Dear Realist Librarian,
It’s Pride Month but lawmakers are still trying to ban all queer books from school library shelves, including the one my kids attend, and I have questions. Why are they specifically targeting LGBT books? Where can my child, a nonbinary teen, find books with nonbinary characters? Also, do you have any recommendations they might enjoy?
I totally understand your concern. For the most part, queer books are targeted by conservative parents and lawmakers under the guise of the material “grooming” children or teaching them about sex or “perversion” before they’re ready. They will do this with any queer content, from full-on coming out stories to a character’s casual mention that their long-lost female cousin has a wife. Unsurprisingly, they don’t say the same about the same caliber of straight/cisgender content.
Nonbinary representation can be one of the hardest identities to find in books for teens and kids, because a lot of people have trouble understanding the gray area between male and female as its own gender identity. Luckily, a lot of gender-nonconforming folks have published books by and for people like themselves in the past few years! The list below isn’t all of them, but it’s a good place to start your search for YA nonbinary representation.
Many (possibly all) of these books are on the chopping block at school libraries across the country, but your kiddos can always access them at your local public library’s physical or digital collections. The Brooklyn Public Library is even offering kids age 13-21 across the country free digital cards right now! See this article for more info.
Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019) by Maia Kobabe (e/em/eir). This autobiographical graphic novel tells the story of the author, Maia, who was assigned female at birth but now identifies as genderqueer and uses e/em/eir pronouns. It’s geared toward older teens and adults, and is a wonderfully relatable story for those who have never quite conformed to gender stereotypes.
Pet (2019) by Akwaeke Emezi (they/them). This is a very creative science fiction novel set in a utopia where anti-LGBTQ+ and racist hate have become relics of the past. The main character is a selectively verbal trans girl named Jam who lives in a town that thinks it no longer has monsters, until she accidentally summons one. The “monster” is a faceless being named Pet, who uses the pronoun “it” and might actually be here to save them from the real, human monsters.
Beyond the Gender Binary (2020) by Alok Viad-Menon (pronouns). The author of this nonfiction book is a gender-nonconforming spoken word artist and poet. I haven’t read this one yet, but lots of reviews point to it as a great primer on seeing gender beyond the binary of male and female.
In Their Shoes: Navigating the Non-Binary Life (2020) by Jamie Windust (they/them). A memoir about growing up nonbinary that explores everything the author went through, from mental health to polyamory and everything in between. Reviews are full of nonbinary people seeing themselves for the first time in the pages of this book. It’s another that I haven’t read yet, but it’s rapidly moving up my list.
Pretty much anything by Marieke Mijkamp (they/them). Marieke is a fantastic writer who identifies as nonbinary and queer, and these identities are reflected in their books. My favorites are Unbroken (queer and disabled characters), This is Where it Ends (asexual main character), and Even if We Break (queer, disabled, and autistic characters). I love their books because they seem to understand the intersectionality in individual people to a degree most authors don’t.
Act Cool (2021) by Tobly McSmith (he/they). As a former theater kid, this book was a delight. The main character is a FtM trans high schooler who moves from his conservative hometown and evangelical, unaccepting parents to live with his lesbian aunt and attend a performing arts high school in NYC. It delves deeply into the multi-faceted argument about trans actors playing trans characters, as well as exploring all parts of the trans teen experience with openness and grace.
And an honorable mention to The Sound of Stars (2020) by Alechia Dow (she/her). I’m fairly sure Alechia is a cis woman, but this book includes multiple nonbinary characters and some pretty interesting talk about gender from the perspective of both humans and the aliens who are trying to take over Earth.
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