The Center for Children's Books


Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Teens Questioning Gender Identity and Sexuality - May 2011

Selected and annotated by Lacy Spraggins


Beam, Cris. I Am J. Little, 2011. 352p. Gr. 9-12.
J knows that he is really a guy. But his family and friends still see him as female, and even when they try to support him he feels like he is not being heard. J reaches his breaking point and runs away. He ends up in a shelter for LGBT youth, where he finally starts to see a possible positive future for himself. The book ends with a thorough list of websites and books for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, as well as resources for parents, teachers, and other supporters.

Brothers, Meagan. Debbie Harry Sings in French. Holt, 2008. 240p. Gr. 9–12.
Johnny loves Debbie Harry, lead singer of the rock band Blondie. He wants to be strong, tough…and beautiful like Debbie. But Johnny is in love with his girlfriend, Maria, so he’s pretty sure he’s not gay. And he doesn’t want to give up being a guy. So when Maria encourages him to compete in a drag show, he has a chance to see if he can show off his inner Debbie.

Fletcher, Susan. Alphabet of Dreams. Seo/Atheneum, 2006. 294p. Gr. 8-12.
After her royal father is executed, Mitra escapes capture by disguising herself as a boy and disappearing with her younger brother, Babak. Mitra and Babak live as beggars on the streets for three years in the city of Rhagae before they discover Babak's gift for dreams. They are enslaved by one of the Magi, who instructs Babak to dream of the meaning in the stars. In this retelling of the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem, Mitra shares the emotional pain of her failure to protect Babak (dreaming for others has a powerfully negative affect on his soul) and the cultural taboos that result from her hidden gender.

Franco, Betsy, ed. Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers. Candlewick, 2008. 144p. Gr. 9 and up.
"Are you ready to dive in? This is not falling, this is landing.” Here love is described in its many forms. Readers are offered love that is requited and unrequited, innocent and passionate, gay, straight, and transgender. These poems were written by teens all over the country, and represent different cultures, races, backgrounds, and regions. All of the poems (which were originally collected anonymously) have the authors’ names and ages, and are astoundingly beautiful and moving. There is no way to read this anthology without feeling changed.

Katcher, Brian. Almost Perfect. Delacorte, 2009. 360p. Gr. 9-12.
Logan finds his small-town Missouri life rocked when he starts to fall for the new girl in town. Sage’s mysterious past and odd personality quirks intrigue Logan, and he finally acts on his attraction and kisses her. Sage then tells Logan her secret: she was born a boy. Logan is enraged, and lashes out at her. But Sage really needs a friend; Logan might be the one person who can support her through a difficult time.

Levithan, David and Billy Merrell, Ed. The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities. Knopf, 2006. 272p. Gr. 7 and up.
Forty young adults under the age of 23 contributed to this collection of poems and essays. All the stories are nonfiction and all the writers use their own names. Through pieces like “Don’t Tell Me That I’m Overly Sensitive and Paranoid,” “A Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom,” and “The Short Version,” readers can see the hardship, acceptance, and hope of teens who find themselves attracted to the same sex, trapped in the wrong body, or generally looking for support and understanding from their loved ones.

McLaughlin, Lauren. Cycler. Random House, 2008. 256p. Gr. 9-12.
"I am all girl” is Jill’s mantra. But four days of every month, she turns into Jack, who is definitely all guy. For years, Jill and her mom have kept Jack under control by keeping him in the house and telling Jill’s school that she must miss class to get blood transfusions. But now Jack wants his own life…

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Dairy Queen. Houghton, 2006. 275p. Gr. 7-10.
D.J. grew up helping her brothers train for football, but she never thought about playing it herself until Brian, the quarterback from her school's rival, starts working at her family's dairy farm. D.J. starts spending time with Brian and decides that she, too, wants to try out for football. D.J. struggles with the confusion of her friendship with best friend Amber (who sees them as a couple), her crush on Brian, and the knowledge that her father will be horrified if she makes the football team.

Murray, Kirsty. Vulture's Wake. Holiday House, 2010. 267p. Gr. 6-9.
Callum knows that the bird flu wiped out all female humans. But when he is saved from kidnappers, he's astonished to discover that his rescuer, Bo, is a girl! They travel together to Vulture's Gate, where they hope to find Callum's dad and sanctuary. But when they reach their destination, they realize that Bo is not the only female alive. Callum and Bo develop a bond and must rely on each other when Vulture's Gate is not the sanctuary they were hoping for.

Peters, Julie Anne. grl2grl. Tingley/Little, 2007. 151p. Gr. 9-12.
In this collection of short stories, we meet several young adults discovering their sexual identities and navigating difficult relationships. Rachael struggles with the decision to go back to the girlfriend who cheated on her. Mariah decides to finally attend a Gay/Straight Alliance meeting. Vince (who was born Eva) lives for the day when he can become his true self.

Shinn, Sharon. The Dream-Maker's Magic. Viking, 2006. 272p. Gr. 6-9.
Initially convinced that her daughter was born a boy, Kellen’s mother raised her as a son instead of a daughter. Despite the assurance from the local Truth-Teller that Kellen is indeed a girl and has always been one, Kellen’s mother remains convinced of a transformation soon after birth. How will Kellen find her place in this world of Truth-Tellers, Dream-Makers, and Safe-Keepers?

St. James, James. Freak Show. Dutton, 2007. 298p. Gr. 9-12.
Billy Bloom isn't your average teenager, and he isn't your average drag queen. No, he's a Twinkle Queen, a Glitteroid, and a Gender Obscurist. Now, thanks to getting kicked out of his mother's house after she found him in drag, he's living with his father and starting in a new, very conservative high school. When Billy shows up to the first day dressed as a pirate, things get dangerous for him fast. But instead of bowing to conformity, Billy emerges even more determined to be his own unique, fabulous self.

Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us. Viking, 2010. 136p. illus. with photographs Gr. 7-10.
Barbie. The name means something to all of us. With her endless career choices, is Barbie a model of what we want girls to look up to? Do Barbie's impossible looks and figure wreck havoc with girls' self esteem? Or is Barbie just a doll? This nonfiction book covers the emotional debate from Barbie's beginning, and contains photographs, quotes, and an extensive bibliography.

Wilkinson, Lili. Pink. HarperTeen, 2011. 320p. Gr. 9-12.
Ava's parents consider the color pink a signifier of patriarchal oppression. When a lesbian classmate seduces Ava, her parents throw her a coming out party. But Ava hasn't decided yet who exactly she wants to be, so when she transfers to the Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence, she decides to try on a new persona: a pink cashmere-wearing popular (straight?) girl. Will it last? Will she want it to?

Wittlinger, Ellen. Parrotfish. Simon, 2007. 294p. Gr. 9-12.
At first, Angela thought she was a lesbian. But it’s more than that…she wishes she actually was a boy. She cuts her hair, chooses a new name, and starts using an ACE bandage to flatten her chest. Will family and friends accept Grady, the new Angela?

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