Bestselling YA author Aiden Thomas on their favourite trans and non-binary characters

YA writer Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys and The Sunbearer Trials, discusses the importance of seeing yourself in books, and recommends eight novels with trans and non-binary characters to read now.

My debut novel, Cemetery Boys (a book about a transgender Mexican/Cuban boy who tries to prove his gender to his family by summoning a ghost he can’t get rid of) is the first fiction book about a trans character written by a trans author to ever hit the New York Times bestseller list. I’m happy to say that other authors and books have joined the list since then, but there’s still a lot of ground to make up.

As an author, a common question I get asked is “when was the first time you saw yourself in a book?” The truth is, when I was growing up, I thought there wasn’t a place for me in publishing. I never saw brown characters in books, let alone ones that were queer, and certainly not trans. 

Now, a lot of trans and non-binary people experience their first sense of belonging or affirmation with queer bloggers, YouTubers, Tiktokers and, of course, characters in books. Even if we can’t talk to them personally, seeing people with our identities and experiences reflected in books helps give us a sense of community and comfort.

Books can be radical and life-changing. Since publishing Cemetery Boys, I’ve had countless readers reach out telling me how reading it was the first time they ever saw themselves in a book, how it helped them realize they weren’t cisgender, and on a few occasions there were readers who chose to name themselves after Yadriel and Julian. Simply by having stories with trans and non-binary characters, we create the opportunity for readers to not only see themselves, but discover themselves through books – in every genre and age-category.

So without further ado, here’s a list of books featuring trans and non-binary characters, from literary to fantasy and even graphic novels, to queer up your bookshelves!

This is a great book for the queer community by a member who truly understands our niche sense of humor!
On Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl

by Andrea Lawlor

Book cover for Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl

A joyous romp through early '90s American subculture, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl follows Paul Polydoris, a shapeshifter who can change sex at will, as he navigates relationships and identity politics from Iowa City to Chicago leather bars, and from a women-only music festival to the bright lights of San Francisco. This riotous bildungsroman is full of heart and humour.

Read our interview with Andrea Lawlor

This book is a beautiful, dark, and enchanting reimagining of Chinese history with a queer hero at the center!
On She Who Became the Sun

She Who Became the Sun

by Shelley Parker-Chan

Book cover for She Who Became the Sun

A Number One Sunday Times Bestseller, this absorbing historical fantasy novel from Shelley Parker-Chan reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.

In 1345, China lies restless under harsh Mongol rule, and when a bandit raid wipes out her home and her brother perishes, Zhu resolves to overcome her destiny by taking her dead brother’s identity. Can Zhu escape what’s written in the stars, as rebellion sweeps the land? Or can she claim her brother’s greatness – and rise as high as she can dream?

This is a great book if you want to read something that will stick in your side long after you've finished.
On Nevada

Nevada

by Imogen Binnie

Book cover for Nevada

Maria, a trans woman in her thirties, spends her aimless days working in a New York bookstore, trying to remain true to a punk ethos while drinking herself into a stupor and having a variety of listless and confusing sexual encounters. After stealing her adulterous girlfriend's car, she heads for the Pacific. En route she meets a young man called James in a Nevada Walmart, with whom she forms an unlikely but powerful connection. A landmark of trans literature.

I absolutely LOVE graphic novels, so when I heard about Welcome to St. Hell I was immediately sold.
On Welcome to St. Hell

Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure

by Lewis Hancox

Book cover for Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure

A memoir in graphic novel form. Writer and illustrator Lewis Hancox takes us on his journey from confused, unhappy teenage girl to the man he was meant to be. Often funny, sometimes not funny at all, this is a heart- and ground-breaking graphic novel, akin to Fun Home but completely original.

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Reading Felix Ever After was the first time I read a book where the character actually felt like me.
On Felix Ever After

Felix Ever After

by Kacen Callender

Book cover for Felix Ever After

Proving just how wrong YA naysayers can be, Felix Ever After is a revelatory novel about identity, marginalisation and transphobia, and a love story.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages, Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. But he doesn't anticipate his scheme catapulting him into a complicated love triangle, or that this will help him finally discover how he feels about himself.

Another one of my personal favorites. If you love a tropey romance, this one will sweep you off your feet.
On Meet Cute Diary

Meet Cute Diary

by Emery Lee

Book cover for Meet Cute Diary

Felix Ever After meets Becky Albertalli in this swoon-worthy, heartfelt rom-com about how a transgender teen’s first love challenges his ideas about perfect relationships.

Noah Ramirez's hugely popular romance blog has a problem. It's all made up. When he's exposed by an internet troll, Noah tries to save the online diary by going on fake dates to create 'proof' that the stories are actually true. But then his staged romance starts to feel more real than pretend. . .

I absolutely recommend checking out the audiobook of Sistersong. It includes real music in a way that completely sucks you in.
On Sistersong

Sistersong

by Lucy Holland

Book cover for Sistersong

A powerfully moving and gripping retelling of an ancient tale, Lucy Holland's Sistersong retells the folk ballad ‘The Two Sisters.'

King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure. All three fear a life confined within the hold, protected from Saxon invaders. But one day changes the course of their fates irrevocably. As ash falls from the sky, Myrdhin, a meddler and magician, and Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear the sisters apart, enter their lives. . .

Lastly, I’d like to recommend my newest young adult fantasy. I am absolutely thrilled to have another book that contributes to the trans and nonbinary lexicon. This one is chock full of trans and non-binary gods, demigods and heroes.
On The Sunbearer Trials

The Sunbearer Trials

by Aiden Thomas

Book cover for The Sunbearer Trials

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all: they will be sacrificed to Sol.

Teo, a seventeen-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds, has never worried about the Trials…or rather, he’s only worried for others. But then, for the first time in over a century, Sol chooses a semidiós who isn’t a Gold. In fact, he chooses two: Xio, the thirteen-year-old child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck, and…Teo. Now they must compete in five mysterious trials, against opponents who are both more powerful and better trained, for fame, glory, and their own survival.