By D’Anne Witkowski
Finding LGBTQ+ books used to be a challenge. You couldn’t just Google “lesbian romance novels” or “books with trans characters.” But now, luckily, that’s no longer the case. Especially with Pride season in full swing.
Whether a breezy-beach read is your thing, or you’re more of a heartfelt memoir kind of queer, or you’re looking for books that tackle social justice, there’s something for everyone.
Black Boy Out of Time, Hari Ziyad (Memoir)
The struggle to reconcile faith and queerness is at the heart of this intimate and sharply observed memoir of growing up queer and Black in Cleveland, Ohio. As Ziyad, who identifies as nonbinary, grapples with the pain they’ve experienced and the pain they’ve caused others, they search for their identity amidst a backdrop of racism, family rejection, heteronormativity, faith and the deeply rooted need to be understood.
Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile (Memoir)
When Grammy winner Brandi Carlile opens her memoir, she’s a 4-year-old with meningitis living in a trailer and things don’t look good. But she survives, and if you’ve ever wondered where she gets her emotional material from, her vulnerability in “Broken Horses” will have you wondering no more.
How Y’all Doing? Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived, Leslie Jordan (Memoir)
You may remember him from “Will & Grace,” but today’s Instagays know Emmy winner Leslie Jordan from social media, where he laughs about his failed diets and shares his thoughts on Kim and Kanye. During the pandemic, his nearly 6 million IG followers have given his career new life. There are a lot of dumpster fires in the world today, but Leslie Jordan is a goddamn delight. So, as an act of self-care, “hunker down” with this one.
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, Lauren Hough (Memoir)
Lauren Hough grew up in a cult, but for years she didn’t want anyone to know. For her, coming out as a lesbian was easier to do, even though she was forced out of the military when she did. But now she’s bursting that closet wide open. Whether she’s recounting her time as a bouncer at a gay bar, meeting Dick Cheney and lonely housewives while working as a cable guy, or dealing with sexist assholes in the military, Hough is honest, funny, self-effacing and unafraid to be vulnerable.
Black Girl, Call Home, Jasmine Mans (Poetry)
Behind every woman is the girl they used to be. And poet Jasmine Mans wants to make sure those girls are heard. Especially the Black girls who love girls and get their hearts broken by girls. Mans’s book explores growing up in an America that is racist, that is deadly, that is dangerous. And how love can be the way out of pain, while also being the way in. These poems pulse with heart, shimmer in beauty.
It Had to Be You, Georgia Clark (Fiction)
“She used to enjoy herself at weddings. She used to enjoy herself.” But that was before Liv’s husband and business partner died suddenly and willed their wedding-planning operation to the girlfriend she didn’t even know he had. And then said girlfriend shows up on Liv’s porch, expecting to run the business together. Something Liv would never do, if she wasn’t desperate and hard up for cash. Reading Clark’s celebration of all kinds of love, you’ll feel like you crashed a wedding reception and a hot member of the wedding party just handed you a glass of champagne and a slice of cake.
One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston (Fiction)
After August moves to New York City, her experience there has been, well, mostly meh. That is until she sees the Girl on the Train. No, not the book or the movie. A real person. Or is she? August is determined to find out who this hottie in the leather jacket is, and maybe even find love. If you read McQuiston’s “Red, White & Royal Blue,” then you know exactly what you’re getting: a sweet, charming queer love story.
The Chosen and the Beautiful, Nghi Vo (Fiction)
I had to read “The Great Gatsby” in high school and I… did not love it. OK, yes, the writing was beautiful, but I just didn’t care what happened to the characters. If only I’d have been given “The Chosen and the Beautiful,” a retelling of “Gatsby,” to read instead: gorgeous prose that is faithful to the original, but with a queer Asian as the central character, thereby complicating the themes of wealth, excess, class and human connections that are at the heart of this story. The result? Magical.
The Kingdom’s Sandcastle, Luai Qubain (Fiction)
“The Kingdom had me in her steely clutches in that closeted purgatory,” thinks Louie, the narrator of this first novel in a series based on true events. That Kingdom is Jordan, a country where homosexuality can be a death sentence. But trying to stay hidden can also be a death sentence, and Louie grapples with this paradox as he faces blackmail and abuse, not to mention a deep well of grief after his mother’s death. Who can you trust when revealing your identity is a terrifying gamble? And yet finding someone to trust is his only way out of a crumbling castle.
The Legend of Auntie Po, Shing Yin Khor (Fiction, Graphic Novel)
Imagine Paul Bunyan as a Chinese woman and you’ve got Auntie Po who, along with her trusty ox, guides 13-year-old Mei through life in the lumber camp where Mei and her father work feeding the lumberjacks. Mei is trying to navigate her relationship with Bee, the foreman’s daughter, who may be more than just a friend. She’s also dealing with racial tensions in 1885, just three years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese people from immigrating to the U.S. When a logging accident shakes the camp to its core, Mei needs Auntie Po more than ever. But will she come to the rescue? (Out June 15)
Can’t Take That Away, Steven Salvatore (YA Fiction)
Carey Parker worships divas like Mariah Carey and Freddie Mercury and dreams of strutting across a stage with the lights turned on them, belting out songs that make the audience roar. But Carey is a high school student, not Mariah herself. Still, music is a current running through their veins, and they use it as armor against homophobic bullying and as a way to communicate with and connect to the grandmother they are losing to dementia. Then they meet Cris. Buoyed by this new spark, Carey braves tryouts for the school’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” But there’s a real-life wicked witch aiming to snuff out Carey’s newfound light.
Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, Jonny Garza Villa (YA Fiction)
Julián Luna spends a good deal of time and energy “keeping himself in check,” which entails making sure that he’s being super masc at all times so that he’s not called a “joto” at school. (He gets enough grief for being a vegetarian.) But one night he drinks way too much and reveals even more on Twitter. Thankfully he’s got a support system of loving friends, but not everybody is so accepting of the news. As he navigates life outside of the closet, he gets closer and closer to Mat, a guy he meets online. But no matter how close they get, they’re still separated by 1,500 miles too many.
How to Become a Planet, Nicole Melleby (YA Fiction)
Lambda Literary Award-nominated author Nicole Melleby says her goal for this book was to “write a story that normalizes childhood depression and makes those readers feel less alone.” It’s the story of Pluto. Not the planet, but the person. And Pluto has just been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and is trying to figure out how to get her “old” self back. Her support system grows from just the person on the other end of the Hayden Planetarium Astronomy Question and Answer Hotline to include a therapist, and a new non-binary friend with a strong gravitational pull. This one’s an astute and much-needed portrayal of mental illness in young people.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Malinda Lo (YA Fiction)
Lily Hu lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s 1954 and she’s falling in love. With another girl. A white girl. Such a revelation would shatter her respectable reputation in her community and her family. Meanwhile, McCarthyism is raging and Chinese people are living with the looming threat of being called a Communist sympathizer, which results in very real punishments including deportation. It’s an unlikely place for romance to bloom, so can it thrive? A satisfying coming-of-age story with a well-researched historical backdrop.
The Witch King, H.E. Edgmon (YA Fiction)
Setting: Asalin, which is ruled by the fae. Witches like Wyatt, who is trans, are oppressed in Asalin. “Wyatt’s struggles as a witch mirror many of the struggles queer people, especially trans people, face in the real world,” the author writes in the book’s forward. Wyatt’s ex-fiancé, a fae prince, is basically the definition of a boyfriend from hell. Only this one has magical powers and is determined to get him back. The throne is at stake, after all. “The Witch King” is dark-fantasy fiction infused with humor and heart that touches on issues of systemic racism and oppression that are all too familiar here on earth.
Both Sides Now, Peyton Thomas (YA Fiction)
High school debate champ Finch Kelly is on his way to Nationals. A win here would be a big help when it comes to getting into college in D.C. But he’s ready. Until he learns that the topic of debate will be transgender rights. See, in debate, winning isn’t dependent on arguing your truth with moral conviction. It’s more technical, meaning that sometimes you have to argue something you don’t actually believe. And Kelly is trans. This is an excellent, engaging read. And I just can’t help but feel a particular affection for a kid who dreams of egging Mitch McConnell’s house. (Out Aug. 24)
Last Call, Elon Green (Nonfiction)
Most true-crime tales focus on the criminals more than the victims. Not this time. “Last Call” is a harrowing picture of the danger of being closeted in the 1990s. When you can’t be honest about who you are, who you are spending time with, and what you’ve been doing, you’re relegated to the margins of society. Which makes you an attractive target for criminals — in this case a serial killer who targeted gay men. Homophobia and fears of AIDS colored the investigation, if you’re wondering why this story isn’t more widely known.