LGBTQ+ Characters in YA Literature

Did you have access to LGBTQ+ YA (Young Adult) books when you were a teenager? I certainly did not. I didn’t even know that books like these existed. And maybe they didn’t back then; at least not in Germany. On the other hand, at fifteen I was already well aware that I found other girls much more interesting than any boy in my school. Yet I had no clue what that meant, and it took me several years to understand why and several more years to finally come out.

dreamstime | people with rainbows

How cool would it have been back then to find a book like Malinda Lo’s Ash in our library? Or like Michelle Teichman’s The Space Between. I loved, lived, and breathed The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager. But to be able to read a fantasy book with a lesbian protagonist with whom I could have identified… That would have been beyond amazing. Yet, it never happened.

Okay, that was a long time ago. Times have changed. All in all, young adult literature is an ever-growing, hugely popular genre. There is, for example, Harry Potter (thanks to J.K. Rowling for giving us Hermione’s character) or the Hunger Games (thanks to Suzanne Collins for so many strong female characters); both books that have been turned into very successful movies. Thankfully enough, there are a few LGBTQ+ inclusive young adult books on the backlists of mainstream publishers. However, there aren’t many. Heterosexual protagonists still compose around 90 – 95% of YA fiction. And the very sad truth is that if we have LGBTQ+ characters, the majority of the pairings in these books are m/m. Which is something that annoys the hell out of me, but really, why am I surprised that f/f is so underrepresented?

It really is a good thing that the Internet exists. Many teenagers somehow find their way to or Archive of our Own (AO3), where they discover stories that not only have strong female characters but a lot of f/f pairings. A few days ago, I read that a 2013 informal AO3 census found that only 38% of respondents identified as heterosexual, and more people identified as genderqueer than as male. Interesting, isn’t it?

person with rainbow flag / Ivan Cernicky |

But let’s be realistic, not everyone will find their way to fanfiction sites. Yet, many schools have a library. And most towns have libraries. And yes, there are bookstores everywhere. So, where is the diversity in young adult literature? Where are the strong LGBTQ+ characters in those books?

It is common knowledge that young adults seek identity and belonging. A disproportionate number of homeless youth in the US identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Those kids really need every opportunity to be assured that their being different is not abnormal and that they, hopefully at one point, can accept themselves as they are. LGBTQ+ young adult literature is one way to help them achieve that.

More than once did we receive e-mails from readers telling us how much our published books helped them in their situation or even helped them to come out. I long for the day when an e-mail ends up in my in-box that says something along the lines of “when I was a teenager, reading one of your young adult books helped me”; I long for teenagers to read one of our books and have a moment where the truth hits them… the truth that they are not alone. And that it does get better.

I sure wish I’d had access to diverse young adult books when I was a teenager. I didn’t. And that is that. However, as the CEO of Ylva Publishing, I can make sure to publish those kind of books. Our list of LBTQ+ books may not be long—at least not yet. But our whole team believes in the importance of publishing them and we have a few more coming out soon.

And because June is Pride Month and because the subject of LGBTQ+ young adult books is so important to us, we decided to make June our Young Adult/New Adult month.

What does that mean? Well, all of our young adult/new adult e-books will be on discount until the end of June in the Ylva Shop. Maybe you do know a teenager who could benefit from reading one of those books? Maybe there’s a library that could stock some more LBTQ+ titles? Contact us about the library and we’ll find a way to get our paperbacks to them. Over the past few years we donated a lot of our books, as we believe in the importance of LGBTQIA+ books being on shelves in a library.

Ylva Publishing | New/Young adult

We’ll also have several blog posts covering the importance of diversity and representation in the young adult and new adult genre. What do some of the authors that have published LGBTQ+ young adult or new adult books think? What is on their mind? We’ll find out over the next few weeks.

I would also love to hear about your experiences when you were a teenager. What books did you read? What heroes did you turn into heroines in your head/dreams? Did you ever stumble across LGBTQ+ young adult books? If so, where? Please share your experiences and thoughts with us. Let’s make this a memorable Pride Month 2016.

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About the Author : Astrid Ohletz


  1. Julie Bozza June 5, 2016 at 12:39 - Reply

    Thank you for the post, Astrid! I didn’t have such books when I was in my teens … but I did have The Rocky Horror Picture Show film and soundtrack album … which probably explains a lot now I think of it! 🙂

    • Astrid Ohletz June 7, 2016 at 06:16 - Reply

      Hi Julie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, yes? 🙂 Let’s talk about this some more when we’ll meet in September…

  2. cheryll jones June 5, 2016 at 16:38 - Reply

    I was an avid reader as a teenager. I felt I just didnt fit in with my school mates or my strict Southern Baptist family so I was always looking to escape into another place and time. I would have loved to have been able to read a LGBTQ book as a teen maybe I would have understood the feelings and emotions that I had at that age. I escaped into the world of Anne of Green tame as that sounds her friendship with her best friend Charlotte was the closest thing to a lesbian relationship I had encountered in my young reading life. I love that today there is so many available resources for teens but I feel we could still be doing so much more. I am so proud that companies like YLVA are striving to make YA reading material more accessible and prevelant for todays LGBTQ youth, their friends and families as well so that there may be more understanding and compassion.

    • Astrid Ohletz June 7, 2016 at 06:15 - Reply

      Hi Cheryll, thank you so much for your kind words. Now, I wasn’t raised in a Southern Baptist family but I went to bible school when I was 21 and know exactly what you’re talking about. And I haven’t forgotten how desperate and lonely I felt back then, knowing already that I was a lesbian but believing I wasn’t allowed to live who I was because it would have meant being separated from my friends, from those I called family back then, and last but not least from God. And I totally get what you say regarding Anne of Green Gables.

  3. Kaje Harper June 6, 2016 at 01:03 - Reply

    Thanks for the post – very well said, and I will share information about your sale with the 3600+ members of my YA LGBT Books group on Goodreads, (for YA readers of all ages). I believe in books as a way for teens (and adults) to find representation, to escape their own stresses, and to see through other eyes with empathy and understanding. Representation is important. Many of the older gay men in the group talk about the fantasy series by Mercedes Lackey – Magic’s Pawn (1989) was for many of them the first time they saw a book with a gay MC where being gay was natural, accepted, not a source of horrible angst, and did not lead to a tragic end. For some, it was life-changing.

    These days, our group virtual bookshelves have over 1200 LGBTQ YA books listed, and we’re not close to complete. And yet, getting the books into the hands of teen readers is still difficult. Many teens don’t read ebooks, or know about small presses. What they see comes from the mainstream presses onto the library and store shelves. There, the increases are slow, especially for anything other than gay white main characters. GSAs and other groups can help by accumulating libraries, especially in places where the city libraries don’t have much LGBTQ fiction. (Think about donating books to your local GSA or PFLAG group.) I love seeing more resources developing. Lists of books in more places. More publishers taking a chance on new authors and a new range of stories. Thanks for being one of them.

    • Astrid Ohletz June 7, 2016 at 06:11 - Reply

      Hi Kaje, Thanks so much for spreading the news. I totally understand what you mean with “getting the book into the hands of teen readers.” That is very difficult, even more so for an independent publisher like us. However, I find that one door to go through is fan fiction. Many of the teens who would not necessarily pick up a book will still read fan fiction, cause it is based on their favorite TV series. So, this is one way to reach out to them and I’m glad that some of our authors still continue to write fanfic. And the other way to go is absolutely through libraries. Donating books to them is what we can do – asking them to get our books on their shelves is also something readers can do. So, yes… there is still a lot to do. But with the help of the work you do and with what little we can do… we may just be able to reach a few more teenagers and make them feel less lonely.

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