Queer Jewish YA has gotten a magnificent boost in the past couple of years. And while there’s still a long way to go in terms of representation (case in point: how very white and Ashkenazi this list is), it’s stunning to see just how far we’ve come, across both genre- and identity lines. These books are haunting and funny, inspiring and romantic, and, most of all, only the beginning. So shift seamlessly from Jewish American Heritage Month to Pride Month by picking up one, two, or all of these titles!
Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl by Brianna Shrum and Sara Waxelbaum
This dynamic duo hits it out of the park for their first time writing together, alternately telling the stories of Margo, a newly realized lesbian, and Abby, the out-and-proud girl who agrees to be Margo’s queer mentor as she stumbles her way through her first sojourn under the rainbow (in exchange for some tutoring, of course). With plenty of humor to spare, this romance is the Jewish and neurodivergent mashup of Ciara Smyth and Kelly Quindlen. (This isn’t Shrum’s first foray into queer Jewish lit, by the way. Do also check out Kissing Ezra Holtz, which features both a bi protagonist and a great Sukkot scene.)
This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke
Locke is well established as a master of Jewish historical fiction (if you haven’t checked out their Balloon Book duology, which uses time travel to tie generations of Jews to WWII, you must). That mastery is on full display here, in this lyrically stunning story about a girl named Csilla who rises to leadership during the 1956 Hungarian rebellion. When the story begins, Csilla is in a precarious place — her parents have been murdered by the Soviet police — but she’s determined to fight for the home she loves, even if it doesn’t love her in return. For her, that means teaming up with rebel Tamás, and Azriel, who just so happens to be the Angel of Death. And yes, it’s as fascinating — and polyamorous — as it sounds.
If you’ve already read and loved Locke’s work, make sure to check out When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb as well.
How to Excavate a Heart by Jake Maia Arlow
There’s nothing like a great winter holiday romance, but for far too long, and especially in queer lit, that’s meant Christmas and Christmas only. Enter Arlow with this witty, charming Hanukkah tale that takes Shani and May from an extremely untraditional meet-cute to a banterrific pairing neither of them sees coming.
Arlow’s also a great choice for queer Jewish readers who aren’t quite up to YA yet. Check out Almost Flying and the upcoming The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet.
From Dust, a Flame by Rebecca Podos
Podos’s books have gotten increasingly queer and increasingly Jewish, culminating with this compelling Sapphic fantasy of Jewish heritage, grief and mourning, mysticism, family, and even a little romance. Hannah and her family have always lived a nomadic lifestyle, but it’s not truly and deeply strange to her until she wakes up the morning of the seventeenth birthday she shares with her twin, Gabe, and sees that her eyes have transformed into something inhuman. When her mother takes off with the promise of finding a cure, leaving Hannah and Gabe alone, they pursue their own path to the truth — and find way, way more than they bargained for. The intergenerational weaving of stories, specifically around the Holocaust, is so familiarly and tangibly Jewish that this book is like imbibing four hundred pages of matzoh ball soup.
Camp by L.C. Rosen
Jewish protagonists and honest, clear-cut narratives about queer life are both staples of Rosen’s YA novels; and while I could’ve easily chosen Jack of Hearts (and other parts) or his newest book, the extremely fun, Indiana Jones–inspired Lion’s Legacy, I simply cannot make a Jewish book list without including one set at summer camp. The camp in question, Camp Outland, makes for the perfect Pride read, given that it’s entirely for queer kids, with identities all over the rainbow spectrum. In this delightful romance, Randy decides to reinvent himself as “Del” for the summer, in order to secure the affections of the considerably more masc boy he’s been crushing on forever. But he has to decide just how much of himself he’s willing to give up in order to land someone who may never love him for exactly who he is.
The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros
Polydoros is the unofficial kidlit king of queer Jewish mythological fiction. In his spectacular historial horror debut set against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, a Romanian immigrant named Alter must investigate the murder of his roommate Yakov, as a dybbuk won’t leave his body until he does. With the rest of his family still in the old country, the only person Alter has to turn to for help is the very last person he should: his criminal old flame, who agrees to help Alter find out who has killed not just Yakov, but other Jewish immigrant teenage boys. While this book is deeply sinister and haunting, the old world Judaism is so wonderfully familiar that it’s hard not to fall completely in love with the world and characters Polydoros has built.
Going Bicoastal by Dahlia Adler
I can’t make a list of queer Jewish fiction without including my own work, most notably my brand-new contemporary romance, Going Bicoastal! (Feel free to read my other queer Jewish novel, Cool for the Summer, too.) It stars Natalya aka Nat aka Tal, a bi Jewish girl forced to choose between parents — and coasts — for the summer, and it alternates between her two options: home in NYC, where she spends time with her dad and school friends, attends regular Shabbat dinners with her Orthodox neighbors, and finally pursues the girl she’s been crushing on forever; and away in LA, where she lives with the mom she barely knows (who’s basically cast off all Jewish observance), takes up a job that may or may not help her figure out what she wants to do with her life, makes new friends, and meets a boy who manages to surprise her at every turn. Kashrut, Shabbat dinners, and the intersection of queerness and Judaism all feature in this book that’s very close to my heart, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Dahlia Adler (editor) is an editor of mathematics by day, the overlord of LGBTQReads by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection) and That Way Madness Lies, and the author of many novels, including Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books.