“Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over." - Neil Gaiman
It's been over a year since the coronavirus changed our lives. Over the past year, we've seen the beautiful as well as the ugly qualities in each other - we've laughed, we've cried, we've shouted, we've lived. I've done my fair share of all of these. But what I've really tried to do is empathize with other people - to take the time to better understand myself and others. I've faltered many times in this endeavor, but I can say with absolute certainty, fiction has been a major part of my empathy process. During a time when social interactions were discouraged, I turned to fiction to connect.
This past year has been even more difficult for teens - navigating the difficult coming of age years while dealing with schools opening and closing, and so much uncertainty. And that doesn't even include the soul-searching teens have to do to discover who they truly are. LGBTQIA+ teens need support and empathy, but far too often they receive hate. You'll see the struggles LGBTQIA+ teens face in each of the following stories.
Teens, as well as adults, must learn how to develop empathy. But teens especially need to feel like they are heard and that they are valid. The characters in the following books are all discovering who they are - part of the LGBTQIA+ community - and we can learn empathy by reading their stories - we can understand and connect with their struggles and their triumphs.
Book recommendations courtesy of Ellie Epperson.
Trigger Warning: transphobia and homophobia, mentions of past emotional abuse, online harassment/bullying, and underage drinking and drug use
This moving novel tells the story of Felix Love, a transgender teenage boy desperate for love, but deeply afraid he will never find it. But romantic love isn't the only issue Felix's life. Unfortunately, he finds himself the target of hateful, transphobic messages from another, anonymous student - a student who posts Felix's dead name alongside old photos of Felix, before his transition, for the whole campus to see. Understandably, Felix is livid and begins secretly plotting his revenge. But things don't go as planned, and Felix finds himself in a complicated love triangle that forces him to examine his feelings, especially the way he feels about himself. Felix Ever After not only explores identity, it explores race, coming of age, and what it means to truly love yourself.
Kacen Callender is an award-winning children's and YA author from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Trigger Warning: homophobic and transphobic slurs/comments
The only complaint I could find about Sasha Masha is that it wasn't long enough. This book explores gender identity through the eyes of Alex, who doesn't feel quite comfortable in his skin. Something is just... off. He has some feelings for Tracy, a female classmate who adores him, but he also feels a connection with Andre, a gay boy who has fully embraced who he is. As the novel progresses, Alex experiments with makeup and dresses in the quiet of his room. To further explore his identity, he joins an LGBTQ+ group and comes to realize, perhaps he isn't a boy after all, perhaps he is "Sasha Masha."
This is American author, Agnes Borinsky's first novel.
Trigger Warning: torture, death, child abuse
Ruinsong is a young adult fantasy novel that was released in late November 2020. Cadence, the protagonist, lives in a world of magic, but not everything is magical. She is forced to commit unspeakable acts of torture at the orders of her queen. The queen is, unsurprisingly, not well-loved, and the seeds of rebellion are being planted throughout the city. Before long, Cadence comes into contact with an old friend who is now involved with the resistance. Will Cadence join her in the fight to end the tyrant queen's oppression, or will she continue down her current path, following in the queen's footsteps? Does love really trump all?
Trigger Warning: racism, homophobia, sexual assault, violence, death of a loved one
George Johnson has written a moving memoir in this book of essays. Johnson explores the years from his childhood through his college days - the good and the terrible. Johnson was bullied at the tender age of 5, and he shares the story in one of his essays. As George grows through the essays, he explores his own sexual identity through sexual experiences and reflection. He examines toxic masculinity and marginalization and, ultimately, discovers what it means for him to be both black and queer. This book will resonate with teens and young adults who want to be allies, as well as those searching for someone to identify with. His next book, "We Are Not Broken," hits the shelves in September 2021.
Trigger warning: the death of a parent; generational trauma (depictions of slavery, abuse, rape); gore; possession; demons; racism and micro-aggressions
Legendborn is the first book in a planned series of young adult fantasy novels. The protagonist, Bree, is just 16-years-old when her mother dies tragically. In order to escape the memories throughout her childhood home, Bree accepts a seat in a residential high school program through the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. But before she can fully settle in, Bree witnesses something magical and fearsome - a flying demon who feeds on human energies. And that's not all - she also discovers a secret society on campus, called the Legendborn. Determined to keep the magical world a secret, a local teenage "mage" tries to wipe Bree's memory of the night but fails and, instead, unlocks Bree's hidden magical powers. With her newly discovered powers, Bree has access to memories she had buried - memories of her mother's death that weren't in the police report. But if she wants to find the truth about what happened to her mother, she will have to decide whether she should join the Legendborn or destroy them. Keep your eyes out for Legendborn #2 - coming sometime in 2021!
Did you like this list? Stay tuned for more young adult lists or call the library to get more book recommendations!