I came out when I was fifteen years old, and had access to a very tiny LGBT section of our school library, which had a whole ten books. As I was coming out, I tore through them, reading them over and over, trying to find some calm in my storm. This is a list of books to read while coming out. It is made up of some I read in high school, and some I have read recently, as a lot of what I read in high school was incredibly tragic.
Now, as someone who identifies as a lesbian, this list is dominated by stories about women who love women. These are primarily the books I read, which ultimately means that I have left out large chunks of the LGBT community. I’d love to hear recommendations of more diverse literature in the comments.
First up are three books I read in high school while in the process of coming out:
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan tells the story of Nicola, who is attending a summer camp for gifted students when she meets Battle, a dancer who captures her heart. This was the first book I ever read where a queer relationship was developing, and follows Nicola’s worries and fears in realizing she might not be straight. It was a book that I really needed to read when I was trying to figure out my sexuality, and it still has a place in my heart.
The follow-up book that continues Battle’s story, Rules for Hearts, tells of how Battle, the daughter of a pastor who is estranged from her brother, lives in a commune of actors the summer before she starts college. This isn’t so much a coming out story, but the normalization of queer identity within this book makes it a keeper for me, and I hope it will make it into your “to read” pile soon.
The last book that I read in high school that I would recommend is Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I remember reading this and being able to escape to a world where it was really okay to be gay, and that in fact, there were just as many queer kids as there were straight kids. This is a book that normalizes sexual orientations and gender identities of all kinds, and for someone who was bullied for their identity in high school, this book felt like safety. I think that ten years after its original publication, it still holds up pretty well.
Finally, let’s talk about two books I wish I had read while coming out. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden is told from the perspective of Liza, who meets Annie at a museum and slowly begins to build a relationship with her amidst ongoing problems at school and at home. I think one of the things that is unique to Annie is that it is so incredibly joyful through most of the two main characters’ interactions. It ends on a note that leaves the reader feeling hopeful not only for their future, but for the readers as well.
This last book was published only a few years ago, but I so wish I could have read it in high school. The Second Mango by Shira Glassman is a high fantasy adventure about the new Queen Shulamit who, after being kidnapped and saved by Rivka and her trusty dragon, goes on a quest to find a royal girlfriend, and get roped into something else entirely. This book takes a major detour from the very “slice of life” LGBT stories I have read, and is a breath of fresh air because of this. This book is also incredibly diverse, with a full cast of Jewish characters, which is a refreshing detour from the rest of this list.
It has been a few years since I first came out, but these books made me feel so much less alone, and my hope is that they can do the same for you.