Don’t miss this list of new must-read books written for, by, and about families like yours.
We guarantee there is something here for everyone: quirky graphic novels about coming out, exciting family-themed thrillers, hip history books for teens, poignant coming-of-age novels — even an answer-all-anthology about polyamorous families.
No matter what kind of family you are a part of, these books are certain to enlighten and entertain — and could help start some important conversations around the dinner table. Check them out below:
The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered is Benjamin Taylor’s gripping and eloquent memoir which begins with Taylor, at age 11, meeting and shaking hands with his hero, President John F. Kennedy — only hours before the president was assassinated. Accented by historical and cultural events, Taylor’s lush narrative paints a vivid picture of what life was like was for this gay, gifted, upper-middle-class Jewish kid growing up in the politically tumultuous 1960s. This book beautifully details how just one day, with its amazing highs and tragic lows, transformed the young idealistic Taylor, along with the rest of the nation. (Penguin Books)
Queer, There, and Everywhere by activist Sarah Prager is a unique type of history book for teens. Prager takes you on an amazing and amusing journey through history by focusing on 23 influential queer figures, most of whom you’ve probably never heard of. Like the genderfluid “Girl King” of 17th-century Sweden, Kristina Vasa. The progressive Swedish royal wore the clothing — and had lovers — of both genders, and refused to marry. Vasa famously stated that they “felt such a repulsion toward the marital state that [they] would rather choose death than a man.” With fascinating facts, cool illustrations, and a pop culture vibe, Queer, There, and Everywhere really does (excuse the corny cliché) make learning fun. (HarperCollins)
Birdy Flynn, Helen Donohoe’s debut novel, is a coming-of-age tale set in the suburbs of 1980s London, centering on a young girl struggling with her sexual and gender identity within an imperfect family and world. Tough-as-nails protagonist Birdy is burdened by a life full of strange and dark secrets — like the murder of her grandma’s cat (or mercy killing, rather), or the teacher who had touched her, or the fact that she has a crush on the gypsy girl at school. Sometimes sad, but often funny, Birdy Flynn beautifully illustrates how life can be simultaneously amazing and cruel. Birdy’s perilous journey through adolescence, “when the toughest fight is to be yourself,” is a story many of us can relate to. (Oneworld Publishing)
is a graphic-novel memoir by Tillie Walden. Through Walden’s delicately drawn illustrations and well-chosen words, we are immersed into her uncertain and changing world — where she is drifting from her predictable and steady childhood as a competitive ice skater, to navigating the unknown and awkward waters of puberty. As Walden comes to terms with her blossoming sexuality and attraction to girls, she begins to question all that she’s been bred to be — and wonders if she can (or even wants to) continue her life in the often repressive and rigged arena of competitive skating. An impressive and insightful debut from Walden, who just turned 21. (First Second Publishing)
A Son Called Gabriel, a novel by Damian McNichol, takes place in the politically tumultuous setting of 1960s Northern Ireland. The story follows Gabriel Harkin — a quiet young boy coming of age in a working-class Catholic family — as he does his best to win his father’s approval, meanwhile trying to avoid the local bullies that prey on his gentle nature. As violence breaks out in the country between the British Army and the IRA, Gabriel fights an internal battle with his own burgeoning sexuality and the realization that he is not like all the other boys. Then, a long-kept family secret is revealed which threatens to further unravel Gabriel’s already fragile sense of self. (Pegasus Books)
This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey is a thought-provoking and timely novel that connects the horrors of our political past to the current cultural climate, giving new relevance to the old adage, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The story centers on a very nontypical protagonist: an 85-year-old art professor in Massachusetts. Ludka Zeilonka’s life had settled into the predictably peaceful routines of old age when a disturbing phone message suddenly reveals a secret she’s been keeping for over 60 years — and forces her to face her painful past of Nazi persecution. Shortly after, her grandson is unfairly fired with a handful of other gay teachers. Now, with cosmic twists of fate connecting these events, Ludka must choose to take action or keep quiet as political tensions mount around her. A very relevant read that unites generations on themes of free speech and religious freedom. ()
Stories From the Polycule by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is not just a book, it’s a response — to the constant questioning and misconceptions that polyamorous families are often faced with due to their choice of lifestyle. Sheff went straight to the source to find out what it’s really like to be part of a polygamous family. Stories is a collection of anecdotes, interviews, poems and drawings from a diverse group of people, ranging from 5 to 65, with one thing in common — they are (or were) part of a poly family. The book is divided into sections which delve into various aspects of poly life: falling in love, having kids, poly domestic life, and of course, sex — which Sheff saves for last (like dessert) in the final section, titled “Racy Bits.” (Thorntree Press)
The Book of Love and Hate by Lauren Sanders is thrilling tale of espionage, family ties, sex, love, and betrayal. If you’re looking for an exciting and juicy read, look no further. The story centers on Jennifer Baron, “a spectacularly failed speed skater” who now runs her father’s billion-dollar foundation (the clean side of the family business). After her father suddenly disappears, Jen is invited to a conference to Tel Aviv. where she discovers her father is alive and well — and meets his enigmatic and charming lover, Gila, who also happens to be a corporate spy. As Jen’s father convinces her to “move information” out of Israel for him, she also begins a steamy affair with Gila — and that’s only the start of this erotic thriller that questions the bonds of love and family. (Akashic Books)
The Black Penguin is the fascinating memoir of National Geographic journalist Andre Evans’s journey (mostly by bus) to Antarctica. Evans begins recounting his amazing adventure with memories of being an “awkward gay kid, bullied and bored” in rural Ohio — a life he was ultimately ostracized from by his family and the Mormon Church. With no money, no car, and no plan for his life, Evans set out on a quest to fulfill his lifelong dream of going to Antarctica — one bus at a time (heading south, of course). Riding only public transportation, Evans goes through jungles and swamps, over mountains, and across deserts in this inspiring memoir of one man’s road-trip to self-discovery. (University of Wisconsin Press)
Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression is culinary expert David Leite’s courageous, often hilarious, and brutally honest memoir of surviving mental illness — with the help of some really good food. Throughout Notes on a Banana, Leite takes us along for the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frightening, roller coaster ride that is bipolar disorder. Growing up on the 1960s and ’70s in a devout Catholic family was not exactly ideal for a gay kid with mental health issues, so “Banana,” as his mother had lovingly nicknamed him, turned to his love of food as a coping mechanism. Eventually, Leite gets diagnosed and seeks help, and begins the process of healing and self-acceptance that ultimately enables him to find inner peace and happiness. (HarperCollins)
Before I Had the Words is the story of Skylar Kergil’s life before he started sharing his gender transition journey through his boldly honest and refreshingly positive YouTube videos. Kergil joins a growing community of young trans kids who have found freedom, healing, and support in sharing their stories via the popular video publishing app — and have amassed huge subscriber counts in the process. Through Skyler’s journal entries and interviews with family members, Before I Had the Words gives us a raw and intimate glimpse inside the life of a child struggling with gender identity in today’s world. (Skyhorse Publishing)
is the debut novel by Sally Rooney, who by age 25 was already a well-established presence in the Irish literary scene. The story focuses on the coolly quiet and observant aspiring writer Frances and her close friendship with the beautiful, outgoing, and confident Bobbi. The two women have been best friends and partners in crime since their teens, though they were briefly lovers at one time, but they’re past all that now — or so they thought. When Frances and Bobbi meet Melissa, a sexy and sophisticated photographer, and her handsome actor husband, Nick, their once-solid friendship begins to unravel — along with Frances’s sense of control over her life. Dealing with themes of youth, sex, jealousy, attraction, female friendships, and betrayal, author Rooney delivers this racy yet relatable story with razor-sharp wit and cutting clarity. (Hogarth)
is the first novel by Denise Gosliner Orenstein, who was inspired to write this story for kids after she implemented a Shetland pony program for kids with learning differences at a Delaware school. “Many of our students struggled, but what struck me is the joy and confidence the ponies brought them,” Orenstein writes in the author’s note. Dirt centers on 11-year-old Yonder, whose mother has dies and whose father is lost in sadness. She feels completely alone in the world until she meets and befriends Dirt, the Shetland pony next door — who is about to be sold for horse meat unless Yonder can find a way to save him. The author says, “Dirt is a book for any child who needs a friend, especially one with four legs and a muddy tail.” (Scholastic Press)
by award-winning manga artist and author Gengoroh Tagame is a graphic novel that swings the door wide open to the typically closeted world of Japanese gay culture. The story begins with single suburban dad Yaichi and his young daughter Kana meeting a large, bearded Canadian man named Mike Flanagan who unexpectedly shows up at their door. Mike is the widower of Yaichi’s estranged twin brother who recently died, and although young Kana immediately bonds with him, Mike’s presence forces Yaichi to reexamine the teachings of his culture and youth, as well as his past relationship with his brother. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, My Brother’s Husband is a moving story about the unbreakable bonds of family and love. (Pantheon Books)
The Gang’s All Queer by Vanessa R. Panfil is a fascinating and eye-opening portrait of young queer men involved in this country’s gang underworld, which is typically associated with hypermasculinity. Panfil interviewed over 50 gay- and bi-identifying young men (mostly of color) who are members of gay, hybrid, or straight gangs. The book dives deep into the complexities of what it means to grow up queer in the hood and discusses how through gangs, disadvantaged youths can unite, feel empowered, and create their own families of support and protection — even across lines of sexual identity. (New York University Press)
The Inheritance of Shame is a deeply moving memoir by Peter Gajdics of his time spent in a cult-like gay conversion therapy program. Gajdics, along with several other heavily medicated psychiatric patients, found themselves basically imprisoned within a house called the Styx were the “therapy” took place — and under the total control of violent and dominating rogue psychiatrist, Dr. Alfonzo. The doctor subjected his patients to bizarre and often cruel methods of treatment, such as weekly injections of ketamine hydrochloride (a drug most commonly used as an animal anesthetic) or being brainwashed into abandoning their birth parents. Though it focuses primarily on Gajdics time in the Styx, The Inheritance of Shame spans decades and continents (and ties in his parents’ own childhood traumas) to tell a story with universal themes: powerlessness in the face of adversity, self-acceptance, identity, and the resilience of the human spirit. (Brown Paper Press)
Oracle Bone by Lydia Kwa takes us on a journey into the magical and mythical world of 7th century China, complete with fox spirits, magic bones, demons — and a gay monk named Harelip. And then there is Qilan, the rebellious and eccentric Daoist nun who rescues an orphan girl and trains her to avenge her parents’ murder. Oh, yeah, there’s also the Empress and her evil, power-hungry lover who is bent on acquiring the oracle bone — a magical and sacred object which holds the promise of immortality. As fate brings these people and situations together, a fight between good and evil ensues that all become a part of. An ancient tale told with a wickedly modern sensibility, Oracle Bone is an adventurous and entertaining story with underlying themes of sexuality and female empowerment. ()
20 Years of L.G.B.T.Q. Lit: A Timeline
Once you have read James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” and Larry Kramer’s “Faggots,” both classic gay novels, here are 25 recent works that have shaped the L.G.B.T.Q. literary genre over the last two decades.
At the time this series of monologues, performed as a one-woman show by the author, was released, they were viewed as revolutionary for their frank and sometimes disturbing discussion of topics like childbirth, rape and lesbianism. They quickly became a hit, and remain a staple on college campuses and in theaters.
This is the third book in Patricia Nell Warren’s series examining queer life in the sports world. Warren’s first, “The Front Runner,” about an athlete outed while on his way to the Olympics, became a New York Times best seller. “Billy’s Boy” can be read as a stand-alone book; it is about a teenager’s search to learn more about his dead gay father and his lesbian mother’s past, as he experiences his own sexual awakening.
Awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, “The Hours” is a riff on Virgina Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” In fact, Woolf is one of the three characters the story follows, as we find her in a suburb of London in 1923, beginning to write the novel. Meanwhile Clarissa Vaughan lives in modern day New York City with her lover, Sally, and is planning a party in honor of her friend Richard, an AIDS-stricken poet who is set to receive an award. The third central character is Laura Brown, a pregnant housewife in the late 1940s who feels suffocated by her life. The women’s lives intersect in a surprising and beautiful way.
Mark Doty’s gay coming-of-age memoir follows Doty and his family across the country as they move from Tucson, Ariz., to Sweetwater, Tenn., for his dad’s job as an Army engineer. “Firebird” explores his mother’s alcoholism, the challenges involved in being a “chubby smart bookish sissy with glasses and a Southern accent,” and how art saved him.
In this fictionalized account of the surgical transition of the Danish painter Einar Wegener from man to woman, Ebershoff explores how the events might have affected Wegener’s family and life. The book was later turned into a movie starring Eddie Redmayne.
Augusten Burroughs’s life takes a turn when his mentally ill mother decides to send him to live with his psychiatrist. Burroughs’s memoir recounts his dysfunctional upbringing — including his sexual initiation by a male former patient of his psychiatrist’s who was 20 years older. He comes out as gay during this time, to which one of the psychiatrist’s daughters responds, “Big deal.” Burrough’s memoir is considered one of the best in the genre.
SHE’S NOT THERE (2003)A Life in Two GendersBy Jennifer Finney Boylan
With irreverence and humor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, then an English professor at Colby College in Maine, recounts her transition, as well as how it affected and sometimes strained her relationships with friends and family. Of particular interest is her relationship with her colleague, Richard Russo, who wrote the afterward of the book and at one point tells her, “You’re asking me to accept a fundamental change in the one person in the world of whom I could honestly say, ‘I wish he would change nothing.’”
This book, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2004, takes place in pre-AIDS London and follows Nicholas Guest after he is invited to stay in the mansion of his Oxford friend’s father, Gerald Fedden, M.P. Grappling with feelings of inadequacy in the lavish “looking-glass world,” he discovers metropolitan gay life through a friendship with Leo, a civil servant.
This novel, set between 1895 and 1899, treads the line between fiction and biography, exploring the later life of Henry James, the writer known as “the Master.” Colm Toibin imagines, with vivid detail, members of James’s circle — like his devoted manservant, Burgess Noakes — as well as James’s feelings of guilt, regret and homosexual longing.
This novel by longtime theater actor Keith McDermott follows Gerald Barnett, a retired actor suffering from AIDS. When his former mentor, William Weiss, calls on him to participate in a final production, he hops a plane to Italy to join the cast. But while there, he is caught up in a romance and a frenzied schedule that cause him to neglect his medication, putting his health at risk leading up to opening night. McDermott captures theater life well, and infuses the book with an international cast of characters.
FUN HOME (2006)A Family TragicomicBy Alison Bechdel
In this acclaimed graphic memoir, which was turned into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Alison Bechdel — a cartoonist also known for creating the Bechdel test, a standard for judging the quality of women’s onscreen roles — describes both coming out and coming to terms with her closeted gay father’s death.
TRANSPARENT(2007)Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender TeenagersBy Cris Beam
In this well-reported work of narrative nonfiction, Cris Beam follows the lives of a group of four teenage transgender girls: Christina, Dominique, Foxxjazell and Ariel. With sensitivity and a deep connection to the girls, Beam describes their struggles with transitioning and how they reconcile them with more familiar teenage concerns like crushes and cliques.
Kiran Sharma, a 12-year-old gay Indian-American boy, chooses ballet over basketball and wears his mother’s perfume to school, becoming a social outcast and upending his parents’ expectations. Then, one day, Kiran starts to think that he might be a descendant of Krishna, a Hindu god, and starts to model his life after him. This debut novel is a beautiful twist on the gay coming-of-age story.
Winner of the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction, this memoir documents Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, a photographer later known for his sadomasochistic imagery, before he came out as gay. It evocatively captures the time when they were a young couple, both unknown and on the brink of fame.
This semi-autobiographical novel is about a 7-year-old boy and his two brothers, all trying to find their place in upstate New York, where they do not fit in with the white working-class children. They are mixed race (their father is Puerto Rican and their mother white.) On the narrator’s seventh birthday, his mother is recovering in bed from a severe beating by their abusive father — and their family troubles bring the boys closer together. Yet while the book starts in the third person, “we” turns to “I” and “they” as the narrator’s seuxality distances him from his brothers, who smell his “sharp, sad, pansy scent.”
WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL? (2012)By Jeanette Winterson
The author, acclaimed for her autoiographical first novel, “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” places her mother, “Mrs. Winterson,” at the center of the narrative in this memoir. Her mother is a religious zealot who mistreats her gay adoptive daughter with beatings or by locking her out of the house all night. “Why Be Happy” tells the story of Winterson’s troubled childhood and her journey to overcome her trauma.
In this provocative book, the author, a professor of history and sexuality theory at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, argues that it is not only their sexual preferences that distinguish gay men from straight ones, but also their culture, including „diva worship” and “adoration of glamour.” The book is based on a class Halperin taught, in which he explored how gay men develop “a conscious identity, a common culture, a particular outlook on the world, a shared sense of self.”
This novel starts when 21-year-old Regina seems set to begin an affair with her literature professor, Nicholas Brodeur. But the familiar story takes a turn when Regina becomes interested, instead, in Brodeur’s wife, Martha, and kisses her after a dinner party. This smart exploration of bisexuality follows a series of relationships and sexual encounters that explore the complexity of the characters’ desires.
VERY RECENT HISTORY (2013)An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large CityBy Choire Sicha
This book, presented as nonfiction, is set in the recent past in New York City and follows a group of young gay men — though the word gay is never used — as they date, drink and navigate the complexities of work and finding love in New York City. It reads like a modern fable.
REDEFINING REALNESS (2014)My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, and So Much MoreBy Janet Mock
In her first memoir, Janet Mock describes coming of age and transitioning as a young transgender girl. She gives insight into the experiences and challenges of transgender women with unflinching honesty.
This exquisite, emotional novel by Hanya Yanagihara, editor-in-chief of T Magazine, follows four men over two decades of friendship — from their time as college students at a Massachusetts school and into adulthood in New York. The book’s central character is Jude, who has a troubled past that unfolds slowly; Yanagihara provides sharp insight into his struggles as a disabled gay man.
This story, set during a brutal civil war in Nigeria in the late 1960s, starts when Ijeoma, whose father is killed in an air raid and whose mother is so affected she cannot care for her child, is sent to live with her mother’s friend in another town. There Ijeoma meets another girl, Amina, and they fall in love. This is a story of queerness in a society where it needs to be hidden, and an account of how their love story plays out after they are yanked apart.
At the same time the author was experiencing the bodily changes that come with pregnancy, her partner, Harry Dodge, an artist who identifies as neither male nor female, was starting testosterone injections. In this gender-bending memoir, Maggie Nelson writes about the way both their bodies were changing, and about the intracacies of building her queer family.
This book takes place in Jamaica’s Montego Bay, but it’s hardly a beach novel. It centers on Margot, a 30-year-old front desk receptionist at the Palm Star Resort who will do anything to get ahead, even recruit women for a high-end prostitution ring or start rumors about a colleague’s sexuality (despite her own love for another woman). The characters are memorable and complex, and the author poignantly explores the dynamics of sexuality in Jamaica.
Though the book was originally published in France in 2014, it was translated to English only this year. In this disturbing and deeply moving autobiographical novel, Édouard Louis introduces Eddy, a young gay boy living in a decaying manufacturing town, and describes his experience of growing up poor and gay, which included disturbing and violent bullying.