Pride is finally here, and I cannot wait to dig into my ever-growing TBR list of stories from LGBTQIA+ authors to celebrate! As queer representation in literature continues to expand, with new voices and stories making an indelible mark on the literary landscape, it’s safe to say that for every genre, there is an incredible queer story. If you’re new to reading queer literature or are looking to dive deeper into the queer literary canon, I’ve got you covered on recommendations all across the spectrum.
If you like CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
It’s fair to say that CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has made an indelible mark on the queer canon, as it perfectly captures feelings of love, longing, and intimacy (not to mention forever changing the way we look at peaches). Fans of the heartstring-tugging novel would be wise to pick up Philippe Besson’s LIE WITH ME. Set in 1984 France, the story begins with Philippe spotting a doppelgänger to his first love, Thomas, outside of a hotel in Bordeaux. What follows is a reflection on a hidden affair between Philippe and Thomas that took place during their last year of high school. Although not acknowledging each other in school, the two met passionately in secret, carrying on an affair doomed to fail because, in Thomas’s words, “you will leave and we will stay.” Just reading that one line is making me tear up!
“I remember the movement of his hips pressing against the pinball machine. This one sentence had me in its grip until the end. Two young men find each other, always fearing that life itself might be the villain standing in their way. A stunning and heart-gripping tale.” —André Aciman, author of Call Me by Your Name
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
The critically acclaimed, internationally beloved novel by Philippe Besson—“this year’s Call Me By Your Name” (Vulture) with raves in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vanity Fair, Vogue, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Out—about an affair between two teenage boys in 1984 France, translated with subtle beauty and haunting lyricism by the iconic and internationally acclaimed actress and writer Molly Ringwald.
In this “sexy, pure, and radiant story” (Out), Philippe chances upon a young man outside a hotel in Bordeaux who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Thomas is the son of a farmer; Philippe the son of a school principal. At school, they don’t acknowledge each other. But they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.
Despite the intensity of their attraction, from the beginning Thomas knows how it will end: “Because you will leave and we will stay,” he says. Philippe becomes a writer and travels the world, though as this “tender, sensuous novel” (The New York Times Book Review) shows, he never lets go of the relationship that shaped him, and every story he’s ever told.
“Beautifully translated by Ringwald” (NPR), this is “Philippe Besson’s book of a lifetime...an elegiac tale of first, hidden love” (The New Yorker).
If you like PIZZA GIRL
As queer coming-of-age stories continue to evolve beyond the traditional coming-out narrative, authors are creating more irreverent and quirky protagonists for readers to root for. Last year in her debut novel PIZZA GIRL, Jean Kyoung Frazier introduced readers to an eighteen-year-old pregnant pizza delivery girl who becomes obsessed with a stay-at-home mother she delivers pizzas for.
This year, the queer literary canon has been graced once again with another iconic character, this time in MILK FED’s Rachel, a twenty-four-year-old bisexual lapsed Jew. Rachel is merely subsisting through life, counting calories, and working a thankless job at a talent management agency. When Rachel meets Miriam, a young Orthodox Jewish woman, at her favorite frozen yogurt shop, Rachel’s life, faith, and relationship with her body shifts in unforeseen ways.
“Milk Fed is a novel of appetites; a luscious, heartbreaking story of self-discovery through the relentless pursuit of desire. I couldn’t get enough of this devastating and extremely sexy book.” —Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
A scathingly funny, wildly erotic, and fiercely imaginative story about food, sex, and god from the acclaimed author of The Pisces and So Sad Today.
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.
Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.
Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane.
If you like REDEFINING REALNESS
Janet Mock’s REDEFINING REALNESS was one of the most important, perspective-shifting books I read last year. Her account of growing up poor, multiracial, and trans in America details episodes such as taking estrogen without doctor supervision and her experiences with sex work. I found Mock’s writing a necessary read for me as a cisgender white woman within the LGBTQIA+ community. As anti-transgender legislature continues to be pushed across the country, it is more important than ever to listen to and elevate trans voices.
Paula Stone Williams’s AS A WOMAN is a pivotal and accessible memoir of her experience transitioning from male to female, and how she managed to find hope in a time of despair. After announcing her transition at the age of sixty, Williams was expelled from the evangelical churches she once spearheaded and found her once-valued opinions sidelined and ignored. In AS A WOMAN, Williams discusses how she was able to reconcile her faith with her gender identity and ponders questions around gender inequity and her lived experiences of both genders.
Watch Paula Stone Williams discuss the challenges in writing her memoir!
A moving and unforgettable memoir of a transgender pastor’s journey from despair to joy as she transitioned from male to female and learned about gender inequity, at home and in the workplace—perfect for fans of Redefining Realness and There Is Room for You.
As a father of three, married to a wonderful woman, and holding several prominent jobs within the Christian community, Dr. Paula Stone Williams made the life-changing decision to physically transition from male to female at the age of sixty. Almost instantly, her power and influence in the evangelical world disappeared and her family had to grapple with intense feelings of loss and confusion.
Feeling utterly alone and at a loss after being expelled from the evangelical churches she had once spearheaded, Paula struggled to create a new safe space for herself where she could reconcile her faith, her identity, and her desire to be a leader. Much to her surprise, the key to her new career as a woman came with a deeper awareness of the inequities she had overlooked before her transition. Where her opinions were once celebrated and amplified, now she found herself sidelined and ignored. New questions emerged. Why are women’s opinions devalued in favor of men’s? Why does love and intimacy feel so different? And, was it possible to find a new spirituality in her own image?
In As a Woman, Paula pulls back the curtain on her transition journey and sheds light on the gendered landscape that impacts many in the LGBTQ+ community. She urges men to recognize the ways in which the world is tilted in their favor and validates the experiences of women who have been disregarded based solely on their gender, while also acknowledging how she was once like those men who are blind to their privilege. With equal parts humility and confidence, Paula shares her lived experience of both genders and offers a truly unique perspective on the universal struggle to understand what it means to be male, female, and simply, human.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE has cemented its place in the queer canon for its authentic and vulnerable treatment of teenage identity, relationships, and family. If you’re looking for a beautiful, queer coming-of-age story like ARISTOTLE AND DANTE, Rachael Lipponcott’s THE LUCKY LIST is a sure bet—heck, I cried when I first read the book’s summary!
THE LUCKY LIST follows Emily, who has been down on her luck ever since her beloved mother passed away from cancer. The summer before her senior year, Emily is confronted with her toughest challenges yet: the end of her relationship with her boyfriend, her best friend being out of town, and her father selling her mother’s possessions. Her only confidant is her dad’s best friend’s daughter, Blake, a girl she barely knows. When Emily finds her mother’s senior year bucket list, Blake encourages Emily to face her fears and complete the list; as Emily begins to feel close to her mother again, she must reconcile her deepening bond for Blake as well.
Rachael Lippincott, coauthor of #1 New York Times bestseller Five Feet Apart, weaves a captivating, heartfelt love story about learning who you are, and who you love, when the person you’ve always shared yourself with is gone.
Emily and her mom were always lucky. Every month they’d take her lucky quarter, select lucky card 505, and dominate the heatedly competitive bingo night in their small, quirky town of Huckabee. But Emily’s mom’s luck ran out three years ago when she succumbed to cancer, and nothing has felt right for Emily since.
Now, the summer before her senior year, things are getting worse. Not only has Emily wrecked things with her boyfriend Matt, who her mom adored, but her dad is selling the house she grew up in and giving her mom’s belongings away. Soon, she’ll have no connections left to Mom but that lucky quarter. And with her best friend away for the summer and her other friends taking her ex’s side, the only person she has to talk to about it is her dad’s best friend’s daughter, Blake, a girl she barely knows.
But that’s when Emily finds the list—her mom’s senior year summer bucket list—buried in a box in the back of her closet. When Blake suggests that Emily take it on as a challenge, the two set off on a journey to tick each box and help Emily face her fears before everything changes As they go further down the list, Emily finally begins to feel closer to mom again, but her bond with Blake starts to deepen, too, into something she wasn’t expecting. Suddenly Emily must face another fear: accepting the secret part of herself she never got a chance to share with the person who knew her best.
If you like I CAN’T DATE JESUS
I may be biased but I find that the best comedians and comic writers are part of the queer community. Hannah Gadsby, Tig Notaro, David Sedaris—need I say more? While being queer comes with a whole host of challenges, humor has proven time and time again to be a go-to means of both providing insightful commentary and engaging in self-expression. Michael Arceneaux’s I CAN’T DATE JESUS is a stellar example of this, as he incisively, and hilariously, writes about growing up Black, gay, and working class in Houston; his dating experiences; and his complicated relationship with organized religion that has caused him to turn his faith to Beyoncé.
John Paul Brammer has established himself as a queer comic tour de force, thanks to the success of advice column, “¡Hola Papi!”. In HOLA PAPI, JP takes turns both insightful and humorous as he describes his experiences growing up biracial and closeted in America’s heartland, and how he’s re-envisioned himself over the years. He also ponders topics such as fashion and Grindr, and asks the tough questions, including “should I hook up with my childhood bully now that he’s out of the closet?”
From popular LGBTQ advice columnist and writer John Paul Brammer comes a hilarious, heartwarming memoir-in-essays chronicling his journey growing up as a queer, mixed-race kid in America’s heartland to becoming the “Chicano Carrie Bradshaw” of his generation.
“I loved ¡Hola Papi!” —Shea Serrano * “An invigorating and vital read.” —R. Eric Thomas * “We are lucky to live in the era of JP Brammer.” —Alexander Chee * “JP Brammer is the best storyteller. ” —Heather Havrilesky * “[Brammer is] a beautiful writer.” —Rainbow Rowell * “Essential and necessary.” —Jonny Sun
The first time someone called John Paul (JP) Brammer “Papi” was on the popular gay hookup app Grindr. At first, it was flattering; JP took this as white-guy speak for “hey, handsome.” Who doesn’t want to be called handsome? But then it happened again and again…and again, leaving JP wondering: Who the hell is Papi?
What started as a racialized moniker given to him on a hookup app soon became the inspiration for his now wildly popular advice column “¡Hola Papi!,” launching his career as the Cheryl Strayed for young queer people everywhere—and some straight people too. JP had his doubts at first—what advice could he really offer while he himself stumbled through his early 20s? Sometimes the best advice to dole outcomes from looking within, which is what JP has done in his column and book—and readers have flocked to him for honest, heartfelt wisdom, and of course, a few laughs.
In ¡Hola Papi!, JP shares his story of growing up biracial and in the closet in America’s heartland, while attempting to answer some of life’s toughest questions: How do I let go of the past? How do I become the person I want to be? Is there such a thing as being too gay? Should I hook up with my grade school bully now that he’s out of the closet? Questions we’ve all asked ourselves, surely.
With wit and wisdom in equal measure, ¡Hola Papi! is for anyone—gay, straight, and everything in between—who has ever taken stock of their unique place in the world, offering considered advice, intelligent discourse, and fits of laughter along the way. “Readers are likely to become addicted to these stories; they’re that good…Brammer comes to know himself very well, and readers will be delighted to make his acquaintance, too,” says Booklist in a starred review.
If you like WHEN BROOKLYN WAS QUEER
Too often queer history is sidelined, fades into the shadows, or is erased altogether. Beyond the Stonewall Riots and the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling, queer history is prominently woven into the fabric of US history, and recently more and more stories have emerged to the forefront, including the widely celebrated WHEN BROOKLYN WAS QUEER.
For those seeking to learn more queer history outside of the mainstream narrative, Tana Wojczuk’s Lambda Literary Award–nominated LADY ROMEO is a must-read. LADY ROMEO depicts the life and times of 19th-century queer actress Charlotte Cushman, who through a series of disasters paved her way to become one of the country’s most noted actresses, earning the praise of Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman. Her trailblazing activities beyond the stage included earning an independent income and creating one of the first bohemian artists’ colonies abroad. Hearing about Charlotte Cushman’s life brings to mind the legendary words of Lady Gaga: “Talented. Brilliant. Incredible. Amazing. Showstopping. Spectacular.”
Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award
Finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Finalist for the Marfield Prize
For fans of Book of Ages and American Eve, this “lively, illuminating new biography” (The Boston Globe) of 19th-century queer actress Charlotte Cushman portrays a “brisk, beautifully crafted life” (Stacy Schiff, bestselling author of The Witches and Cleopatra) that riveted New York City and made headlines across America.
All her life, Charlotte Cushman refused to submit to others’ expectations. Raised in Boston at the time of the transcendentalists, a series of disasters cleared the way for her life on the stage—a path she eagerly took, rejecting marriage and creating a life of adventure, playing the role of the hero in and out of the theater as she traveled to New Orleans and New York City, and eventually to London and back to build a successful career. Her Hamlet, Romeo, Lady Macbeth, and Nancy Sykes from Oliver Twist became canon, impressing Louisa May Alcott, who later based a character on her in Jo’s Boys, and Walt Whitman, who raved about “the towering grandeur of her genius” in his columns for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She acted alongside Edwin and John Wilkes Booth—supposedly giving the latter a scar on his neck that was later used to identify him as President Lincoln’s assassin—and visited frequently with the Great Emancipator himself, who was a devoted Shakespeare fan and admirer of Cushman’s work. Her wife immortalized her in the angel at the top of Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain; worldwide, she was “a lady universally acknowledged as the greatest living tragic actress.” Behind the scenes, she was equally radical, making an independent income, supporting her family, creating one of the first bohemian artists’ colonies abroad, and living publicly as a queer woman. And yet, her name has since faded into the shadows.
Now, her story comes to brilliant life with Tana Wojczuk’s Lady Romeo, an exhilarating and enlightening biography of the 19th-century trailblazer. With new research and rarely seen letters and documents, Wojczuk reconstructs the formative years of Cushman’s life, set against the excitement and drama of 1800s New York City and featuring a cast of luminaries and revolutionaries who changed the cultural landscape of America forever. The story of an astonishing and uniquely American life, Lady Romeo reveals one of the most remarkable forgotten figures in our history and restores her to center stage, where she belongs.
If you like RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE
When RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE was released in 2019, the enemies-to-lovers romance between America’s First Son and the Prince of Wales quickly became a hit, cherished among the LGBTQ+ community and romance readers alike. Fans since have been clamoring for Casey McQuiston’s next release, and to great rejoicing, ONE LAST STOP has finally arrived! McQuiston’s second novel follows twenty-three-year-old August, a New York City newbie who doesn’t believe in magic or love stories. One day while riding the Q train, August catches sight of the charmingly cool, lesbian-identified punk rocker Jane, and a subway crush is born. However, what August soon realizes is that Jane doesn’t just look like a punk rocker—she is quite literally displaced from the 1970s. With bighearted characters and an irresistible time-hopping premise, ONE LAST STOP promises to be just as iconic as the beloved RED, WHITE, & ROYAL BLUE.
Photo credit: iStock / Volodymyr_Plysiuk