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For many readers, fiction was their first encounter with LGBTQ+ identities. Marginalized in mainstream media, queer characters have long been sought out and cherished in the pages of books. In recent years, LGBTQ+ fiction has come a long way, often one of the first platforms for diverse genders and sexualities to gain visibility. Though the genre is still evolving, such books offer an invaluable space for queer discovery, reflection, and joy.
For those seeking an entry point into the genre or simply looking for their next read, this list offers a short selection of great LGBTQ+ fiction. Exploring the common period of queer awakening, young adult fiction is the first stop. Next, the list explores examples of how LGBTQ+ representation is making space for itself across genres, from sci-fi to fantasy. Lastly, this list covers novels that shed light on LGBTQ+ life in the margins of history.
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
In the summer of 1987, the moody Ari Mendoza meets the lively Dante Quintana at the town swimming pool. As the two fall in love with art, rain, the world, and each other, Ari struggles to feel comfortable with both his sexuality and Mexican-American identity. Sáenz tenderly captures the feeling of being a teenager and discovering the world’s beauty, wonder, and melancholia. For readers who’ve never read LGBTQ+ fiction before, this is the place to start.
“Radio Silence” by Alice Oseman
This is not a love story. Frances Janvier is a Cambridge-bound study machine by day and a wildly popular artist for fantasy podcast “Universe City” by night. When she becomes best friends with the podcast’s mysterious creator, Aled Last, she begins to entirely reevaluate her life ambitions. Between the stress of college applications, the connection of fandom, and the quiet euphoria of genuine friendship, Oseman writes about teenagers with an unmatched authenticity. After reading “Radio Silence,” the entire, wonderfully queer “Osemanverse” awaits.
“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo
In 1950s San Francisco Chinatown, at the height of the Red Scare, Lily Hu wonders how to be a dutiful Chinese daughter and a perfect All-American girl — having just realized she is a lesbian. As she and her classmate Kathleen frequent a lesbian bar called The Telegraph Club, Lily discovers both Tommy Andrews, a cross-dressing performer, and her growing love for Kath. This book pairs thoughtful explorations of societal prejudices and Chinese-American identity with the exhilarating revelation of a queer underground.
“I Wish You All the Best” by Mason Deaver
Ben De Backer’s coming out is disastrous: kicked out by their parents, they move in with their estranged older sister and are thrown into a new high school in the middle of senior year. Navigating anxiety and depression with their therapist, Ben’s low profile is disrupted after they meet the charming Nathan. As one of the first prominent books about the experience of a nonbinary teenager, Deaver’s novel is a recent landmark in the young adult genre.
“This is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
In this epistolary sci-fi romance, enemy agents Red and Blue strike up an unlikely correspondence amidst an interstellar time war. As they leave each other letters across time and space, what begins as taunts gradually transforms into a life-threatening romance. El-Mohtar writes Blue’s letters and Gladstone writes Red’s, the two wielding the sharp, elegant, visceral prose of intellectual matches.
“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune
40-year-old Linus Baker is whisked away from his dreary office job to inspect an island orphanage housing six highly unusual children, including a gnome, a wyvern, and the Antichrist. As Linus grows close to the children and their extraordinary caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, he confronts the prejudices within himself and the local community. Klune’s whimsical and compassionate fantasy is sure to warm any reader’s heart.
“On a Sunbeam” by Tillie Walden
This thick graphic novel is a sweeping sapphic space story about Mia, the newest crewmate on a building restoration spaceship, and her quest to find her long-lost, high school love. Walden’s art style features bursts and washes of color within the darkness of space, a romantic and mysterious backdrop to the all-female and nonbinary cast’s emotional odysseys.
“The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang
Crown Prince Sebastian has a secret: He dazzles the Paris fashion world as his glamorous alter ego, Lady Crystallia. After he hires the young dressmaker Frances, the two begin to fall in love, crossing social borders as Sebastian’s parents search for a royal wife for him. This fresh graphic novel celebrates genderqueer expression with its gorgeous gowns and sweet storyline.
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
First published in 1982, this Pulitzer-winning epistolary novel remains one of the most widely banned books today. Through Celie’s letters, Walker openly depicts racism, violence, and abuse in the lives of African-American women in the early 20th century. Despite her suffering, Celie develops profound female relationships, takes control of her own voice, and rediscovers forgiveness and faith.
“The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne
In heavily Catholic, 1940s Ireland, Cyril Avery grows up struggling with his homosexuality and unknown parentage. Examining Irish history through the lens of Cyril’s life, Boyne powerfully plumbs modes of queer existence and cycles of intolerance over seven decades. Tempering loss and loneliness with humor, the depiction of Cyril’s reality allows readers to experience an entire life within just one novel.
“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
In this wildly beloved retelling of “The Iliad,” Miller revives Heroic Age Greece with vivid emotion and scholarly detail. Patroclus, a minor prince, follows the glory-destined warrior Achilles throughout their adolescence and into the Trojan War. Miller combines tragedy, cruelty, and desire into a breathtaking myth of epic, yet intimate, proportions.
—Staff writer Isabelle A. Lu can be reached at email@example.com.
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