Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I grew up reading a lot, with most of the titles falling within the realm of the oft-derided genre of young-adult (YA) fiction. To some, "young adult" was something you outgrew, a phase you left behind as you started to read more "serious" literature, but it didn't quite work out that way for me. Even though I began to read and enjoy other types of literature, I still held onto YA, which was a welcome and familiar break for me.
Young-adult fiction, as with most other genres, is largely used by publishing companies and booksellers as a marketing tool to help shift the titles (and their sales) to the target demographic that may appreciate them best. But since YA is marketed towards a younger audience, it has been endlessly mocked for paltry subject matter, clunky prose, and sweeping melodrama. This isn't completely untrue — a lot of YA is all of these things — but it is an unfair assessment to make for the genre as a whole.
Although, at 27, I've outgrown some of the themes that most young adult titles offer me — probably caused by the more sensible part of my brain kicking in when the protagonists are about to do something stupid, for example — I still find merit in them, often in an "I wish I had read this when I was younger" way. Because representation matters, and when you are able to perceive a life like your own, in a normal, believable environment (never mind that it's fictitious), when your stories are told and shared, and when it's made known that how you are and how you feel are okay, you can start believing it, too.
What I really enjoy is gay YA, or LGBTQ YA in general, because there's very little (if any) sex in them. Sex is what most people like to fixate on when it comes to LGBTQ issues, but it's not always about that. More often, young LGBTQ individuals grapple with their own identity, part of which entails coming out as you come of age.
Although there are a lot of titles in LGBTQ YA canon — Nancy Garden's "Annie on My Mind," David Levithan's "Boy Meets Boy," Francesca Lia Block's "Weetzie Bat," and Julie Anne Peters' "Luna," for example — these are the ones I've read recently that I’ve truly enjoyed. A lot of them feature M/M (male/male) romance or gay representation, and although it may seem disheartening, it also just means there is more room for other stories to be told.
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire-Sáenz
If, one of these days, you ask for a gay YA title, you'd likely be given this one. First published in 2012, "Aristotle and Dante" is like watching self-discovery as it unfolds. Told from the point-of-view of Ari, the novel slowly uncovers the layers of his own identity, in the many ways it can apply: Ari as a Mexican, Ari as an estranged, angry brother and the only son left behind, and Ari as a boy who may or may not be in love with his best friend, Dante.
“I'll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson
Jandy Nelson's "I'll Give You the Sun" is told in two parts: one from the frenetic perspective of Noah, the less social twin, a quiet artist faced with many foreign and inexplicable urges, and the other from Jude, an outgoing girl who grows up too fast, experiencing a trauma of her own. The novel begins just as the two start to drift apart — a painful separation from someone with whom you spend your whole life — and the second half is spent on the two trying to find their way back to themselves and to each other.
Everything Leads to You” by Nina LaCour
This is less about self-discovery and more about following a mystery, getting over somebody who keeps taking you for granted, and maybe finding someone new. "Everything Leads to You" opens with a breakup — Emi, a wunderkind in film production design, and her on-again, off-again girlfriend, Morgan's — and goes on from there. The novel doesn't grapple with the usual themes of internalized self-loathing, at least not in the LGBTQ context, but it does offer some sort of confrontation with not-so-accepting familial figures.
“Carry On” by Rainbow Rowell
One of my favorite reads this year, Rainbow Rowell's "Carry On" is an extension of her earlier novel, "Fangirl," and further explores the fictional world of Simon Snow, the "Harry Potter"-like series that her "Fangirl" main character, Cath, is obsessed with. "Carry On" hangs on the thread of an adventure-mystery, much like most of "Harry Potter,” but the romance in this world is drawn out and infinitely more satisfying.
“How to Repair a Mechanical Heart” by J.C. Lillis
A self-published title, "How to Repair a Mechanical Heart" was personally delightful, as it occurs in a setting that I have never seen in books — a sci-fi convention! The main characters, best friends Brandon and Abel, vlog on YouTube! Fanfiction! Real Person Fanfiction! — without making me cringe. Most of the tension unfolds on tour and on screen, and although the inclusion of Catholic guilt isn't particularly satisfying, a big part of me is glad that Lillis at least attempted to work it in.
“Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli
Like "How to Repair a Mechanical Heart," clinical psychologist Becky Albertalli's debut novel, "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda," paints a believable picture of a modern-day high school setting, with a particular incriminating email correspondence and a school-wide Tumblr (full of PostSecret-like confessions) playing big roles in the recent life of "sixteen-year-old not-so-openly gay" Simon Speir. Funny and endearing, "Simon" is a quick read, with a great cast of supporting characters.
“The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater
If fantasy is more up your alley, give Maggie Stiefvater's "The Raven Cycle" a shot. "The Raven Cycle" is more of an ensemble series, where Blue, the protagonist with a rather witchy heritage, falls in with a group of boys from a nearby prep school as they monitor ley lines and hunt for Glendower, the sleeping Welsh king. Ronan Lynch, the gay character, isn't quite the focus here, as it's more about all of them, but it's refreshing when a story doesn't treat homosexuality like it has to be. The book has already acquired a sizable (and very dedicated) fan base among the Tumblr crowd.