Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda | Albertalli, Becky
Summary: When sixteen-year old Simon Spier accidentally leaves his email open on a school computer, he’s met with a blackmail attempt that threatens to expose him to his entire town. As a closeted gay kid, Simon fears nothing more than having to come out before he’s ready. What’s even worse, if he doesn’t comply, he’s not only jeopardizing his own sexuallity but also the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing. So, he crumples when faced with the blackmail, and is now forced to help his classmate (and resident class clown) Martin as he attempts to score a date with one of Simon’s best friends. Read along as Simon struggles to find a way to solve his problems without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
Gush Sesh: This book is a staple in young adult coming-of-age stories. Becky Albertalli perfectly describes just how terrifying it is to come out to those around you, even if you know the reaction won’t be bad. Not to mention the fear of being blackmailed into doing so. “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” opened my eyes to the world of LGBT+ stories out there, and is a wonderful place to start if you are looking to dip your toes in. The characters are so lovable that you really feel for them as they deal with the drama that being in high school brings. If you like coming-of-age stories that fill you with hope and have you rooting for the main character, this book is for you.
Red, White, and Royal Blue | McQuiston, Casey
Summary: First Son Alex-Claremont-Diaz wants absolutely nothing to do with Prince Henry of Wales. With his mom campaigning for her reelection, all Alex wants to do is focus on his work regarding her campaign and his college classes. But when he accidentally wreaks havoc at the Royal Wedding and tabloids spread showing a confrontation between the Prince and the First son, the Claremont’s are forced to plan some damage control by initiating a fake, staged friendship between Alex and Henry. But what happens when Alex can’t help but fall for the boy he’s hated all his life? What will their secret relationship do for President Ellen Claremont’s reelection campaign, or for overseas relations with the Crown? What are these two spotlight-stricken boys willing to sacrifice for their love?
Gush Sesh: I absolutely adore this book. I was in a small reading funk before I picked it up, but I literally couldn’t put the book down. All I wanted to do was keep reading. Both Alex and Henry are such complex characters, and Casey McQuiston does a wonderful job at slowly revealing more and more of their personalities and inner demons as the book goes on. She does a wonderful job of writing the enemies to lovers trope, so I highly recommend this book if you enjoy that kind of story.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali | Sabina Khan
Summary: With conservative Muslim parents, seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali has a hefty list of expectations she’s supposed to live up to. Lucky for her, she only has to be the perfect daughter for a few more months before she leaves Seattle and heads to Caltech to pursue an education in engineering. Everything screeches to a halt though when Rukhsana’s parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana. To them, being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. Immediately, Rukhsana is whisked away to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and strict tradition. She realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?
Gush Sesh: This was another book I simply couldn’t put down. The further I got in the book, the more I wanted to keep reading it. “The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali” gives great insight into what LGBT+ individuals go through in other countries where they aren’t as openly accepted and really opened my eyes as to the struggles they face. This book will definitely play with your heartstrings as you watch Rukhsana’s whole world crash down around her. If you want to broaden your knowledge of just how hard life for LGBT+ people can be, I recommend “The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali.”
They Both Die at the End | Silvera, Adam
Summary: Imagine if on the day you were supposed to die, you were notified beforehand? If you could plan out your final hours, what would you do with them? When Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio, it can only mean one thing: they are both going to die today, along with plenty of others. Mateo and Rufus have no knowledge that the other exists, but when they both download the Last Friend app, their paths come crashing together and the two boys do their best to live out a lifetime in just a single day.
Gush Sesh: This book constantly flipped back and forth between breaking my heart and patching it right back up again. I quickly fell in love with Mateo and Rufus and kept desperately hoping that they would somehow cheat death and get their happily ever after. Adam Silvera has a number of other books that are just as great as “They Both Die at the End”, all written in his unique style where he flips back and forth between either characters or frames of time. If you want a book that will have you sobbing by the end, this one’s for you.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue | Lee, Mackenzi
Summary: Born and bred to be a gentleman, Henry “Monty” Montague was never one for a calm lifestyle. With nights spent gambling, drinking, and sleeping with both men and women, England’s best boarding schools on top of the ever mounting disappointment of his father wasn’t near enough to curve the habits Monty was stuck in. As a last hurrah before he is expected to settle down and take over his family’s estate, Monty embarks on a tour across Europe with his best friend and little sister. The only problem is that Monty is nursing an impossible crush on his best friend, Percy, and traveling with him across the country isn’t doing much to help. Stubborn as always, Monty vows to make the absolute most out of this summer trip, but when he makes one of his infamous mistakes, everything comes crashing down around the trio. Their trip-turned-manhunt flips Monty’s world upside down and calls into question everything he knows, including his growing fondness for the boy he adores.
Gush Sesh: Before picking up “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”, I was stuck in a huge reading funk (even worse than the one before Red, White, and Royal Blue). This book made me love reading again and is what caused me to seek out every other book that is on this list. I love the way Mackenzi Lee writes her characters and tells their stories; skillfully unraveling bits and pieces of their personalities as they are met with hardship after hardship. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all very different, complex characters that really make the story everything that it is. If you enjoy slow-burn romance, questionable family dynamics, and period pieces, then I highly recommend this book for you.