Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Historical Lesbian YA Fiction

The Chinese Garden by Rosemary Manning
The list of lesbian young adult historical fiction is even shorter than the list of fantasy & science fiction. And of what there is, there isn't much variety, just a couple of books set in an English boarding school or asylum, one set goodness knows where in the early 1900s and six books about 'growing up lesbian' in 60s- 80s America.

The latter only make it onto this list, rather than the contemporary list, if they are distinctly non-modern in setting, as for some coming out/of age books, there's no real difference (second opinions from people who've read specific titles are always welcome here).

There are a handful more books in the 'non-lesbian main character' section, but be warned that - well. They don't have a lesbian main character, though they do offer a little bit more choice. Though again, it's all England and North America.

If you're desperate, or not just looking for specifically young adult books, there's also a much longer list of lesbian historical fiction.


The Chinese Garden by Rosemary Manning
Written in 1962, this is the story of a strict English girl's boarding school, with rigid rules, hypocritical (lesbian) teachers, and a girl who gets caught in the middle of her friend's love affair and the school, while dealing with her own coming of ages issues.

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
A widely acclaimed and somewhat grim novel about a girl who is sent to a 19th century English asylum for her anti-girlish ways and her alleged belief she is someone else, told she is mad, and finds a small and joyous relationship amidst the despair of her imprisonment.

North America

Becoming Bobbie by R. J. Stevens (Toronto, 1970s-80s)
A coming of age story set believably well in the 70s and 80s. This well written and easy to read story follows Bobbie as she grows up, her relationship with her highschool teacher and her passion for cars and music.

Breathing Underwater by Lu Vickers (Florida, 1970s)

Growing up in a grim small town setting, with a distant father and an emotionally abusive, increasingly crazy, mother, Lily dreams of being a boy so she can escape with her crush to a better life. Another coming of age story, though a pretty good one.

The Cat Came Back by Hilary Mullins (Connecticut, 1980s)
17 year old Stephanie's journal of her last few months at a posh prep school talks about her grades, her depression, and her sexually abusive relationship with a male teacher. And then Andrea, a fellow student appears in her life, and she discovers, and wrestles with, her attraction to Andrea. A fairly breathless novel, with a poorly resolved sexual abuse subplot, it is close to autobiographical.
Crush by Jane Futcher (?, 1964)
Set in an 1960s boarding school for girls, about a girl called Jinx who falls for a manipulative and pretty fellow student. Decently written, standard coming out drama, and no happy ending.
Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair (Chicago, 1960s)

About a bisexual black girl growing up and navigating life and high school, learning about race, being cool, dating, and sexuality. While she's mostly interested in boys in this book, Jean "Stevie" Stevenson explores her sexuality a lot more as an adult in the sequel Ain't Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (Florida, 1950s-70s)
Written in 1973, and now one of the classics of lesbian literature, RubyFruit Jungle was groundbreaking for its explicit lesbianism and it set the stage for the proliferation of lesbian coming of age novels. Semi-autobiographical, it tells the story of lovely Molly Bolt, who grows up decidedly lesbian, pursuing both girls and her dreams throughout high school and university. Generally considered much more enjoyably than The Well of Loneliness, which is often studied with it.

Staged Life by Lija O’Brien (California, early 1900s)
A story about a girl who runs away and joins the circus, escaping from a domineering uncle, and finding love with a fellow member of show business. Too recently published to have much in the way of reviews, though it's apparently acceptable. Less a coming out story, more a vaudeville historical adventure.

What Night Brings by Carla Mari Trujillo (California, 1960s)

Marci is a smart, sassy eleven year old Latina kid in a heartbreaking and funny coming of age story that includes religion and domestic abuse, as she gets in trouble at church and tries to deal with her abusive father - all the while wishing she was a boy, because she likes girls.
It comes with an impressive list of achievements:
  • Miguel Marmol prize winner(focusing on human rights)
  • Paterson Fiction Prize winner
  • Latino Literary Foundation Latino Book Award winner
  • Bronze Medal from Foreword Magazine
  • Honorable Mention for the Gustavus Meyers Books Award
  • Lesbian Fiction finalist, Lambda Literary Awards 2003

More Books (updating the list, will add this above when time allows)
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (?, 1926)
Whisper My Name by Jane Eagland (London, 19th century?)
Map of Ireland by Stephanie Grant (South Boston, 1974)
Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice by Pat Lowery Collins (Venice, early 1700s)

Also See:


  1. This is my pet genre so I have a few to add.

    Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice by Pat Lowery Collins (Venice, early 1700s)

    Map of Ireland by Stephanie Grant (Boston, 1974)

    Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (Minnesota, 1926) (to be released in September)

    1. THANK you! I hadn't seen those at all. They all look great.