5 LGBTQ+ Books to Add to Your Reading List
My new favorite hobby is to skulk around bookstores and try to find more LGBTQ-centric books to read, but not everyone has the time to search through every single book at The Strand in New York until they finally land on a gay one. I’ve done the work, and now I’m here to share some of my favorites with anyone else seeking a more queer-inclusive reading list.
A couple of prefaces: 1, these are all YA (Young Adult) novels because I mostly read YA and get quite a few recommendations from a thirteen-year-old I know, so if you’re not in the mood for some coming-of-age tales and confused teenagers/young adults, this isn’t the list for you. 2, they’re mostly centered around gay men, which I’m not the biggest fan of because it doesn’t represent the whole of the queer community, but these are the books I have enjoyed the most thus far.
(This genre is not known for happy-go-lucky tales of people just living life and being happy, and those don’t usually make for good books anyway, so I’ve included a helpful ‘Tear Scale’ alongside each title to let you know how many boxes of tissues you may need to invest in.)
1.) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Yes, it’s quite a mouthful, but the amount of emotion thrown into this beautifully and lovingly crafted novel can only be encapsulated by an obnoxious, nine-word title. Maybe I’m biased because I do love unnecessarily lengthy titles, but regardless, this novel is a coming-of-age story about two young boys in El Paso, Texas. The narrative follows Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana’s friendship, as well as their individual struggles with their sexuality. Told from Ari’s perspective, the story explores the discomfort, confusion, and denial that came with being a young queer person in 1987 -- which aren’t all that different from the feelings of queer folk today. It portrays two separate paths that the boys took to their own self-acceptance, and the individual struggles they met, all while weaving a slow-burning and cavity-inducing sweet queer love story.
Tear Scale: Gently Sobbing With A Smile (Two Tissues)
I cried at least three times each time I read this book (a total of two, plus the four times I listened to the audiobook, delightfully read by Lin-Manuel Miranda). Saenz really captures so many aspects of dealing with your sexuality during a very confusing time in your life. This portrayal really hit me hard the first time I read it, and kept hitting me every time since.
2.) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Are you a fan of Greek mythology? Did you read Homer’s Iliad and think, ‘hmm, this could use some more blatant queerness? Well, then I’ve got a recommendation for you. Miller takes the story of Achilles and doesn’t necessarily sprinkle some gay on it, but extrapolates what was already there. The Greeks were very queer and Madeline Miller saw the story of Achilles and his close friend Patroclus for what it was, then decided to share that with us in a heart-achingly beautiful novel told from Patroclus’ perspective. Even if you’re already aware of the story, the parts that Miller focuses on and the way she writes these two characters will sweep you up and carry you away as if it were the first time you were hearing them.
Tear Scale: Ugly Crying For My Remaining Days (Infinite Supply of Tissues Needed)
If you know the story, you know what to expect. But what you will never be ready for is the power of Miller’s words and how they can twist your heart and tear ducts like a balloon animal until you don’t even realize you’re crying on the subway by the last page.
3.) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell is simply an author that you should add to your reading list. I have never been disappointed by one of her books, and Carry On was no exception. Not only am I blown away by the depth of her characters and the world she’s built, I’m also astonished by the fact that the world of this book originated in another book of hers, Fangirl. In that book, Simon Snow and Baz Grimm-Pitch were fictional characters from the ‘Simon Snow’ series in which the protagonist obsessed over. Carry On is their story, and what a story it is! Simon is in his last year at Watford School of Magicks, Baz is his queer vampire roommate/mortal enemy/love interest, and while the premise of the world bears some vague similarities to another popular ‘Chosen One’ story, the book itself is fresh, original, and oh-so-very gay.
Tear Scale: Misty-Eyed (Your Sleeve Will Do)
Rowell has a way with words and crafts some of the most realistic characters that are so easy to fall in love with. By the time I finished this book, I was just sad to no longer be in their world. Though that won’t be an issue for too long, as the sequel, Wayward Son, is set to come out in September of this year.
4.) The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book. The bright pink, blue, and white stripes on the cover in combination with the title caught my eye and I hoped it was what I thought it was going to be. I was not disappointed once I started reading about the lives of two trans teenagers finding themselves and all the other cliches that happen throughout YA novels. Leo and David are unlikely friends that help each other through one of the hardest years of high school, and the best part? Their love is fully platonic, but written just as powerfully as any romance could be.
Tear Scale: One Single Tear Running Down My Cheek (No Tissues, Let It Fall)
Williamson captures a lot in this novel that I never realized I needed to hear. She showcases these two individuals, at very different points in their separate transitions, and the complications, angst, and heartache that come along with that whether its with their friends, family, or romantic partners. Transgender representation in all media is slim-to-none at this point, so I’m glad to see Williamson take on a story like this with thoughtfulness and respect.
5.) My Year Zero by Rachel Gold
Here’s the thing about trying to find books about lesbians: they are not easy to come by. If you do a fairly general search on any bookseller’s website, you’ll probably find the 1952 romance novel The Price of Salt, better known as Carol (aka, the inspiration behind the 2015 movie). Aside from that, you’ll either find memoirs or various non-fiction books written by or about lesbians, or some kind of erotic novel. This opens up a whole new can of worms about the way society views lesbians and their relationships, but I won’t get into that right now because I did manage to stumble across a few books on an LGBTQ+ recommendation list a few months ago.
My Year Zero centers on a lesbian protagonist, her two love interests, one a mysterious bisexual living with bipolar disorder and the other a charming and confusing girl that’s taken up all of her brain space. Lauren lives in a small town in Minnesota and is one of the only out-lesbians around, until she meets a group of kids from the Twin Cities. Together they write a science fiction story online, and that story and those characters are as pertinent to Lauren’s narrative as the two girls suddenly paying attention to her, Sierra and Blake.
Tear Scale: No Tears Left to Cry
Gold touches on various queer identities, mental illnesses, the mathematics of infinities, and the bubble multiverse theory all in one book. While the last two are impressive and confusing all at once, the first two are what really brought this book to my recommendation list. Gold handles all of the above, wrapped together with smaller commentaries on family dynamics, religion, and school, in such a compelling way that most nights I couldn’t put the book down unless I just fully fell asleep.
All of these books rank at least a 9 out of 10 in my opinion, so if you’re looking for a queer twist to your angsty youngsters these five are a good place to start.