Boys’ Love, popularly known as BL, is a TV genre focused on gay male relationships that’s currently taking Southeast Asia by storm. The popular Netflix show 2Gether: The Series and the low-budget web series Gameboys are especially popular in Thailand and the Philippines.
Though the genre’s content helps in fighting homophobia to some degree, it comes with a drawback. Personally, I’m not a fan of BL. I don’t hate it either, but I think it could be improved as majority of BL series being produced perpetuate problematic representations of LGBTQ characters and themes. What should and could be a thoughtful examination of the challenges faced by LGBTQ people are often nothing but superficial TV series that barely scratch the surface of the real problem. If you’re disappointed with Boys’ Love, I recommend these five queer young adult books below to read instead. Note: as much as I would rather highlight queer young adult books from Asian authors, there is a dearth there, and the ones that first came to mind didn’t fit this specific category.
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
The book follows Ben De Backer, a nonbinary teenager who is kicked out of their house after coming out to their parents.
Nowhere to go, they seek refuge in the house of their older sister, Hannah, who they haven’t seen in ten years. Things start to work out since they are given a chance to explore their gender identity. It’s a new life for them, and rightly so. Then they meet Nathan at their school, who obviously has feelings for them.
This is a realistic portrayal of nonbinary transgender experience.
The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg
Trigger warning: sexual assault
Max, athletic and gay, doesn’t subscribe to the idea that men must look macho. On the other hand, Jordan is the complete opposite; he is shy and poetic.
When Max visits the market one hot Arizona summer and sees Jordan’s family’s food truck, Coq Au Vinny, struggling, he comes to Jordan’s rescue. He applies for a job at the food truck to help Jordan recoup his family’s expenses, and soon their friendship turns into something more.
This is a fresh spin on the classic summer romance trope and explores sensitive issues like homophobia, sexual violence, and heteronormativity.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Trigger warning: transphobia
Black trans boy Felix Love just wants to experience love. An aspiring artist, he wants to go to Brown. But because of his identity, the odds are not working in his favor. In fact, an anonymous person leaks his transition photos, deadnames him, and sends him transphobic texts.
While he plots a revenge for a rival artist named Declan in his school, he’s surprised to find himself developing feelings for him.
This is a cute but drama-filled young adult novel.
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
If you find the book above poignant, then this coming-of-age novel will make you laugh.
Because of his failing grades, Armenian student Alek Khederian is asked by his parents to enroll in summer school. At first, the idea doesn’t appeal to him. Then he meets Ethan, and soon they become fast friends. Alek never expects that he and Ethan might be something more.
Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Moss Jeffries is a gay Black teenager who still struggles with anxiety attacks six years after police killed his father. He only has his mother, a circle of friends, and his Latinx boyfriend, Javier, as a support system.
Then an outrage sparks in his school when the installation of metal detectors results in the tragic injury of a friend in a wheelchair, and Moss is thrown into the chaos.
This book is timely and relevant as police violence continues to claim lives of many people.
There’s much work to be done in the Boys’ Love genre, and I hope to see improvements in future series.
Do you want more queer young adult books like the ones above? Here are 20 queer YA books for your 2020 TBR and beyond.