Taking readers to new worlds is one of the pleasures of literature, but being transported to different lands from the comfort of one’s couch has become especially important in these times. Here’s a virtual travel guide of YA books that spans the globe. All you need is your imagination and a good book to immerse yourself in a new culture. I used the Buzzfeed list by Dahlia Adler to narrow the list down for those who want their globe trotting exploration to include queer characters.
Who: Adib Khorram
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Key elements: mental health, coming of age, friendship, self confidence, bi POC, immigration, religion
Who: Agay Llanera
Since he was thirteen, Caleb has always known he’s gay. Now a college freshman, he falls in love for the first time. If it’s true that love conquers all, then will Caleb finally find the courage to reveal his secret?
Key Elements: college, coming out, Filipino, art, religion
Who: Ciara Smyth
Saoirse doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out. But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.
Key elements: romantic comedy, WLW, humor, dementia, best friends, angst
Who: Lucas Rocha
What: Where We Go From Here
Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.
Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.
Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.
When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has-had-been dating.
Key elements: friendship, mental health, gay rights, Latnix, multiple POVs, toxic masculinity
Who: Emily O’ Beirne
What: Points of Departure
Five girls, five tickets overseas. It’s exactly what they all need after the final slog of high school. But when Kit’s suddenly forced to drop out, Liza’s left with three girls she barely knows.
There’s Mai, committed only to partying. There’s Tam, who already has her doubts about leaving her sick father behind. And there’s Olivia, so miserable about screwing up exams she’s not even sure she wants to get out of bed, let alone on a plane. Meanwhile Kit’s stuck working double shifts to pay off a debt, wondering if she’ll ever get it together.
Key elements: road trip, friendship, multiple main characters, standalone, coming of age, WLW
Who: Adiba Jaigirdar
What: The Henna Wars
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Key elements: rivals, Muslim characters, WLW, cultural appropriation, bi POC, sisterhood, enemies to lovers
Who: Vitor Martins
What: Here the Whole Time
What would you do if you had to spend the next 15 days with your lifelong crush?
Felipe’s mom informs him that Caio, the neighbor kid from apartment 57, will be spending the next 15 days with them while his parents are on vacation. Felipe is distraught because A) he’s had a crush on Caio since, well, forever, and B) Felipe has a list of body image insecurities and absolutely NO idea how he’s going to entertain his neighbor for two full weeks.
Key elements: body issues, self esteem, Latnix, coming of age, sweet, pop culture
Who: Tochi Onyebuchi
What: War Girls
Across the nation, as the years-long civil war wages on, survival becomes the only way of life.
Two sisters, Onyii and Ify, dream of more. Their lives have been marked by violence and political unrest. Still, they dream of peace, of hope, of a future together.
And they’re willing to fight an entire war to get there.
Key elements: dystopia, war, WLW, fantasy, historical, adventure, family,
Who: Cecilia Vinesse
What: The Summer of Us
American expat Aubrey has only two weeks left in Europe before she leaves for college, and she’s nowhere near ready. Good thing she and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last group trip across the continent. From Paris to Prague, they’re going to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible with their friends Clara, Jonah, and Gabe.
Key elements: road trip, summer, adventure, coming of age, standalone, WLW
Who: Elizabeth Acevedo
What: Clap When You Land
Where: Dominican Republic
Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.
And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
Key elements: poetry, grief, family, Latinix, WLW, historical, immigration
Who: Sabina Khan
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.
Key elements: WLW, arranged marriage, abuse, standalone, social issues, emotional
Who: Randy Ribay
What: Patron Saints of Nothing
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Key elements: some LGBT representation, politics, Filipino characters, death, drugs, mystery
Who: Cindy Pon
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.
Key elements: queer supporting characters, cyberpunk, dystopia, sci-fi, action