‘Cut Both Ways’: 10 Novels About Defining Your Own Sexual Identity

Carrie Mesrobian’s Cut Both Ways, a novel about a young man’s turmoil over the exploration of his sexual identity as he explores relationships with both a girl and his male best friend, is available via HarperCollins eBook as of September 1st. This sub genre of YA–LGBT–unfortunately isn’t as abundant with material as others, unfortunate because it’s precisely works like these that allow young people to find strength and comfort in stories and characters they can relate to, characters experiencing the same confusion, inner turmoil, and often bullying and persecution as they face in their real lives. Given that YA is not brimming with titles like these, YE took up the task of discovering other YA LGBT novels like Cut Both Ways, stories about self-discovery, sexual exploration, and the struggle to find and define a sexual identity that feels comfortable, or the struggle to avoid being labeled or categorized at all.

Here is YE’s list of The Top 10 Novels About Defining Your Own Sexual Identity

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

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213 pages | Published February 1999 by MTV Books and Pocket Books | ISBN 0671027344 (ISBN13: 9780671027346)

While the 1999 classic is definitely introspective Charlie’s story, it’s rakish extrovert Patrick who really charms the reader even as he struggles with the end of a relationship with a popular football player who refuses to come out or even acknowledge him in public. Patrick is better known by his demeaning nickname “Nothing” and faces ridicule and violence due to his sexuality. But he laughs most of bullying off and makes it through high school stronger and more assured of his sexual identity. Here’s hoping that everyone else facing similar issues can find the comedy in their circumstances and understand that after high school, it truly does get better.

2. Fans of The Impossible Life, Kate Scesla

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368 pages | Expected publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray |ISBN 0062331752 (ISBN13: 9780062331755)

Fans of the Impossible Life is the story of a girl, her male gay best friend, and the boy in love with both of them.
Mira suffers from depression, and the only time when life seems worth living is when she is with Sebby, her gay best friend. Mira is starting at a new prep school and just trying to be “normal” while Sebby has to deal with life in foster homes. To distract themselves from their overwhelming realities, Sebby and Mira craft a world of magic rituals and secret road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives. Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at Mira’s school who, when he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting this blond, lanky boy with a mischievous glint in his eye. As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.
Fans of the Impossible Lifeis a story about complicated love, discovering who you are and what you want from life, and finding the friendships that change you forever. It will be in bookstores September 8th.

(via goodreads)

3. What We Left Behind, Robin Talley

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416 pages | Expected publication: October 27th 2015 by Harlequin Teen | ISBN 0373211759 (ISBN13: 9780373211753)

What We Left Behind is the story of Toni and Gretchen, a same sex couple leaving high school for different colleges (Harvard and NYU respectively) and their attempts to maintain a long-distance relationship. In high school they were the together-forever couple everyone envied, but will the distance be too much for their love? Complicating matters further is the fact that Toni identifies as genderqueer, and she finds of group of similarly minded students at Harvard, a support system that gives her comfort and security like she’s never known. But while Toni becomes more secure in her sexual identity, Gretchen only becomes more confused at NYU, struggling to remember who she is outside of her relationship with Toni. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

(via goodreads)

4. Frenemy of the People, Nora Olsen

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264 pages | Published May 13th 2014 by Bold Strokes Books (first published May 11th 2014) | ISBN 1626390630 (ISBN13: 9781626390638)

Clarissa and Lexie couldn’t be more different. Clarissa is a chirpy, optimistic do-gooder and a top rider on the school’s equestrian team. Lexie is an angry, punk rock activist and the only out lesbian at their school. When Clarissa declares she’s bi and starts a Gay-Straight Alliance, she unwittingly presses all of Lexie’s buttons, so Lexie makes it her job to cut Clarissa down to size. But Lexie goes too far and finds herself an unwitting participant in Clarissa’s latest crusade. Both are surprised to find their mutual loathing turning to something sorta like love. But a change in her family’s fortunes begins to unravel Clarissa’s seemingly perfect life, endangering her relationship with Lexie. Do Clarissa and Lexie each have what it takes to overcome the prejudice that threatens their relationship?

(via goodreads)

5. Not Otherwise Specified, Hannah Moskowitz

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304 pages | Published March 3rd 2015 by Simon Pulse | ISBN 1481405985 (ISBN13: 9781481405980)

Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown. Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself? Not Otherwise Specified is the story about living in and outside communities and stereotypes, and defining your own identity.

6. Anything Could Happen, Will Walton

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288 pages | Published May 26th 2015 by Push | ISBN 0545709547 (ISBN13: 9780545709545)

When you’re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen. Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend Matt. And Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels. But the problem isn’t just with Matt. Tretch’s family has no idea who he really is or what he really wants. Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he’s got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world. Because like love, a true self can rarely be containedAnything Could Happen is a poignant, hard-hitting exploration of love and friendship, a provocative debut that shows that sometimes we have to let things fall apart before we can make them whole again.

(via goodreads)

7. Beauty of the Broken, Tawni Waters

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368 pages | Published September 30th 2014 by Simon Pulse | ISBN 1481407090 (ISBN13: 9781481407090)

Fifteen-year-old Mara feels stifled, caged, and alone growing up in a small conservative town in New Mexico. Everyone in town is god-fearing, churchgoing, and straight. And Mara wants nothing to do with any of it, especially with her abusive closed-minded father and detached alcoholic mother. Then she meets Xylia, transplant from San Francisco. Xylia is everything Mara dreams of being: free-spirited, open, wild. The closer Mara and Xylia become, the more Mara feels for her—even though their growing relationship is very much forbidden in Barnaby. Just as Mara begins to live a life she’s only imagined, the girls’ secret is threatened with exposure and Mara’s world is thrown into chaos. Mara knows she can’t live without Xylia, but can she live with an entire town who believes she is an abomination worse than the gravest sin?

(via goodreads)

8. You and Me and Him, Kris Dinnison

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288 pages | Published July 7th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers | ISBN 0544301129 (ISBN13: 9780544301122)

“Do not ignore a call from me when you know I am feeling neurotic about a boy. That is Best Friend 101.” —Nash

Maggie and Nash are outsiders. She’s overweight. He’s out of the closet. The best of friends, they have seen each other through thick and thin, but when Tom moves to town at the start of the school year, they have something unexpected in common: feelings for the same guy. This warm, witty novel—with a clear, true voice and a clever soundtrack of musical references—sings a song of love and forgiveness

(via goodreads)

9. Bi-Normal, M.G Higgins

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191 pages | Published July 1st 2013 by Saddleback Educational Publishing, Inc. | ISBN 1622500040 (ISBN13: 9781622500048)

Brett Miller is one of the kings of Elkhead High. Everyone knows the kings rule the school. Football stars. Pretty girls. The in-crowd. Brett and his buddies are the tormentors; nobody messes with them. Then Brett meets Zach …”It’s a crush. I’m crushing on a friggin’ guy. That’s sick. And I don’t know what to do about it. … I want these feelings to go away. At the same time, I don’t want them to go away.” And his life is turned inside out. Everything he knows about himself is wrong. And he doesn’t have anywhere to turn for answers. He’s heard the word “bi” before; it has nothing to do with him. But in his gut he knows. And he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it

(via goodreads)

10. A Story of Now, Emily O’Beirne

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Published July 11th 2015 by Ylva Publishing | ISBN 3955333450 (ISBN13: 9783955333454)

Nineteen-year-old Claire Pearson is brittle, beautiful, and just a little bit too sassy for her own good sometimes, and she no longer makes friends easily. And she has no clue where to start. Not after a confidence-shattering year dogged by bad break-ups, friends who have become strangers, and her constant failure to meet her parents’ sky-high expectations. And when Robbie and Mia walk into Claire’s work, they seem the least likely people to help her find a life. But despite Claire’s initial attempts to alienate them, an unexpected new friendship develops. And it’s the warm, brilliant Mia who seems to get Claire like no one has before. Soon, Claire begins to question her feelings for her new friend, and she struggles with defining her own sexual identity in the face of these new feelings.

The sequel, The Sum of These Things, will be released in late 2015.

(via goodreads)

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