YA Pride: Indie edition!
June is Pride month, and to celebrate, there have been a lot of reading lists floating around the internet. But I noticed that most of the recommended books (especially for YA) have been limited to traditionally published (and especially Big 5) books. But there are a lot of fantastic self-published/indie/small press books out there as well that readers looking to show their Pride this month would be sure to love! So I took to Twitter to ask for some recommendations, and got an overwhelming response!
So, without further ado, here’s the Pride Month Reading List: Indie Edition!
(Disclaimer: Many of these books were recommended to me but I have not read them yet. So I can’t personally vouch for all of them. But they were all very highly recommended!)
Twixt by S.E. Diemer
Lesbian main character (MC)
No one sleeps in Abeo City. The lost souls gather indoors at night as Snatchers tear through the sky on black-feathered wings, stalking them. But inside the rotting walls of the Safe Houses comes a quieter, creeping danger. The people of Abeo City have forgotten their pasts, and they can trade locks of their hair to sinister women known only as the Sixers for an addictive drug. Nox will give you back a single memory–for a price.
Like the other lost souls, Lottie wakens in this harsh landscape and runs in terror from the Snatchers. But she soon comes to realize that she is not at all like the people of Abeo City. When she takes Nox, her memories remain a mystery, and the monsters who fill the sky at night refuse to snatch her. Trying to understand who she is, and how she ended up in such a hopeless place, Lottie bands together with other outcasts, including a brave and lovely girl named Charlie. In the darkness, and despite the threat of a monstrous end, love begins to grow. But as Lottie and Charlie plot their escape from Abeo City, Lottie’s dark secrets begin to surface, along with the disturbing truth about Twixt: a truth that could cost her everything.
The Star Host by F.T. Lukens
Ren grew up listening to his mother tell stories about the Star Hosts – a mythical group of people possessed by the power of the stars. The stories were the most exciting part of Ren’s life, and he often dreamed about leaving his backwater planet and finding his place among the neighboring drifts. When Ren is captured by soldiers and taken from his home, his dream slips further out of his grasp. Now a slave of a despotic Baron, Ren must remain inconspicuous while plotting his escape. It’s a challenge since the general of the Baron’s army is convinced Ren is something out of one of his mother’s stories.
Ren finds companionship in the occupant of the cell next to his, a drifter named Asher. A member of the Phoenix Corps, Asher is mysterious, charming, and exactly the person Ren needs to anchor him as his sudden technopathic ability threatens to consume him. Ren doesn’t mean to become attached, but after a daring escape, a trek across the planet, and an eventful ride on a merchant ship, Asher is the only thing that reminds Ren of home. Together, they must warn the drifts of the Baron’s plans, master Ren’s growing power, and try to save their friends while navigating the growing attraction between them.
Lunaside by J.L. Douglas
Moira Connell just wants to drink tea, draw pictures, and hang out with Andrea, her girlfriend. But that’s before her mother accuses her of wanting to spend her time making out with girls, rather than planning which universities to court in senior year.
A job as an art counselor at Lunaside, the summer camp down the road from Moira’s house, is supposed to help Moira prove she isn’t procrastinating, and that she isn’t ‘girl-crazy’ either. Then the eccentric owner of Lunaside ropes her into starring in the camp’s new web series before she can say ‘on-screen panic attack.’ But it’s exactly the kind of huge responsibility Moira’s mother thinks Moira is allergic to, so she jumps in anyway.
Of course, the fact that Andrea is directing the web series, combined with Moira’s sudden, mutual attraction to new counselor Millie, might not help her case. And the way her best friend keeps trying to set her up with Millie certainly isn’t helping, well, anything. And amidst all of this, she’s still got an art camp to run. On her own. But how hard could that be?
One summer can change everything. Moira’s hoping hers doesn’t end in a worst-case-scenario disaster.
How To Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis
Eighteen-year-old Castaway Planet fans Brandon and Abel hate bad fan fiction—especially when it pairs their number-one TV crushes of all time, dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim. As co-runners of the Internet’s third most popular Castaway Planet vlog, they love to spar with the “Cadsim” fangirls who think Cadmus will melt Sim’s mechanical heart by the Season 5 finale. This summer, Brandon and Abel have a mission: hit the road in an RV to follow the traveling Castaway Planet convention, interview the actors and showrunner, and uncover proof that a legit Cadsim romance will NEVER, EVER HAPPEN.
A Brandon and Abel romance: also not happening. Brandon’s sick of his struggle to make “gay and Catholic” compute, so it’s safer to love a TV android. Plus Abel’s got a hot new boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and how can Brandon compete with that? But when mysterious messages about them start popping up in the fan community, they make a shocking discovery that slowly forces their real feelings to the surface. Before they get to the last Castaway Planet convention, Brandon’s going to find out the truth: can a mechanical heart be reprogrammed, or will his first shot at love be a full system failure?
Spy Stuff by Matthew J. Metzger
Anton never thought anyone would ever want to date him. Everyone knows nobody wants a transgender boyfriend, right? So he’s as shocked as anyone when seemingly-straight Jude Kalinowski asks him out, and doesn’t appear to be joking.
The only problem is … well, Jude doesn’t actually know.
Anton can see how this will play out: Jude is a nice guy, and nice guys finish last. And Anton is transgender, and transgender people don’t get happy endings. If he tells Jude, it might destroy everything.
And if Jude tells anyone else … it will.
To Stand In The Light by Kayla Bashe
Answering a distress call in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, teenage half-demon Shadow finds a scene of carnage where their superheroine foster parents once lived. Only one thing holds them back from seeking death: the unexpected discovery of a small, scruffy girl. Bean, an acid-green-haired high school dropout, is feral and whimsical by turns. As they travel home, she slowly grows to trust Shadow, and wriggles into their closed-off heart.
Dangerous secrets and painful memories drive Shadow away from New York again and again, but their friendship with Bean only grows. When they return home, though, it’s to a grown-up Bean who finds herself falling for her former mentor- and tumbling headlong into much bigger trouble than anyone suspects…
Kevin Luong walks to the ocean’s edge with a broken heart. Remembering a legend his mother told him, he lets seven tears fall into the sea. “I just want one summer—one summer to be happy and in love.”
Instead, he finds himself saving a mysterious boy from the Pacific—a boy who later shows up on his doorstep professing his love. What he doesn’t know is that Morgan is a selkie, drawn to answer Kevin’s wish.
As they grow close, Morgan is caught between the dangers of the human world and his legacy in the selkie community to which he must return at summer’s end.
Deadly Sweet Lies by Erica Cameron
Nadette Lawson knows when you’re lying. Every night for the past two years, the Balasura have visited her dreams, enticing her to enter their world. And every night she’s seen through their lies. Now, they’re tired of playing in the shadows and they begin to stalk her in the waking world. It’s no longer just an invitation; if Nadette doesn’t join them, they’ll take her family. Forever. She needs help, and the haven she’s seeking may be just out of reach.
Julian Teagan is a master of deception. To survive, he has to convince the world his mother isn’t useless, that everything’s fine, otherwise he’ll lose what little he has left in this life. He knows the lying won’t be enough to keep him and his mother in the shadows, but it’s all he knows. The only light of truth is Orane, a Balasura who sees past Julian’s facade and challenges him to face the darkness. Then Orane is killed, and Julian learns his mentor was far from innocent. The Balasura have hunted children like him for centuries, and their next target, Nadette is his one chance at finally being a part of something real. If Julian can just convince her to trust him…
Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember
After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.
Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.
The Rules of Ever After by Killian B. Brewer
The rules of royal life have governed the kingdoms of Clarameer for thousands of years, but Prince Phillip and Prince Daniel know that these rules don’t provide for the happily ever after they seek. A fateful, sleepless night on top of a pea set under twenty mattresses brings the two young men together and sends them on a quest out into the kingdoms.
On their travels, they encounter meddlesome fairies, an ambitious stepmother, disgruntled princesses and vengeful kings as they learn about life, love, friendship, and family. Most of all, the two young men must learn to know themselves and how to write their own rules of ever after.
Beloved Pilgrim by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
At the time of the earliest Crusades, young noblewoman Elisabeth longs to be the person she’s always known is hidden inside. When her twin brother perishes from a fever, Elisabeth takes his identity to live as a man, a knight. As Elias, he travels to the Holy Land, to adventure, passion, death, and a lesson that honor is sometimes found in unexpected places.
Elias must pass among knights and soldiers, survive furious battle, deadly privations, moral uncertainty, and treachery if he’ll have any chance of returning to his newfound love in the magnificent city of Constantinople.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved … and the person she never imagined she could.
That is the dilemma sixteen-year-old Jonathan Cooper faces when he goes away to Spirit Lake Bible Camp, an oasis for teen believers situated along Minnesota’s rugged north shore. He is expecting a summer of mosquito bites, bonfires with s’mores, and photography classes with Simon, his favorite counselor, who always helps Jonathan see his life in perfect focus.
What he isn’t expecting is Ian McGuire, a new camper who openly argues against phrases like pray the gay away. Ian is certain of many things, including what could happen between them if only Jonathan could surrender to his feelings. Jonathan, however, tosses in a storm of indecision between his belief in God and his inability to stay away from Ian. When a real storm hits and Ian is lost in it, Jonathan is forced to make a public decision that changes his life.
And if you don’t mind shameless self-promotion, there’s always…
Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari
Demisexual MC, asexual MC (dual POV)
MARS, 2073 C.E. – All Isaak wanted was to get through his senior year at the Academy in one piece. Everything would have been fine if he hadn’t found that ancient coin among his missing father’s possessions. The coin seems to have a strange connection not only to Isaak’s family, but to Mars’ ancient past.
But how is that possible, on a planet that was supposed to be dead until just forty years ago?
Now Isaak’s got agents of the Earth’s government on his tail and a deranged factory worker stalking his every move. Everyone is desperate to get their hands on something called the Key. And the only way to escape is to unlock an even bigger secret, one that could change his life—and the fate of Mars—forever.
These books were also recommended multiple times – though not strictly YA, they have been shelved by many on Goodreads as having crossover appeal to YA readers.
The Second Mango by Shira Glassman
Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody think she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.
Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.
(Note: The first book in the series is actually classified as YA, but the series follows the characters over the span of several years into adulthood, so it’s kind of in that gray area of “Is it technically still YA or not?” However, I’m confident that YA readers will enjoy all the books in the series!)
Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver
The city of Parole is burning.
Like Venice slips into the sea, Parole crumbles into fire. And trapped inside is an entire population of people with bizarre, beautiful and terrifying abilities – people who really should not have them. When Regan, an anxiety-ridden hitman with the peeling skin of a lizard meets Evelyn, singer, revolutionary, and unofficial superhero, it’s up to them to get to the heart of the mystery of Parole and its quarantined inhabitants. Along with a diverse group of superpowered friends, they will evade a deadly totalitarian police force, discover the truth about their entwining pasts, and together find the strength to survive a cataclysmic disaster.
Daybreak Rising by Kiran Oliver
Lesbian MC, panromantic demisexual MC (multi-POV)
22-year-old Celosia Brennan spent sixteen years being raised as the heroine her nation needed. A dual-touched Elementalist with both the power to conjure fire and see glimpses of her future, Celosia was the best hope at overthrowing the oppressive Council in a mission called Daybreak, an attempt to secure justice for the massacre of her people and so many others. There’s just one problem: she couldn’t. Celosia broke down after realizing the enormity of her task, and is struggling to make things right while the blood of her fellows stains her hands.
Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally-gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—all except for a powerful ice Elementalist named Ianthe who believes in second chances.
With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not only her country, but their entire world.
This list just scratches the surface of all the amazing indie YA LGBTQIA+ books out there, but I hope this gives you a good place to start! Do you have any other books you’d like to recommend? Feel free to leave them in the comments! (Please remember to keep the focus on self-published and small press published books!)