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The Importance of Queer Representation in YA and Children’s Literature

By Carly Bennett, Emily Myhill, Rhys Wright and Becca Binnie

Representation is key for all readers but there’s something particularly powerful about seeing yourself reflected in the pages of your favourite book as a child or a teen. So, in this issue we’re shining the spotlight on four LGBTQIA+ young adult and children’s books that showcase the power of representation. Our picks range from a sweet gay romance to a sapphic horror, with plenty in between! We wanted to depict queer representation in many forms and highlight not only LGBTQIA+ romantic relationships but friendships and family bonds, too.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A slow-burn dystopian YA novel for fans of simmering tension and body horror, Wilder Girls is a fantastic pick for readers searching for sapphic representation that isn’t romance. While queer romance is touched on, it isn’t the focus of the story and plays a very minor role, leaving plenty of breathing space for the dread to build and build throughout this gem of a book.

After the Tox spreads through communities, the surviving students and teachers at the quarantined Raxter School for Girls, which sits alone on a small island, must do whatever they can to survive in this bleak look at life eighteen months after the outbreak of a devastating infection. It’s worth noting that this was published pre-2020!

Putting the horror aside for a moment, this book is most importantly about the bonds of friendship and duty amongst girls. It’s a wonderful read for those looking for stories about characters who happen to be queer rather than stories centred around queerness.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Written by the dream team duo of LGBTQIA+ YA fiction, What If It’s Us follows the story of Arthur and Ben, two wildly different boys who meet by chance at the post office. Though their opinions differ on absolutely everything, it seems like the universe keeps throwing them together, with very gay consequences.

This is an unexpectedly bittersweet love story, set during one summer in New York City. It shimmers with hope and has the sweet, joyful moments expected in any YA romance, but is also surprisingly realistic in portraying life’s difficulties. The main characters deal with jealousy, romance impacting their school studies, long-distance commitment, parental issues and mental health struggles; all of this is weaved into the story sensitively and without romanticising issues that many young readers will relate to.

A must-read for fans of Silvera’s They Both Die at the End and/or Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, this novel is the perfect blend of the two authors’ voices, producing a fun, heartfelt romance. Stuffed to the brim with pop culture references, this is the cosy YA romance for you if you like NYC, Hamilton references and adorable meet-cutes!

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

In Julia Drake’s contemporary young adult novel, family history is pervasive. For troubled teen Violet Larkin, her past mistakes and crushing mental health struggles have led to her exile to Lyric, Maine, the seaside town founded by her shipwrecked ancestor. Shaving her head, changing her clothes, subduing her outgoing personality and doing everything she can to fade into the background, Violet wants nothing more than to close herself off.

This hard-hitting novel deftly draws the picture of a family struggling to put themselves back together after suffering the fallout of trauma and their own dysfunctional relationships. Yet the novel also charts Violet’s slow, difficult healing process and journey to opening herself up again.

While Violet and the town’s local history expert, Liv, are intensely drawn to each other, their mutual fear of being hurt makes them hesitant to pursue anything. In a romance inspired by Shakespeare’s queer classic Twelfth Night, the two slowly kindle a relationship as they search for the wrecked ship that brought Violet’s great-great-great-grandmother to Lyric all those generations ago.

Téo's Tutu by Maryann Jacob Macias and illustrated by Alea Marley

This beautifully illustrated children’s story was published by Dial Books in 2021. It follows a little boy named Téo who loves to dance. Téo enjoys a variety of dances: the cumbia with his papi, the bhangra with amma and ballet classes with Miss Lila. He thrives in his tutu, loving the way it looks and makes him feel.

However, when the dance recital rolls around, Téo must pick the perfect outfit – a sparkly tutu or silver trousers. As he contemplates whether to be his authentic self or stay out of the spotlight, this book celebrates inclusivity and self-expression.

Macias and Marley have created this heartfelt picture book for children to teach children to be confident in expressing themselves. Téo’s story encourages children to reject society's restrictive gender expectations, to value creativity and fun and to unapologetically embrace themselves because everyone is beautifully unique!



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