One of the great joys of being a queer lit lover in this day and age is that there will always — always — be more queer releases in any given year than you could possibly read. There’s so much queer YA coming out all the time, in every possible genre, from sci-fi and fantasy to historical fiction and thrillers. This abundance is wonderful. It also means it’s easy to miss fantastic books. Who can keep up?
Don’t worry: I’m here to help! These are just a few of the fantastic queer YA novels that have come out this year and flown under the radar. I had to winnow this list down significantly because, to be honest, there is far more queer YA deserving of more attention than I could fit. So I’ve focused on books with fewer than 500 Goodreads reviews, though I’d also point you to some absolute gems with a few thousand ratings, including Always the Almost by Edward Underhill and Going Bicoastal by Dahlia Adler.
These eight books run the gamut from historical fantasy to contemporary romance. There’s a fun gay slasher novel, a summer romance about a disabled teen, an exploration of how public schools too often fail students of color, a family drama, and a whole lot more.
All the Yellow Suns by Malavika Kannan
Maya is a 16-year-old Indian American girl living in a Florida suburb. She definitely has a lot of strong opinions, but she also knows the very real consequences of speaking out in such a conservative town. When a white classmate invites her to join a secret activist society, Maya’s world opens up in some ways — and gets a whole lot more complicated in others. This is a thought-provoking coming-of-age novel about student activism, immigrant communities, and finding your own path.
Forever is Now by Mariama J. Lockington
In this poignant novel-in-verse, a Black teen learns how to care of herself while also caring for her community at large. After Sadie and her girlfriend witness an act of police brutality, her sense of safety evaporates. She longs to participate in the protests taking place all around her, but she can’t leave her house. Slowly, over the course of a summer, alongside her best friend, a new crush, and a community of online activists, Sadie finds her way back to joy and healing.
Your Lonely Nights are Over by Adam Sass
If you love slasher movies and YA horror, this is your book. Gay besties Dearie and Cole have always meant the world to each other. But when an infamous serial killer suddenly reappears and starts killing members of their school’s Queer Club — well, it’s enough to strain even their lifelong friendship. This is a very fun, very gay, and very bloody romp that pays homage to classic slasher films.
The Secret Summer Promise by Keah Brown
This is a fun, lighthearted summer romance starring Andrea, a disabled teenager who’s in love with her best friend, and so comes up with a convoluted plan to get over her before the summer ends…because she’s convinced there’s no way Hailee could ever feel the same way. A whole lot of miscommunication ensures. There’s a lot of teen drama that feels realistic, and the way Brown tackles the ableism that Andrea faces is so thoughtful.
Into the Light by Mark Oshiro
If you’ve read any of Mark Oshiro’s books, you know they’re often heartbreaking, and this one is no exception. It’s a difficult book that deals with child abuse, religious abuse, racism, and homophobia. It’s also beautifully written, hard to put down (there’s a wild twist), and woven through with glimmers of hope. It follows Manny, who’s been living on his own in the Southwest since he was kicked out of his family. He’s not used to trusting people, but he’s been traveling with a family that seems okay for a little while. When they learn of a recently discovered body, it forces Manny to confront the truths of his past.
Only This Beautiful Moment by Abdi Nazemian
This gorgeous intergenerational novel tells the stories of three boys in the same Iranian family. It opens in 2019. Moud, a gay teen living in L.A., accompanies his dad, Saeed, to Teheran to visit with his dying grandfather. From there, the narrative jumps to Saeed’s youth in Tehran in 1978 and then to 1939 Hollywood. As the hidden stories of the men in Moud’s family unfold, he learns to see himself, his family, and the history he is a part of in new and different ways.
Salt the Water by Candice Iloh
Cerulean Gene is a nonbinary Black teen whose supportive parents have always encouraged them to dream big and express themself boldly and beautifully. The high school they attend is not so supportive — in fact, it’s downright hostile. After fighting with a teacher, Cerulean decides to drop out rather than face unjust punishment. This book is guaranteed to make you angry, as it delves into all the ways public education fails Black queer teens, but it’s also a beautiful ode to hope, Black dreaming, and queer futures.
Brooms by Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall
This queer, witchy graphic novel is set in 1930s Mississippi. Magic is real, but it’s strictly regulated: under a set of racist laws, only some people are allowed to race brooms. Billie Mae and her friends have a broom racing team anyway. They compete in illegal races, dreaming of saving enough money to move to a state where they can race legally. This book has literally everything I love in a graphic novel: a crew of amazing queer characters, super cool world-building that sheds light on historical realities, gorgeous art, and, of course, witches. It’s basically perfect.
Looking for more fantastic queer YA from 2023? You’ll find plenty on the incredible seasonal YA lists that Book Riot’s Kelly Jensen puts together: there’s one for winter, spring, summer, and fall! If you’re hankering for more under-the-radar queer reads, check out these 2023 queer reads you might have missed and these award-winning queer books you might not have heard of.