Queer YA books that adults will love, too

Can’t get enough queer YA fiction? You’re not alone. Here Erica Gillingham of iconic bookshop Gay’s the Word shares the books to add to your TBR pile.

Erica Gillingahm is a poet, writer and bookseller at the UK's oldest LGBT bookshop, the iconic and incomparable Gay's The Word. Oh, and she also has a PHD in queer young adult literature, so who better to go to when looking for queer YA books that you won't be able to put down, no matter your age? 

From lust-filled angst to coming-of-age fantasy adventures, YA certainly isn't just for young adults, so here Erica shares just some of the best queer young adult fiction that adults will love too.

Photograph of Erica Gillingham smiling to camera wearing a navy jacket in front of a pink door
Erica Gillingham

There is no better feeling than the pleasure of racing through a good book to figure out how it’s going to end. This is especially true when the book is a funny, twisty-turny, or pacy story of mishaps and (mis)adventures with a main character you can believe in, a love interest to lust after, and a cast of out and proud queer characters. In recent years, the choice of YA novels with just those ingredients has joyfully expanded and diversified – and it’s not just teenagers who have been enjoying all the reading fun.

In the list below, you’ll find seaside romances, road trip misfortunes, nightclubs to swoon over, and revelations to shock and delight. Throughout them all, queer characters abound as they fall in love, stand up for what they believe in, or learn something new about themselves. I Kissed Shara Wheeler, the latest from Casey McQuiston of Red, White, and Royal Blue and One Last Stop fame, brings together so many of these elements with a bisexual protagonist and a small town much queerer than initially meets the eye. It’s the delight in finding these stories – and ourselves – that keeps readers coming back for more.

At the core of these novels is a question to be solved – of the self, of others, of how to be in the world – and as readers of any age, we’re never too old to read about the mysteries of the heart.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler

by Casey McQuiston

Book cover for I Kissed Shara Wheeler

When Shara Wheeler disappears, Chloe Green is furious. Not because the prom queen kissed her unexpectedly and then vanished – although she has questions – but because Chloe wants to make sure she wins valedictorian fair-and-square and that means she needs to find Shara. Annoyingly, this seems to have been Shara’s plan all along: she’s left behind clues for Chloe, in addition to clues for Smith, Shara’s high school sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s infatuated boy next door. In the ensuing cryptic treasure hunt for Willowgrove Academy’s golden girl, Chloe learns that there might be more to this backwater town – and one Miss Shara Wheeler – than she could have previously imagined. 

Melt My Heart

by Bethany Rutter

Book cover for Melt My Heart

Lily Rose is going to have an amazing summer selling ice cream with her best friend Cassie and swimming in the sea. Things look set to get even better when Cal, a heartthrob from New Zealand, catches her eye and turns out to be an excellent date. Even though Lily loves her own fat body, she isn’t used to this kind of romantic attention: most her life has been spent alongside her twin sister Daisy, the gorgeous, thin one. Now, Daisy has a crush on Cal, Cassie is acting funny, and Lily doesn’t know why she isn’t as into Cal as she should be.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

by Malinda Lo

Book cover for Last Night at the Telegraph Club

1954, San Francisco. Lily Hu did not expect to read about two women falling in love when she picked up that book in the drug store outside of Chinatown. Now that she’s read about them, though, she can’t stop thinking about them. Lily also did not expect to befriend her classmate Kathleen Miller either. They’ve known of each other for years, but they seem to have more in common than they both realised. When Kath offers to take Lily to the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar in North Beach, all of the questions that Lily has been asking herself suddenly jump out of the page and into this dazzling room full of women.

Eight Pieces of Silva

by Patrice Lawrence

Book cover for Eight Pieces of Silva

The fact that Becks is into girls isn’t news because she never had to come out in the first place. She mostly keeps to herself in the flat she shares with her mum, stepdad, and Silva, her stepdad’s eighteen-old-year old daughter with whom shares her mutual obsession for K-pop. When Becks’s mum and stepdad go on honeymoon to Japan, Silva suddenly disappears. Becks really wants to be spending time with her friend China, but she’s the only one that knows Silva is gone. With only a box of eight clues to piece the mystery together, Becks sets out across London to figure out her sister’s secret life.

Heartbreak Boys

by Simon James Green

Book cover for Heartbreak Boys

Jack and Nate are both shocked when they are publicly dumped by their respective exes, Dylan and Tariq, who have started a new relationship and are now posting about how fabulous their life is all over social media. Jack and Nate may be heartbroken, but they aren’t going to let their summers go by without evidence of their own verified good times. Agreeing to a plan to create the illusion that they are living their best lives and with all the hijinks of a family road trip across England, Jack and Nate rekindle their childhood friendship, ease their heartache, and begin to open up to new possibilities.

My Heart Goes Bang

by Keris Stainton

Book cover for My Heart Goes Bang

Ella, Lou, Issey, Liane, and Paige are starting off their second year of university the right way: they’re going to disavow romantic relationships and focus on their studies instead. Then, Ella finds a magazine article listing all the men they should date before they turn 21 and they vow to complete the list, tackling their latest challenge with more enthusiasm than they give their essays. Relations between the flatmates become muddled and begin to unravel as the academic year progresses, leaving open the question if even their friendships will survive the experiment and whether the love they were looking for was ever on the list to begin with. 

Cinderella is Dead

by Kalynn Bayron

Book cover for Cinderella is Dead

In the 200 years since Cinderella has been dead, the region she lived in has become a tyrannical kingdom where young women are forced to attend the annual ball—or face the consequences. For her part, Sophia is love with her best friend Erin and she is determined to leave this oppressive life behind if it means the freedom to be with the woman she loves. The only problem is that Erin won't leave—and they've run out of time. Sophia refuses to accept her fate, and she soon finds she is not alone in her quest to take down the king.

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Love is for Losers

by Wibke Brueggemann

Book cover for Love is for Losers

As far as Phoebe Davis is concerned, love is to be avoided at all costs. Why would you spend your life worrying about something that turns you into a complete moron? If her best friend Polly is anything to go by, the first sniff of a relationship makes you forget about your friends, get completely obsessed with sex and bang on constantly about a person who definitely isn't as great as you think they are. So Phoebe isn't going to fall in love, ever. But then she meets Emma. Love is for Losers is a hilarious, life-affirming novel about all the big stuff in a teen girl’s life: first love, sex, death, family, heartbreak and kisses that turn the whole world upside down.

The Atlas Six

by Olivie Blake

Book cover for The Atlas Six

Dark-academia fantasy novel The Atlas Six was originally self-published by Olivie Blake, and was then snapped up for re-publication after it shot to fame on TikTok.

The story follows six young magical practitioners as they compete to join the secretive Alexandrian Society, whose custodians guard lost knowledge from ancient civilizations. Their members enjoy a lifetime of power and prestige. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places. Ff they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them.

A Marvellous Light

by Freya Marske

Book cover for A Marvellous Light

Set in an alternative Edwardian England, this is a comedy of manners, manor houses, and hedge mazes: including a magic-infused murder mystery and a delightful queer romance from debut author Freya Marske. 

Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he's actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society. If it weren’t for this administrative error, he’d never have discovered the incredible magic underlying his world. But he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his adversarial magical-society counterpart. Thrown together, Robin and Edwin will discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.

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?

Boy Meets Hamster

by Birdie Milano

Book cover for Boy Meets Hamster

Fourteen-year-old Dylan Kershaw's idea of a dream holiday includes at least three things: beaches to bask on, cosmopolitan culture, and a chance for romance. Unluckily for Dylan, his mum's treating the family to the least dreamy holiday ever: a £9.50 break at Starcross Sands, Cornwall's Crummiest Caravan Park. But Starcross Sands might not be so bad after all, especially if Dylan can win the heart of Jayden-Lee, the gorgeous boy in the caravan next-door. Only the park's massive hamster mascot, Nibbles, stands in their way. This essential LGBTQIA+ YA romance is Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging meets Love, Simon. 

Wayward Son

by Rainbow Rowell

Book cover for Wayward Son

Wayward Son is the stunning sequel to Rainbow Rowell's much-loved YA novel Carry On. Simon Snow beat the villain, won the war and even fell in love. So why can't he get off the couch? According to his best friend, he needs a change of scenery, and so Simon, Penny and Baz head to America for the roadtrip of a lifetime. But trouble finds them before too long, and they get lost. Thrilling, funny and deeply moving, this is Rowell and YA writing at its best.