The percentage of young adult novels with LGB content is shockingly low, but in comparison to those with trans* characters, it’s a veritable feast of variety. Even within the LGBTQ community, trans men & women are marginalised, discriminated against and more likely to suffer from depression, homelessness, violence and suicide. Representation matters, especially in the literature we create for younger generations. So to combat those omissions, and to rub it in the faces of certain Twitter transphobes who seem determined to define people by their genitals, we have compiled a (sadly too short) list of some trans* YA books for young and old alike. You owe it to yourself to pick them up.
“Beautiful Music for Ugly Children” by Kristin Cronn-Mills: Probably my favourite book on the list, Cronn-Mills’s Stonewall Book Award winning novel combines a young man’s tale of life as he transitions with his love of music and the freedom of anonymity given to him by his position as a frequently goofy but always earnest radio DJ. Much of the focus rests on Gabe’s relationship with his family, as they struggle with frequent misgendering, and his supportive neighbour John. The sweetness of the tale is what really elevates it above being a hollow morality tale, and it’s definitely one for music buffs.
“Parrotfish” by Ellen Wittlinger: Parrotfish change gender, starting as female before becoming male. Wittlinger’s most well-known novel centres on a transitioning trans man who must deal with his family, friends and school life in the aftermath. While moments feel a touch After School Special, the details on gender are spot-on and an excellent introduction to any person, young or old, who wishes to gain some understanding on the issue.
“Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher: After struggling with a difficult break-up with his long-term girlfriend, Logan befriends a home-schooled girl called Sage, who he quickly develops feelings for. After discovering she is transgender, he struggles to reconcile his feelings. There’s a lot to admire in this book but it suffers greatly by being from the point of view of the cis male, thus lessening the impact of Sage’s story. Honestly, I’m not too excited by hearing about how hard it is to be a cis boy who feels “betrayed” by the revelation that his friend makes. His behaviour towards her is also shocking at times, and as such it’s potentially incredibly triggering so approach with caution.
“Luna” by Julie-Anne Peters: Regan’s younger sibling lives a secret life as Luna, who she transforms into at night hidden by the safety of her home. Like Almost Perfect, Luna suffers from being told through the filter of a cis character, and as such a lot of the story ends up singularly obsessed with Regan, who drops the slur “tranny” at one point. While Luna has some truly wonderful moments, I can’t help but question if the reason so many trans* YA novels focus on cis characters is because the writers of the books are almost universally cis.
“I am J” by Cris Beam: Beam’s tale of a young trans man who decides to give up hiding and stand up for himself, “I Am J” was one on Kirkus’s teen books of the year in 2011 and definitely more deserving of attention than it has received. Tales of self-discovery are common in teen literature, and a recurring theme in trans* YA, but all manage to be so much more than that.
“Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark: I’m not the biggest fan of novels written in free verse, I must admit, but the style does allow for an emotionally driven reading experience. Clark’s novel follows three characters who struggle with their gender identities and the difficulties within. The primary focus is Brendan, a teenager with a seemingly perfect life and girlfriend but who struggles to understand the confusion over their body. Brendan lashes out at those who wish to help in often violent ways – including throwing a brick through the window of the local LGBTQ teen community centre – and their struggle is raw but believable. Being a verse novel, it’s a pretty quick read (definitely one for fans of Ellen Hopkins) although the style may put a lot of people off.
“Every Day” by David Levithan: This one’s a little different. The protagonist, A, wakes up every day in a new body, thus simultaneously freeing them from the constraints of gender and making them all too aware of the limitations put in place by it. There’s a real subtlety and simplicity to the tale, but don’t think that what Levithan is doing for a moment is simple. Once again he shows himself to be one of the real innovators of YA.