Growing Up Different
George by Alex Gino
Alex Gino’s George is among the most heartwarming, and honest books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It has also been on the American Library Association’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books list since it’s publication. That said, I wholeheartedly recommend it to any and everyone, adults and children, looking for a book about people that could be different than themselves. Gino tells the story of a fourth grader, who “knows she’s not a boy” and “knows she’s a girl,” and her plan to play Charlotte in her class production of Charlotte’s Web. The result is a middle grade novel that brims with care and generosity. I adore this book.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Set in El Paso in 1987, Sáenz's YA novel follows the friendship of Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana, two Mexican-American teenagers who explore and challenge their ideas of racial and ethnic identity, sexuality, and their relationship with their families. I was given this book as a gift from a high school friend, who explored those very themes with me as friends in high school. Reading this novel as an adult made me wish desperately to have had this novel as a teenager. We both could have learned a lot and felt far more comfortable with the adults we were becoming through this novel. These sentiments have been shared as it has won numerous awards including the Lamda Literary Award, Stonewall Book Award and the Pura Belpre Narrative Medal.
Spinning by Tillie Walden
Tillie Walden’s Eisner Award winning graphic memoir, Spinning, has stuck with me for months after reading it. Walden wrote Spinning in 2017 when she was 21 -- and won the Eisner at 22, making her one of the youngest winners in history -- and in it looks back at her years as a competitive figure skater. Through the lens of skating, Walden unpacks what it means to grow up: from her first queer romance to bullying and abuse. Through its sparse use of color and thoughtful sense of space, Spinning brings you completely into Walden's world.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer is a powerful, informative and ultimately cathartic memoir. Through this book Kobabe (who uses e/em/eir pronouns) goes through eir life from childhood to eir coming of age and young adulthood. Kobabe is almost startling frank about eir life, and how common experiences feel to em as someone who identifies as nonbinary and asexual. This was a book I never knew I needed to read. It was a book that challenged how I saw the world, and helped me understand an experience that is so different than mine.
Runaways: The Complete Collection Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
Runaways: The Complete Collection Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
A bit of a detour with this choice, but another truly interesting look at growing up different. The first two volumes of this comic series are some of the best told stories in this medium. Six teenagers discover their parents are criminal masterminds, run away and band together using their own powers to defeat their parents and right their wrongs. This comic features six coming-of-age stories told honestly and creatively, even with an almost cliched “comic book” premise. Of particular note is Karolina Dean’s story, including her coming out that is explored in Volume 2. After working through this first run of Runways by Brian K. Vaughan, jump into Rainbow Rowell’s run of the series that began in 2017 as well!