The word sapphic, as opposed to lesbian or WLW (women loving women), is inclusive of more gender identities including non-binary people. For a great resource about the word “sapphic”, click here.
The sapphic relationships in these YA books span the scale of plot importance — not all are centered around romance — but it’s valuable to read books with casual representation of these relationships. Here are six candidates for your next great read — dive right in!
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is a stunning lyric novel (though not too rhyme-y) told from two perspectives. Camino lives in the Dominican Republic and looks forward to summers spent with her father. Yahaira lives in New York City and dreads the summers her father is away. The two girls are brought together when a plane crash takes their father — the same father — from them. The characters are unknowing sisters.
Yahaira’s relationship with her girlfriend is left untouched by the plot, and is an example of casual representation. This book come to me in a time when I didn’t know how to cope with the tragedies around me, and Camino and Yahaira showed me we can keep moving through grief. It is a story ultimately about choosing your own path through life. It’s a quick read worth savoring.
Six Angry Girls by Adrienne Kisner is an exciting novel about mock trial and feminism, and one of the few books I have ever rated five stars. Honestly, all of these books are great reads, but this one is extra special to me. Raina Petree gets dumped by her boyfriend in the first scene of the book, and what an inciting incident! Worse? Theater is performing Our Town.
This book’s second perspective is from Millie Goodwin, a senior on the Mock Trial team. Annoyed that the boys are taking over and indignant that she won’t be given a big part this year, Millie boycotts the team and makes her own, no boys allowed. Six Angry Girls features multiple LGBTQ+ characters including our main character Millie, who is asexual and likes girls. Readers looking for a light, fun book will enjoy this novel.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is YA literature about isolation and what happens when the past comes back for you. Marin has left sunny California and her grandfather’s death for college in New York, and spending winter break alone is going to be brutal. Mabel, Marin’s best friend, is coming to visit and Mabel…well, things with Mabel are complicated. Marin discovers secrets that her grandfather kept and reveals her relationship with Mabel.
Told from the present New York winter and the past in San Francisco, We Are Okay is a short read about loneliness and finding new connection. Marin finds a home for her heart and, though the past is painful, she learns that it is a part of her. I listened to the audiobook version of We Are Okay and finished it while walking by the ocean. The ending made me tear up. It tasted like hope.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera is a romance that hits right in the chest. It feels like ordered chaos. Riviera breaks plot barriers that I don’t see enough of. Characters slide in and out of the plot naturally, just like real people have lives and schedules and make big decisions for themselves.
Our main character Juliet is funny and keeps it so real. Juliet Milagros Palante is Puerto Rican from the Bronx and comes out to her family as lesbian before leaving for an internship in Portland. Her mother does not take it well.
When Juliet arrives in Portland, she is surrounded by hippie energy and a new population of LGBTQ+ people. Juliet has never even considered pronouns or her gender identity. Rivera has great mastery of voice and shows what it’s like to get a “queer education”. Juliet wrestles with questions about what it means to be female and queer, and how she reacts to white privilege. This book writes pronouns really well. For sensitive readers, Juliet Takes a Breath has stronger language than most YA reads.
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan is a YA fantasy with a slow-burn forbidden sapphic romance. Every year eight girls are chosen from the lowest caste — the Paper caste — to be the King’s concubines, but this year Lei’s unique golden eyes have caught the attention of the King. Lei becomes the ninth Paper Girl and does the unthinkable: Fall in love. Ngan portrays Lei’s attraction to Wren normally without stigma. It’s a breath of fresh air, to see sapphic love handled normally, though forbidden in context.
Ngan juggles the many Paper Girls well with varying characteristics and interests. The world of Ihkara is inspired by Asian cultures and is an Own Voices story. I found the plot tense the whole time. For content warnings, this book does have sexual violence.
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy is not only about seizing your own future, but also discovering your sexual identity. Blue-haired Ramona is in love with Grace and knows she’s definitely a lesbian, until she doesn’t. When her childhood friend Freddie unexpectedly moves back into town, Ramona settles into her love of swimming and hanging out with Freddie, but perhaps too comfortably, because she ends up kissing him. Ramona Blue focuses on the new relationship between Ramona and Freddie and what this means for her identity. Ramona also has a friend Ruth, who identifies as a homoromantic demisexual.
The small-town, muddy-water beach environment is cozy and chaotic. Something Murphy does well is casual representation of race. She naturally introduces that her main character is white and the races of other characters. Freddie is introduced as “a light-skinned black boy with a near ubiquitous amount of freckles”. If you’re looking for conversation around diversity, sexual identity, and what to do with your future, this book is for you.
There are of course other books I could recommend, but it felt right to stick to books I have personally read. I’ll definitely be expanding my list of books to read now! I encourage you to find more books than these six and devour them. Or, leave a comment with your favorite sapphic reads.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.