From the Library: Three Young Adult Novels with Trans Teens

In my recent quest to find quality young adult literature, I ended up sitting down to read several YA books about trans teenagers. Trans teens were hard to find in books while I was growing up, so I was pleased to discover several YA novels written in recent years that present very nuanced and sympathetic portrayals of trans teens.

These books are important. Most trans teens grow up feeling isolated because of widespread transphobia, and their ability to access resources is often limited. But these books can act as makeshift resources, showing trans teens that there are others out there that share their struggles. A couple even include lists of websites and phone numbers for trans teens at the end, presenting options for readers looking to further explore transitioning.

And these books aren't just important for trans teens. These books should be required reading for cisgendered teens and adults, as they tune the cisgendered reader into everyday struggles that trans teens encounter, and they teach the reader just how important it is that we work to eliminate transphobia.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Angela's had enough of acting like he's a girl, so he buys some used men's clothing, cuts his hair, and changes his name to Grady. While he's excited to have made this transition, several people in his life aren't accepting of this change. He's lost his best friend and his family isn't acknowledging the importance and permanence of the change. And while Grady struggles to explain his name change to school faculty and decide which bathroom to change in before gym class, a girl at school is already plotting to humiliate him.

Grady encounters a lot of hate in the hallways at school, but he also finds a few unexpected friendships. Sebastian, one of his new friends from his TV Productions class, introduces him to the stoplight parrotfish. These ocean fish are capable of changing gender, and Grady finds their existence affirming and comforting.

Grady is a sharp character with lots of thoughtful observations about the ridiculousness of gender roles, and his ideas about gender performativity will resonate with any reader. If you're reading this with a group of teens, Ellen Wittlinger provides a discussion guide to accompany the book here.

Luna by Julie Anne Peters

This story is told by Regan, a fifteen-year-old who finds herself frequently putting her life on hold in order to cover for and support Liam, her brother who has yet to come out to anyone else as a girl. Liam decides to go by Luna, which means moon, and is symbolic of the fact that she can only come out at night. But Luna's been talking about transitioning, and it's got Regan worried. Regan's happy to buy underwear for Luna and let her dress in feminine clothing in her room at night, but she has a hard time imaging what social transition will look like. Regan stresses out about how her family and kids at school will react, and then finds herself targeting her frustration towards Luna. The reader follows Regan through her confusion, and watches her grow to understand and accept Luna's need to share her true self with everyone else.

Take a sneak peek at the story here.

Eon: Dragoneye Rebord by Alison Goodman

This story (also published as The Two Pearls of Wisdom, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and Eon) follows Eon, a girl who has been masquerading as a 12-year-old boy while she trains to become a Dragoneye, an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. Girls who use Dragon Magic are killed, so when Eon's secret is threatened, she ends up in a fight for her life. One of the characters in this story, Lady Dela, is a key player in helping Eon to find her sense of strength. And Dela was born in a male body. It's made clear that she dealt with transphobia while growing up, but her identity has largely been accepted and supported. When Eon asks her why she didn't have her male genitalia removed surgically, she says, "I don't need to be cut to know I am a woman." And while the fact that she's trans does come up, the fact that she is trans is not the focus of the story.

While Parrotfish and Luna focus on trans characters who are in the midst of social transitioning, the plot line in Eon does not revolve around the trans character being trans. We need more books like this. While it's important that we have books that tell stories about what it means to transition as a teenager, we also need books with trans teens just being teens.

It's exciting to see space being made for trans teens in YA lit, but we've definitely got a long way to go. What strides would you like to see being made in YA lit in order to make it more trans-friendly? And do you have other recommendations for YA books that touch on trans issues?

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Comments

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I love Luna! <3 Other then

I love Luna! <3 Other then that and Parrotfish only one I know of is Almost Perfect, a story told from the point of view of a cis guy who starts dating a girl in high school and finds out she is trans. It is a good book but his reaction tends to be very bad and can be hard to read. Also 'What Ever Happened to Lani Garver' which deals with transphobia and homophobia.

I would like if there was some trans YA books told from the point of view of view of the trans youth instead of cis people.

Other books with Trans characters

Tamora Pierces latrest book 'Terrier' has a minor Transwoman character in it. While there is some explaining of her situation it isn't that big a part of the story. Her partner is a gay male though which I have some issue with as it's kind of feeding into the idea that a man in a relationship with a pre/no-op transwoman has to be gay.

In New Zealand (yeah! New Zealand) a book has been recently published about a transgender teenager that's actually written by A TRANSGENDER GUY!

http://ryanscottkennedy.com/about-f2m/

actually

Okha, the transwoman shows up in Bloodhound the sequel to Terrier.

Unfortunately I don't think

Unfortunately I don't think she did the character Ohka very well, relying on to many transphobic tropes. Like the gay male relationship, lack of respecting pronouns, and making her more of a drag queen character. Also its a world full of magic I demand some sort of magical GRS and HRT for her!

Guess it was nice she tried though.

I totally agree with

I totally agree with IraeNicole in that Pierce relied on some transphobic tropes in Bloodhound and Terrier. Regarding one of those tropes: I recently came across an interview with Pierce in which she talked about her decision to not respect pronouns: "I couldn’t really say 'she' because that’s an artifact of our time. However Okha feels about it, Beka is still going to refer to him as 'he,' because that’s what she sees. Okha knows that she’s a she, but Beka doesn’t." Still not sure how I feel about this decision, but it seemed worth noting that she recognized the problem.

Ashley McAllister, Outreach Coordinator

Song of the Lioness

I haven't read "Terrier" but Tamora Peirce did immediately enter my mind while reading this post, because her "Song of the Lioness" series did a lot for me when I was a kid as far as truth to one's self and defiance of predetermined roles goes. The series follows the adventures of Alanna, who in the first book trades places with her twin brother so that the two of them can escape the gendered roles that neither want - he as a knight, she as a fortune-teller of some sort. Alanna goes to become a page in his place, and he goes to magic school. After years of dressing like a boy, Alanna is eventually outed as a woman, but of course through the course of the series she ends up becoming the most badass knight ever, and saving the world multiple times, so people are okay with it.

Granted I have not read the books in a while, and thinking back on it with a critical perspective it sucks that Alanna had to prove herself over and over again to finally gain the respect of her peers, but when I was a kid Alanna was my standard for self-respect and identity, so I'd recommend it.

THANK YOU!

THANK YOU for this post! I'm checking out these books immediately. I am woefully ill-read in trans-lit for YA audiences.

Also...

There's Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, about a male-to-female trans teen.

Almost Perfect

When I was in high school, we

When I was in high school, we read "Whatever Happened to Lani Garver," which is about a girl's friendship with Lani, who identifies neither as male nor female. I went to a really liberal, private high school, so it wasn't that revolutionary of a book, but I liked reading something that so openly dealt with sexuality and identity in school.

Yes!

Luna and Lani Garver are great! Julie Anne Peters also wrote a collection of LGBT-geared short stories called grl2grl, several of which involve characters of nonbinary gender and one of which deals explicitly with being a transman. (Warning: the story involves assault.) The protagonist of So Far from Xanadu is nonbinarily gendered as well. Peters is basically amazing, as both a writer of queer stories and just as a writer.

TWO MORE

What Happened to Lani Garver is my all-time favourite book. I discovered it when I was 12 (I'm 17 now) and have read it 4 times since. Even though it intrigued, angered, and delighted me the first time i read it, i didn't quite understand Lani's philosophy of 'not putting things in boxes'. After a few years, however s/he became a bit of a role model for me, when I started feeling ways about my sexual orientation that I could not easily put into words. I still don't like to be called bisexual, it just doesn't seem to fit right. According to my friend I'm pansexual, but i don't really entirely care because 1.) if i described myself as that nobody would know what it meant and 2.) I don't WANT to describe my sexuality or be labeled for it anyway. Lani is one of the most profound, intelligent, socially-aware characters I've ever had the pleasure of reading about, and the transphobia directed towards him through the entire novel is infuriating. Excellent read
Almost Perfect- a recently discovered favourite that quickly made it's way to my top 10. In it, a regular teenage boy develops a crush on a tall, loud, fun girl new to the school unlike anyone he's ever met before. Unfortunately, her brash confidence always disappears whenever he tries to get intimately close with her, and she pushes him away, always worried about her extremely over-protective and controlling parents. She is not allowed on dates, but her younger 15 year old sister is. When he finally DOES kiss her- she tells him she was born a boy. Immediately he is mean, trans-phobic, homophobic, rageful, and paranoid. After this, nearly ever aspect- from all different perspectives- from the parents, friends, siblings, police, society, and the transgender teen themselves are covered. Seriously, it's amazing. An absolute recommended read. It certainly heightened my awareness