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2020 LGBTQ+ Readalikes for Classic YA Lit

by Aiden Thomas, Andrea Contos, Caleb Roehrig, Kacen Kallender, Kalynn Bayron, Kathleen Gros, Robin Talley
Published by: Bloomsbury, Feiwel & Friends, HarperCollins, Swoon Reads
Genres: Diversity, Fantasy, Ghost Story, Graphic Novel, Historical, Mystery, Realistic, Romance

Reading about straight protagonists is–well, it’s fine. But, especially if you’re an LGBTQ+ reader, sometimes you look at the same old books and wish that the girl could kiss the girl at the end, or that a drag queen would show up, or that the gender roles weren’t quite so rigid. As LGBTQ+ visibility increases, the more I feel like I’m looking for LGBTQ+ readalikes for my favorite YA classics.

Fortunately, 2020 has been such a good year for LGBTQ+ releases that we made this list! All of these books have LGBTQ+ protagonists, and many have a LGBTQ+ supporting cast, as well as delving into queer themes. All the LGBTQ+ books mentioned were published in 2020, with the exception of one anthology we thought was a good leaping-off point for readers. Let’s get reading!

If you liked Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, try The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

A little Twilight, a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Fell of Dark centers around Auggie, a boy reluctantly living in a supernatural town who is caught up in some supernatural drama. Auggie still has a growing crush on a hot, mysterious vampire boy, but his reluctance to get caught up in the supernatural is fun and refreshing compared to, say, Bella Swan’s willingness to trip right into danger. Readers might also want to sink their teeth into the anthology Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite.

If you liked Little Women, try Jo: A Graphic Novel by Kathleen Gros

The past year has been filled with new takes on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, from Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation to Margaret Stohl and Melissa De La Cruz’s Jo and Laurie, which is a complete re-write of Jo’s romantic arc in the book. Jo: A Graphic Novel is a modern, comic book retelling of Little Women. It’s centered around 13-year-old Jo, who’s surviving the eighth grade by anonymously blogging about her family. In this version, Jo develops feelings for the school newspaper editor, a girl named Freddie Bhaer. We haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but an LGBTQ+ rewrite of Jo March is long overdue, so it’s on our to-read list!

If you liked Christopher Pike’s books, try Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Who doesn’t love a good thriller? Throwaway Girls is the story of Caroline Lawson, who is this close to graduating prep school and being able to move away from her homophobic family. When Caroline’s best friend Madison disappears, Caroline knows she has to investigate it herself–to pay Madison back, and to keep both of their secrets. The more Caroline looks, though, the more missing girls she discovers, girls whose disappearances went unnoticed. And these girls? All have ties to Caroline. A brand new release from a debut author, Throwaway Girls is an exciting thriller with a bisexual protagonist.

If you liked Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, try Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

When an anonymous fellow student starts harassing Felix Love online, outing Felix as transgender, Felix decides to get a little dirty to get even. Felix’s plan to catfish his way to revenge lands him into a confusing love triangle, and Felix discovers that he still has some things yet to discover about himself. Felix Ever After is only the first of many contemporary LGBTQ+ romances coming out this year; readers may also enjoy  Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales, or Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye, along with many more.

If you liked the Dear America series, try Music from Another World by Robin Talley

As a former Dear America superfan, there’s never enough historical books told in an epistolary format (i.e., told through the letters, diary entries, newspapers, etc.). Music from Another World is told through the letters of pen-pals Tammy and Sharon, in 1977 California. Living carefully closeted lives, Tammy and Sharon find they can share their secrets, and their love of punk rock, with each other. As their friendship deepens, both girls have to decide what they’re going to keep secret, and what they’re ready to share with the world. Historical fiction fans might also like the anthology All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages (published 2018).

If you liked Robin McKinley, Gail Carson Levine, or Malinda Lo, try Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s been 200 years since Cinderella’s famous night at the ball, and now teenage girls are required to attend the Annual Ball. Girls must find a match at the ball–or never be heard from again. Sophia, who is more interested in her childhood friend Erin than any man, ends up doing the unthinkable, and fleeing from the ball. Together with Cinderella’s last living descendant, Sophia decides to take down the king’s regime, and unravel the truth behind Cinderella’s legend. Readers looking for more fairy tale retellings might also enjoy Dark and Deepest Red by Anne-Marie McLemore, or The Circus Rose by Betsy Cornwell.

If you liked Sabriel by Garth Nix, try Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

We can’t be the only ones who love seeing a little necromancy in our fantasy, right? Cemetery Boys centers around Yadriel; his Latinx family is having trouble accepting his gender, so he sets out to become a brujo without their help. Yadriel means to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin and set his spirit free, but he accidentally summons Julian Diaz instead. The resident bad-boy at school and recently (mysteriously) deceased, Julian’s not going to let Yadriel send him to the afterlife without settling his unfinished business.

Staying Up To Date with Your ABCs (of LGBTQ+)

When your library is in the midst of a pandemic and safety is your first priority, it’s easy to let other things fall to the bottom of the pile. Pre-pandemic, I had a lot of teens in the library who identify outside of the generic gender check box. Now, we rarely see any teens in the library at all, and my GSA group is temporarily on hold. But as librarians, we need to keep in mind that any of our patrons at the library, whether obvious or not, might identify as something other than male or female.

If pronouns and LGBTQ terminology are not at the top of your staff meeting agenda, then maybe as the Youth Sevices or Teen Librarian, you can make it part of your job to keep up with the terminology. Have a paper handy to give to a coworker, or create a flyer/pamphlet to give to staff or post on a staff board with some of the important highlights. Staff sensitivity training is a great way to get staff thinking about how their words and actions can have a big impact.

Here are a few good websites/resources you can bookmark, or maybe even add to your library’s website/teen page so your staff can access the information when they have a chance. Keep in mind that terminology changes frequently, so it’s a good idea to check in and see if there are any updates from time to time!

Human Rights Campaign – Glossary of LGBTQ+ Terms

GLSEN: Pronouns

PFLAG: Allies 

This resource is a great slide presentation that could be adapted for staff training.

New York Times article: The ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+

I do not profess to be an expert AT ALL, and I mess up a lot. As a straight woman, assigned female at birth, I don’t have much personal experience, but it is something that I feel strongly about. If anyone has any other great websites or resources, please share in the comments!

Vicarious Vacations: YA Travelogues

I’m sure we can all agree that after being stuck at home for months on end, travel has never sounded so appealing! While traveling to most far off places IRL is impossible right now, no one’s stopping us from taking an imaginary vacation from the comfort of home via a good book. Here are some of my favorite travel-centric YA books that will transport you somewhere totally different. 

 

Fantastic Voyages:

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig Elise (TheBookishActress)'s review of Invictus Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

 

Romantic Road Trips:

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith Love & Gelato (Love & Gelato, #1) by Jenna Evans Welch Amazon.com: Love and Other Train Wrecks (9780062402509): Konen, Leah: Books I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

 

Soul Searching Quests:

Steph Sinclair's review of Mosquitoland Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo Solo by Kwame Alexander The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan Forward Me Back To You by Mitali Perkins

 

Bookworm Bags

It’s been three years since we initially had a guest post about Book Boxes. Since then I’ve had them in the back of my head, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit with limited people and slowing circ numbers that I saw the full benefit of them. Thanks to a couple co-workers who were also excited about the idea, our all ages Bookworms Bags officially launched at the end of August. 

So how does it work?

Each month patrons fill out our registration form for the following month.  Depending on the age of the patron they get two different choices. (Feel free to play around with this form, it’s a copy and won’t intermingle with our real one)

 For those birth – 3rd grade, the selection is more open ended. We have them pick what type of books (picture books, beginning readers, etc) and give us some topic choices. 

For 4th-adults, it’s a bit more structured. They get to pick what audience level they’re looking for (juvenile vs teen vs adult) and then a genre/topic area. We pick 3-4 different genres/topics each month from them to pick from; our hope is to get people out of their comfort zones a little. 

Patrons are alerted via our hold system when their chosen books & goodie bags are available for pick-up. 

What do you give them?

This varies a little from age group to age group, but we have a couple things like monthly Bookworm Bag pins/magnets that are the same across the board. We all also include a special gift, craft, & sweet treat. And, of course, the library books!

For 4th grade- adults, we’ve been trying to theme our genres/topics and goodies and much as possible. It is not an exact science, but more something we keep in mind. Here’s a picture/list of what an October 4th-12th grade bag had in it. Beyond what’s listed, I also include a genre/topic bookmark, feedback link bookmark & what the bags are exactly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you pull the books?

I’m sure my method differs from my co-workers, but I personally make a list of books that I want to pull each month along with the patron initials and what building it’s at. Then when I pull the books the day I’m getting all the bags ready to launch. 

As a group we debated how to alert patrons that their bags are ready/how to hold the books and we settled on putting the chosen books on hold to trigger an alert for the patron. Then the books and the bags go on the hold shelves. We made several notes in the sign-up process that they’ll get a hold from something they didn’t place and not to be alarmed. So far, it’s only been an issue with one family, which once they called in staff assured them it was for the Bookworm Bags. 

Advertising?

So far, this has many just been social media blasts. It’s on our website as well, but the blasts are usually what people see the most. I’m also working on pushing it in the schools; I’ve got awesome partners in the school who have been telling both the kids and their families about them. Our biggest boost so far has been from a patron posting about it in a FB mommy group. We got 90+ sign-ups due that post in just under 24 hours!

Any issues?

So far, nothing big! Granted we’re only going into our 3rd month, but so far so good. The biggest issue has probably been people not fully understanding what we’re aiming for with these bags. They really want more personalized picks and bigger selection than we’ll ever offer with this. We’ve added in some information both in the bags and on the forms that I’m hoping will make things a bit more clear on the process/what we’re exactly offering. 

Successful?

Absolutely! Our first month had 50 sign-ups & that was only being open for two weeks! Our second month landed us at 102. And, thanks to the mommy group, we’re sitting at 105 with sign-up being open until Oct 31st. None of use were expecting them to be this big, so while a bit overwhelming it’s extremely exciting. 

Other general FAQ

  • How open are you? At the moment, we’re doing drive through/pick up, and then reduced hours for browsing and computer usage.
  • How many books do you give? For birth – 3rd, 4 books. For 4th -12 grade, 2 books. For adults, 1 book.

  • How much money do you spend per bag & where does the money come from? Right now our goal is to spend around $3 a bag, which comes from our programming budget. This could easily be lower or raised though.
  • Where do you get your items? I don’t have one source. Some of it is left over summer reading prizes, some of it is local stores or Amazon or Oriental Trading. Some of it is just left over supplies in general.
  • Why bags?  This was mainly cost. To keep this open to all who would like it, we needed to go the cheapest way possible. The other reason is we didn’t really like the idea of having the boxes come to us during a pandemic. After the pandemic, this is something we may revisit and step up to something fancier.

  • Do you limit?  Nope! My supervisor and I really wanted as many people as possible to be able to participate. With limited events we noticed that they were going to the same families over and over, so this was a way to negate that a little.
  • Is all ages really working? So far, yes. As I mentioned, we do differ a bit from age group to age group, but we’ve been able to make it work. I will definitely say it’s those younger group/the parents who have been loving it the most!
  • Will you continue when everything goes back to “normal”? I would like to say yes, but I think it’s more of a see where it goes thing. We tend to continue/discontinue based on demand. So if the demand is still there, I can’t see us killing it. I would see a slight revamp or tweak more than anything else, but we won’t just stop it because the pandemic is over. 

 

Teen Volunteers During COVID-19

I’m sure I’m like most other library staff right now, I finally have a ton of projects that are PERFECT for volunteers…but I have no volunteers to do them. Right now, neither of my library districts are allowing volunteers back and I have absolutely no idea when they will and there’s only so many things you can have volunteers do remotely.

At one of my districts we’ve turned what used to be a monthly program at just one branch into a district wide way for teens to get volunteer hours without coming in. We have monthly service projects that they are able to come pick up the kits for and return anytime during that same month. 

For September we had them create thank you cards for first responders. Each kit contained material to make 4 cards and they could complete as many sets as they wanted. Included in their set was a form to fill out with their information so that we could get a sheet created to reflect how many volunteer hours they had earned completing the project. For every set of 4 cards completed they earned 1 hour of time. For October, they are creating fall/Thanksgiving themed placemats for Meals on Wheels. Then for November they are able to make winter themed cards for that as well.

Here are what some of the placemats look like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my other district we haven’t really created any opportunities for teens to earn volunteer hours this school year just yet. We are fully reopened but are finding that not many of our teens have been coming into the library very often or that the ones who do don’t have much interest in adding more work to their lives at this point in time. 

Some of the cool things I’ve seen as ways that other districts are handling teen volunteers/providing opportunities for service hours are doing book recommendations, outdoor group activities, providing the materials to put together take and make bags, making social media content, and many other things. 

How is your library handling volunteers? Are there any really cool, unique things you’ve had them do? I’d love to hear all about it!