book and each has:

  • been recommended by at least one other queer person
  • features at least one main queer character
  • received a 3.80+ rating on Good Reads and a 4.0+ on Amazon

OK, so what’s “Teacher Approved”? 

These books are not devoid of sex, drugs and rock & roll (or violence). Far from it. But, in my honest opinion, what’s important is how the novels deal with the tough stuff. Do they focus on the emotional aspects and repercussions of sex and violence? Feelings, not gratuitous details, are what make YA works valuable. Also, I’m a firm believer in co-watching/reading, so if you’re a parent reading this list, that’s a great option for tackling “uncomfortable” material. 

All that being said, I have included content warnings because you might wanna know what you’re getting into. Where available, I’ve added common sense media‘s (CSM) age recommendation. A note on “queer street cred”: this isn’t meant to boil people down to their labels, but as a shorthand way to allow people to find themselves in books. 

There are some light spoilers below. 

Now! Let’s get to the YA science fiction and fantasy! 

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A Complicated Love Story Set in Space 

Shaun David Hutchinson 

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A second is a second no matter what, right? It’s a measurement, and those are kind of absolute even if they’re made up. But time is also relative to the person experiencing it.

What’s it about? Two boys wake up in space, have no idea why, but fall in love as they try to make it home. And it’s funny. But also terrifying? 

Read this if: The idea of “gays in space” appeals to you, and seriously, if it doesn’t, who are you even? 

Queer street cred: gay main character (MC), queer love interest (LI). (Hutchinson’s At the Edge of the Universe is also great and has a more diverse cast.)

CW: rape/sexual assault (not descriptive), violence (including gun), depression, kidnapping, memory manipulation, gaslighting, partner death. 

Call Down the Hawk 

Maggie Stiefvater

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“That’s me,” Ronan said. “He saves people; I take their lunch money.”

What’s it about? This is a spin-off of Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series, which I haven’t read; however, that didn’t keep me from getting into this book. Our main gay, Ronan Lynch, was a character in that series, but here we focus on him, his brothers and some new faces. Basically, Ronan can make his dreams become a reality, and that causes … drama.

Read this if: You want to read an exciting science fiction YA adventure with a pre-established gay relationship, in which the romance isn’t the central plot. 

Queer street cred: gay MC & LI, queer side characters (SCs).

CW: parental abuse (mentioned), body horror, violence (including gun), suicidal ideation, implied sex (CSM 14+).

Carry On

Rainbow Rowell

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“In America, they think that you become more powerful the more magic you use.”
“Just like fossil fuels.” Penny glances over at me, then snorts.
“Don’t look so surprised,” I say. “I know about fossil fuels.”

What’s it about? Simon Snow is The Chosen One in this urban fantasy set in England. The thing is, he’s really bad at magic. He’s also obsessed with his enemy-roommate-crush, Baz (who just happens to be a vampire).  

Read this if: You wish Harry Potter had been queer and acknowledged the fact that Harry was, you know, a child soldier. 

Queer street cred: queer guy MC, gay, Egyptian-British MC, Indian-British gal SC, three queer woman SCs. 

CW: abuse, bullying, queer character death, racism, homophobia, biphobia, suicidal ideation, manipulation, violence, very mild sexual content (CSM: 14+).

Cemetery Boys

Aiden Thomas

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Did Julian just have zero impulse control? It was almost endearing. But only almost.

What’s it about? In Cemetery Boys, Yadriel knows he’s a boy and he just wants his family to accept him as a brujo. In an effort to prove himself, he tries to find his murdered cousin’s ghost, but he ends up summoning someone else entirely instead. Where’s a pottery wheel when you need one?

Read this if: You’re alive. Or you know what, even if you’re dead. Just read it. 

Queer street cred: Mexican/Cuban-American gay trans MC, Colombian-American gay LI with ADHD, lesbian SC, trans SC, Latine SCs.

CW: abuse (mentioned), deadnaming, gender dysphoria, misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, self-harm (to do blood magic), parental death (CSM: 14+).

Chain of Gold 

Cassandra Clare

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“No one told you to go out patrolling for demons dressed like an extra from The Importance of Being Earnest.”

What’s it about? It’s a Shadowhunters novel, set in Victorian/Edwardian London. Like all Shadowhunters books, there’s demon-fighting, witchcraft and speciesism. But, here, we get the bonus content of old-timey social mores and top hats. 

Read this if: You like historical fiction and slow-burn romance (like, wait-until-the-third-book slow).

Queer street cred: bisexual guy MC, genderqueer SC, three gay guy SCs (one is Persian-British), Indian lesbian SC, Indonesian-European bisexual man SC, bisexual woman SC (described as having dark skin), Persian-British gal MC. (shout out to Clare’s Dark Artifices series if you want to read about a poly couple). 

CW: alcoholism, death, gore, epidemic, manipulation, miscarriage (referenced), sexism, racism, violence (CSM: 14+).

Dreadnought

April Daniels

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So much time lost, so much of my childhood gone, because nobody ever asked the right questions.

What’s it about? Danny lives in a world that seems just like ours, except there are superheroes. When Danny herself becomes a superhero one day, she gets the surprise of her life: her body is transformed to “match” her true gender. How will those around her react? More importantly, can she save humanity?  

Read this if: You want a fantastical take on gender affirmation that still rings true to a lot of coming out experiences. 

Queer street cred: trans lesbian protagonist.

CW: emotional abuse, deadnaming, misgendering, homophobia, transphobia.

RELATED: New Books Coming in 2021 We Can’t Wait For

Dreams

James Erich

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But being in magical limbo didn’t prevent him from fuming. Saul was an arrogant ass, like all noblemen.

What’s it about? Saul is royalty and Koreh is … not. They follow very different religions but are forced to work together to save their kingdom—and each other. It’s high fantasy with life-or-death stakes and a side of forbidden-ish romance. 

Read this if: You love a good frenemies-to-lovers story coupled with a reluctant hero’s journey. 

Queer street cred: queer guy MCs.

CW: sexual abuse (referenced), violence, homelessness, plague/epidemic, death of family (referenced), classism, homophobia, mild sexual content.

Elatsoe 

Darcie Little Badger

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Dead or alive, dogs could skip from deep-nap-unconscious to awake-and-ready-for-anything almost instantaneously. She envied their skill.

What’s it about? Elatsoe is a murder mystery. It’s also the story of a Lipan Apache girl named Elatsoe who lives in an America made up of the very true legends of her people. She has a special connection to the dead and when her cousin visits her in a dream as he passes between our world and the next, he beseeches her to protect their family from his murderer. 

Read this if: Prescient ghost dogs and the oft-ignored folklore of Indigenous Americans are appealing to you (or even if they’re not). 

Queer street cred: asexual Lipan Apache gal MC, Lipan Apache SCs.

CW: car crash, kidnapping, violence (including gun), genocide (referenced), death of a family member, racism, animal death (prior to story), murder.

Euphoria Kids

Alison Evans

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“Me too.” Iris sighs. “But I guess you know because of my pronouns. I don’t look trans.”

I frown. “You don’t look not trans. You’re trans Iris, how else would you look?”

What’s it about? Three trans high school friends form a hardcore friendship. They also do a bunch of magic and hang out with dryads, witches and the fae. Oh, and one of them’s made of fire and another, from plants. 

Read this if: You love found family, stories about friendship and magical realism. 

Queer street cred: Non-binary MC, trans lesbian MC with fibromyalgia, trans guy MC.

CW: transphobia, misgendering.

In Deeper Waters 

F.T. Lukens

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“Your magic is wonderful,” Athlen whispered. “I’ll remember you.”

What’s it about?  How do the last magical prince and the last [barely spoiler] fall in love? They each have to hide their identities, but these Captains Obvious are too transparent for their own good, repeatedly get kidnapped and it’s just a circle of saving one another. And kisses. Lots of kisses. 

Read this if: You like a side of ooey-gooey fluff and family love with your swashbuckling YA fantasy comfort reads. 

Queer street cred: multisexual guy MC, queer guy LI, POC SCs.

CW: physical assault, death (mentioned), anxiety, depression (mentioned), self-harm (to perform magic), kidnapping, implied sex.  

In Other Lands

Sarah Rees Brennan 

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“Myra blushed. “He’s very handsome. It’s such a pity about…”

“Awesome luck for the guys,” Elliot said firmly.

What’s it about? We follow d*ckish bisexual disaster Elliot through five years of magic school in The Borderlands. There’s not much of a plot, but whatever? This is a book about playing with fantasy tropes. For example, one of Elliot’s love interests is a female elf whose society looks at men as “the fairer sex,” and it’s so lol

Read this if: Your heart squeezes with joy at the mere thought of a character describing himself as bisexual on the freaking page

Queer street cred: bisexual, Jewish guy MC, gay LI.

CW: child abuse (including sexual), bullying, death, war, violence, racism, biphobia, homophobia, sexism, sex. 

Night Shine

Tessa Gratton

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I would destroy a thousand hearts to find you, again and again.

What’s it about? Nothing (yes, that’s her name) lives in the palace and is best friends with Prince Kirin, who gets kidnapped prior to the beginning of the book. She sets out to look for the prince along with Kirin’s bodyguard/love interest. Nothing might find more than just her BFF along the way (Love. It’s love. She finds love). 

Read this if: You don’t want any straight romance interrupting your gay old time. Also, the names of the characters are just *chef’s kiss*. 

Queer street cred: queer gal MC, queer non-binary MC, queer guy LI, queer gal LI. 

CW:  gore, violence, death, blood, self-harm, coercion via magic, kidnapping, misgendering (unintentional), war.

Not Your Sidekick

C.B. Lee

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She’s given up trying to stand out.

What’s it about? Main character Jess’s parents are superheroes, and the clock is running out on her own powers ever manifesting. So, she does the next best thing and goes to work for a supervillain. But, it’s all good cause she gets to be near her crush, Abby. <3

Read this if: Not Your Sidekick stars a Chinese-Vietnamese character, which is super rare. Honestly, I recommend it on that alone, but it’s also good, so…

Queer street cred: Chinese-Vietnamese bisexual gal MC, lesbian LI, Black trans guy SC, other Q/POC SCs. 

CW: bully, kidnapping, racism, drugging, violence.

Pet

Akwaeke Emezi

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“Monsters don’t look like anything. That’s the whole point. That’s the whole problem.”

What’s it about? Jam lives in a “utopian” society in which adults say they’ve gotten rid of all the monsters, police have been defunded, the prison industrial complex changed to a rehabilitation system and people are allowed to be themselves. But can a society without evil truly exist? Pet doesn’t think so. 

Read this if: You think “the work” will, at some point, be done.

Queer street cred: Black trans gal MC with selective mutism, non-binary SC, poly SCs, POC SCs.

CW: child abuse (sexual, referenced), mutilation, sexual assault (referenced), violence (CSM: 13+).

Sweet and Bitter Magic

Adrienne Tooley

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“What do you think a witch actually does?”

“I don’t know. Whatever they want?”

What’s it about? Tamsin is a witch who can’t love (She’s cursed, what can you do?) and Wren is literally made of magic and full of love. Together they set out on a quest to rid their land of plague caused by an evil witch. So, yes, of course, romance happens, natch. But this is also a story about love in its purest form and how transformative it truly is. 

Read this if: You’re down for a magical, high-fantasy world with zero homophobia and a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers sapphic YA romance. 

Queer street cred: multi-sexual gal MC, lesbian MC, lesbian SCs, non-binary SC.

CW: death of loved ones, plague/pandemic, anxiety/depression/mental illness, amnesia.

Timekeeper

Tara Sim 

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Two o’clock was missing.

What’s it about? In this alternate reality Victorian England, clocks literally control time. Some people do not want that. Can mechanic Danny and his clock-spirit boyfriend Colton save Time in time? 

Read this if: Steampunk time travel cinnamon roll fluff is your aesthetic (Can someone make a Pinterest board?). 

Queer street cred: gay MC, multisexual guy LI.

CW: anxiety, bullying, death, PTSD, bombings, ableism, homophobia, violence, self-harm, mild sexual content.

The Abyss Surrounds Us

Emily Skrutskie

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She probably just wants to see me get eaten.

What’s it about? Cas and her family train GMO reptiles that escort ships across the now-flooded world. Because pirates. Unfortunately, on her first solo mission, Cas’s adorable monster turtle kicks the bucket and she’s kidnapped by a pirate queen. Don’t worry, things get … heated. 

Read this if: Lesbian pirates!  

Queer street cred: Chinese lesbian MC, queer SCs, multiple POC SCs. 

CW: animal cruelty/death (very graphic), captivity/kidnapping, abuse, suicide attempt, violence, slavery (mentioned) (CSM: 12+).

The Black Veins

Ashia Monet

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“When chaos is constant,” he says. “It starts feeling like comfort.”

What’s it about? Blythe goes on a road trip across the US to collect her fellow “Guardians.” She needs their help because some anti-establishment magicians kidnapped her family. Jerks. 

Read this if: You dig found-family, no-romance road-trip stories. 

Queer street cred: Black bisexual gal MC, demi MLM Puerto Rican SC, asexual trans guy SC, Black bisexual guy SC, agender SC.

CW: mild violence, drug use, supernatural violence (including guns), anxiety and panic disorders, family death, racial n-word slur, ending in-a (author is Black). 

The Infinite Noise

Lauren Shippen 

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Another shuddering inhale. God, this is hard. His blue warmth is starting to bleed through the cracks in the wall and I want to cry with relief.

What’s it about? The Infinite Noise is a spin-off of Shippen’s hit podcast The Bright Sessions. Caleb has an Atypical ability — he literally feels the emotions of everyone around him. It’s extreme empathy. The Infinite Noise deals with Caleb coming to terms with his ability but is mostly about his growing relationship with his classmate Adam. 

Read this if: You’ve ever been depressed (and are in an emotional state to handle reading about depression). The descriptions of depression as color and visual feelings made me cry. 

Queer street cred: Jewish gay MC with depression (described as having dark skin), not-straight guy MC, queer SCs.

CW: bullying, coercion, experiments on humans, depression, homophobia (f* slur), misogyny, fatphobia, self-harm, suicidal ideation, mild violence. 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue  

Mackenzie Lee 

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Between the near-kiss with Percy and now goddamned pirates, my heart is certainly being put through its paces today.

What’s it about? Monty, his sister and his best friend/crush Percy set out for a Grand Tour of Europe. Monty makes a very poor decision that leads the trio to be robbed by highwaymen, taken hostage by pirates and searching for alchemical hearts. Oh, and sexual tension abounds. 

Read this if: You like hilarious historical fiction with a dash of fantasy. Oh, my YA-loving heart. 

Queer street cred: bisexual guy MC, mixed-race gay LI with epilepsy, aromantic/asexual gal SC (implied).  

CW: alcoholism, parental abuse (physical and emotional), death, drugging, homophobia, biphobia, racism, epilepsy, incarceration, transracial adoption, mild sexual content (CSM: 14+). 

RELATED: 7 Feel-Good Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

The Midnight Lie

Marie Rutkoski

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“You talk a lot.”
“I lie a lot, too. Fair warning.”

What’s it about? Nirrim is low-born in a society with a very rigid caste system. She meets Sid, her high-born lady love in prison (they were cellmates). Together they discover a world of magic and unfold lies from truth.  

Read this if: Sexy, sexy PG-13 lady love is your steamy cup of tea. 

Queer street cred: POC lesbian MC, lesbian LI, queer SCs.

CW: caste system, child abuse, drugging, emotional abuse, homophobia, subjugation, mild sexual content (CSM: 14+).

The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller

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“I have done it,” she says. At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. A C H I L L E S, it reads. And beside it, P A T R O C L U S.
“Go,” she says. “He waits for you.”

What’s it about? The Song of Achilles retells Homer’s The Iliad from Patroclus’s POV, focusing solely on his story with Achilles. Miller makes it clear that this isn’t a case of no-homo and sets the record straight, as it were(n’t). It’s truly an epic love story. 

Read this if: The inaccuracy of 2004’s Troy left you POd. 

Queer street cred: queer guy MCs.

CW: kidnapping, child abandonment, child abuse, queer character death, human sacrifice, violence, plague, rape (referenced), self-harm, slavery, torture, war, mild sexual content. 

The Sound of Stars

Alechia Dow

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“Until I became a librarian, I didn’t know I was a rebel.”

What’s it about? Aliens have taken over the world and outlawed all forms of art. But Elle risks her life to keep her secret library running, such is the importance of books. Meanwhile, we’ve got M0Rr1S who, although he was made by the aliens as a sort of law enforcement, can’t punish humans because he loves music so much. 

Read this if: You’re down for a glorious, life-changing road trip, with shout-outs to some really awesome books and music.  

Queer street cred: fat, biracial & Black, biromantic demisexual gal MC with anxiety, queer guy SC, non-binary SC.

CW: alcoholism, anxiety and panic attacks, child death, colonization, confinement, execution, genocide, racism, violence.

Have you read any of these books? Has your TBR list now grown immensely? Did I miss anything important? Sound off in the comments below!

This article was originally posted on 5/2/21

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