I remember the days when I would’ve have struggled to find a handful of titles for a list like this, but despite its faults, 2021 has gifted us with an abundance of queer Young Adult books available in audiobook format. I kept singing “These are a few of my favorite things” as a I put this list together. With Chinese pirate queens, sapphic vampires (twice!), music festival romances, mediums who go to private school, vengeful witches, aspiring congressmen, mecha, and more keeping us company in the second half of this year, we are truly blessed.
For me, a great narrator is vital to an enjoyable audiobook experience, so I’m pleased to see some of my long-time favorites return for these books, as well as some incredible new talent and new-to-me voices.
If you’re looking for a great LGBTQIA+ audiobook to listen to in the second half of 2021, here are 12 of my recommendations. The list is skewed towards the next three months because audiobooks often aren’t announced until closer to publication date, so we are sure to be blessed with even more wonderful audiobooks later in the year.
What We Devour by Linsey Miller
I love Linsey Miller’s worldbuilding and “weird magic” (as she describes it) so I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while. Lorena secretly holds the power of the banished gods within her and has done everything she can to hide it from the world. But when the bloodthirsty Prince discovers her secret, she offers her service to save her betrothed’s father. He needs her help to repair the weakening Door that holds back the Vile — and the cost of keeping it closed is staggering. Narrator Amy Scanlon seems to be new to audiobook narration so I’m looking forward to having a new-to-me voice.
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson
A romance that explores grief, friendship, and the power of music. Olivia escapes an uncomfortable situation at home to join her best friend for a three-day music festival before senior year starts. Toni can’t figure out if she wants to start college or pursue a music career and is grieving the tragic loss of her musician father. The two girls collide and start to realize they need each other — and music — more than they could’ve thought. You Should See Me in a Crown‘s narrator Alaska Jackson returns along with Lexi Underwood.
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
I’m a huge scaredy cat but I will be listening to this book (with all the lights on)! Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at his prep school and is also coming to terms with his sexuality. He’s also a reluctant medium and can see ghosts all around him. One of these ghosts, a troubled school shooter named Sawyer, begins to haunt Jake and starts breaking all the rules. Kevin R. Free (a prolific narrator who you might know from the Murderbot Diaries among others) narrates for Jake and one of my favorite narrators, Michael Crouch, reads Sawyer’s diary entries.
The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters (July 27)
Erica Waters is back, blessing us with another moody, atmospheric, lush tale. Natasha’s sister has gone missing, her car abandoned at the edge of a local nature preserve called the Bend. As the case grows cold, Natasha’s anger turns hot. She seeks out Della, whose family has used the Bend’s magic for themselves and their customers for generations. Della thinks she knows the monster responsible, but she keeps the info to herself because that monster is her own mother, transformed by magic gone wrong. Narration by prolific YA and fantasy narrator Katherine Littrell as well as Sura Siu.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (August 3)
After a year away from Dalloway School following the tragic death of her girlfriend, Felicity is back and wants to leave behind the witchcraft woven into the school’s legacy. But the new girl Ellis is a prodigy novelist working on her second book and asks Felicity to help her research The Dalloway Five, five former students who some say were witches and all died one after another in Felicity’s dorm. Narrated by Lindsey Dorcus, who is new to me but has about 30 audiobooks under her belt.
The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad (August 3)
I devoured The Candle and the Flame and got chills reading about Azad’s new feminist fantasy. Paheli is the first in a long line of girls mistreated by the world around them and granted access to magic by Taraana, a boy with stars in his eyes. Paheli gathers the girls like herself, The Wild Ones, who travel the world helping the hopeless. When they learn Taraana is in danger from powerful magical forces, they fight to protect him — and themselves. This one is read by two incredible narrators: Ulka Simone Mohanty and Priya Ayyar.
Both Sides Now by Peyton Thomas (August 24)
I have a soft spot for books about teens with an eye on politics. Finch Kelly needs to win the National Speech & Debate Tournament so he can get the full scholarship he’s set all his hopes on and start his path to become the first trans congressman. There’s a little problem: he’s developing a crush on his (taken) debate partner. There’s also a big problem: in order to win the tournament, he may have to argue against his own humanity and identity. A narrator has not yet been named for this book.
A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee (September 7)
All I had to know before preordering was: a queer, girls-with-swords retelling of Treasure Island. Xiang has grown up with pirate stories all her life. Her mother never has enough time for her and her father was lost to the sea before Xiang was born, leaving her with nothing but a simple gold pendant. The truth of the pendant is revealed when Anh steals it — and then returns because she needs help decoding the tiny map hidden inside that points to the location of the Dragon Fleet’s legendary last treasure. The two girls form an uneasy alliance and set off on a dangerous adventure. If you think I’d ever put together a list of audiobooks without one narrated by the incredible Emily Woo Zeller, you don’t know me at all.
The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros (September 7)
I will not lie, this title first caught my eye because it’s the nickname for my own city, but then Dahlia Adler called it “the haunting, queer Jewish historical thriller of my darkest dreams” and I’m completely hooked. It’s the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but Alter Rosen’s focus is earning the money to allow his family to escape the oppression they face in Romania. But someone is killing Jewish boys and his best friend becomes the latest victim. Alter is now possessed by his friend’s dybbuk and must pair up with a dangerous boy from his past to track down the killer before they become the next victims. A narrator has not yet been named for this book.
The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl (September 14)
Vampires are back with this feminist girl gang! Elton turned Holly into a vampire in 1987 and promised her eternal love but has abandoned her as a forever 16-year-old to work the midnight fast food shift. Then she meets Rose and Ida, who were also turned and discarded by Elton. They want to kill Elton before he subjects another girl to their fate. Holly isn’t so sure, until she meets Elton’s new target Parker. I don’t yet see a narrator for this one but I’m excited to see who they pick!
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (September 21)
Pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, this one is a don’t-miss. In Huaxia, teen boys and girls team up to pilot giant robots to battle the aliens threatening their society, but the girls often die. Zeitan volunteers as a pilot so she can seek vengeance on the ace pilot responsible for her sister’s death. She’s labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared female pilot with incredible mental strength. She’s paired up with Li Shimin in an attempt to tame her power, but Zeitan won’t be stopped until she figures out how to stop more girls from being sacrificed. A narrator has not yet been named.
The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling (December 7)
I have been practically salivating for another Isabel Sterling after finishing These Witches Don’t Burn and its sequel, but I never dreamed she’d give us Sapphic vampires! Elise has a rare and terrible power: with every touch, she experiences exactly how people will die. Claire is a vampire sent by the Veil to help Elise master her powers. The two team up to prevent her teacher’s violent murder and stop a killer stalking the streets. The narrator(s) have not been announced for this one, but if Kristen DiMercurio from Sterling’s previous series returns, I won’t be mad about it.