brings together the best-selling short stories published by JMS Books that first love to true love, from submission to sensual, from heat to sweet and everything in between, the couples in these stories are sure to keep you turning the pages as you fall in love with stories by Addison Albright, Laura Bailo, Kris T. Bethke, Sarah Hadley Brook, Nell Iris, Shawn Lane, K.L. Noone, Deirdre O’Dare, J.M. Snyder, and J.D. Walker, this head-over-heels collection goes beyond bedtime reading. Whether happily ever after or happy for now, there’s an ending for everyone in here!
Our Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books of 2018
It’s that time of year again: the time to figure out all the most amazing books coming out this year so you can add them to your to-read list and put them on hold at the library. And what makes a great book even better? LGBTQ rep, of course! Here at Book Riot, we’re always excited to find great new books featuring queer characters, and there are so many amazing ones coming out this year. So without further ado, here are some of our most anticipated LGBTQ books of 2018.
50 Must-Read Gay Romance Novels
The world of gay romance novels is, if not quite as vast as the world of m/f romance, still quite expansive. Are you looking for a royal-commoner romance? A fake marriage? Something dark and gritty, or something that’s the literary equivalent of a basket of puppies? Whatever it is that floats your romance boat, I guarantee there’s an m/m romance out there that will satisfy.
In making this list, I’ve highlighted as many #ownvoices authors as possible. There’s a misconception that the only people who write m/m romance are straight women, and while it’s true that some of the biggest names in gay romance are straight women, there are also dozens of queer men writing fantastic gay romance. But because of the biases and shortcomings of publishing (and a slew of other complicated factors), it’s straight women who often get the most recognition in the genre.
This is not to say that straight women can’t, or shouldn’t, write gay romance novels. You’ll find several (including some of my absolute favorites!) on this list. You’ll also find many wonderful books by queer men that deserve the same praise and recognition. I’ve tried to make this list as wide-ranging as possible, and it includes books about diverse characters written by queer men and women, queer authors of color, and trans and genderqueer writers.
Over the years, these tales of queer happily ever afters have brought me much joy and comfort. Whether you’re entirely new to gay romance novels, or whether you’ve been reading them for years, I hope they’ll bring you the same delight.
Note: Books marked with an asterisk are #ownvoices, which, in this case, means that the author is a queer man. Many of the other novels on this list are #ownvoices for different reasons. I’ve chosen only to make note of books written by queer men, but it is by no means intended to erase or ignore the many other identities held by the fabulous writers who have produced these works.
10 Gay Novels You Should Read
It may not come as a surprise to you since I write for a living, but I love to read! If I’m being honest, there are days when I prefer books to people. For me, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to kill a rainy Sunday afternoon, it’s something far more personal.
Growing up in a fairly small, conservative and economically depressed town, reading offered me an escape to places I otherwise could not go. With the flip of a page I could be whisked away to the Court of Versailles, attend classes at Hogwarts, visit Middle Earth, or travel to the far reaches of the galaxy to worlds I had never heard of.
As a teenager, books took on even greater meaning as I questioned my sexuality. I came of age in an era when there were no drag queen reality shows, before Will and Jack were making us laugh, and before playing LGBTQ roles became Oscar bait for [mostly] straight actors.
Books provided representation that was sorely lacking in the media. The less stringent censorship found in the publishing sphere allowed writers to explore a multitude of LGBTQ characters and themes through the lens of diversity.
For me, as for many LGBTQ folks, books were a source of validation and connection. They were founts of knowledge where I could learn more about LGBTQ experiences and the history of the rights movement. They provided characters I could relate to since their experiences were so much like my own.
Throughout the years, I have amassed a large collection of gay fiction from obscure to mainstream bestsellers. I have compiled a list of my 10 personal favorites which I return to time and time again. I do not argue that these novels represent the absolute best in the genre, but I believe they are novels that every gay man can connect with on a deeply emotional level.
First published in 2016, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda centers on Simon Spier a 16-year-old closeted gay teen growing up in Atlanta, Georgia. Using the pseudonym of ‘Jacques,’ Simon begins an email romance with a fellow student he only knows as “Blue.” When Simon’s emails are discovered, he is blackmailed into helping a classmate or risk being exposed to the entire school, and lose Blue forever.
When I first read this novel, I’m not ashamed to say I was in tears by the end. While not being the most ground-breaking piece of fiction available, this novel represents a major step forward in teen genre fiction. Frankly, it is the novel I wish I had access to when I was a closeted teenager. Albertalli, a former child psychologist, has an uncanny ability to tap into the angst and fear of a closeted teenager. Simon’s parents are very liberal and progressive, yet he is terrified by the prospect of coming out to them. Simon’s struggles highlight the emotional impact and insecurities of many LGBTQ youth who fear rejection. Albertalli deserves a massive amount of credit for countering the notion that coming out is no longer a big issue.
Trivia: The novel was successfully adapted into the 2018 film Love, Simon. The film marked the first widely released teen film to feature a gay character in the starring role.
First published in 2015, A Place Called Winter follows the story of Henry Cane, a shy and stammering young man, at the dawn of the 20th century. Henry is forced by his wife’s family to flee England to avoid scandal after they discover him engaging in a sexual relationship with another man. He immigrates to Canada and is allocated a homestead in the rural village of Winter, Saskatchewan. It is in this harsh setting, a world away from his gilded life in Edwardian England, that he undertakes a stunning, violent, maddening, and moving journey of self-discovery and validation.
Gale’s meticulously researched novel is based on the mystery of his own grandfather also named Henry Cane. The real Cane, like his fictional counterpart, fled England and moved to Canada to set up a homestead. While researching his grandfather’s story, Gale discovered that the Canadian prairies were something of a gay underground railroad during the early twentieth century. Many upper-class English families cast their ‘gay’ sons out to the remote Prairies — I put gay in quotes because our connotation of gay as a sexual identity didn’t exist in this era. Ironically, many men found freedom in a homoerotic environment where there were very few women. Indeed, the all-male dances depicted in the novel were common in the prairies during this time. This novel not only contains forgotten gay history, it is also a beautifully crafted and highly emotional read — a definite page-turner.
First published in 1994, Funny Boy is the coming-of-age story of Arjun Chelvaratnam a Tamil boy struggling with his sexuality and gender identity in Sri Lanka. The story is set in the years leading up to the 1983 Sinhala-Tamil riots. The novel is divided into six interconnected stories that follow Arjun from childhood to his teenage years.
I first discovered this novel in a Canadian literature course I took in university. On the surface, it seems like a book that shouldn’t resonate with me as deeply as it does. Culturally, Arjun and I come from different worlds, yet there is a universality to Arjun’s experiences. His childhood and his sense of difference is something most gay men can connect to. He is different from the other boys and often blurs gender lines. He easily forms deep friendships with women but feels disconnected from the men around him. He also enjoys wearing his aunt’s jewellery, and wearing his mother’s makeup. These are experiences familiar to many gay men when they look back on their childhood. The central theme of the novel is the loss of innocence experienced by many LGBTQ children. Arjun’s view of the world is drastically altered as adult constructions of gender and sexuality are imposed on him. Selvadurai does a remarkable job of making Arjun such a fascinating and resilient character. He perfectly portrays the confusion, anguish, and even excitement indicative of the coming out process.
First published in 1978, Tales of the City has become a seminal piece of LGBTQ American fiction. It has inspired numerous sequels and three (soon to be four) TV mini-series. The novel, set in 1976, follows twenty-something Mary Ann Singleton who moves to San Francisco on a whim. She finds an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane owned by the eccentric, mysterious and pot growing Mrs. Anna Madrigal. Mary Ann leads a life she never expected, making friends with her fellow tenants: the bisexual Mona, the sexy and woman loving Brian, Michael “Mouse” a sweet and loving gay man, and Norman an odd and socially awkward man living in the rooftop shed. Along the way she conducts an affair with her boss, learns the shocking secret of Madrigal’s past, and finds her life changed forever.
I’ve discovered that Tales of the City is one of those novels that people either love or hate despite its frequent appearances on gay fiction lists like this one. Maupin creates a group of quirky characters that are instantaneously memorable — who wouldn’t want Anna Madrigal to be their landlord? This is a quick read with Maupin focusing on dialogue over exposition, setting a fast pace. After reading the novel for the first time, a friend of mine summed it up by calling it silly, shameless, and downright gaudy — naturally he loved it. Where Maupin really knocks it out of the park is his incorporation of San Francisco. The city is a key character and the novel beautifully captures the eccentricities of both the city and its inhabitants in the years just prior to the AIDS crisis.
First published in 1956, Giovanni’s Room was a game changer as one of the first mainstream novels in America to deal directly with queer themes. The story centers on the life of David, a young American man living in Paris who begins an affair with an Italian man, Giovanni. David, who has a girlfriend living in Spain, is struggling with his desire to lead a conventional American life — e.g. marry his girlfriend and start a family — and his sexual attraction to men. His struggle ultimately leads him down an unexpected path with tragic consequences.
Giovanni’s Room is regarded as a masterpiece within the gay genre and appears on virtually every list of must-read LGBTQ books. The novel is generally required reading in any university course dealing with queer literature. As you can imagine with its frank portrayal of same-sex love, the novel was highly controversial when it was first published. Late in his life, Baldwin describes that his publisher, Doubleday, refused to publish the novel arguing it would destroy his career. As a black writer in the pre-civil rights era, Baldwin’s management was fearful a novel about homosexual romance would ostracize both black and white communities. Baldwin, determined to get his work published, went to England and personally sold the book to Michael Joseph before Dial Press took a risk and published the book in America. Despite being over sixty years old, one thing that has always struck me about the novel is its timeless themes. Regardless of the social changes between the 50s and today, the novel is one of the most accurate portrayals of being gay in a hetero-normative world. David’s social isolation, self-loathing and ideas of masculinity are as much part of the gay experience in 2019 as they were in 1956.
Trivia: Since the 1970s, there have been frequent attempts to bring Giovanni’s Room to the big screen. Baldwin wrote a screenplay based on the novel in 1978 which has only recently been unearthed. With the recent critical success of the film If Beale Street Could Talk based on Baldwin’s novel of the same name, there is renewed talked of bringing Giovanni’s Room to the big screen.
First published in 1986, The Lost Language of Cranes centers on the lives of a father and son who are both coming to terms with their sexuality. Philip comes out to his parents after falling in love with a man for the first time. Unbeknownst to Philip, his father Owen is struggling with his own suppressed homosexuality. Philip’s coming out leads to a breaking point in his parents’ marriage and changes the direction of all of their lives forever.
I’ll admit that when I first read the novel in my early twenties, I wasn’t all that impressed by it. Yes, it was a good book but something about it failed to ‘wow’ me. It was only on a recent revisit that I really came to understand and appreciate the story Leavitt crafts. The novel is really an allegory for the history of the LGBTQ experience in the twentieth century. Philip, the young 25-year-old gay man, is more comfortable and open about his sexuality representing the newer more self-confident gay identity of the late 20th century. Owen, on the other hand, is a man who came of age in the 1950s, an age of conservative family values. He spent much of his life denying who he was and followed the hetero-normative conventions of the American dream by marrying, having a son, and leading a respectable career. The novel is an interesting spin on the classic American father-son tale in which the father traditionally acts as the guide for his wayward son.
First published in 1974, The Front Runner focuses on Harlan Brown an athletic director at Prescott College, a fictitious liberal arts college in New York City. Harlan comes to Prescott after being forced to resign from a coaching position at Pennsylvania State University, stemming from false accusations of sexual harassment made by a male student. While at Prescott, Brown is persuaded to coach three track stars who had been expelled from their home universities for being openly gay. It is during this training that Brown and one student, Billy, fall in love and start a relationship. Along the way, they must face the homophobia and hyper-masculinity found in the sports world.
The Front Runner became one of the first gay romance novels to achieve mainstream success and was a New York Times bestseller. Despite its success, the novel has become somewhat obscure, and I struggled to get a copy of it. I only became aware of this novel following the death of Patricia Nell Warren earlier this year. When I was reading the novel, I was struck by how ahead of its time it was. If it weren’t for some references to the politics of the late 60s and early 70s, its themes of same-sex parenting and gay marriage provides a very contemporary feel. Warren crafts a highly emotional story that keeps you gripped for much of the final chapters with a shocking turn of events. Like Tales of the City, Warren paints of vibrant picture of the gay community in New York City in the decade before the AIDS crisis of the 80s.
First published in 2017, The Heart’s Invisible Furies centers on the life of Cyril Avery — but not a real Avery — from conception to the end of his life. Cyril is born out of wedlock to a teenage mother in a rural Irish community. Exiled by her family and unable to raise the child on her own, Cyril’s biological mother gives him up for adoption to the eccentric Avery family. Cyril spends a lifetime coming to terms with who he is in a life that is filled with love, tragedy and humour.
At nearly 600 pages, this book is epic and stretches across much of 20th century Irish history. Yet despite this, it is a delightful, moving, and often hysterical read. It is one of those books that is very difficult to put down. With Cyril, Boyne creates an everyday man who is highly relatable and lovable. He leads a fairly underwhelming and average life despite all the extraordinary and shocking events that take place around him. His unrequited love for his best friend, Julian, is one of the underlying stories of his life, and very relatable for any gay man who has fallen for the unobtainable straight guy. Boyne is such a talented writer that aspects of the story that should be viewed as cliched are so well written, and often hilarious, you can’t help but love his choices.
First published in 2007, Call Me by Your Name centres on the romantic relationship between a seventeen-year-old Elio and his father’s twenty-four-year-old doctoral student Oliver. The novel chronicles their summer romance in Italy during the late 1980s, and briefly follows their relationship for twenty years through Elio’s first-person narration.
This novel is one of my favourites of all time. Aciman crafts such a wonderfully simple story and it is this simplicity that makes it so beautiful. At its core, it’s a story of first love with all the excitement, delight and fear that typically contains. Elio personifies many gay men’s experiences of falling in love with another man for the first time. There’s resistance, fear and exhilaration at being with someone who feels the same way you do for the first time. The novel dwells on the question of how first love defines our lives, and how we never really let that person go entirely.
Trivia: Earlier this year, Aciman confirmed a sequel to the novel will be released in October 2019 entitled Find Me.
Originally self-published in 1991 and later published in wide release in 1994, Invisible Life follows Raymond Tyler’s coming of age as he faces the realities of being black and gay. A successful law student, with a beautiful girlfriend, and a wide range of career options, his world changes when he engages in a sexual relationship with his best friend Kelvin. After graduation Raymond begins the challenge of living his life as a closeted black man. He engages in relationships with men and women before falling in love with Basil, a closeted football player for the Warriors.
This book holds a special place in my heart as it was the first gay themed book I read as a closeted teenager. I came upon this book purely by accident in my local library and read it in one evening alone in my bedroom. E. Lynn Harris, who sadly passed away unexpectedly in 2009, creates a gripping, emotional and sexy story that is a real page turner. Even today, LGBTQ fiction is dominated by white characters, so, this novel, and its subsequent sequels, gives a much-needed voice to the gay African American experience. Harris highlights the intersectional prejudice faced by many black gay men within both the white and black communities.
As I stated at the beginning, this is not a definitive list of the best gay genre novels in existence, but ones that have deep meaning for me. Did you agree with these choices? Are there books you think I should add? Please comment below!
18 very gay and very good books you should read this Pride Month
Pride Month is officially here and that can only mean one thing: time to load up your reading list with stellar queer stories.
Of course, you should be mixing gay books into your to-be-read pile no matter what time of year, but this month, as you celebrate Pride, queer books can be the perfect way to explore the breadth and diversity of the LGBTQ community.
Fortunately for anybody looking for a great gay read, the book world is filled with a bevy of queer stories of all genres.
Whether you’re looking for a meditative poetry collection about queer identity and mental health, a deep dive into the New York City’s ballroom culture in the ’80s and ’90s, a comic about a group scouts who find themselves plagued by supernatural creatures at camp, or a coming-of-age story about a shapeshifter who is navigating life and dating, there is a queer book out there for you.
Here are 18 very gay and very good books you should read this Pride Month.
You’ve never read a coming-of-age story like this. Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl details the adventures of Paul Polydoris, a student in Iowa City who studies queer theory. Oh, and did we mention that Paul is a shapeshifter who can change from Paul to Polly at will. On the surface, it’s an absurd sci-fi premise, but Lawlor uses it to deftly explore gender, identity, and the way we form relationships with other people as well as with ourselves.
Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible Beauties takes a deep dive into New York City’s ballroom culture in the ’80s and ’90s by following a group of characters, each who enter the scene for a different reason. But what stands out about the book isn’t just the novel’s vivid portrait of the past, but also Cassara’s breathtaking and unforgettable characters who are all trying to find their way.
Andrew Greer’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less starts off with a character in crisis: our protagonist Arthur is a struggling novelist, feeling existential as he approaches his 50th birthday, and, to make matters worse, he’s just received an invitation to his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Instead of despairing, Arthur says „NOPE“ and instead embarks on a haphazard literary world tour. But what sells the book is Greer’s resounding heart and humor, making this tale of romantic misadventures as funny as it is earnest.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit follows Joanna „Jo“ Gordon, an out teen who is suddenly pushed back into the closet when her evangelical father remarries, moves their family from Atlanta to Rome, Georgia, and asks Jo to hide her queer identity for her senior year. The only problem is Mary Carlson, the sister of Jo’s new friend in Rome, who Jo is falling for. The result is a heartfelt novel about coming out and discovering young love. Also, shout out to the infinitely charming title of this book!
You’ve probably seen explores feels universal and extremely relatable.
Under the Udala Trees is a book about star-crossed love. The novel follows the life of Ijeoma, a young girl who, at the start of the book, is sent away from her family in order to stay safe during the Nigerian civil war. While away, Ijeoma meets Amina, another girl also separated from her family. The two begin a brief relationship… only to find out that their love is forbidden. What follows is a beautiful novel about love and hardship as Ijeoma is sent home, forced into an unhappy marriage with a man, all the while grappling with her attraction to women.
Don’t forget to add a bit of poetry to your reading list this Pride Month! If you’re looking for a collection to start with, check out sam sax’s collection madness. The poems in this collection cover everything from sexuality to mental health to culture and heritage, but what shines through and connects each of these threads is sax’s incredibly thoughtful and evocative prose.
If there is a hidden gem of queer lit, it’s ReleaseMrs. Dalloway somehow feels nostalgic and charming as Patrick Ness outlines one teen’s struggle to define himself.
If the Babadook has taught us anything, it’s that Pride is not complete without a little noir. To that end, if you are looking for a darker read this month, make sure you check out Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving. The book is a coming out story masked as a mystery thriller about Flynn, the primary suspect in an investigation when his girlfriend January disappears. Flynn’s answers about his life with January don’t quite add up… but maybe that has less to do about January and more about the secret that Flynn is keeping.
Nevada offers a thoughtful look at identity and the trans experience.
Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen
If you’re looking for some comics to check out this Pride month, be sure to check out Lumberjanes the perfect Pride Month read.
Fun Home is a graphic memoir about coming out and finding love, centered around two people. The book documents Alison Bechdel (who also came up with the Bechdel test), her experience exploring her attraction to women, and the way that her father resisted her identity. But, after Alison’s father is hit by a car and killed, she reflects on his past and realizes that he may have had his own struggles with his sexual identity.
To read Alexander Chee’s essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel is to stand in a hall of mirrors, watching as a single person, and all of the identites that compose them, is reflected from all angles. The essay collection is a deep dive into Chee’s past as he documents his expereinces as a gay rights and HIV/AIDS activist, a rose gardener, a writer, and more. But at the core, the book explores how we use writing to shape who we are and how who we are shapes our writing.
As the title probably suggests, They Both Die At The End is not what we could a „happy“ book. The novel follows a day in the life of two boys, Mateo and Rufus, who get early morning calls from Death-Cast telling them that today is the day that they’re going to die. Though initially strangers, Mateo and Rufus are soon brought together through the Last Friend app, a social network that connects people on their last day alive. But as Mateo and Rufus embark on a quest to check items off their bucket list while they still have time, their friendship grows into something more, ultimately exploring what happens when we fall in love with someone we know we only will have a very limited time with.
Sometimes all you need is a good friend. And that’s where You Know Me Well reveals how our friends can become our greatest lifeline.
The Argonauts radiates with stunning observations about being queer and in love, making the memoir feel less like a book and more like the perfect rendering of a person’s heart on a page.
Fair warning up front: Don’t Call Us Dead is a devastating poetry collection. But this book is as beautiful as it is painfully raw. Throughout the collection, Smith writes about race, queer identity, and AIDS, with an electrifying amount of passion and care, making this book a must-read for Pride Month.
You may know Becky Albertalli for her novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda reveals that Leah is struggling with her identity too: she’s bisexual and working to muster the courage to come out to her friends. But as Leah navigates her senior year of high school, she realizes that she may love one her friends more than anyone else might expect.
13 Beautiful Books Every LGBTQ Teen Should Read
The ultimate starter pack to our favorite YA subsection.
As the age-old quotation goes, “We read to know we are not alone.” For LGBTQ+ teens who aren’t necessarily surrounded by people like them, books can be an especially crucial resource. And luckily, the YA genre has taken major strides toward being more inclusive, and there are dozens of popular books starring queer characters or penned by queer authors. Here’s where to start:
Already iconic in the queer community, this 2012 coming-of-age novel tells the story of a young LGBTQ girl in Montana. The protagonist, Cameron Post, loses her parents in a car crash just as she’s beginning to discover her own sexuality, which propels her into an entirely different narrative of queer adolescence. The moving novel is now a movie starring Chloe Grace Moretz, set to premiere at Sundance in January 2018.
Aspiring screenplay writer Quinn is on the perfect path to Hollywood when tragedy strikes in his home life. His BFF helps him heal by dragging him to his first college party, where he meets a guy he starts falling for, leading to his own coming out and self-discovery, and making for a super-relatable and action-packed tale.
The inspiration behind the Tony Award-winning musical „Fun Home,“ this graphic memoir revisits Alison Bechdel’s adolescence, culminating in her coming out to her parents just before her father’s death. Grappling with themes of acceptance and self-discovery, this tragicomic is not just telling a story, it’s taking us on an emotional and psychological journey.
Two star-crossed girls of color fall in love in this magical and easy-to-love young adult novel. Told through the lens of 16 year-old Sana, whose family moves to California as her parents go through their own trials, this coming-of-age story will be impossible to put down.
Another LGBTQ classic, „Rubyfruit Jungle“ was published in 1973, making it pretty remarkable in its time for its portrayal of lesbian characters. Brown takes us through the middle school and high school years of Molly Bolt, who explores her own identity through a slew of hook-ups and relationships that will feel both familiar and exciting to fellow queer readers.
Dive into LGBTQ history with Sarah Prager’s profiles on 23 people who helped further the fight for the community. The range of icons spans from politicians you know well to singers and performers whose stories haven’t been told in most history books. If you’re interested in learning how the gay rights struggle started–and where we are now—this is the perfect place to start.
16 year-old Simon’s coming out story is not too far from what a lot of LGBTQ teens experience. Out to only a very select few, his secret ends up in the wrong hands and he has to face the idea of being outed instead of being allowed to decide who to tell and when. This award-winning novel is already quintessential YA reading, and it’s paved the way for a lot of other queer narratives to take center stage on bookshelves everywhere.
„Spinning“ is a graphic memoir that you’ll want to read in one sitting because of how unique and interesting it is. Tillie Walden takes us through her childhood as a competitive ice skater, and she paints the world of her practices and competitions in such vivid detail, even spelling out the twists and tricks she learned throughout the years. But what happens off the ice— her first relationship, her forced coming-out, and her middle school friend drama—is even more gripping.
„The Art of Being Normal“ tells the story of two transgender teens, Leo and Kate, at pivotal times in their lives. Kate, introduced to us at first as ‚David,‘ is in the beginning stages of coming out and transitioning when Leo stands up for her against school bullies. Leo is further along in his transition, and the two help each other find community and balance in the face of adversity and transphobia.
A Stonewall Book Award-winning novel, „I’ll Give You The Sun“ is a story in two parts: half is told by Noah, and half is by Noah’s twin sister, Jude. The once-close siblings have a sudden and mysterious falling out, and it’s up to the narrators and the strange people they meet along the way to bring them back together.
Puerto Rican lesbian Juliet has just come out to her mother—and it didn’t go so well. Now, she’s leaving the Bronx for an internship with her favorite activist in Portland, Oregon, and the new people and places she discovers leads her on a long, twisted road to coming of age.
Published in 1985, „Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit“ features a young lesbian growing up in a Pentecostal community. LGBTQ people raised in super religious communities will be able to relate to the trials and tribulations of protagonist Jeanette.
Set in a mystical universe where nature is out of balance, 17 year-olds Kaede and Taisin are on a mission to save the world from the icy Fairy Queen who threatens their kind. Despite being magical and unearthly, this story feels familiar, as the two characters battle with their own feelings for each other and learn more about themselves along the way.
The 38 Best Queer YA Novels
While queer-lit history stretches back to the days of Sappho mooning over girls, queer YA is significantly younger. It was less than 50 years ago that the first queer YA novel was published: I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Tripby John Donovan. This tragi-queer novel set the stage for the awkward first decades of queer YA. Very few were being published, and the ones that were had narratives that centered around the tragedy of being queer. These were “problem novels” that had a lot more in common with an after-school special than they did with escapist fun. Annie on My Mind offered a bright spot in the ’80s, though it also came with a good deal of melancholy. Twenty years later, Boy Meets Boy changed the game entirely by presenting a gay utopia. But it wouldn’t be until just recently, post-2010, that queer YA began to really take off.
Just in the last few years, we seem to be entering a golden age of queer YA. We are seeing far more titles getting published than ever before, and a much broader array of stories being told. We still have a long way to go, however. Trans YA continues to be in its infancy, and many other queer people have to scrounge to find even a handful of titles to represent them, including asexual, aromantic, intersex, two spirit, nonbinary, gender-fluid, and a myriad of other people whose identities fall outside of “LGBT.” That’s no reason to ignore the progress we’ve made, however! The following 35 books, arranged by the year they were published, are by no means a definitive collection. Consider this a wide-ranging list of recommendations curated by a lover of the genre and supplemented with the fervent recommendations of other queer YA fanatics. We may have missed your favorite queer YA, and to that we say, tell us more! We’re always up for discovering something new.
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)This may not have been the first queer YA, but it was the one that put queer YA on the map. It is a love story at heart, as well as a coming-out story. The main characters do experience a lot of anti-gay discrimination, but they also have queer role models, who suggest that they are not alone in the world. It suggests — radically, at the time — that queer people can have happy endings, too. Annie on My Mind holds a charm that has kept it in print and appreciated by new readers and rereaders alike.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (2003)When this came out in the early 2000s, it shattered expectations of queer YA. Here was a YA novel that imagined a world where being gay wasn’t a tragedy. Where the quarterback could also be gender-nonconforming, and no one takes issue with that. Where the main character could be out since kindergarten. Other characters deal with anti-queer discrimination, however. Boy Meets Boy includes both the incredible hope inherent in the idea that it might be easy for someone to be queer, and the crushing disappointment of not having that be true personally.
Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (2012)It doesn’t hurt that this is a dog story, but it has a lot more going for it. This is a story with angst, but it is angst from loneliness and insecurity, from feeling lost, not simply from coming out. Starting From Here takes the reader into the depths of that loneliness, but also finds a way out. It shows the bravery of allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and how we can find and strengthen connections while in that space.
One in Every Crowd by Ivan Coyote (2012)Ivan Coyote brings a rural perspective to queer storytelling that is sorely lacking in the genre. Although the family and friends described may not be familiar with queer terminology or theory, they are loving and accepting. Ivan Coyote’s stories are filled with resilience and tenderness — a decidedly nontoxic masculinity. We recommend any one of their short-story collections, but this is curated for teenagers, and may appeal especially to trans and gender-nonconforming teens.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (2012)This book is a masterpiece. It follows Cameron’s “coming of gayge” in the ’90s, in Miles City, Montana. While the first half of the novel meanders through her adolescence, dealing with her parents’ deaths and being closeted, it is the “conversion camp” that comes up mid-novel that demands attention. It is heart-wrenching to read about, with the knowledge that this was (is) reality for many people. Danforth paints this scene with subtlety; the details are what really bring it to life. We look forward to the movie adaptation, but we highly recommend you read this beautiful book first.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012)This is one of the most well-loved queer YA books out there, and it’s easy to see why. Aristotle and Dante is beautifully written and dripping in atmosphere. The narration is from inside Ari’s head, and it is heartbreaking to see his pain so clearly, even when he is unaware of it. Ari and Dante are also both Mexican-American, and they discuss what that identity means to them. This is a raw and honest story that envelops you in Ari’s life. There is anti-gay and transmisogynistic violence described, as well as an outing, so be prepared for that.
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (2013)Silhouette of a Sparrow takes place in 1920s America, and Garnet is pulled between the practically Victorian values of her family and the rapid changes happening in society. When Garnet falls for a flapper girl, she is torn between new possibilities and the obligations she has to her family. This tension is rendered sympathetically: Garnet’s mother isn’t a villain for wanting her to help support them, and it’s not as simple as just being “true to herself.” This is a quiet, thoughtful book that ranges from straightforward prose to the poetry.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (2013)Two Boys Kissing follows two teenage boys who are trying to beat the world record for longest kiss, but their story is narrated by a chorus of gay men from the ’80s and ’90s who died from AIDS. The AIDS crisis is of course an important part of queer history, but it is rarely given this much attention in queer YA. The unapologetic title and cover alone give this book a place on the list. While most readers have to search for queer content, Two Boys Kissing displays it prominently.
Adaptation (2012) and Inheritance (2013) by Malinda LoDrawing inspiration from The X-Files, this is a government conspiracy–alien visitation duology with a bisexual main character. The first book is so action-packed that we had an adrenaline rush reading it. The first chapter has birds falling out of the sky, planes mysteriously simultaneously crashing across the country, and government cover-ups, and the tension just ratchets up from there. It includes discussions of sexuality, race, and gender — including nonbinary genders — as well as alternative relationship structures, while still being completely accessible to any reader intrigued by the premise.
Proxy by Alex London (2013)Proxy is a dystopian retelling of The Whipping Boy. This book tackles capitalism and consumerism, while also showing Knox’s slow and believable character development. Dystopia is a genre in YA that has grown in popularity, but despite the wave of books that came after and Divergent, very few include queer protagonists. The beginning of queer YA painted being queer itself as practically dystopian, so it’s gratifying to see stories that include queer characters without making that the reason for their suffering. After all, capitalism hurts queer people, too!
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (2014)Looking for the queer-girl equivalent of Boy Meets Boy? Try Everything Leads to You. This is full of Hollywood glamour on top of the adorable love story. Part of the appeal is Emi’s passion for her work, her deep appreciation for set design and Hollywood movies in general. This is a quick, engrossing read that bypasses coming out completely and instead features a character who is already confident in her identity. Everything Leads to You is a pick-me-up of a read that is a perfect antidote to ingesting too many tragi-queer stories.
Far From You by Tess Sharpe (2014)Far From You is not afraid to get dark. Sophie is a recovering drug addict, and she’s trying to find out who killed her best friend. This is a book that’s sorely needed in queer YA: There are very few mysteries represented, and even fewer novels that feature a disabled (and bisexual) main character. Dark queer YA stories need to be told just as much as the lighter ones, especially when they aren’t centered on suffering that is caused by the character’s queerness.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)You may have recently heard of this one. Simon is an adorable love story that takes place through email. The secondary characters are strong and well-rounded, and maybe a little idealized. It would be a great environment to come out in, but Simon is frustrated that he has to. It’s an interesting exploration of the concept of coming out: Why does everyone assume he is straight? Why don’t non-queer people have to come out? Despite that, it is a very sweet love story, and although it touches on things like outing and blackmail, it is much more of a comforting read than that would suggest.
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2015)More Happy Than Not is not an easy read. In fact, it’s probably the bleakest book on this list. Aaron is Latino, lives in the Bronx, and is struggling to deal with his father’s suicide. It offers a sci-fi take on “conversion therapy,” and faces the worst of anti-gay bigotry and violence head on. We wish we could promise that it is counteracted with a beam of hope and sunlight at the end, but the title is about as optimistic as the story gets. Do be prepared for heartbreak when you pick this one up.
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (2015)The protagonist of Little & Lion is black, bisexual, and Jewish, and all these aspects of her identity affect her everyday life, manifesting in microaggressions that never fail to rankle. But those labels aren’t what’s at the heart of the story: Suzette’s brother has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and during that time, she was sent away to school. Now that she’s back, there is a gulf between them, and they struggle to find the ease and closeness they had before. This a skillful narrative that crafts fully realized characters with all their flaws and vulnerability.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (2016)Henry keeps getting abducted by aliens — not that anyone would believe him. During the last abduction, he’s told that the world will end in 144 days, unless he pushes a button … But he’s not sure he wants to save the world. This story deals with suicide and depression, so it does get dark, but there is also humor to it. The secondary characters are complex, and as Henry begins to slowly develop those relationships, he becomes more anchored. Although aliens are involved, this is fundamentally a story about how (and why) we strive to be human, even when nihilism seems easier.
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (2016)Part of what we loved about Radio Silence is the emphasis on friendships as powerful, life-changing relationships. Frances is bisexual and Aled is also queer, but the most intense connection in the book is their platonic friendship. Beyond the queer representation, though, this was an affecting read because of its treatment of mental health and the institutional nature of university. For Aled, university is a toxic environment that he feels trapped in because of his abusive mother, and Frances feels trapped there, too. The whole situation seems bleak and inescapable. Luckily, there is a glimmer of hope in the darkness.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (2016)Daniel Jose Older perfectly described this as “a brilliant brown-girl-in-Brooklyn update on Alice in Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno.” Alex is a bruja who resents her own powers. As a queer protagonist of color, her struggle to recognize and respect her own power is especially poignant. She’s also pulled in a love triangle between a brooding brujo and her bubbly best friend. It was refreshing to read a fantasy where the magic system is based not in European lore, but Latinx and Afro-Cuban cultures and beliefs.
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (2016)What a delight. This is a YA fantasy where two princesses fall in love. There’s court politics, betrayal, warring religious factions, and suppressed magic. There is forbidden love, but only because Denna is engaged to Mare’s brother and falls for Mare instead. Oops! There are fun romance tropes at play here, like opposites attract, and a reluctant-friendship-turned-romance story line, too. Did we mention it has two princesses falling in love?
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig (2016)Flynn’s girlfriend has gone missing, and he’s the prime suspect. But Flynn’s secret isn’t so nefarious: He’s gay, and he needs to find a way to clear his name without outing himself. This is another addition to queer YA thrillers, a niche that deserves to expand. The mystery, red herrings, and twists will keep you frantically turning pages. After all, staying closeted is already stressful enough. Add to that the tension of a thriller and trying to hunt down whoever is responsible for January’s disappearance, and you have a recipe for rattled nerves.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016)We can’t have a list of the best queer YA without including If I Was Your Girl. This is a book about a trans girl, by a trans woman, with a trans girl model on the cover, which is a first. This is an entertaining and engrossing read that weaves the story of Amanda’s coming out and transition into a YA romance plot structure. It faces the difficulties and dangers of being a teenage trans girl while still maintaining a lightness and optimism. If you want a much more in-depth take, definitely check out Casey Plett’s Plenitude review.
As I Descended by Robin Talley (2016) This is a boarding school, lesbian Macbeth retelling, which means it’s packed full of broody atmosphere and revenge plots. It starts southern gothic, then descends into downright horrifying. It was fascinating to watch Maria start as the ideal student, then lose the high ground and just keep slipping. Meanwhile, Lily is determined to overcome being seen as just “the girl with the crutches” and doesn’t want to take on the added burden of the label “lesbian.” This is the perfect read for a blustery fall evening, to sink into this world of Ouija boards, spirits, and betrayal.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (2017)If you enjoy snarky, “unlikable” characters, this should be right up your alley. Elliot can be A Lot upon first encounter, but he grows on you. He’s bisexual, and there is an adorable queer romance here as well. Elliot is acclimatizing — not only to a new world, but also to having people in his life who care about him. This takes on the portal fantasy with a good dose of silliness, but also draws complex, captivating characters. Bisexual boys are still fairly rare in YA (or … any books), so this is a great addition for that representation.
Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee (2017)Another genre that is lacking in queer YA is superheroes! Not just comics, but any stories featuring superheroes. This is an unabashedly fun, trope-y take on the superhero genre. It’s entertaining, fast-paced, and includes the kinds of characters that haven’t always been found in these stories, including a Creole-American trans-guy best friend. And there’s an f/f romance! Not Your Villain continues on in this world, but with the trans character as the protagonist. This will be a trilogy, and the third book is highly anticipated.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (2017)Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a fairy tale about misogyny. Although this story includes an f/f romance, the primary relationship is the complicated one between Lynet and her stepmother, Mina. We see how Mina got to be where she is, how she has been endlessly told that she is unlovable, and that her only value is in her beauty. This feminist take on the story breaks apart these roles and shows how connections between women, how love and solidarity and trust between them can offer up whole new possibilities that were missing from the original narrative.
How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (2017)This is a quiet, powerful book about grief and parental abuse. Grace is holding back so much anger and fear that she lashes out at the people who love her. She is falling for the new girl in town, Eva. Eva’s mother has just died, and she finds comfort in Grace’s mother, leading Grace to boil over with resentment and worry. This is a messy situation, handled delicately. There are no easy answers, but these characters feel so real that we couldn’t help but feel fiercely protective of them.
Dreadnought (2017) and Sovereign (2017) by April DanielsAlthough Dreadnought is a superhero story, it’s not an escapist romp. It’s about fighting bigotry, but with superstrength. This series deals with transmisogyny and parental emotional abuse. Even her fellow superheroes aren’t exempt from bigoted beliefs. Sovereign continues with the difficult questions by tackling what happens when you give a traumatized teenager superpowers and reward them for being violent. This can be an uncomfortable read, but it’s an excellent examination of the consequences of a world with superheroes, while also starring a trans lesbian main character. (The f/f romance isn’t until the second book, but it’s worth waiting for!)
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren (2017)When Tanner moved from California to Utah, it meant a brief trip back in the closet. He can be out as bisexual again when he goes to an out-of-state college the following year. That’s the plan — until he finds himself falling for his Mormon writing mentor. Autoboyography makes the list for its nuanced and sympathetic treatment of religion, specifically of Mormonism. It challenges some of the beliefs and behaviors of the church while not painting its followers as villains. This is a sweet love story, but there are a lot of barriers to this couple getting a happily ever after.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (2017)Marin is spending her holidays alone with her thoughts. The grandfather she grew up with has died, and she has no other family to lean on. Until her best friend shows up. This is a very different vibe from LaCour’s Everything Leads to You. We Are Okay is suffused with grief and loneliness. There isn’t a fast-paced plot here, just an exploration of Marin’s emotional state. Marin and Mabel’s relationship is muddled, and they are trying to find a way to be there for each other, whether that’s romantically or not. Keep a box of tissues nearby for this one.
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (2017)Anna-Marie McLemore has quickly become a staple of queer YA, especially for her bisexual and Latinx representation. Her dreamy, magical-realist stories have built a solid base of fans, and Wild Beauty is no exception. The Nomeolvides women carry a curse: If they fall in love with someone, they vanish. All five cousins have fallen for the same girl and have vowed not to pursue her, lest she fall victim to the curse. This a lyrical story that deals with colonialism, racism, and queerness — but indirectly, and through metaphor. The writing inside is as beautiful as the cover.
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (2017)Ramona is crammed into a trailer with her father, her pregnant sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. She feels like she’s bursting at the seams of her life. This is a story that deals with sexual fluidity and shifting labels, which is definitely not something we see a lot of — not just in queer YA, but in media in general. Ramona is 100 percent sure of her attraction to women. It’s Freddie that confuses her. Sexuality, romantic attraction, and identity labels are all very complicated things, and Ramona Blue deals with this complexity head-on, while also tackling racism and classism.
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (2017)When Griffin’s boyfriend, Theo, breaks up with him and dates Jackson, Griffin remains completely certain that they will get back together. After Theo drowns, Griffin is plunged into grief, anger, and confusion over what happened. Griffin is a deeply flawed character who is struggling to cope. His OCD has worsened, and he can’t decide whether reaching out to Jackson and sharing their grief makes things better or just exacerbates his anger. Griffin can be a difficult character to spend time with, but his pain is palpable. This is not an easy read, but it is honest and moving.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (2017)Queens of Geek shares two point-of-view characters: Charlie and Taylor. This story is so good that you that won’t even mind the m/f romance! Of course, it’s Charlie’s flirtation with a fellow YouTube star that ups the cute level. It’s also nice to have an interracial relationship represented where both women are of color. You’ll devour this book; it’s one of the few that you’ll finish in one day when you only mean to read a chapter or two. It’s a fun, geeky read that also includes a beautiful diversity of characters.
All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell (2018)Historical fiction has not been very common in queer YA, and All Out is here to change that. Queer people have so often been erased from history that it can feel as if we have no roots. All Out imagines the lives of queer teens throughout different time periods, often playing with genre (retellings, fairy tales, magical realism, fantasy) as well. Not only does this imagine queer histories, it imagines happy ones! It also features a range of identities, including trans, gay, lesbian, asexual, and aromantic characters.
Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro (2018)This is a brilliant, gutting work that tackles police brutality and the militarization of schools while starring a large cast of queer characters of color (including trans, nonbinary, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and asexual characters). You really get a sense of Moss’s world — his friends, family, and neighborhood — in descriptions reminiscent of The House on Mango Street. Moss finds a way to stop repressing his anger and start using it to fuel change. We can’t recommend this book highly enough, but it is a dark, difficult story, so please make sure you’re in the right headspace to pick it up.
Best LGBT books you must read
Shirtless Adam Levine (L) at 2019 Super Bowl and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl (Getty Images)
Here are the LGBT books that we recommend that you put on your to-read list.
From novels and romance fiction, to memoirs and books that have been made into movies, we list the best LGBT books for your shelves.
Ooh this was so great – I have SO many new books added to my to-read list now!
Going through marital crisis do you need peace in your marriage or want to get pregnant or get married do you desire to get back your ex or stop a divorce then help have come your way contact Priest Ade [email protected] gmail. com or [email protected] comWhatsApp +2347059715465
Thank you so much!! Hurricane child is going to be my first pick ~~ can’t wait to dive in to more of these.
These look so good! I haven’t read a good book in forever (thanks, grad school). Thanks for the compilation; maybe I’ll get to a few of them over winter break!
Second the vote for So Lucky, it was really well written. And off to the library I go…
This is great! I’m definitely going to check out Sodom Road Exit this holiday season. My parents live in Crystal Beach, and I always laugh about the name of the highway exit when I visit.
Another great middle grade book is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. Candice discovers a mysterious old letter about an injustice from decades ago. With the help of Brandon, she begins to decipher the clues to a story that leads them deep into their South Carolina town’s history—a history full of ugly deeds and forgotten heroes. Good historical detail and LGBTQ characters included. Virtually all characters are people of color.
There were so many good queer/lesbian/bi YA books this year I wanna cry!!! I wish I could zap back in time and give my younger self a massive stack of these and say it’s all gonna be okay but knowing that there are so many books out there for the next generation is the next best thing. Personal faves included Katrina Leno’s Summer of Salt (super sweet and atmospheric story of queer witch sisters), Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation (ft. zombies and the most kickass queer black girl protagonist), and Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls (spooky island! urban legends! magic! feminism! two protagonists who are bi/gay and a third who is ace!).
There goes my “saving money for Christmas’ gifts” money.
Well, it will be grandma gifts for everyone: socks.
I’ve read, and mostly loved, 15 of these, and am so excited to check out a bunch of the others!
Loved Shame Is An Ocean and When They Call You: they’re very intense, though, hard to read at times.
Great list!! An addition to the sci fi section: Compass Rose by Anna Burke. Set in a post-climate-change aquatic hellscape, it’s dystopian AF but also sweet and funny and mostly about lesbian pirates. Need I say more?
Thanks for this! I just added a pile to my library list.
Going through marital crisis do you need peace in your marriage or want to get pregnant or get married do you desire to get back your ex or stop a divorce then help have come your way contact Priest Ade [email protected] gmail. com or [email protected] comWhatsApp +2347059715465
My favorite book this year was definitely All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages. It’s an anthology of short stories about LGBTQ+ teens in historical and/or fairy-tale contexts, and it is just so beautiful. There’s representation of many different identities, and it is interesting how they represent those identities in times or areas where the labels for them may not have existed. My favorite short story was the Robin Hood one, and I really hope that author turns it into a full book one day!
I had barely read any LGBTQ+ books before, but this year I made the effort to purposely seek them out, and I found myself drawn to YA books most of all. On the one hand, these books tend to have more frequent and more diverse representations of our community. But, also, YA books are more likely to treat sex in a way I can relate to as an asexual person (i.e., the teens may not have sex at all or they may be nervous or unsure about having sex in ways adults in most books aren’t.) All of this to say, I will definitely be paying the most attention to the YA books on this list!
A few more I’ve really liked:– TOIL & TROUBLE: 15 TALES OF WOMEN AND WITCHCRAFT ed. Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood– DEAR RACHEL MADDOW by Adrienne Kisner– THE LAST SUMMER OF THE GARRETT GIRLS by Jessica Spotswood– AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART by Elaine Castillo– LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE by Claire Kann (for my fellow ace babes out there, the protagonist of this one is a biromantic ace girl!)– MEET CUTE: SOME PEOPLE ARE DESTINED TO MEET– THE BRIGHTSIDERS (which I did not care for, but other people may)– PEOPLE LIKE US by Dana Mele– I don’t plan on reading, but THE LADY’S GUIDE TO PETTICOATS AND PIRACY also has an ace protagonist
There are also more m/m ones out there (e.g. CHAINBREAKER, WHAT IF IT’S US) but I haven’t read them yet 🙂
Today I found a bookstore that had an “Autostraddle recommends” display with a bunch of these books. It was the highlight of my day.
The Best Classic LGBTQ+ Novels
Recently, Alan Hollinghurst said the gay novel is dead. “There was an urgency, a novelty to the whole thing,” said the gay authorThe Line of Beauty. “And in our culture at least those things are no longer the case.” With all due respect to Hollinghurst, it is still an urgent time to write (and read) about LGBTQ+ lives. Queer people face dangerous and deadly challenges — both in the United States and abroad — and it falls on writers to continue to bring these stories to light.
To this end, The Advocate asked the fiction nominees of the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards to nominate the best LGBTQ+ novels of all time. Oureditors then added our own selections. Spanning from the 19th century to the present day, these books demonstrate that, while much has changed for LGBTQ+ people, many struggles persist. Their words have much to offer in lessons about our history, our shared experience of being otherized, and how to address the challenges of today.
Below, see The Advocate’s ranking of the best LGBTQ+ novels ever written. Nominate your own favorites in the comments.
1. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
Author Chavisa Woods is far from alone when calling Giovanni’s Room “masterfully written, heartbreaking.” It’s a book that has resonated with so many queer people since first being published in 1956, speaking to issues of identity even now. Woods, a Lambda :Literary Award nominee for her novel Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country, says Baldwin succeeded at “blurring the lines of hero and villain and bringing the complexity of human nature into horrifying focus.” Maybe that’s because Baldwin said the book isn’t actually about being gay. “Giovanni’s Room is not really about homosexuality,” said Baldwin in a 1980 interview about queer life. “It’s the vehicle through which the book moves. Go Tell It on the Mountain, for example, is not about a church, and Giovanni is not really about homosexuality. It’s about what happens to you if you’re afraid to love anybody.”
3. The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
On the heels of her successful debut novel Strangers on a Train (with its own intimations of queerness), an encounter Patricia Highsmith had with a New Jersey socialite while working at a shopgirl at a department store became the seed for 1952’s The Price of Salt. The result, which Highsmith’s publisher forced her to publish under the pseudonym Claire Morgan at a time when a bold depiction of desire between women that eschewed the requisite tragic ending for those who transgressed could have tanked her career, would become that rare example of a lesbian-themed novel with what would prove to be a radically hopeful ending.
„A novel that is simultaneously of its time and timeless, and it holds the distinction of being the first of its kind to have a happy ending,“ Yolanda Wallace said of the novel. SJ Sindu, author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies, called it, „One of the first Anglophone works to challenge the trope of the sad/suicidal gays who die at the end, this book gave us a blueprint of what queer fiction could look like.“
The Price of Salt’s dizzyingly erotically charged prose also telegraphed her signature sense of an ominous „menace“ (in this case, the threat of being caught or found out just as the Red Scare hit the United States). Highsmith went on to write more queer-tinged fiction, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and all of the Ripley novels to follow.
The Price of Salt, of course, became the critically acclaimed Todd Haynes-helmed 2015 film Carol ,starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
5. Maurice, by E.M. Forster
Although the great E.M. Forster (A Passage to India, A Room With a View, Howards End) wrote the benchmark gay novel Maurice circa 1913, it was published posthumously in 1971.
In a lush tale of manners, position, and desire, the titular character meets and falls for his classmate Clive while at Oxford. The pair embark on a two-year affair until Clive leaves Maurice to marry a woman and live out his proscribed life as part of the landed gentry, leaving Maurice in shambles and seeking to cure his homosexuality.
But Forster’s novel does not end in gay tragedy. Maurice falls in love with another man, Alec Scudder, and finally abandons his station so that they can be together. The author of Night Drop, Marshall Thornton called the novel „the original gay romance.“ A note found on Forster’s manuscript for Maurice, which was discovered tucked in a drawer, read “Publishable, but worth it?” Ismail Merchant and James Ivory adapted the novel to the big screen in a gorgeous film starring James Wilby, Hugh Grant, and Rupert Graves.
7. The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst famously questioned the future of the gay novel this year, which is striking since he’s often viewed as helping make queer books accessible to a mainstream audience. His 2004 novel broke through in a major way — The Line of Beauty won that year’s prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction.
Hollinghurt was praised for his expert command of the English language and his flawless re-creation of upper-class British society and conservative political circles of the 1980s. Hollinghurst set his pen on the sexual hypocrisies of homophobic politicians, many of whom had their own indiscretions behind closed doors. The book follows Nick Guest, a gay graduate student unofficially adopted by the family of a schoolmate. Nick gets a sneak peek at the aristocracy, while indulging in no shortage of sex and party favors; the fun comes to a crashing halt as AIDS enters the fray. Amid all the human drama, there’s an amusing and memorable cameo from the Iron Lady. „Captures a vitally important era in lovely prose“ is how Night Drop’s Marshall Thornton describes Hollinghurst’s most acclaimed book.
8. Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown
Many queer female writers see Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 coming-of-age book as an iconic work of LGBT literature: „[I love Rubyfruit Jungle] because, well, because. I think this was the first ‚lesbian‘ book I ever read! And devoured. And loved,“ writes The Year of Needy Girls‘ Patricia Smith. Yolanda Wallace, author of Tailor-Made, tells us, „When I was a teenager questioning my sexuality, this book provided the answers I was looking for.“
Semi-autobiographical, Rubyfruit Jungle follows Molly Bolt’s amorous adventures from childhood to adulthood, including a stint in swinging New York City. While Molly has sexual adventures with men, her true love is women, and Brown never shies away from describing Molly’s insatiable passion for the ladies (the title perfectly captures Molly’s zeal for female anatomy). Now assigned in many queer literature courses, Rubyfruit Jungle is brazen and brave; its frank discussion of lesbian sexuality can seem shocking to modern readers who imagine life in the early 1970s was less raunchy. Rubyfruit Jungle is a page-turning reminder that queer lust and queer sex are timeless.
9. Zami, by Audre Lorde
„She calls it a biomythography and leads us through a heart-wrenching account of the black lesbian experience.“ – SJ Sindu, Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction Winner
This 1982 autobiography by the iconic queer black poet Audre Lorde is an experience of intersectionality, in a genre of intersections. Lorde classified it as biomythography, which combines history, biography, and myth.
A fierce love letter to the strength women have given her throughout her upbringing, the book explores her challenges growing up blind in 1930s Harlem, fighting for dignity in the heat of Jim Crow, and finding a voice in the New York City lesbian bar scene.
While books like The Price of Salt show lesbians walking away from motherhood, Zami celebrates the beauty of when mothers stay through the harshest of challenges.
11. The City and the Pillar, by Gore Vidal
The City and the Pillar shocked America when it was released in 1948. The queer coming-of-age novel about Jim Willard and his search for love was the first novel from a respected writer (Gore Vidal) to speak directly and sympathetically about the gay experience in an era when homosexuality was still very much taboo. The book is remembered today for this legacy as well as for various themes — Hollywood’s glass closet, being gay in the military, the poisonous effects of homophobia on society — that still reverberate today.
12. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
The only novel by the great Oscar Wilde may not be overtly gay, but there’s plenty of gay subtext there for the careful reader – about as much gay subtext as a popular author could get away with in 1891.
Dorian’s friends Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton express intense admiration for his beauty, and passages that show Basil’s feelings for Dorian as more clearly homoerotic were excised by an editor, according to Nicholas Frankel, who edited an edition presenting Wilde’s original text in 2011.
Even the text as originally published has references to Dorian’s corruption of not only young women but young men: “There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You were his great friend,” Basil tells Dorian at one point. “There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England, with a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable.” “At the Wilde trials of 1895, the opposing attorneys read aloud from ‘Dorian Gray,’ calling it a ‘sodomitical’ book,” Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker in 2011. “Wilde went to prison not because he loved young men but because he flaunted that love, and ‘Dorian Gray’ became the chief exhibit of his shamelessness.”
13. City of Night by John Rechy
City of Night, a 1963 novel by John Rechy, is a seminal piece of fiction that follows the life of a gay hustler in New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Through stream-of-consciousness narration, the reader gets a glimpse of queer life in mid-century America, with a long and fascinating cast of characters that includes drag performers, S&M practitioners, and sex workers. The book has inspired music from the Doors as well as a film by Gus Van Sant, My Own Private Idaho. „This epic chronicle of gay culture in the American sixties is as far-reaching as it is important, giving us a glimpse into identity and motive,” affirmed SJ Sindu, the author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies.
14. Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg
Well ahead of its time, Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 Stone Butch Blues, about Jess Goldberg, a butch working-class lesbian, took massive strides in breaking down the gender binary. A story that is both hopeful in Jess’s determination to forge an identity and heartrending in its depiction of violence against her for her daring to be herself, Stone Butch Blues endures as essential to the queer canon. Feinberg, whose bio reads “writer and transgender activist,” would in later years become known more for activism, but the landmark novel about Jess’s refusal to fit into a prescribed box for gender is arguably Feinberg’s legacy.
15. Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin
Gay literature was forever changed the day Mary Ann Singleton first met her transgender landlady, Anna Madrigal, when she moved to San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane. What began as serialized stories in the San Francisco Chronicle by writer Armistead Maupin became a 1978 novel. It was followed by a Tales of the City series of books, which chronicled decades of queer life in the Golden Gate City, including the AIDS crisis. Tales of the City was adapted in 1993 into a PBS television miniseries, which starred Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis. The pair are set to reprise their roles in an upcoming Netflix adaptation, proving the enduring power of Maupin’s words.
16. A Boy’s Own Story, by Edmund White
A Boy’s Own Story is comparable to another literary classic, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The 1982 book by Edmund White, which begins with the first sexual encounter of a 15-year-old boy, is based on his own experiences coming to terms with his gay identity as a youth in the Midwestern United States. White would later write two additional novels, The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), which follow his gay protagonist into young adulthood. Together, they form a poignant trilogy that chronicles a gay life in the latter half of the 20th century.
17. Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall
Integral to the lesbian canon (despite its being considered somewhat problematic) British writer Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 novel focuses on Stephen Gordon, an upper-class lesbian who dons men’s clothing and becomes a novelist who eventually becomes a part of a literary salon in Paris at a time when there were no overt laws expressly barring homosexuality. Hall’s novel was groundbreaking in her introduction of the views of “sexologists” Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, who posited that homosexuality was an inborn, unalterable trait that was considered a congenital sexual inversion that simply meant a “difference” and not a defect. The novel also stood trial on obscenity charges both in the United Kingdom where the book was deemed obscene and ordered destroyed, and in the United States, where it was eventually banned.
18. Fun Home, by Allison Bechdel
You might not expect to see a graphic novel in this list, but iconic cartoonist (and Bechdel test namesake) Alison Bechdel always takes the less traveled road. Off the success of her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, she created the deeply personal Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which touches on her dysfunctional relationship with her father through a lesbian lens. Chronicling Bechdel’s confusing childhood in rural Pennsylvania, the book took seven years to create in Bechdel’s laborious artistic process, which included photographing herself in poses that are drawn into each human figure.
This queer exploration of broken family, unraveling emotions, and suicide was a New York Times best seller, and snagged nominations for the National Book Critics Circle Award and three Eisner Awards – becoming a mainstream critical and commercial success.
The book was adapted into a musical, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When it hit Broadway in 2015, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
19. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
Some might say Death in Venice is not necessarily a gay novel, since there is no overt same-sex coupling or coitus. Others might say it’s about a man with pedophilic tendencies. Then others might say it’s brilliant.
German writer Thomas Mann crafted this novella based on his own experience in Venice, where he caught sight of a handsome young man who captivated him, body and soul. Is Aschenbach, the 50-something protagonist, just fixated on beautiful objects, where human beings and centuries-old buildings are of equal lure? Or is it something more lustful and disturbing? It’s difficult, in 2018, to divorce the rich subject of sexual desire from the fact that it revolves around a 14-year-old boy. But the novella’s legacy endures, amd it serves as an important artifact of secret desire at the turn of the 20th century.
20. Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
„This lyrical book is a wonderful story with a background of a civil war and a love story between two young girls on the frontlines. Wonderful book,“ gay refugee activist and columnist Danny Ramadan raves about the global-minded story.
The book unpacks the emotional life of a young girl displaced by the Nigerian civil war who begins a gut-wrenching affair with a fellow refugee. These girls are from different ethnic communities, forcing them to face not only the taboos of being queer but the prejudices of surviving in a nation that is eating itself alive.
„A great recollection of everything anyone would say in Nigeria against homosexuality using the defense of religion,“ explains David Nnanna Ikpo, the Nigerian author of Fimisile Forever.
21. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, published in 1985, is a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in a Pentecostal family in England’s industrial Midlands region.
Winterson captures the weirdness of religious zealotry with the authority of someone who’s lived in this environment, and her portrayal of the young woman’s burgeoning lesbian sexuality – problematic in the Pentecostal world – rings true as well. Quirky and memorable secondary characters further enhance the novel, which made Winterson a literary star overnight, esteemed by both readers and fellow authors.
“A beautiful piece of fiction, this novel takes us through the complicated relationship between religion and LGBTQ+ identity.”, says SJ Sindu, the prize-winning author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies.
22. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
Cunningham’s 1998 novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, tells three parallel stories involving queer characters in different times and places.
In England in the 1920s, Virginia Woolf struggles with depression and writing Mrs. Dalloway, a novel to which Cunningham pays homage; in mid-20th-century Los Angeles, housewife Laura Brown, discontented with her life, confronts her attraction to women; and in 1990s New York City, Clarissa Vaughan, who is lesbian, plans a party for her best friend, writer Richard Brown, a gay man dying of AIDS.
Cunningham weaves their stories together seamlessly and movingly in a novel that is deservedly recognized as a modern classic.
The 2002 film adaptation, written by David Hare and directed by Stephen Daldry, received several Oscar nominations, and Nicole Kidman won Best Actress for her portrayal of Woolf. It costarred Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Ed Harris.