Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Aug 05
The 40 Best LGBT Books of the Century
If you’re looking for the best LGBT books, you’ve come to the right place. Now that the literary industry is more diverse and representative than ever, the world is teeming with wonderful books featuring queer characters, so you’ll be spoiled for choice!
Our selection of the 40 best LGBT books is defined quite broadly: some are classics that explicitly thematize the LBGT experience, whereas others simply feature queer characters. We’ve got a whole category for nonfiction books, where you’ll find fascinating memoirs and tales of personal journeys, as well as a category for middle-grade readers — we know it’s important for adults and young kids alike to see themselves in what they read. We hope you’ll enjoy these remarkable books as much as we did!
1. Fairest: A Memoir by Meredith Talusan
Meredith Talusan’s memoir traces her journey, as she puts it herself, from albino boy in the Philippines to immigrant, award-winning woman journalist in the United States. Eloquent and moving, this incisive memoir explores a space at the intersection of race, gender identity, immigrant status, and disability, thematizing as it does the author’s experience of reading ‘white’ as an Asian albino. An issue that orbits all of these themes is the persistent question of desirability, which Talusan increasingly holds up to the light as an entirely arbitrary label that holds different meanings in different parts of the world. Fairest is a brave look in the mirror and an honest tale of selfhood.
2. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In this powerful memoir and self-help book, Glennon Doyle talks about letting go of your inhibitions, years of ingrained social conditioning, and the need to please others, in order to really come into your own. Doyle doesn’t flinch away from vulnerability, and shares her own story of questioning where she found herself in life, and realizing she needed to realign herself to her true queer identity. Untamed talks about falling in love, being a good partner, but also learning to fall in love with yourself by rediscovering the self you knew in childhood and truly living your life. It’s a celebration, and certainly worth your time.
3. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
This is Maggie Nelson’s unapologetically theoretical analysis of her own life and marriage to fluidly-gendered Harry Dodge. Nelson’s sharp eyes illuminate the making of queer relationships and queer families, always challenging, always questioning. Bodies and their tenderly chronicled changes are central in this narrative: Nelson’s body is changed by pregnancy while Dodge’s body is changed by surgery and testosterone. “On the surface it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more ‘male,’ mine more and more ‘female,’” writes Nelson in The Argonauts. But to confine bodies to these labels is reductive, she goes on to explain in this powerful book.
4. How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
Alexander Chee’s collection of essays How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is a quiet and introspective book that will be of special interest to writers, but is equally enjoyable to anyone who has relished Chee’s many published (and celebrated) essays to date. These essays focus on Chee’s personal experiences as a gay Korean-American writer, and range in topic from the writing life to a eulogy of a friend lost to AIDS. Chee’s sensitive and subtle voice is able to sustain a reader’s interest throughout this impressive collection, and we recommend that you sink yourself into his prose without hesitating.
5. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman
First published in 1991, this historical account of lesbianism throughout the twentieth century is, admittedly, a little dated. Still, for anyone interested in the shifting cultural attitudes surrounding female-centric romance across several tumultuous, wildly differing decades, the book is well worth your time. Faderman tracks America’s attitude toward women loving women from the time when “romantic friendship” was a normal, even admirable trait, through the experimental roaring twenties, to the terror-driven McCarthy years, and beyond. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers is a fascinating look at not only the history of gay rights, but the intersection of how being a woman played into that journey — and a sobering reminder that the work still isn’t done.
6. A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby
Ma-Nee Chacaby’s life has never been easy: from abuse in both childhood and adulthood to alcoholism to racism, she’s faced plenty of challenges throughout her life. Still, while the unflinching subject matter can be difficult to read, the book as a whole is one of endurance, self-discovery, and eventual peace. Readers of all backgrounds will find something to learn from and relate to in this deeply personal account of what it means when multiple marginalized identities intersect. A Two-Spirit Journey is a memoir that will stick with you for many years to come.
7. Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia
In this wildly hilarious memoir, Jacob Tobia tells us their story: from their childhood desires for both sparkly dresses and playing in the mud, to childhood bullying, to the halls of the United Nations and the White House. Sissy explores what it means when a person feels drawn to both the feminine and masculine identities, the shifting ways your relationship to gender can influence your life, and ultimately landing squarely in a place of pride. Who cares if you’re not playing by other people’s rules? It’s a delightful, empowering read that encourages all of us to stand up and claim our identities.
8. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen
It’s easy to look at cultural stereotypes and think that every American on the LGBT+ spectrum must either be living on the liberal coasts, or hiding deep in the closets of the heartland “flyover” states. But what Samantha Allen shows in Real Queer America is that no matter where you go, queer people find ways of forming thriving, vibrant communities with each other. From drag shows to gay bars to political rallies, Allen takes readers on a journey to all corners of the United States, finding LGBT+ people everywhere and revealing the pride that manages to flourish in even the most conservative places.
9. Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was almost certainly gay? Or that Sweden was once ruled by a gender nonconforming monarch who, in the modern era, may well have identified as nonbinary? What about Eleanor Roosevelt’s love letters to another woman?
Throughout history, people across all ranges of the LGBT+ spectrum have been making a difference and shaping the world we live in, whether history chooses to remember that part of their identity or not. In Queer, There, and Everywhere, Sarah Prager sets out to highlight the lives and accomplishments of 23 extraordinary individuals, reminding us that queers have always been here — making the world a better place, one life at a time.
10. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a graphic memoir, in other words a memoir in comics format, about the author’s upbringing and her relationship with her father. One line from the Tony-Award-winning musical adaptation of this book stands out: “I know you…” whispers the young protagonist, as she sees herself in the butch presentation of a delivery woman. Concerned with gender norms, gender roles, and sexual orientation, this portrait of a closeted father and an increasinly independent lesbian daughter will not fail to move you, while the blue-tinged comic strips are sure to tug at your heartstrings.
11. Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
Children’s lit has become more inclusive in recent years, but one identity that still struggles for shelf space is bisexuality. Star-Crossed helps make up that deficit. Set against the dramatic backdrop of a middle school production of Romeo and Juliet, the story follows Mattie as she starts falling for her brilliant, pretty, and British co-star. Her feelings are complicated by a long-standing crush she’s had on a boy, though, as Mattie works to figure out what it means to like both boys and girls. It’s an affirming exploration of young romance, Shakespeare, and friendship that will stay with readers long after the curtain drops.
12. Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
In this nostalgic, big-hearted middle grade novel, Lisa Jenn Bigelow introduces us to Melly: a girl who’s newly into drumming, and attending two weeks at Camp Rockaway. What she doesn’t know at the start of summer is just how much is about to change: her parents are getting a divorce, her best friend is ignoring her, and there’s a new girl at camp who’s giving Melly feelings she’s never experienced before. Drum Roll, Please will give you all the “feels,” as Melly swings between heartbreak and hope, ultimately learning the importance of expressing her true self — to a rocking beat, of course.
13. Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World follows a young girl whose entire life is upended — literally. Her family home is destroyed by a tornado, and in the aftermath, her sketchbook goes missing. This might seem like a small loss by comparison, except that the pages are full of pictures of girls holding hands. Now, pages from her notebook keep turning up in Ivy’s locker along with encouraging notes, and Ivy can’t help but hope that it’s from the new girl in her class. But between living in borrowed clothes, a confusing rift between her older sister, and the loss of her parents’ attention, Ivy will have to learn how to piece together the mystery, and her new life, on her own.
14. George by Alex Gino
In George, our titular heroine has been told her whole life that she’s a boy, but she knows the truth. Still, she’s not sure if it’s the sort of thing she should tell people.
But when her class puts on a performance of Charlotte’s Web, George desperately wants to try out for the role of Charlotte — a role her teacher insists can only go to a girl. Now it’s up to George, with the help of her best friend, to come up with a plan that not only secures her the role, but allows her classmates to finally see her for who she truly is.
15. The Pants Project by Cat Clarke
The dress code at Liv’s school might not seem like a big deal — pants for boys, and skirts for girls — but for Liv, being forced into a skirt every day is just one more reminder that the world doesn’t see him for the boy he is. Thus, a plan is born, and Liv and his friend set out to change the rules for everyone who doesn’t fit in. The Pants Project is a classic in the making, a middle grade novel that touches on bullying, acceptance, and diversity with the trademark grace and humor of the best in the genre.
16. The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey
This heartfelt novel is about a normal boy, the kind of boy you’ve met a hundred times over: Shane loves basketball, graphic novels, and spending time with his best friend, Josh. But Shane has a secret, one he hasn’t even told his best friend: he’s transgender, and people used to perceive him as a girl before his family moved to San Francisco three years ago. When a classmate threatens to reveal the truth, Shane is suddenly faced with the possibility that his friends and teammates may not see him the same way again. The Other Boy is a beautiful story about staying true to yourself, and about the value of those in your life who will stand with you — no matter what.
17. Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender
Set on the lush shores of St Thomas of the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Child follows Caroline, a girl with the misfortune of having been born during a hurricane. It’s said to bring bad luck, and Caroline has certainly faced more than her share of that. This powerful book is a little heavier than some of the other titles on our list, but young readers will still get a lot out of their time spent with Caroline as she deals with evil spirits, first crushes, and parental abandonment. It’s a rich story that will weave its way into your heart as you bask in the warmth rays of its prose.
18. Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
Zenobia July touches on all the hallmarks of middle grade: moving to a new place, making new friends, trying new things — all while wrapped in a delightful, cyber-sleuth mystery. After moving from Arizona to Maine to live with her aunts, Zenobia is settling in to her new school and new life. But when a troll starts posting hateful memes on the school’s website, Zenobia must use her old hacking skills to get to the bottom of it and make her new town a better, more inclusive place for all. Full of warm, supportive characters, this book makes for a delightful story about the true meaning of family and what it means to really belong.
19. The Whispers by Greg Howard
The perfect blend of magical and spooky, The Whispers is a book you won’t forget! It’s centered around eleven-year-old Riley, a boy full of wishes. He wishes he could stop wetting the bed, he wishes the bullies would stop picking on him, he wishes that his crush would like him back… and he wishes that his mom would come home.
There’s not much a boy his age can do about these things, at least under normal circumstances. But Riley believes in the whispers, fairy creatures in the woods who can grant wishes for the right price. So begins a magical journey that will shake the foundation of everything Riley believes.
20. The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
This charming graphic novel follows Aster, a young boy raised in a family of witches and shapeshifters. The only problem is, all boys end up shapeshifters, and all girls end up witches: but Aster wants to be a witch.
What follows is a story by turns thrilling, heartbreaking, and endearing, as Aster learns his craft first in secret, and then thrown into the spotlight when a mysterious beast starts stealing members of his family. The Witch Boy is an important story about being true to yourself, no matter how different that may make you — and how maybe you’re not as different as you think.
21. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
This comic book series by Alice Oseman started out as a webcomic, but it quickly gained a following passionate enough that HarperCollins decided to publish it. And thank goodness for that! Heartstopper follows two British schoolboys, Charlie and Nick, who become friends and then fall in love. Wholesome and unbelievably heartwarming, this beautiful, precious series will have you giddy with happiness, hugging these volumes tight to your chest. Pure and tender, Charlie and Nick’s relationship will definitely stay with you!
22. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
It’s a long 1980s summer for teenagers Aristotle and Dante in El Paso, Texas. The two boys couldn’t be more different: Ari is reserved, guarded, and struggling to feel like he belongs; Dante is an emotional, warm, and open-hearted boy who meets Ari’s darkness with his bright light. Together, they spend the summer learning about each other and themselves, their friendship and love growing stronger every day. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a lyrical and touching book, and exactly what you need if you’re looking for something to restore your hope — a friend in book form.
23. Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry
Another novel set in Texas, Orpheus Girl tells the story of Raya and Sarah, two lesbian teenagers who are sent to conversion camp to have their homosexuality “cured”. Raya’s obsession with Greek mythology is weaved into this narrative as she begins to view herself as Orpheus, and Sarah as Eurydice. This raw and lyrical book doesn’t flinch away from the devastating brutality of conversion therapy, bravely bearing witness to the mental and physical pain the girls experience as a direct result of homophobia. Despite the heavy subject matter, it’s able to maintain a degree of lightness and hope.
24. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
This classic piece of lesbian fiction has been both banned and burned, yet still it stands. With good reason: the book is still, disturbingly, as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1982. Annie on My Mind tells the story of two teenage girls who meet in a New York museum and quickly become friends. But as their feelings slowly turn to something more tender, each of them is aware of the risk that moving forward would bring. Heartfelt, touching, and painfully true, this book will resonate with readers for a long time to come.
25. Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
In Let’s Talk About Love, Alice’s summer plans are simple: TV and food marathons, with shifts at the local library to cover her rent. Nothing complicated, and absolutely no romance — Alice is done with dating, after her girlfriend broke up with her because Alice admitted she was asexual. But then she meets Takumi, and now her chill summer plans are thrown into chaos. This thoroughly charming novel about the power of love demonstrates that even the best-laid plans need room for the unexpected.
26. All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell
In this short story anthology, 17 of today’s best young adult writers come together to deliver the stories that haven’t been told. Each of these historical fiction stories centers on a protagonist somewhere in the LGBT+ spectrum in a time when their identities were often unknown, ignored, or erased. Yet as All Out demonstrates, queer teens have always been contributing to the world — living, loving, and making a difference. From 1870s Mexico to the grunge scene of the early ’90s, this diverse collection will entertain and inspire you from the first page to the last.
27. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
This dreamy Hollywood romcom is as warm and satisfying as a California sunset. When budding set designer Emi stumbles across an old letter from a deceased Western film star, she knows what she has to do: track down his long-lost secret granddaughter, and reunite her with the missive. What she doesn’t anticipate is how amazing, beautiful, and talented said granddaughter will be. Soon Emi is on a mission to not just help Ava secure a stable future, but land the perfect lead for Emi’s new movie. And maybe, if she’s lucky, get the girl in the process. Everything Leads to You is a pitch-perfect summer romance and a love letter to creativity, all wrapped in the magic of movie making.
28. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Set in New York City in 1989, Like a Love Story follows three teenagers as they navigate life, love, and the sober world of the AIDS crisis. Reza, a closeted boy, only understands homosexuality through the lens of so many gay men dying. Judy, an aspiring fashion designer, worships her gay uncle as he fights for justice. And Art, the only openly gay boy at school, documents the AIDS crisis through photography. When Reza and Judy start dating, it launches the teens into a journey of self-acceptance and discovery that will leave readers enthralled and breathless to the very end.
29. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Messy, real, and beautiful, Felix Ever After tells the story of Felix Love, a teenage demiboy who has yet to fall in love. He really wants to find someone special, though he is concerned that being Black, queer, and trans is too many marginalizations for anyone to handle. But when an encounter with a troll sends Felix on a quest for revenge, Felix starts feeling things he never expected to for his partners in crime. Full of raw emotions and a complex, changing relationship to his gender identity, this book does not shy away from showing us the whole truth of Felix’s life and his feelings, and we love it (and him) for it.
30. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
In Every Heart a Doorway, the first of the ongoing Wayward Children series, our world is connected to portal worlds through magic doors. Central to this dark and strange series are the children who’ve travelled through these doors, discovered a place they truly belonged, and then found themselves shut out of it. Not knowing where to turn, many of them go to a boarding school where they wait for an opportunity to return.The first six books in this series are already out, but there’s thankfully still more on the way, so this is your chance to hop onto the fandom wagon while it’s still gaining momentum — you won’t regret it!
31. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
For a novel that was used as evidence of Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality in his trial for gross indecency in 1895, The Picture of Dorian Gray is likely to strike modern readers as remarkably not so homoerotic, after all. This Gothic novel traces the moral decline of Dorian Gray, a young man whose obsession with his own beauty leads him to make some unwise decisions… Asking enduring questions about art and aesthetics, Oscar Wilde’s remarkable novel is a breathtaking tale about the fear of aging, as well as a piece of gay literary history in its own right.
32. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Another gay lit classic, Giovanni’s Room is the complex story of David, a young American in 1950s Paris, who is desperately trying to accept what society has taught him is morally correct and appropriate: a heterosexual marriage. But though his fiancée Hella is on his mind, other thoughts whisper in his subconscious, and David soon finds himself unable to deny his desire for Giovanni, a bartender who shows him a different way of life. In the darkness of a room hidden from the rest of the world, David is forced to reckon with his true self.
33. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles is an intensely poetic, thrilling novel retelling the Greek myth of the Trojan war, focusing on the friendship and romance between Achilles and Patroclus. Tracing their relationship from young boys to warrior men, Madeline Miller masterfully sketches out their contrasting personalities: Achilles, son of sea goddess Thetis, relishes people’s respect and attention; Patroclus, humble and pensive, prefers to admire Achilles from the quiet of the shadows. When the two find themselves fighting in the Trojan War, their story comes to a devastating halt — but we won’t spoil it for you...
34. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’ debut novel, Tipping the Velvet, is set in 1890s England and tells the story of Nan, a working-class girl of 18 who falls in love with the charming Kitty Butler. Kitty works as a male impersonator, and Nan follows her to London where Kitty pursues her glittering dreams of a career in theater. So begins a tale that pays tribute to the long and winding novels of the Victorian era, nodding with understanding to the London of Dickens while imbuing the book with a fiercely passionate lesbian romance.
35. Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington
Lot is a powerful collection of short stories set in Houston in the period before and after Hurricane Harvey. Many of these stories center around a young man of a Black and Latinx background who is coming to terms with his sexuality. Collectively, the stories paint an affecting portrait of a gentrified, diverse, and working-class urban environment in today’s America, witnessing its community and individuals alike. Raw and tender, Lot is a sensitive, sad, and thoroughly impressive debut collection.
36. What Belongs to You: A Novel by Garth Greenwell
What Belongs to You begins when the novel’s unnamed American narrator walks into a public bathroom in Bulgaria and pays Mitko, a man he meets there, for sex. The two develop a complicated relationship where passion, dependence, and power all hang in the difficult balance between them. The novel unfolds backward and, as it progresses, the reader becomes acquainted with the backstories of the two characters, stumbling into the core question of identity and its many folds. What Belongs to You assumes a truly breathtaking momentum as it chronicles lust, remorse, memory and the making of the self.
37. Nevada by Imogen Binnie
Looking for a trans novel that’s not about transitioning or going through trauma — just an enjoyable novel about someone who’s trans? Imogen Binnie has got you covered with Nevada, a darkly funny novel that satirizes Brooklyn’s hipster culture through the eyes of Maria Griffiths, a woman whose life takes a different turn when she realizes her girlfriend’s lied to her. So begins a refreshing, thought-provoking book with a punk aesthetic that’s sure to become essential reading for the modern age.
38. Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang
At the intersection of racism and transphobia lives Mei, a Chinese-Canadian trans woman who tries to navigate these tensions in search of her own mental peace. In this quiet and touching novel, Mei’s grief for the recent death of her cousin turns into a journey of self-discovery as she uncovers family secrets and confronts her own loneliness and loss. Small Beauty is an introspective and heartbreaking book that will linger in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.
39. Real Life: A Novel by Brandon Taylor
Real Life (recently longlisted for the Booker Prize) tells the story of Wallace, a biochemistry student at a Midwestern university. The novel begins shortly after Wallace’s father dies, and powerfully narrates his careful navigation of the social tensions he has to face as a graduate student and a black, queer man. Sensitive and sharply intelligent, this campus novel does a fantastic job of highlighting the interconnectedness of social relationships and the intimate divide between the private and the public.
40. Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis
1970s Uruguay, under the reign of a military dictatorship, was not a good time or place to be queer. Heartbreaking and celebratory at the same time, Cantoras is a novel about five women who find dangerous freedom in each other during a week-long trip. Spanning thirty-five years, this expansive work is able to chart the changes and perils they face, while emphasizing the unique nature of the bond they share. Reading Cantoras will remind readers of the freedoms they enjoy in their own lives, and how desperately they ought to treasure them.
Want to read about even more extraordinary individuals? Check out our post on the 30 Best Biographies! Or read up on the poems of Emily Dickinson, who many speculate may have had a homosexual relationship with her sister-in-law.