34 Notable Debuts by Trans, Nonbinary, and Gender Non-conforming Authors – Chicago Review of Books


Last year, we featured 18 notable debuts by trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming authors. This year, the list stands at 34, and still, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg for expansive, compassionate, and daring literature by TGNC authors. While the United States bans or restricts access to queer books across the country, while lawmakers pass cruel and dehumanizing anti-transgender legislation in the States and around the globe, the books contained on this list stand as small revolutions. And they’re more than that; they’re portraits of a beautiful and creative existence. They’re proof of life: We’ve been here. We are here. We’re not going anywhere. And we have stories to tell.

Below please find five featured books, and so much more.

I Have Always Been Me
Precious Brady-Davis
Topple Books & Little a
July 1, 2021

I was lucky enough to see Precious Brady-Davis read from her debut memoir, I Have Always Been Me,” at Chicago’s 2021 Printers Row Lit Fest. Brady-Davis, a diversity advocate and activist, brought her story to life in that room with warmth, humor, and heart. Her debut reckons with the hardship she faced as a biracial, gender-nonconforming kid going through the Omaha foster care system. It also brings wit and hope in equal measure. Brady-Davis finds her confidence through her love of fashion, her identity as a woman, and within her beautiful family. As Chicagoans, we’re so proud to call this author one of our own.

The Passing Playbook
Isaac Fitzsimons
Dial Books
June 1, 2021

As a soccer fan, I suspected I’d love Isaac Fitzsimon’s YA debut, The Passing Playbook, but I couldn’t have guessed just quite how much. The novel follows fifteen-year-old Spencer, a transgender athlete who starts over at a new school where he hides his identity to dodge the bullying he faced at his old school. The novel balances the extreme highs and lows of high school athletics, with a compassionate, swoon-worthy romance, and political activism. The story lets Spencer grow and thrive, and asks what we owe to our queer community and to ourselves—both past, present, and future.

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun
Johnny Garza Villa
Skyscape
June 8, 2021

When Julián Luna gets drunk enough to out himself as gay on Twitter, it catches the attention of Mat, his crush from Los Angeles, who slides into his DMs. Their whirlwind romance gives Julián a reason to solve his problems at home so he can love big across the country, but it’s not so simple. Julián must juggle his conservative father, evolving friendships, college applications—and, of course, his virtual dates with his cute new boyfriend. One of my favorite reads of the year, this book is special. It’s brimming with every big rip-your-heart-out emotion. The relationships, both romantic and platonic, are incredibly sincere, and Garza Villa fully captures the electricity of the final days of high school.

Gumbo YA YA: Poems
Aurielle Marie
University of Pittsburgh Press
September 21, 2021

I first encountered Aurielle Marie’s work at the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging Writers where her readings took my breath away. When Marie spoke, people listened, because her presence is affecting, and her poetry carries the same power. In her debut, Gumbo YA YA, Marie explores “race, gender, desire, and violence in the lives of Black gxrls, soaring against the backdrop of a contemporary South.” Some poems resist, some treasure, some ache, and some scream. They all love; queerness and Blackness, community and hope.

Detransition, Baby
Torrey Peters
One World
January 12, 2021

While this list is proof that more trans books are hitting shelves from major publishers every year, trans women and trans femme writers still remain woefully, criminally underrepresented across almost every genre in literature. It cannot be understated how major it was for Detransition, Baby to explode in the way that it did across the literary landscape this past year; it was seemingly in every store, on every list, and shared in every book club. I personally read it with two different groups, and each one loved it in a different, sincere way. If you haven’t opened its pages yet, you’re in for beautiful, difficult ride: the story follows Reese, a trans woman whose ex-girlfriend Amy has de-transitioned and is living as Ames. Ames, who has impregnated a cis girlfriend. Ames, who wants to raise a baby together, the three of them. Peters is a writer of nuance, humor, and compassion. I cannot wait to see what she writes next.

Please note: The publisher’s blurbs below have been edited for length and clarity. 

Poetry  

evening primroses
Gabby Loomis-Amrhein

Recenter Press
April 9, 2021

“Gabby Loomis-Amrhein’s debut collection seeks to address trans struggle and liberation in the crepuscularity and in-betweenness of rural being. Showing the country itself as queer, “evening primroses” serves as a sort of field guide for growth and change in that space, marking the passage of time between woodcock dance and trillium bloom, a record of having been, becoming, coming out.”

At First & Then
Danielle Rose
Black Lawrence Press
February 23, 2021

“AT FIRST & THEN is radical; beautiful; propulsive. An Orphic tale of a body descending then rising again; the debut chapbook from poet Danielle Rose charts woven stories of addiction; grief; trauma; and; ultimately; gender—the essential pieces of personhood. Through struggle and loss; the poems in AT FIRST & THEN proceed like timid ghosts learning how to form language; gathering the disparate elements of selfhood into a warm coherency; a radical self-permission.”

Mask for Mask 
JD Scott
New Rivers Press
April 6, 2021

“JD Scott conjures up unruly personae that are propelled by queer fantasies, youthful regrets, incantations, and apocryphal parables. Mask for Mask is a kaleidoscopic poetry collection, one that is both formally innovative and an imaginative descent into LGBTQ+ undergrounds and underworlds.”


Nonfiction
The Natural Mother of the Child
Krys Malcolm Belc
Counterpoint LLC
June 15, 2021

“Krys Malcolm Belc’s visual memoir-in-essays explores how the experience of gestational parenthood–conceiving, birthing, and breastfeeding his son Samson–eventually clarified his gender identity. The Natural Mother of the Child is the story of a person moving past societal expectations to take control of his own narrative, with prose that delights in the intimate dailiness of family life and explores how much we can ever really know when we enter into parenting.”

Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League
Britni de la Cretaz and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo
Bold Type Books
November 2, 2021

“The groundbreaking story of the National Women’s Football League, and the players whose spirit, rivalries, and tenacity changed the legacy of women’s sports forever. In 1967, a Cleveland promoter recruited a group of women to compete as a traveling football troupe. It was conceived as a gimmick—in the vein of the Harlem Globetrotters—but the women who signed up really wanted to play. And they were determined to win. Hail Mary chronicles the highs and lows of the National Women’s Football League, which took root in nineteen cities across the US over the course of two decades. Drawing on new interviews with former players from the Detroit Demons, the Toledo Troopers, the LA Dandelions, and more, Hail Mary brings us into the stadiums where they broke records, the small-town lesbian bars where they were recruited, and the backrooms where the league was formed, championed, and eventually shuttered.”

Dogs On the Trail
Quince Mountain and Blair Braverman
Ecco Press
November 16, 2021

“When Blair Braverman started posting pictures of her dog team on Twitter, she had no idea the response she would get. Being a musher, after all, isn’t just about racing—raising dogs from puppyhood to retirement (and beyond) is a full-time job. She and her husband, musher Quince Mountain, wanted to share stories about life with their dog team. And not just the big stuff, like expeditions and wild animal encounters, but also the everyday things: the challenge of storing a thousand pounds of raw meat, scouting new trails with the dogs, the decisions that go into putting a team together, how she trains puppies to be brave. An irresistible adventure, Dogs on the Trail will delight and entertain while taking you inside a musher’s world, and showing you why the wilderness isn’t simply a place to visit but also a home to return to.”

As Beautiful As Any Other: A Memoir of My Body
Kaya Wilson
Picador Australia
April 27, 2021

“When Kaya Wilson came out to his parents as transgender, a year after a near-death surfing accident and just weeks before his father’s death, he was met with a startling family history of concealed queerness and shame. As Beautiful As Any Other weaves this legacy together with intimate examinations of the forces that have shaped Wilson’s life, and his body: vulnerability and power, grief and trauma, science and narrative. In this powerful and lyrical memoir, Wilson makes a case for the strength we find when we confront the complexities of our identity with compassion. As Beautiful As Any Other is a trailblazing debut of remarkable beauty, insight and candour.”


Adult Fiction

Light From Uncommon Stars
Ryka Aoki
Tor Books
September 28, 2021

“Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six. When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate. But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.”

Where the Rain Cannot Reach
Adesina Brown
Atmosphere Press
December 7, 2021

“Tair has never known what it means to belong. Abandoned at a young age and raised in the all-Elven valley of Mirte, the young Human defines herself by isolation, confined to her small, seemingly trustworthy family. Abruptly, that family uproots her from Mirte and leads her on an inevitable but treacherous journey to Doman: the previous site of unspeakable Human atrocities and the current home of Dwarvenkind. Though Doman offers Tair new definitions of family and love, it also reveals to her that her very existence is founded in lies. Now, tasked with an awful responsibility to the Humans of Sossoa, Tair must decide where her loyalties lie and, in the process, discover who she wants to be…and who she has always been.”

Sing Anyway
Anita Kelly
Tea & Karaoke
May 31, 2021

“After a lifetime of failed relationships, non-binary history professor Sam Bell is committed to a new (non)romantic strategy: Thirst Only. It’s the actual drinking where things get too complicated, where Sam inevitably gets hurt. Sam is good at being thirsty, though, especially when it’s karaoke night at The Moonlight Cafe, otherwise known as Moonie’s to its largely queer regulars. For Lily Fischer, karaoke at Moonie’s is the only time she can step outside of her quiet shell. When there’s a mic in her hand, she’s no longer merely a receptionist harboring big dreams. As the night progresses, both Sam’s and Lily’s personal boundaries are tested, and the real world outside of Moonie’s looms. But maybe all Sam and Lily need is a little courage to pick up the mic, and sing anyway.”

Summer Sons
Lee Mandelo
Tordotcom
September 28, 2021

“Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him. As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble. And there is something awful lurking, waiting for those walls to fall.”


The Atmosphierans
Alex McElroy
Atria Books
May 18, 2021

“Sasha Marcus was once the epitome of contemporary success: an internet sensation, social media darling, and a creator of a high-profile wellness brand for women. But a confrontation with an abusive troll has taken a horrifying turn, and now she’s at rock bottom: canceled and doxxed online, isolated in her apartment while men’s rights protestors rage outside. Sasha confides in her oldest childhood friend who hatches a plan for her to restore her reputation by becoming the face of his new business venture, The Atmosphere: a rehabilitation community for men. Based in an abandoned summer camp and billed as a workshop for job training, it is actually a rigorous program designed to rid men of their toxic masculinity. Sasha has little choice but to accept. But what horrors await her as the resident female leader of a crew of washed up, desperate men?”

We Are Watching Eliza Bright
A.E. Osworth
Grand Central Publishing
April 13, 2021

“Eliza Bright is living the dream as an elite video game coder at Fancy Dog Games, the first woman to ascend that high in the ranks—and some people want to make sure she’s the last. To her friends, Eliza Bright is a brilliant, self-taught coder bravely calling out the misogyny that pervades her workplace and industry. To the men who see her very presence as a threat, Eliza Bright is a woman who needs to be destroyed to protect the game they love. When Eliza’s report of workplace harassment is quickly dismissed, she’s forced to take her frustrations to a journalist who blasts her story across the internet. Soon, Eliza is in the cross-hairs of the gaming community, threatened and stalked as they monitor her every move online and across New York City…We watch as this dramatic cat-and-mouse game plays out to its violent and inevitable conclusion in this thrilling story of resilience and survival.”

She Who Became the Sun
Shelley Parker-Chan
Tor Books
July 20, 2021

“In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.”

Honey Girl
Morgan Rogers
Park Row
February 23, 2021

“With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that. Staggering under the weight of her parent’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows. There, she’s able to ignore all the constant questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.”


Young Adult Fiction

The Taking of Jake Livingston
Ryan Douglass
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
July 13, 2021

“Sixteen-year-old Jake Livingston sees dead people everywhere. But he can’t decide what’s worse: being a medium forced to watch the dead play out their last moments on a loop or being at the mercy of racist teachers as one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep. Both are a living nightmare he wishes he could wake up from. But things at St. Clair start looking up with the arrival of another Black student—the handsome Allister—and for the first time, romance is on the horizon for Jake. Unfortunately, life as a medium is getting worse. Though most ghosts are harmless and Jake is always happy to help them move on to the next place, Sawyer Doon wants much more from Jake. In life, Sawyer was a troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school before taking his own life. Now he’s a powerful, vengeful ghost and he has plans for Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about dead world goes out the window as Sawyer begins to haunt him. High school soon becomes a different kind of survival game—one Jake is not sure he can win.”


The Witch King
H.E. Edgmon
Inkyard Press
June 1, 2021

“In Asalin, fae rule and witches like Wyatt Croft…don’t. Wyatt’s betrothal to fae prince Emyr North was supposed to change that. But when Wyatt lost control of his magic one devastating night, he fled to the human world. Now a coldly distant Emyr has hunted him down. Despite transgender Wyatt’s newfound identity and troubling past, Emyr claims they must marry now or risk losing the throne. Jaded, Wyatt strikes a deal with the enemy, hoping to escape Asalin forever. But as he gets to know Emyr again, Wyatt realizes the boy he once loved may still exist. And as the witches face worsening conditions, he must decide what’s more important–his people or his freedom.”

May the Best Man Win
Zr Ellor
Roaring Brook Press
May 18, 2021

“Jeremy Harkiss, cheer captain and student body president, won’t let coming out as a transgender boy ruin his senior year. Instead of bowing to the bigots and outdate school administration, Jeremy decides to make some noise—and how better than by challenging his all-star ex-boyfriend, Lukas for the title of Homecoming King? Lukas Rivers, football star and head of the Homecoming Committee, is just trying to find order in his life after his older brother’s funeral and the loss of his long-term girlfriend—who turned out to be a boy. But when Jeremy threatens to break his heart and steal his crown, Lukas kick starts a plot to sabotage Jeremy’s campaign. When both boys take their rivalry too far, the dance is on the verge of being canceled. To save Homecoming, they’ll have to face the hurt they’re both hiding—and the lingering butterflies they can’t deny.”

See Also


Jay’s Gay Agenda
Jason June
Harperteen
June 1, 2021

“There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all his friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda. Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones…because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan.”


Meet Cute Diary

Emery Lee
Quill Tree Books
May 4, 2021

“Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe. When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.”

Can’t Take That Away
Steven Salvatore
Bloomsbury YA
March 9, 2021

“Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced.”

The Unpopular Vote
Jasper Sanchez
Katherine Tegen Books
June 1, 2021

“Optics can make or break an election. Everything Mark knows about politics, he learned from his father, the Congressman who still pretends he has a daughter and not a son. Mark has promised to keep his past hidden and pretend to be the cis guy everyone assumes he is. But when he sees a manipulatively charming candidate for student body president inflame dangerous rhetoric, Mark risks his low profile to become a political challenger. Mark feels emboldened to engage with voters—and even start a new romance. But with an investigative journalist digging into his past, a father trying to silence him, and the bully frontrunner standing in his way, Mark will have to decide which matters most: perception or truth, when both are just as dangerous.”

A Dark and Hollow Star
Ashley Shuttleworth
Margaret K. McElderry Books
February 23, 2021

“For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world. Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?”

Between Perfect and Real
Ray Stoeve
Amulet Books
April 27, 2021

“Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now—not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?”


Middle Grade

Obie is Man Enough
Schuyler Bailar
Crown Books for Young Readers
September 7, 2021

“Obie knew his transition would have ripple effects. He has to leave his swim coach, his pool, and his best friends. But it’s time for Obie to find where he truly belongs. As Obie dives into a new team, though, things are strange. Obie always felt at home in the water, but now he can’t get his old coach out of his head. Even worse are the bullies that wait in the locker room and on the pool deck. Luckily, Obie has family behind him. And maybe some new friends too, including Charlie, his first crush. Obie is ready to prove he can be one of the fastest boys in the water—to his coach, his critics, and his biggest competition: himself.”

Both Can Be True
Jules Machias
Quill Tree Books
June 8, 2021

“Ash is no stranger to feeling like an outcast. For someone who cycles through genders, it’s a daily struggle to feel in control of how people perceive you. Some days Ash is undoubtedly girl, but other times, 100 percent guy. Daniel lacks control too—of his emotions. He’s been told he’s overly sensitive more times than he can count. He can’t help the way he is, and he sure wishes someone would accept him for it. So when Daniel’s big heart leads him to rescue a dog that’s about to be euthanized, he’s relieved to find Ash willing to help. The two bond over their four-legged secret. When they start catching feelings for each other, however, things go from cute to complicated. Daniel thinks Ash is all girl…what happens when he finds out there’s more to Ash’s story?”

Almost Flying
Jake Maia Arlow
Dial Books
June 8, 2021

“Would-be amusement park aficionado Dalia only has two items on her summer bucket list: (1) finally ride a roller coaster and (2) figure out how to make a new best friend. But when her dad suddenly announces that he’s engaged, Dalia’s schemes come to a screeching halt. With Dalia’s future stepsister Alexa heading back to college soon, the grown-ups want the girls to spend the last weeks of summer bonding—meaning Alexa has to cancel the amusement park road trip she’s been planning for months. Luckily Dalia comes up with a new plan: If she joins Alexa on her trip and brings Rani, the new girl from her swim team, along maybe she can have the perfect summer after all. But what starts out as a week of funnel cakes and Lazy River rides goes off the rails when Dalia discovers that Alexa’s girlfriend is joining the trip. And keeping Alexa’s secret makes Dalia realize one of her own: She might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani.”


Graphic Novels

Stone Fruit
Lee Lai
Fantagraphics Books
May 11, 2021

“Bron and Ray are a queer couple who enjoy their role as the fun weirdo aunties to Ray’s niece, six-year-old Nessie. Their playdates are little oases of wildness, joy, and ease in all three of their lives, which ping-pong between familial tensions and deep-seeded personal stumbling blocks. As their emotional intimacy erodes, Ray and Bron isolate from each other and attempt to repair their broken family ties—Ray with her overworked, resentful single-mother sister and Bron with her religious teenage sister who doesn’t fully grasp the complexities of gender identity. Taking a leap of faith, each opens up and learns they have more in common with their siblings than they ever knew.”

I Never Promised you a Rose Garden
Mannie Murphy
Fantagraphic Books
March 23, 2021

“Mannie Murphy is a gender queer Portland native. This work of graphic nonfiction, told in the style of an illustrated diary, begins as an affectionate reminiscence of the author’s 1990s teenage infatuation with the late actor River Phoenix but morphs into a remarkable, sprawling account of the city of Portland and state of Oregon’s dark history of white nationalism. Murphy brilliantly weaves 1990s alternative culture, from Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs to Keanu Reeves and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with two centuries of the Pacific Northwest’s shameful history as a hotbed for white nationalism: from the Whitman massacre in 1847 and the Ku Klux Klan’s role in Portland’s city planning in the early 1900s to the brutal treatment of Black people displaced in the 1948 Vanport flood and through the 2014 armed standoff with Cliven Bundy’s cattle ranch.”



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