[Note from Frolic: Today, we welcome author Jasper Sanchez to the site. He has some great book recs for you. Take it away, Jasper!]
In the United States, odd years like 2021 aren’t election years. Not on the state or federal level, anyway. If you’re like me, and feel a little withdrawal without battleground polls to track or Fivethirtyeight projections to refresh five times a day, then you’re probably looking for your next political fix. The good news is you don’t have to wait for the next election year to read great political fiction.
Whether it’s about official must-be-eighteen-to-vote elections, school elections, or grassroots activism, the world of Young Adult fiction has seen a groundswell of political books. And, to my delight, so many of these books are queer. Some speak directly to queer issues and activism; some foreground queer protagonists tackling other forms of discrimination. Either way, these books make for powerful, often tear-jerking, but always cathartic reads where marginalized characters fight for what’s right and reclaim their agency in a world that tries to stamp them out.
Without further ado, here are some of my favorite queer political reads.
1. Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore
At first blush, Salvatore’s debut looks like the genderqueer musical theater book of your dreams, with a side of swoon-worthy romance. After all, earning the part of Elphaba in their school’s production of Wicked should be a joyful experience for genderqueer Carey. But their gender euphoria is threatened when a queerphobic teacher and weak-willed administration oust Carey from the musical. Refusing to be silenced, Carey and their friends protest the school’s decision. Their grassroots organizing—accompanied by a real life “guide to protesting” at the back of the book—is a powerful depiction of a community rallying together behind a queer teen.
2. Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
There is no such thing as a single-issue book. Certainly every book on this list addresses a variety of systemic social issues, but Anger is a Gift is something else entirely. To say this book is the queer entry in the canon of police brutality novels would be a gross oversimplification. It’s a masterclass in representation and intersectional storytelling, where queerness exists at the interstices of race, class, gender, mental health, and disability. Moss, a Black, gay teen with an anxiety disorder, inhabits a community that feels vibrant and real. It’s also one of the most comprehensive and compelling depictions of community organizing I’ve read—not neat and tidy, not without missteps, but full of empathy.
3. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
This prom court election has all the trappings of any other good fictional election: campaigning, polls, makeovers, gossip, and scandals. And, of course, there’s opposition to two girls going to prom together in Indiana. But what makes this book such a knockout is its message in identity politics. In a town where a Black queer girl isn’t most people’s idea of a prom queen, Liz challenges the heteronormative system itself. If it won’t make space for people like her, then it’s up to her to claim that space for herself.
4. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
When you pick up this blast from the past, make sure you bring a box of Kleenex and get ready to blast some Madonna power ballads. It’s 1989 in New York, where coming to terms with your gay identity means confronting your own mortality as the AIDS pandemic rages on around you. Amidst a tender coming of age story, layered with complex characters and dynamic relationships, AIDS is a flash point for gay teens Reza and Art. Mentored by gay elders, many of whom are dying from the disease, the boys participate in protests and demonstrations with ACT UP. Like a Love Story is a vivid, vital portrayal of the urgency of activism and the human cost of inaction.
5. Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner
Dear Rachel Maddow is the book no one told me I needed. It’s an email epistolary novel from lesbian teen Brynn to her idol—and, really, everyone’s idol, right?—lesbian news icon, Rachel Maddow. Brynn’s emails chronicle numerous topics, including local school board politics. There’s one open seat for a student representative on the committee that will select a new school superintendent. Brynn’s ex-girlfriend believes the seat should go to an honors student. Brynn, who’s on the “Applied” track, thinks every student should have a voice and throws her hat in the ring. It’s a really refreshing take on school politics—and one where queerness isn’t the issue at stake.
+ 1 Queer Political Book that isn’t YA but you should read it anyway…
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Unless you’ve been locked in a nuclear bunker for the past two years—no judgment!—then you probably don’t need me to sing Casey McQuiston’s praises and tell you this is a book you need in your life. If the electric romance isn’t enough to sell you, or the looming threat of an international scandal if the First Son and a literal prince come out as queer, Red, White & Royal Blue also has commentary on queer visibility throughout history, a nail-biting presidential election, and a subplot about gerrymandering in Texas. Talk about history, huh?
About the Author:
Jasper Sanchez is a queer transmasculine author who writes glittery gay stories about characters who care a little too much.
Born and raised among idyllic California wine country vistas, he developed a fierce love-hate relationship with his suburban small town and an enduring passion for chiles rellenos. He earned his MA in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA and his BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. While neither degree prepared him for the hellscape of late capitalism, they did teach him about the power of stories, the worlds they build, and their potential to effect change in the real world.
He lives in Seattle, WA, with his cat, who might be more opinionated than he is. When he’s not writing, he can be found wandering museums, scouring the city for the best espresso, and annotating lists of his favorite Star Trek episodes.
Jasper is represented by Claire Friedman at InkWell Management. His short fiction has appeared in Mithila Review, Foglifter, and Plenitude. The (Un)Popular Vote (HarperCollins/Tegen 2021) is his debut novel.
The (Un)popular Vote by Jasper Sanchez, out now!
Red, White, & Royal Blue meets The West Wing in Jasper Sanchez’s electric and insightful #ownvoices YA debut, chronicling a transmasculine student’s foray into a no-holds-barred student body president election against the wishes of his politician father.
Optics can make or break an election. Everything Mark knows about politics, he learned from his father, the Congressman who still pretends he has a daughter and not a son.
Mark has promised to keep his past hidden and pretend to be the cis guy everyone assumes he is. But when he sees a manipulatively charming candidate for student body president inflame dangerous rhetoric, Mark risks his low profile to become a political challenger.
The problem? No one really knows Mark. He didn’t grow up in this town, and his few friends are all nerds. Still, thanks to Scandal and The West Wing, they know where to start: from campaign stops to voter polling to a fashion makeover.
Soon Mark feels emboldened to engage with voters—and even start a new romance. But with an investigative journalist digging into his past, a father trying to silence him, and the bully frontrunner standing in his way, Mark will have to decide which matters most: perception or truth, when both are just as dangerous.