When I was a teenager, a young adult book is part of what helped me come out. The book was Am I Blue, a collection of LGBT short stories, and at the time I devoured any LGBT themed YA book I could get my hands on, from the legitimately good to the soapy mediocrity of Nancy Garden. I’ve kept up interest in that genre of novels into adulthood, and every time I see a queer YA novel that looks like it might be good, I check it out. As with anything in the YA genre, there’s a lot of crap to sort through to find the stuff that’s really worth your time. I think these two both are!
First, Ask the Passengers, which is a re-read for me. I will admit that I’m biased here in that I really love A.S. King. I think she does really interesting stuff with the YA genre, though this is one of her most traditional books as far as structure and plotting goes. The book follows Astrid through her coming out journey, which involves arguments with her best friend, figuring out what she wants from a girlfriend, resentment of her parents, and a lot of shrimp deveining. An addition breaking the usual structure is that Astrid has a habit of sending love to airplane passengers on passing planes, and we get chapter breaks from the perspectives of random passengers receiving her love. It’s a nice little concept that adds some flavor to the novel, which is otherwise a great mixture of acerbic, sweet, and honest. It’s not King’s best (for my money that’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future) but it’s very enjoyable!
Next up is Misa Sigiura’s It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. First off, the diversity in this book is great: I think there’s maybe one white character who makes multiple appearances, but most of the characters are not white. It’s another coming out story, with an added twist of potential parental infidelity and a lot of reflections on race and racism between minority groups. One thing I really loved in this one is the use of poetry throughout: it felt accurate to the feeling of discovering poetry in your teens, perhaps because several of the poems chosen were ones I sent my high school girlfriend. So I might be biased there.
Obviously there is no one “queer teenage experience”, but these books did speak to many elements of coming out, at least from my perspective, and both are sweet without being cloying and feeling too pat the way some coming out stories can.