June is Pride Month – a time to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTQ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.
I’ve compiled a post which includes 25 LGTBQIA+ books (fiction and nonfiction) that I’ve read. Every single one of these books made an impact on me after I finished reading the last page. My never-ending TBR has many more queer books that I hope to get to soon!
Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis – Told over forty years, the friendships that grew out of the Uruguay government’s dictatorship in the 1970s was beautiful to watch. De Robertis wrote a story that touched my heart, and while I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I read to gain compassion and understanding. To gain insight into a life that I don’t have any knowledge about through personal experience. To change myself and my thinking. To learn about different parts of the world. This book hits all of those marks and easily makes it one of the best books I’ve ever read!
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – This book has all the feels and it’s just the most beautiful life story. Cyril Avery is born in post-WWII Ireland. His mother gives him up for adoption when he’s just three days old. He struggles most of his life to find a place to belong – and let’s just say that Ireland and all her politics do not make it easy on him. As a child who realizes early on that he is gay – in a country and a time where that declaration is completely unacceptable – Avery endures many heartbreaking, confusing, and difficult times. He searches for a love and acceptance that many (even still today) take for granted. Avery’s transformation into a confident, secure, and happy man is a beautiful journey. He – like all people, really – has hardships. But ultimately, he realizes that those difficult times are where he learned to embrace and accept himself. Towards the end of his life he realizes that he wouldn’t be who he is without them; therefore, he wouldn’t change any of it. Cyril Avery has earned a place in my heart forever, and this book still remains one of my all-time favorite books.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – There are no words that can do this book justice, other than READ IT! It is hauntingly beautiful – a deep character study into the life of Jude St. Francis. Your heart will be ripped out, ripped up, and pieced back together, but never quite as whole as it was before you started. You won’t ever forget this story, and you will feel all the feels – love, hope, despair, hurt, anger, sadness. Reminiscent of The Heart’s Invisible Furies (see above), Jude and Cyril are characters I will never forget and will forever love. Their stories teach the reader important lessons about life – empathy, love, compassion, kindness, understanding, and acceptance.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Books like ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ are exactly why I love reading so much. It’s so much more than a fame-obsessed movie starlet…there are layers and layers to unpack – what is ‘love’? Is it a marriage? A partnership? An understanding? To what ends would you go to in order to protect those you love? Is it even possible to know what love is without first knowing your own truth? It’s a beautiful tale that deserves a long, well-rounded discussion at the end. I’m envisioning a book club that goes into the wee hours of dawn discussing each husband, the issues going on during each husband’s section, and the wrap-up once the story comes all the way around.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai – I loved this beautiful story centered around the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s. It was heart-wrenching and sad, but Rebecca Makkai did such a great job of creating characters that made you feel like you were part of their inner circle. This story takes the reader back to the 80s when it was still largely common for gay men to be shunned from the rest of the world. As the AIDS epidemic seemingly took over this community, they were shunned even more. They were gathered in large hospital rooms, beds lined up in a row, and many nurses/doctors too scared to touch them or offer any sort of empathy or compassion. It broke my heart, but it’s a book that has remained with me long after I finished it.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – Here’s how this book made me feel: 🤯😳😮🥰. That’s a true depiction of what my face did while reading this brilliant piece of writing. I have NEVER read anything like this and I could not have loved it more! This story is an interesting journey. For the first bit (seriously, only like 20 pages or so), I was unsure of what I was reading. I was thoroughly confused and it wasn’t resonating with me. But then I hit my stride and I settled into it. I liked it well enough. Then, about halfway through, my mind started to blow up. And by the end, it was all the way blown up and I am in total shock and awe at what a masterpiece it was. We all have those parts of ourselves that have fractured off from what the public sees. Our inner voices that speak to us and, more importantly, protect us. Obviously, these fractured selves are different for everybody – I definitely don’t have the protection mechanisms that Ada had, but I’m still well aware of the parts of myself that I diligently fight to protect. Without giving too much away – because I think it’s best to enjoy the journey blind – this is the gist of the book.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – Frankel addresses a timely issue in this story and while the story is very much about that issue, it’s really about parenting and family. The bottom line is that all parents want the very best for their child, but mostly? They want their children happy. And when you have a child that isn’t, there’s no end to the things they’ll do so that their kid is happy again. What’s so compelling about this book is if we continue to have the types of conversations presented in this novel, maybe someday this will become the common response – and what a wonderful ideal that would be! As a parent, I hope I would parent exactly like Rosie and Penn – they’re unconditional in their love, immediately accepting of situations, and seemingly never get angry. I learned so much from their relationship and the conversations they had with each other. Their dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever read. This book remains on my all-time favorite books. It’s compassionate and moving and unconditional. It shows the reader how to be a better human. It is important.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – Through Alex and Henry’s love story, we see the world united IN LOVE and I’M HERE FOR IT! 🇺🇸 ❤️💙🇬🇧 I loved the political angle that included the United State’s First Family as well as the British Royal Family. McQuiston nails the enemy-to-friends trope with this one, and not only did I adore Alex and Henry, I equally enjoyed the cast of supporting characters. This book shows how important it is for each of us to follow our truth and to find happiness in ways that work for us (regardless of what other people may think).
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. – The story of the Halifax plantation is layered with themes of love, racism, class, slavery, and white privilege. At the heart of the book is the love between Isaiah and Samuel…two enslaved Black men that find solace in each other, something that is increasingly threatened as the dark sides of “Empty” are revealed. I have never read an historical fiction novel that centers the love between two men, and with masterful prose and intimacy, Robert Jones, Jr. nailed it. Also, the rich cast of secondary characters shine as well as they care for one another and try to ease the burden of life the enslaved exist under at Halifax. While this book is very slow-paced, I found that it took and it required a great deal of concentration on my part, but the payoff was more than worth it! What may be most impressive to me about The Prophets: the fact that this is Jones’ debut! The intricate detail that ties each of these characters together is impressive and, quite honestly, mind-blowing. The Prophets is a masterpiece that I will reflect on for a very long time.
Outlawed by Anna North – This story has one of the most memorable characters I’ve read in a long time: Ada. At just seventeen years old, she takes the Wild West by storm when she is banished from her community after accusations of being a witch. When she finally finds the Hole in the Wall gang of misfits, she settles in and finds her true home. Among these nonbionary, barren women, Ada’s medical training as a midwife quickly becomes useful. While learning the ropes of the gang’s community, Ada is constantly driven to find the answer to why some women experience infertility and how she can help them. I quickly became invested in these characters and wanted to see how things turned out for them. There were some strange twists and unnecessary asides, but overall I really did enjoy this speculative historical fiction story.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi – Vivek Oji gave me a new lens to view the world from. People have different sides to them and they chose to show those sides to certain people. Vivek taught me the significance of finding people who celebrate who you are, who give you unconditional love and acceptance without being asked to, and who protect you at all costs. I hope to be that person for the people in my life, and Vivek’s story gives me renewed commitment to that effort. I will never stop thinking of Vivek Oji and the importance of the story they told.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor – This book was deeply touching and moved me. I won’t soon forget Wallace or Miller (though I despised him so much). The story of Real Life showed the nuance of racism and how society treats men of color. Many characters highlight this and Taylor does a good job of telling that part of the story without interfering. This is another book that highlights the problematic behavior of our current cultural, social, and political climate.
A Century Divided by Silvia Hildebrandt – Set in NYC in the 1920s, Caleb and Tristan share a forbidden love. As gay men in an era that didn’t accept this lifestyle, they had to be careful with their relationship. Over the years, we see the consequences of their choices – both good and bad. I loved the setting, the characters, and the story so much. Fans of The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Little Life will also appreciate this one.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn – This is exactly the type of book I love: one that gut-punches the reader. This book made me sad and it made me angry. It made me hopeful and it made me more empathetic. As I was reading it (and long after I’d finished it), I couldn’t get Patsy or Tru out of my head. This book pushed my boundaries and forced me to reconsider many issues.
A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian – Heaven is a slum in Bangladore, India. As one of India’s fastest growing cities, modern high-rises and technology are moving in, slowly encroaching on the little space the slum’s occupants still have. A community of women, from the elderly grandmas to a group of school-aged girls, this is a story of womanhood, supporting your friends, and fighting for your home. The thing I loved most about this book was the relationships all of the women, young and old, had with each other. Regardless of blood relations, the women looked after the children, using their individual strengths to encourage success in each of the young children running around the slum. The cast of characters make this story totally unforgettable for me.
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobias – The cover made me do it, but the story stole my heart. I truly don’t have the words to articulate the importance of this book; I will push this into everybody’s hands that I can. Jacob Tobia’s coming-of-gender story is raw, and powerful, and true. They start a conversation in this book that is begging to be had in America today. Throughout the book, they are reflective in ways I don’t usually see in books. For example, when reflecting on their relationship with their dad (who wasn’t very nice to them), they acknowledge his growth and accepted his reaction. It’s so easy to dismiss people that hurt us, but Tobias demonstrates what true growth, empathy, and compassion looks like. They show us how to mature. Tobia is smart. Very smart. They went to Duke and that’s where they really gained their non-gender-conforming wings. They quickly became an activist for the LGBTQIA+ community and gave a powerful voice to this group.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – This book is a memoir about domestic abuse in a queer relationship. Growing up, I lived in a very abusive home and Machado does an amazing job of capturing what it’s like to live within the four walls of a “home” terrorized by one person. I think this is an incredible addition to the abuse conversation, and encourage everyone to read – even if just to gain some understanding of how traumatizing and lasting domestic abuse can be. I.could.not.put.this.book.down. So brilliant. So good. So heartbreaking. I doubt that any review I give would do it any justice, so just take my word for it: READ ASAP!
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones – Jones’ essays are an examination of what it means to be a young gay Black man living in the South. Not only does he ruminate on national headline stories, he also dissects his difficult relationships with his mother and grandmother. As a poet, Jones has a way with words that are powerful, eloquent, and impactful. I loved Jones’ honesty and vulnerability. He gives his readers his heart and soul and I literally cried tears several times. Once again, books prove to be a window into another’s world – a place to learn empathy and compassion. I’m so grateful to be able to gain that understanding and I’m so appreciative of authors that open up their lives to help us become better humans.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee – Chee gave life to the AIDS crisis of the 80s/90s and the activists that fought to bring awareness to this heartbreaking situation. Chee isn’t the type to sit back and watch things happen; he creates change personally and professionally. I have so much respect for Chee after reading through many of his life experiences. His rawness, vulnerability, and honesty captured my heart. He writes so powerfully that, in one moment, I was laughing out loud, and then the next, I was silently wiping the tears from my eyes. This book is the perfect example of why memoir is one of my favorite genres to read!
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy – Ariel Levy is so raw and honest in her memoir; I found myself laughing out loud and tearing up many times throughout the audiobook. There’s something powerful about hearing her read her own story too. I can’t imagine how painful some of that must have been. She touches on many powerful topics – marriage, affairs, alcoholism, miscarriage, grief, relationships, cancer, divorce – and addresses each so honestly that it will strike a cord within you regardless of your personal experience with the particular topic. I loved her writing and I loved this book!
All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burns – If there is one time period in history that completely breaks my heart, it has to be the way the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was handled. Not only were many queer people shunned from their families and loved ones, but then we had a government that refused to acknowledge what was happening in regards to HIV and AIDS. Queer people were left to die alone, stripped of their dignity and without an ounce of love or compassion from so many in the medical fields. Thank goodness for people like Ruth Coker Burks…a woman who selflessly inserted herself into a crisis with her whole heart and soul. What was a chance encounter with a gay man on his death bed in a hospital that treated him like a leper, turned into a calling that changed Burks’ life forever. She became a tireless advocate for people with AIDS; she loved them when no one else would, she gave them dignity in their death, and she advocated for the entire community to help them get funds and resources. This is an incredible memoir – one of the best I’ve ever read. Not only do I admire Burks for her work within the AIDS context, but I was beyond impressed with her resilience, determination, and attitude in the face of so many challenges.
Dry by Augusten Burroughs – I personally don’t struggle with addiction and I don’t really have anyone super close to me that does, but I always find a raw and honest memoir irresistible. I haven’t previously read any of Burroughs books, but I after reading Dry, I think I’m a fan. His writing sucked me in from the first page and I was appreciative of his honesty. This one tugged at my heartstrings, especially towards the end when he relapses. If you’re a fan of memoir, this is a topnotch read!
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Daughters by T. Kira Madden – From the first page, T Kira Madden writes with an integrity that forces her readers to become emotionally involved very quickly. As a young bi-racial child, Madden was raised by her single (Chinese-Hawaiian) mother (her father (white) was actually married to another woman and had two sons). Eventually, he moves in with Madden and her mother and a complicated relationship follows. While her parents struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, Madden is often left very much alone. I felt for this poor lonely girl. Madden talks about being sexually assaulted by a few upperclassmen from school. Through all of this, Madden is also struggling with her sexual identity. She finds herself drawn more and more towards women than men. Again, her ability to put her thoughts and feelings on paper is so well done that it almost feels personal. Eventually, Madden comes out on the other side stronger for the things she’s dealt with and it made me realize that all lessons in life – the good ones and the bad ones – are necessary. They shape us and form us. They mold us and put us on the path we’re meant to be on…and sometimes we can only realize that in hindsight.
Me by Elton John – Me is the first and only autobiography available. In it, Elton John holds nothing back. He spills it all – from his horrifying parents to his drug use to juicy celebrity gossip to his beautiful family with David and their two sons. It is unflichingly honest, even when it makes himself look terrible. He was an addict and it made him treat some of the people closest to him poorly, but he checked himself into rehab and completely changed his life around, all while managing a career that has spanned over fifty years! Also quite inspiring to me is Elton John’s work within the HIV/AIDS community. Since his nonprofit, Elton John AIDS Foundation, was started in the early 1990s, it has raised over $450 million dollars “to challenge discrimination against people affected by the epidemic, prevent infections, provide treatment and services, and motivate governments to end AIDS”. He’s quite the individual and I will forever remain a loyal fan.
Out East: Memoir of a Montauk Summer by John Glynn – The first half of this book feels like a long ol’ frat party, but around the halfway mark, Glynn gets to the heart of his story – not only is he incredibly lonely and full of self-doubt, but he’s starting to realize that he’s gay. His crush is also a roommate in “The Hive” – the home in Montauk that all these people descend on during the summer weekends. Not sure how his friends or family will react to his coming out, Glynn writes his angst so beautifully. I appreciated his honesty and rawness so much. While his crush couldn’t reciprocate his feelings, I was more interested in how his parents would react to his news. Of course, as demonstrated throughout the story, they were amazingly supportive and I felt so hopeful for the rest of Glynn’s journey through love – whatever that may entail.