Today is the release day for Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human, a book I’ve been dying to read pretty much since I read the synopsis of it. While I’m seeing a lot more books with LGBTQIAP+ characters, the majority of those characters are gay, lesbian, or bi. I’m thrilled to read these stories, but I want to see more of the others represented by that catch-all acronym. So, to celebrate Symptoms of Being Human, I thought I’d share a few titles with characters who fall under the trans umbrella. Gay YA also has a great master list on their website, and if you’re interested in keeping the conversation going, they host monthly discussions on Twitter under #GayYABookClub.
First up, of course, is Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. Description from Amazon:
A sharply honest and moving debut perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Ask the Passengers.
Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. But Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s life.
On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s really like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. And Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.
From debut author Jeff Garvin comes a powerful and uplifting portrait of a modern teen struggling with high school, relationships, and what it means to be a person.
I’m especially excited to read this because I’m writing a genderqueer protagonist. Also, I think I know more people in real life who are genderqueer than I know of books with genderqueer/gender fluid characters, so this will be a welcome addition to my bookshelves.
Speaking of gender fluid characters, a fun sci-fi novel with a gender fluid protagonist is Pat Schmatz’s Lizard Radio. Description from Amazon:
In a futuristic society run by an all-powerful Gov, a bender teen on the cusp of adulthood has choices to make that will change her life—and maybe the world.
Fifteen-year-old bender Kivali has had a rough time in a gender-rigid culture. Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? What are you? people ask, and Kivali isn’t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither? Now she’s in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she’s ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift—the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the “knowings” inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her? A coming-of-age story rich in friendships and the shattering emotions of first love, this deeply felt novel will resonate with teens just emerging as adults in a sometimes hostile world.
And then there’s Robin Talley’s contemporary novel, What We Left Behind. Description from Amazon:
Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, theirs is bound to stay rock-solid.
The reality of being apart, though, is very different than they expected. Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, meets a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, but Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.
While Toni worries that Gretchen won’t understand Toni’s new world, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in this puzzle. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begin to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?
While I enjoyed this book, I felt like Toni was more a trans boy than someone who was gender fluid. Of course, I’m a cisgendered reader, and someone who has been in Toni’s shoes may feel differently.
Another upcoming book I’m really excited about is Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl, which comes out May 3, 2016. Description from Amazon:
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different―and a love story that everyone will root for.
Finally, a great middle grade read that features a trans girl is Ami Polonsky’s Gracefully Grayson. Description from Amazon:
Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?
Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel about identity, self-esteem, and friendship shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.
If you’re looking for nonfiction, Arin Andrews’s Some Assembly Required and Katie Rain Hill’s Rethinking Normal are both excellent memoirs written by trans teens. A more mature memoir (and a great read, but one I’d be hesitant to give to teens) is Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness. Mock’s book is beautiful but has some portrayals of sexual abuse and the sex trade that may upset young readers. Finally, Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out lets readers hear from several teens who fall in different places under the trans umbrella.
So, those are my recommendations. What would you add to this list? I’m especially interested in books by trans authors.