Picture books, middle grade and YA fiction, and graphic novels aim to entertain while encouraging children and teens to embrace their identities.
Alex Wise vs. the End of the World
Terry J. Benton-Walker. Labyrinth Road, Sept. Ages 8–12
Benton-Walker debuted earlier this year with the YA contemporary fantasy Blood Debts, which received a starred review from PW. His forthcoming middle grade series launch follows Alex, a 12-year-old queer Black boy who spends his summer vacation battling the four horsemen of the apocalypse while grappling with his parents’ divorce and his feelings for a former friend.
Charming Young Man
Eliot Schrefer. HarperCollins/Tegen, Oct. Ages 13 and up
Two-time National Book Award finalist Schrefer’s historical YA reimagines the relationship between pianist Léon Delafosse and Marcel Proust. Set in 1890s Paris, this coming-of-age story follows a 16-year-old Léon as he and Marcel, a young gossip columnist, make their entrance into high society and explore their sexuality.
Nadia Shammas, illus. by Karnessa. Mad Cave, Oct. Ages 13–17
In this graphic novel, a diverse group of teens visit a graveyard to summon a ghost on Halloween night, only to encounter a sentient puppet who sends them to an alternate dimension—the Confetti Realms. There, they must
collect teeth as a debt to the puppet while solving problems within their friend group. Shammas won a Harvey Award for 2022’s Squire, which received a starred review from PW.
Kate Glasheen. Holiday House, May. Ages 14 and up
Set in 1980s Troy, N.Y., this watercolor-and-ink graphic novel follows Claire, a teenager who struggles with their gender identity, alcohol dependency, and bullying at school, ending up in a court-ordered recovery program. Per PW’s starred review, “This solo debut—a fictionalized, somewhat autobiographical accounting, as indicated in an author’s note—explores its protagonist’s struggles to be a part of their family and community while learning to accept themself, potently reflecting on themes of addiction, healing, and identity.”
Ellie Engel Saves Herself
Leah Johnson. Disney-Hyperion, May. Ages 8–12
YA author Johnson’s foray into middle grade centers on Ellie, a quiet and anxious Black middle schooler who discovers that her touch can bring dead organisms back to life. As she reckons with her new power, she also contends with her feelings for her best friend, Abby. “Marrying her customary openhearted style with a necromancy-oriented origin story, Johnson tackles the pains of growing up—changing bodies, shifting bonds, early crushes, and defining oneself on one’s own terms,” according to PW’s starred review.
The Evolving Truth of Ever-Stronger Will
Maya MacGregor. Astra, Oct. Ages 12 and up
MacGregor’s second YA novel, after the PW-starred The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester, features Will, a queer, agender teen on the cusp of freedom from their closed-minded town and their abusive mother, who struggles with addiction. Four months before Will’s 18th birthday, their mother dies, and they must forge a new path forward.
Rex Ogle, illus. Dave Valeza. Graphix, May. Ages 8–12
This series-launching graphic memoir takes Ogle—author of the PW-starred Abuela, Don’t Forget Me—back to his first year of middle school, when headaches indicate his need for glasses, leading to bullying at school and adding to financial tension at home. PW’s review praised “Valeza’s classic-feeling character designs [that] effectively capture the 1990s aesthetic, and visual jokes, like an optometrist called Eye Caramba, [that] add levity to a thoughtfully rendered read that tackles themes of loneliness, connection, and change.”
Alex Gino. Scholastic, Oct. Ages 8–12
Gino returns to the world of their Stonewall and Lambda Literary Award–winning Melissa and the PW-starred Rick with a middle grade story about a queer, nonbinary child named Green. Their middle school is putting on The Wizard of Oz, and though the Rainbow Spectrum group has fought for gender-free casting, Green doesn’t get a part—but they do get a chance to work backstage alongside their crush, Ronnie.
Becky Albertalli. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, May. Ages 14 and up
High school senior Imogen considers herself to be the “world’s best ally”—and straight—until she visits her best friend Lili at college, where Lili is newly out and has told her friends that Imogen is bisexual. “Via Imogen’s wryly funny first-person narration,” per PW’s starred review, “Albertalli crafts a striking portrait of one teenager’s experience navigating sexual fluidity and the sometimes overwhelming fear of reinventing oneself.”
Vichet Chum. Quill Tree, Oct. Ages 13 and up
Cambodian American playwright Chum debuts with a contemporary YA set among the Cambodian community in Lowell, Mass. Soma is a queer teen girl who has gone viral on social media for her slam poetry in the aftermath of her father’s deportation back to Phnom Penh. She gathers the courage to enter her high school’s poetry competition while finding her voice and falling for a girl named Britney.
Vicki Johnson, illus. by Gillian Reid. Little Bee, June. Ages 4–8
Published in partnership with GLAAD, this picture book follows a redheaded kindergartner getting ready for picture day—she wants to wear her brother’s old tuxedo instead of the uncomfortable dress her mom picked out. Johnson’s text explores Molly’s conflicting desires to please her mom and feel like herself, and Reid’s illustrations depict Molly’s new confidence in her gender nonconforming outfit.
The Prince and the Coyote
David Bowles, illus. by Amanda Mijangos. Levine Querido, Sept. Ages 12 and up
Pura Belpré honoree Bowles tells the story of Acolmiztli, the 16-year-old crown prince of Tetzcoco, who in 1418 Mexico goes on the run after his father dies in a power struggle. In the wild, he is helped by a coyote and takes on a new name—Nezahualcoyotl, or “fasting coyote.” Through a blend of prose and poetry, incorporating black-and-white illustrations by Mijangos and queer love stories, Bowles explores Nezahualcoyotl’s quest to survive, find himself, and establish the Aztec Empire.
The Secret Summer Promise
Keah Brown. Levine Querido, June. Ages 12 and up
“Lighthearted romance that’s sure to gratify,” according to PW’s review, “and meaningful conversations surrounding friendship and first love drive this earnest treat from Brown,” making her YA debut after the adult essay collection The Pretty One and the picture book Sam’s Super Seats. Andrea, a Black bisexual 17-year-old with cerebral palsy, is determined to cross off all the entries on her summer must-do list, including falling out of love with her best friend Hailee, who is Chinese.
The Wishing Flower
A.J. Irving, illus. by Kip Alizadeh. Knopf, May. Ages 4–8
In this picture book about a first crush, a shy girl named Birdie blows on a dandelion, wishing for connection. Then a new girl joins her class. Sunny, who shares Birdie’s love of nature and books, makes Birdie feel seen like never before. PW’s review said the “textured digital illustrations by Alizadeh echo the unabashed exhilaration of text from Irving.”