Ten YA Books Featuring Gender Non-Conforming Characters by Amanda Shepard
In the 1960s, when young adult literature was first emerging as a genre, the books published often targeted a specific gender: romances for girls and sports books for boys (according to Michael Cart). With the emergence of LGBTQ YA literature in recent years, this stark divide between genders within YA literature has slowly begun to disappear, even featuring characters that don’t identify on either end of the gender spectrum. The following 10 books feature characters who identify as genderqueer, gender fluid, or intersex, or the books do not identify the gender of the characters at all (For more comprehensive definitions of these gender identities, please visit: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/).
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Featuring gender fluid teen Riley Cavanaugh, one of the most stand out aspects of this particular YA novel is the fact that Garvin never gives the reader Riley’s gender identity outside of being gender fluid. Not only is that extremely difficult to do writing wise (I know, I’ve attempted it), but it makes the book even more spectacular in terms of gender, not forcing Riley into the gender roles so heavily enforced by society.
Every Day by David Levithan
A wakes up in a different body every day, a life that A is okay with until A meets Rhiannon. Now all A can think about is getting back to her, and figuring out a way to stay. By creating a character who sheds their identity every day and gains a new one, Levithan creates a character that any teen reading the book can identify with; A can be whatever they need the most.
Roving Pack by Sassafras Lowrey
Featuring a transgender protagonist, Roving Pack follows Click’s story as ze figures out how to fit into a newly found group of gender rebels. Not only does this book feature a wide variety of characters from the LGBTQ community, but it also uses gender neutral pronouns, something I haven’t seen in any other YA book. The characters all feel very real, and are presented with a lot of issues that many transgender and genderqueer teens have to deal with in their everyday lives.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
The oldest book on this list, Le Guin creates a world where people can choose their gender, a powerful sentiment when gender roles are so rigid within our own world. Le Guin is often praised for her work with gender, and this book paved the way for many of the other books included on this list.
Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz
Set in a future world where adults are forced to conform, Kivali’s challenge is that she doesn’t conform to a gender. Much of the narrative focuses on Kivali’s identity as a gray area, as being two different things at once. The best aspect of this book is the way it deals with all aspects of identity being on a spectrum, not just gender. Any adolescent who picks up this book could find something they identify with, which is what makes it such a strong read.
Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff
Brooklyn Burning spans two summers in Brooklyn, where the police are investigating a warehouse fire that they believe the protagonist, Kid, had a part in. The most fascinating aspect of this book is the two main characters are never given a gender; they are always referred to as “you” and “I.” This allows readers to focus on different aspects of the characters, rather than focusing specifically on their genders and the aspects associated with them.
Between You & Me by Marisa Calin
Written as a screenplay, Between You & Me follows Phyre’s story as she falls in love with her drama teacher, Mia. The reader is situated in the position of Phyre’s best friend, and is never given a gender. This unique take on telling a story immerses the reader in the relationships going on in the novel, and again allows the reader to focus on these relationships without the expectations of gender.
None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
This book is unique in that it is the only book on this list that features a character who is intersex. The great thing about this book is how informative it is regarding intersex people and how your chromosomes don’t define your gender. While the basis of the plotline may be average high school drama, the informative nature of Kristin’s identity makes it important to share with all adolescents.
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Written in verse and told in three different points of view, Freakboy features a variety of characters who fall along the gender spectrum. There’s Angel, who is transitioning from male to female and strong in her identity; there’s Vanessa, who wrestles with male athletes and sometimes has moments where she’s unsure of her identity; and finally, there’s Brendan, who is confused with his identity and not sure where he falls on the spectrum. Featuring such a wide variety of characters means that many adolescents who are struggling with similar issues will find something to relate to within this text.
Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey
Lost Boi is a retelling of Peter Pan that confronts societies gender binaries, breaking the strict rigidity that exists when it comes to gender identities. In addition to bringing light to the fluidity of gender, Lowrey also creates a commentary on queer homeless youth, much like Roving Pack does. Though for older adolescents due to the content, this powerful retelling of Peter Pan will linger long after you finished it.
Amanda Shepard recently graduated with her Master of Arts in children’s and young adult literature from Central Michigan University. In between looking for her next venture in life, she can be found perusing the young adult section at Barnes and Noble or writing at her local coffee shop. You can follow her reading adventures at www.between-the-shelves.com.