Gay literature: it’s come a long way and it still has a long way to go. But, where is it right now and what are some titles that have people buzzing? The worlds of romantic comedies and fiction have been neck-deep in young adult (YA) titles for the past decade or two now. And, thankfully, queer stories are happily among the rest. From magical kids to foster fathers of magical kids to British lawyers and British princes, there’s plenty to choose. So, here’s a list of five celebrated gay rom-coms in the YA genre that you should consider reading.
1. Simon Snow Series (Carry On, Wayward Son, Any Way The Wind Blows) by Rainbow Rowell
First on the list is a series and not a standalone story. If you’re a millennial or Gen Zer who grew up on fan fiction, the Simon Snow series is the queer Harry Potter story of your dreams.
Official Synopsis (for Carry On):
“Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters”
Despite being extremely (and somewhat distractingly) similar to the Harry Potter series in the first 100 pages or so, this story is endearing once it becomes its own tale. The Simon Snow series is appealing because of its own identity as a quirky, adventurous, and extremely queer story. Questions about sexual identity and self-worth are wrapped up in an overarching story of dangerous fantasy creatures or magic-ending threats. And all the while, a developing queer romance stands at the very center of it all. If you like romance that’s counterbalanced with ample adventure, this series might be worth a read to you.
2. They Both Die In The End by Adam Silvera
Now, are you ready for something sad? Let’s be honest, it’s all in the title. No way to hide it. But, it’s also not something to hide from either.
“On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.
Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.
In the tradition of Before I Fall and If I Stay, They Both Die at the End is a tour de force from acclaimed author Adam Silvera, whose debut, More Happy Than Not, the New York Times called ‘profound.’”
Again, this book is a tragedy but it does not shy from that fact. Instead, it celebrates it and how tragedy can make life so beautiful. While the idea of living it up on your last day on Earth is nothing new, Adam Silvera finds a way to connect with the very heart of that idea. Living. Two teenagers are told that they are going to die that day. Silva then finds a way to have them connect with themselves, their world, and each other in deep and meaningful ways. They will make you want to live a little of what they felt in this book. If you’re ok with a good cry and a good reminder to live passionately, check this story out.
3. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
If you’re fan of the British hit Fleabag, you might really enjoy this next novel.
“Luc O’Donnell is tangentially—and reluctantly—famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.
To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately, apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.
But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.”
Again, this book is like a gay rom-com version of the hit British series Fleabag. More com than rom, Boyfriend Material feels like a comedic story with a gay romance as its circumstantial center. Ultimately, this is a story about a depressed man finding comfort in himself and comfort with his life. Though, caution to American readers, the story is very British in its sense of humor. Think, again, of Fleabag or the British The Office. Self-deprecating, blunt, cringe-inducing, and sometimes dark. But once you tune in to the right frequency for this story, you’ll have a good time.
Also, note that the tone in this story is slightly more mature than the others on this list. While Boyfriend Material is within the YA genre, characters are established in their lives and careers. Many have already settled down or are beginning to enter that phase in life. This spotlights the main character’s feeling of being less than or left behind. And, it makes this a more relatable story to adult readers looking for a read-worthy gay rom-com.
4. The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Next, a found family set in a magical world!
“Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.
Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.”
Think The Umbrella Academy meets Yours, Mine, & Ours (remember that film?) and you’ve got this novel. This is a book with the message of kindness, love, and found family. Who couldn’t love that? TJ Klune does a wonderful job of creating six distinct characters in the household while pushing that message of love. And, of course, he still makes time to write a charming romance. After reading this book, you’ll be reminded to see a person in their whole being and entirety. And, to truly love them for all that they are.
5. Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Lastly, we have a political rom-com about the relationship between the first son of the United States of America and a British prince.
“When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.
Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.”
This story, while not perfect, is a fun and quick read. Not only does this story have an endearing relationship between the two early-20s leads, including some lightly detailed sex scenes, but McQuiston does a fantastic job fleshing out their worlds and relationships. That’s especially true for Alex. (I will note, however, that the British side was a bit too pessimistic and lacking in research). It’s clear McQuiston wrote this story in a need to escape from Trump-era America. In her slightly more idealized version of the world, political drama (while still overdramatic) folded well into everyday life and love. If you need the same escape, this is a good book to help.
It should also be HIGHLY noted that this story has a non-white protagonist. Alex Claremont-Diaz, who is mix-raced, both acknowledges and celebrates his Latin heritage. Though, as much as you would expect from a white author. Queer readers of color, can be (cautiously) optimistic with this portrayl. Unfortunately, the world of gay literature is largely white-dominated. As such, having a QPOC lead, in any capacity, in a popular novel is a blessing.
From foster fathers to magical kids to teens living their last day on Earth, I hope at least one of these stories will sound interesting to you. And then, I hope you decide to read it. All five books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, local book stores, and wherever else books are sold.
But what do you readers think? If you have read any of these books, or intend to do so soon, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Happy reading!