The slogan “Be gay, do crimes” might have its origins in tongue-in-cheek tweets and memes, but I think one of the reasons why it struck such a nerve with audiences is because anyone who’s queer knows that sometimes just being yourself is a radical act in our society. For too many years, queer people have lived under the heavy expectation of being perceived as respectable, likable, and normal to gain the acceptance of cisgender and heterosexual people in power, and it can be exhausting. So what does this have to go with YA books? Well, I think it’s pretty amazing that these days we’re seeing more and more books that capture the full range of queer lives and experiences, beyond that model gay person archetype that is, quite frankly, boring. We now have books where queer people are allowed to be a bit messy, break the rules, even partake in crime, and we get to see their full humanity as well. Plus, you gotta admit: The phrase is catchy!
From heroes and heroines to villains and everything in the murky in-between, here are eight great YA mystery and thriller books starring LGBTQ+ teens!
Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
By day, Margo is a rich teen socialite without seemingly any need or care, but by night she leads a band of drag queens in pulling off some of the most daring heists in the city, selling their plunders to bankroll more noble causes. But when a job goes sideways, it’ll take all of Margo and her crew’s wits and daring in order to pull off what needs to be done without getting caught. This is an outrageous and fun novel, and if you enjoy it then definitely pick up Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit, which are two more great mysteries with gay protagonists.
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
Jess is in love with her best friend Angie, but Angie doesn’t know this. Jess is content to keep her feelings under wraps, not wanting to jeopardize her friendship, until Angie meets Margot, a rich prep school girl. She falls hard, and Jess is helpless to stop the relationship from progressing, even though she has more than a few reasons to distrust Margot and her friends. She vows to be there for Angie, no matter what, and when things take a dark turn at a party, Jess is ready to protect her friend.
Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin
In this retelling of Thelma & Louise, Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for a weekend getaway to help them forget their troubles at home, but the girls soon find themselves on the run after a shocking night of violence. As the media tries to portray them in a certain light and the cops are onto them, the girls will have to figure out their way forward, relying on their love for each other to guide them.
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
Nora has been a lot of girls in her lifetime, thanks to growing up with a con artist mom. But now she’s happy to have settled down with her older sister, even if they’re technically living in hiding. Until the day she walks into a bank with her ex-boyfriend and new girlfriend, and they happen to become hostages in a hold up. Now Nora has to rely on a lifetime of tricks and sleights of hand in order to get the people she loves out alive…and along the way she’ll have to confront the truth about who she really is.
Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman
When Aidan lucks out and gets a sweet hotel room all to himself for a night in New York City, he turns to a dating app to try and find someone to keep him company. But his right swipe turns into a nightmare when he heads to the guy’s room, only to find him dead and a mysterious flash drive near the body. Now blamed for a murder he didn’t commit and on the run from both the police and the bad guys, Aidan only has hours to find a way out of this mess and prove his innocence before losing his life to some very bad people.
The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis
Phoenix has grown up on the road with her mom, Nina, a grifter and con artist. She’s heard stories about the man who ruined her mom’s life back in the day, and finally they land in her mom’s hometown with a plan for revenge. But when Phoenix gets caught spying on him, she spins a lie…and soon finds herself given access to the man’s life and his family, including his daughter Melody, whom Phoenix is drawn to. But this also means that she sees her mom’s enemy in a new light, and she begins to learn some things that has her wondering if perhaps maybe she doesn’t know the whole story.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Devon and Chimaka are two queer teens who attend the elite Niveus Private Academy, and they’ve just been made prefects. Not only is this an honor, but it’ll open doors for them in the future. Everything seems to be going fine until they begin receiving anonymous texts threatening to reveal their secrets. Devon and Chiamaka are desperate to keep this anonymous person quiet, but the lengths they’re forced to go to will test their courage and threaten their lives.
Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Goldie Vance is an aspiring detective who lives with her dad, the manager of a Florida resort. She looks up to the resort’s in-house detective, and convinces him to mentor her in exchange for her help investigating a curious case. Goldie balances her investigation with her crush on Diane, and finds a string of bizarre clues that will lead her to some unlikely places. This graphic novel is set in an alternate 1960s that’s more inclusive and feminist, and it’s the first in a delightful series!
Want more LGBTQ+ YA book recommendations? Check out these 15 must-read LGBTQ+ YA fantasies!