Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)

Warnings: 

  • Homophobia: Written in the late 70’s, this book contains an expected level of homophobia from peers and teachers in a private, religious school system; there are allies in the novel seen in a few teachers, outside forces who influence the school, and in the protagonists family; an older couple faces employment discrimination and are fired for their relationship and described by other characters as “wrong” for that relationship
  • Sexual Content: very mild, non-explicitly detailed off screen scene that is referenced a few times after the fact in a negative light by characters trying to prove the protagonist is gay
  • Alcohol and Drugs: very few scenes of underage characters drinking alcohol in a relatively responsible manner; no mention of drug usage by any persons

Review:

Annie on My Mind is a story of young love in an unwelcoming society, often described as a landmark for LGBTQ literature. The protagonist, Liza, meets a girl in a museum and feels an instant connection to her. They spend more time together, eventually developing a relationship, all while Liza is attempting to keep her image clean as the student body president. The school is facing a tough time financially, and as one of the fundraising campaign leaders, she is implored to represent her school in the best possible light.

Because this novel was written and set in the late 1970’s/early 80’s, Liza does face some discrimination for her sexuality once she is found out. Despite this, the book ends with a happy ending, one of the first of its kind to do so.

I had the fortunate luck to receive a copy including an interview with the author, Nancy Garden. In this interview, she discusses the climate at the time she wrote the novel and the reception to it after it was released. The book is in the top 50 of the Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, since a lot of schools took issue with the same-sex relationship within it. I think the interview may have been my favorite part of the book, and I would urge any young queer people who want a firsthand account of growing up gay in the 50’s and onwards to look for it.

Overall, I think this book is a must-read for young LGBTQ individuals who want to connect more with their community history, or don’t know much about it at all. Despite the homophobia, it’s a relatively light and easy read with plenty of wholesome moments and love to combat the less accepting characters in the novel.

My favorite part of the novel was the (somewhat reluctant) acceptance of Liza’s sexuality by her family. Although her parents are hesitant and afraid of the societal backlash she may receive, they both stand up for Liza and offer her their unconditional love and support. Her younger brother, even more abundantly so, is the first person Liza comes out to outside of her girlfriend. He takes it with grace and is the first person to show her real support, in a string of heartwarming moments that give her the confidence necessary to begin to accept herself.

While I did love the book, and especially the impact it had historically as one of the first to show a lesbian relationship that did not end in tragedy or a heterosexual romance, from a solely literary standpoint, it was pretty average. The writing didn’t stand out much, and it traded a full plot for a syrupy sweet romance-focused novel that didn’t really go anywhere. I would have liked to see more of Liza’s character outside of her relationship with Annie and her struggle with being gay. Still, though, it was a sweet book, so I’d recommend.

Sincerely yours,

Nyla Linn (She/Her)

Rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)

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LGBT Fiction by LGBT Folks for LGBT Folks

Hello, dear readers, and today I bring to you a list I have compiled of books written by queer authors about queer individuals or relationships that mirror their own life experience. In order to most accurately and honestly represent LGBTQ+ content in literature, I believe that the work being written by an author who identifies on a personal level with the experience is important. I might do a longer post on my thoughts later, but for now, enjoy this compilation of books I have personally read and enjoyed. As an added bonus and/or requirement for this list, none of the queer characters die. 

Titles that are hyperlinked have a full review on my blog. Check ’em out!

*May be updated as I find more books.

Gay/Bi/MLM

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: ★★★★★ 

Super sweet story of two Mexican-American boys finding friendship in each other. Told in the POV of a boy named Ari and set in the 1980s. Both boys have amazing, supportive parents and the writing of this novel is absolutely beautiful. A must-read in my opinion.

See it on Goodreads!

Proxy and Guardian by Alex London: ★★★★★ 

Dystopian/Sci-fi novel with a black, gay protagonist set sometime in the distant future. In this world, poorer people are essentially “whipping boys” for their wealthy counterparts in order to avoid being in debt for their entire life. Syd, an orphan, is sentenced to death when his “Patron” (read: rich kid who doesn’t care for others) is responsible for a car crash that killed a girl, only 2 years before he would’ve been free from the debt he accumulated for being an orphan. With the help of his patron, Knox, and a strong-willed, defender-of-the-oppressed, wealthy teen, Marie, Syd flees the city he was raised in and discovers he is the key to dismantling the corrupt system that divides the classes. 

See it on Goodreads!

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson: ★★★★

Gay protagonist, Henry, has been regularly abducted by aliens since the age of 13 which has earned himself the nickname “Space Boy” and results in horrific bullying. His boyfriend, Jesse, committed suicide a year previously, his grandmother is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s, his mother’s job is killing her, and his older brother is expecting a child he can’t take care of. Henry doesn’t see much of a world worth saving and when the aliens offer him a choice– press a red button to save the world, or witness the mass destruction of every living being in 144 days– he takes some time to think about it. New kid, Diego, is dedicated to convincing Henry that good still exists. 

See it on Goodreads!

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan: ★★★

Set in what may be the most liberal town in the world, this novel showcases way more queer characters than straight ones, and is a light story and a quick read. It reads like a general stereotypical YA romance novel with the bonus of all the main characters being gay. As a story it is admittedly a little weak and didn’t make much of an impression; however, I would recommend the novel for folks tired of reading about gays being tortured by their sexuality, facing homophobia, or getting killed off. In addition to this novel, Levithan has written a plethora of light-hearted gay-centric books, so I would recommend checking him out if you haven’t already. 

See it on Goodreads!

Lesbian/Bi/WLW

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Gardner: ★★★★ 

Published in 1982, this novel changed the world of queer fiction. The protagonist, Liza, is the student body president of her senior class and charged with leading the fundraising campaign to save her school. Meanwhile, she’s falling in love with a girl from public school and struggling to maintain her image. Very sweet book about two lovers finding their place in the world, and suitable for readers of all ages. It’s a great read to connect with older members of the queer community and understand from a historical perspective what obstacles they faced.

See it on Goodreads!

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour:★★★★ 

This story revolves around Emi, a biracial lesbian teen whose dream is to design sets for major productions. At the beginning of the novel, Emi and her best friend Charlotte discover a real life mystery that leads them to the unknown granddaughter of a now-dead famous western actor. It is a cute and sweet story. Emi’s reactions to her crush on Ava are super gay and at the time I read it, I related so much to her character. Great read for young wlw, but there isn’t a lot of depth so more advanced readers might look for something different. It holds a special place in my heart, though, for being the first wlw novel I ever read. 

See it on Goodreads!

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King*: ★★★½

This novel focuses on a young girl struggling with her attraction to girls, and the expectations on her from society and her own family. While dealing with the troubles of high school in a small town, tension with her mom and sister, she stumbles into a secret relationship with another girl and tries to navigate it while living in freedom from labels and judgement. Some people critique it for not discussing bisexuality explicitly, but I think the protagonist’s arch of finding herself makes up for it. Cute and well done!

See it on Goodreads!

Far from You by Tess Sharpe*: ★★★★

Murder mystery that I just live for. The protagonist is bi but closeted and trying to solve the murder of her girlfriend with the help of her girlfriend’s brother in an attempt to clear her own name as well as find the truth. The story jumps a lot in timelines but it works well and shows the relationship between Sophie and Mina as well as Sophie’s struggle with drug addiction and recovery. Probably fine for teenage readers but it does deal with murder, violence, and drugs, so a warning is needed for more sensitive audiences. 

See it on Goodreads!

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan: 
★★★

Basic YA high school drama with the added excitement of the protagonist being a lesbian of color. I personally didn’t get that interested in it, but it does have characters of color and a happy ending between the protagonist and another girl. Sweet and dramatic, plus a pretty quick read. 

See it on Goodreads!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth:  ★★★★★ 

Recently turned into a movie, this novel is about a lesbian protagonist growing up in the late 80s/90s and although it focuses on her struggles being closeted and religious pressure, and her eventual sending off to a conversion camp, the writing is so unique and relatable that it’s not nearly as sad as one would think. Cameron has such a tired teen voice and it pulls the story through so well. This book is an absolute gem and I would recommend it to anyone. Story-wise it’s rough at points but beautifully written and kind of comedic. I’m definitely biased because this book is my favorite of all time. 

See it on Goodreads! 

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J. Sindu: ★★★★★

In this novel, the protagonist is a Sri-Lankan lesbian married to a gay men to appease their more conservative parents. She has to face her fears of being found out and also the possibility of living freely when she returns home to visit her parents and finds out her ex girlfriend is getting married. The book is more focused on her relationship with her mother and her balance of her sexuality and  culture rather than on a wlw relationship and it’s just so gorgeous and beautiful.  Because of the age of the protagonist and the situations she deals with, this book is more suited for older audiences, but there is no content too explicit or “mature” for younger audiences, just a potential difference of interests. 

See it on Goodreads!

Multiple Groups: 

You Know Me Well, a collaboration between Nina LaCour and David Levithan ★★★★ 

LaCour’s chapters revolve around her lesbian character, Kate, and Kate’s relationships with a girl she’s falling for, and her long time best friend. Levithan’s character, Mark, is a gay boy who is trapped in the unfortunate situation of unrequited love for his best friend. This story is set during Pride and display really lovely non-sexualized queer relationships and many, many wlw and mlm characters. The writing is so lovely and the strong friendship Mark and Kate have is very sweet and refreshing. It’s a novel everyone should pick up!

See it on Goodreads!

*Note: Authors with an asterisk do not have their sexuality/identity available for public viewing. I include them in this list because they identify as the gender as the protagonist, which limits the possible issue of fetishizing or misrepresenting a queer individual. I don’t want to make any assumptions, so it is entirely possible that these authors are on the queer spectrum but have decided not to mention it explicitly. 

Ask the Passengers by A. S. King (2012):

Warnings: 

  • Alcohol and Drugs: a parental character is depicted as an off-screen “stoner” (frequent user of marijuana/weed), multiple scenes of alcohol consumption by underage teens (ages 17-18)
  • Homophobia: depicted casually through negative comments from family members and non-violent bullying from peers
  • Family Relationship: questionable/unhealthy parent-child relationship between the protagonist and overbearing mother, perceived favoritism of one sibling over another, lack of familial support
  • Sexual Content: little to no graphic sexual imagery, pressure of one partner to pursue sexual acts (though they are not enacted)

Review:

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King is a story of maternal conflict, Grecian philosophy, and finding yourself, but primarily it’s a story about love and its complexities. Astrid Jones, the protagonist, is a big city girl stuck in a small town with even smaller minds. She’s gay—or pretty sure she is—but still wants some time to figure that out. Dodging questions from her two gay best friends and the girl she might be falling for, Astrid struggles to find a place to unload the weight of her complicated emotions. In place of a diary she sends her feelings into the sky, more specifically, to the planes that fly over her backyard. Her uncontainable love takes root in the hearts of the passengers, with small scenes of their struggles, fears, and hopes for the future inter-cut between Astrid’s own story.

She has dreams of becoming an editor in New York, but has to survive her war zone of a household before she can get there. Her uptight, workaholic of a mother swings from ignoring her to berating her, and her father has been distant since discovering the world of marijuana. Even the imaginary friend she’s created based on her vision of the philosopher Socrates does nothing but judge her and offer harsh but needed advice. With the help of “Frank Socrates” and the planes soaring above, full of her love letters, Astrid finds pieces of herself in those around her and shapes her path for the future.

Astrid, herself, is an easy character to identify with for me, personally, and I feel like her struggle is fairly common for all members of the LGBT community.  Just because her friends are gay and comfortable with their identities (albeit not “out”), it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s ready to open up to them about her questioning, and I think that’s important to show that. Discovering your identity and finding a label for yourself isn’t as straight a path as one might think (pun definitely intended), and that being a visible part of (but not necessarily the main conflict of) the story is a cool and refreshing take.

A lot of the conflict and tension within Ask the Passengers centers around Astrid’s home life, which, at first glance, isn’t “bad” by any means. She has two parents in a fairly stable relationship, and although her dad does struggle with unemployment, the family doesn’t seem to have any trouble staying afloat, finance-wise. She and her sister don’t get along and are in a constant fight for their parents’ attention, but what sibling-relationship doesn’t have those moments? And besides, there’s a few heart-warming scenes between the two that make up for that. Still, though, Cameron struggles with the great expectations her mother has for her, and the obvious bias she has for her sister. That, paired with her retreating father and homophobic sister make Astrid’s home a toxic place, and one that she spends a majority of the book trying to escape. A lot of teens will find comfort in this—knowing that even though a home might not be “as bad as it could” doesn’t mean it’s a place that fosters growth or understanding, and it’s okay to need a break. I think King balances the family dynamic well, having every member of the family work as an obstacle of Astrid’s, but also overall being a supportive, somewhat-functional unit.

One thing that wasn’t that appealing to me in this novel was Astrid’s romantic interest, Dee, or more specifically, Astrid’s relationship with her. Though Astrid is attracted to Dee and wants to be with her, she’s made uncomfortable frequently by Dee’s PG-13 advances, and I don’t think it was necessary for her to come on so strongly.  While it does add more depth to Astrid’s self-exploration journey, it does fall into the trap of assuming all someone wants from a relationship is sex, and might lead some readers to hesitate pursuing a same-gender relationship because of that misconception. I can see where King was going with the arc, but I have to admit it falls a bit flat for me, personally.

Overall, I think Ask the Passengers is a nice book, but not a life-changing must-read. I enjoyed the book, and connected with the protagonist and her plights, but nothing about the book makes it stand out from other YA lit, except for the fact that Astrid is queer. The style was clean and the narrative easy to follow, but it wasn’t very unique. Still, though, given the relative lack of books for young wlw (women-loving-women), I do think it’s worth reading, particularly for the high-school age range.

Sincerely yours, 

Nyla Linn (She/Her)

Rating: ★★★½ (3.5 stars)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (2012):

Warnings (some spoilers): 

  • Sexual Content: Two consensual semi-graphic sexual scenes between underage girls (ages 15-16 yo); a few light-hearted references to  sexual encounters both real and imaginary; brief, non-explicit recounting of a sexual encounter between an adult man and an underage boy acting as a sex worker
  • Drugs and Alcohol: Frequent use of alcohol by underage individuals (ages 14-16) as a social activity; frequent use of cannabis/weed by young teens (ages 14-17) for recreational purposes 
  • Homophobia: Overtly expressed homophobia within the context of Christianity throughout the course of the novel; teens are exposed to conversion therapy and made to deny their identity to serve the Christian God in an enclosed setting; this is directly questioned by the protagonist and other characters  
  • Depiction of Mental Health: homosexuality or fluid gender identity are treated as a mental illness by some characters in the novel and queer characters receive therapy to correct this perceived illness; the protagonist is not diagnosed but shows some symptoms of depression; a character who is not the protagonist self harms in a graphic but off-screen manner and is hospitalized as a result
  • Character Death: Two characters die in an off-screen car accident early in the novel

Review: 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Cam Post)is a novel by Emily M. Danforth about the young protagonist, Cameron, struggling with her sexuality in the midsts of the early nineties with the added complications of the death of her parents and her religious community. The novel follows Cameron from middle school to high school, documenting her relationships and growth as a teenage lesbian in Montana, and her eventual relocation to a school dedicated to leading her away from a life of homosexuality to one closer to God. Despite the grim setting and subject matter of the story, Danforth keeps the overall tone relatively light and fills the story with the sarcastic and lovable voice of the protagonist while creating a perfect portrait of youthful nostalgia. Full of old video rentals, not-quite-over-exaggerated religious practices, and teenage rebellion, The Miseducation of Cameron Post presents a fresh take on the story of a person finding herself in a world where nothing seems to fit.

The copy of Cam Post that I own is well-worn and weathered, many pages bent at the corners and some wavy with water damage from the rain. Most of this can be chalked up to the book being one I bought used, but some portion of its rough (loved?) condition is due to my own hands rifling through the pages for the past few years. Rereading the novel this most recent time only cemented something I already knew: The Miseducation of Cameron Post is my favorite book.

With a delicate quill dipped in badassery, Danforth masterfully connects with and navigates the teenage experience, talking through Cameron with just the right touch of sarcasm, humor, and angst. Like many teens, Cameron is finding her identity and place in the world, and more specifically, like many queer teens, this identity isn’t exactly what is expected of her and is constantly being compromised by the girls she falls for.

The most standout element of Danforth’s style, in my opinion, is how effortlessly she weaves in concrete, juicy, speaking-directly-to-the-senses details that bring her readers into the story, into the moment, and into Cameron’s head. Although I was a decade too late to grow up in the early 90s, Danforth slips me into 1989 Miles City, Montana, with ease from the first page onward. The nostalgia for childhood summers that don’t belong to me seeps into my skin, inked in by Danforth’s hand.

Emotionally driven, Danforth manages to capture feelings I, myself, can never put into words and takes the too-big-to-explain concept of what it’s like to grow up as a lesbian in a conservative area and makes it tangible for those who haven’t experienced it. I never feel more connected to my identity, history, and community as I do when I read through Cameron’s story.

Throughout The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the lead character, Cameron, faces harsh obstacles. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Cameron remains resilient, strong, and even retains her dark sense of humor throughout the book, and it is because of this that the book isn’t overwhelmingly depressing. Cameron goes through a lot (a lot), but the reader is spared the brunt of the heaviness due to the voice Danforth cultivated for Cam. She is a stubborn, witty, sarcastic character who takes the time to notice the small things that make life a little less bad: a loose strand of Christmas lights, cheesy movies, pretty girls—and pissing her aunt off. Even when she’s subjected to the exhausting tearing away of her personhood by God’s Promise Christian School and Center for Healing, she continues to rebel in both her actions and mind, never forgetting herself no matter how lost she feels.

Her perseverance and “screw you” attitude is what makes Cameron Post as a character. She’s so realistic, so tangible to me. She never apologizes for liking girls—her only regret is being found out. Danforth makes it clear through Cameron’s story that the adversity we might face in life doesn’t mean we’re wrong for being who we are and loving who we love.

Overall I think The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a worthwhile read for anyone, but most specifically for teen/young adult queer/gay girls looking for someone to understand them, because I think that necessary understanding and comfort through similar circumstances is exactly what Cam Post provides. Like Danforth quotes on her website, “when anyone asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story” (Mystery Manners, Flannery O’Connor), and so, I urge anyone with an interest in coming-of-age stories, LGBTQ experiences, or great works of fiction in general: pick up a copy of this book and have a look for yourself!

Sincerely yours, 

Nyla Linn (She/Her) 

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)