LGBT+ reading recommendations

LGBTQ+ Books to Read

By Frankie Paar

Each year, the month of June is designated as Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

On June 28, 1969, a series of violent altercations erupted among police and frequenters of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. This had not been the first time such an event had occurred at the Stonewall Inn, but this time, patrons had had enough. The Stonewall Riots became a symbol of resistance against discrimination and served as a catalyst for a new generation of gay rights activism. The nation’s first Pride marches were held a year after the riots, and has been held every year after. Chicago’s Pride parade, one of the first, continues to bring in one of the largest crowds across the country.

Show your literary pride with these 13 books to read during LGBTQ+ Pride Month (and all other months for that matter). And visit our Book Club Reading Recommendations page for more summer reading suggestions.

“Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Oh, Walt Whitman. Our Grey Poet, our Emersonian man. Whitman was a believer in Transcendentalism, having been greatly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson developed this philosophy based on emphasizing independence and self-reliance in nature. Whitman believed in individual liberty and tolerance, empowering people to be their best selves. He also often depicted love and sexuality in his writing, one in particular of which can be found in Leaves of Grass’s “Song of Myself.”

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

“Love him,” said Jacques, with vehemence, “love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?”

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is truly a cult classic, having drawn attention since its publication in 1956. Even today, it remains one of the most important queer novels ever written. The novel is widely considered to be loosely based on Baldwin’s own life, having left the country due to racial discrimination. After spending years away from the United States, Baldwin later returned in the 1960s to be an active part of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is the story of two sisters who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence. This classic novel of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.

The Color Purple is a novel that will most likely outlast us all. It is a book of struggle, family, and love among women in circumstances that are stacked against them. The novel is one of the “all-time greats of literature,” having sold over five million copies and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983.

Howl by Allen Ginsberg

America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

A member of the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg was basically one of the original hipsters. Beat Generation writers hold a special place in my heart. I love their experimental literature and challenge to mainstream America emerging from the mid-1950s, where they were termed “Beats” and “hippies.” “Howl” is both a revolutionary protest against conformity and a celebration of humanity.

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

The book features seventeen YA authors across the queer spectrum, having come together to create a collection of diverse historical fiction across time and genres. I love modern spins on classic stories, and if historical fiction is your thing, you won’t be able to put this down.

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Have you ever felt really close to someone? So close that you can’t understand why you and the other person have two separate bodies, two separate skins?

Fun fact: Annie on My Mind has never been out of print. Ever. It was one of the first to show same-sex relationships in a positive light, and is about two girls in New York City who become close friends and eventual lovers, as they navigate their own sexuality and their impact on the community. In 2003, the classic novel was the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contributions to literature for young people, but it also has an interesting past. The book was a central focus of a mass book burning and library banning across Kansas school districts during the 1990s. But not to worry — the book was later reinstated due to student activists, and is now more popular than ever.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

If knowing you’re asexual makes someone see you differently, then they don’t deserve to be in your life.

Alice is a biromantic asexual black college woman. She spends the summer living with her two best friends (who are dating). After her girlfriend broke up with her when she shared that she is asexual, Alice has no intentions of dating again – until she meets Takumi while working in the library.

Both characters work in a library, so there are already bonus points for Let’s Talk About Love. However, I also think this novel is extremely important due to its representation of asexuality, which is rare to find in the LGBT+ community.

A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein

The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today.

Bornstein, a gender non-conforming trans author and performance artist, leads you through their life in the Church of Scientology and writes about how they became who they were always meant to be. Using humor, honesty, and wit, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a guide to changing the common understanding of gender to one that acknowledges identities outside the binary system.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

The contemporary novel takes a delightful take on the classic Greek epic, Homer’s Iliad. I remember reading the epic poem in one of my college classes, where we spent quite a lot of time discussing the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. It shows a representation of love as love, with the added bonus of the world of Ancient Greece.

Every Heart Has A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

What I love most about this fantasy novel is the way in which its queer representation is not a plot device or the point of conflict, but rather is simply a fact. It features people just as they are: people. The story focuses on Nancy, who is able to stand as still as a statue for hours on end. After being thrust back into the real world from her beloved Underworld, she must find a way back before she, herself, ends up dead. The story is book one of a five book series, and once you pick it up you won’t be able to put it back down.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance. When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud.

David Levithan is a powerhouse for queer literature. He is the author of many popular YA novels, including Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, and co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Levithan was one of the first authors to introduce gay characters into the mainstream, and his first debut novel, Boy Meets Boy, gives a delightful twist on the heteronormative boy-meets-girl story. It is a happy romantic comedy about “finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.”

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful fairytale story about a boy who paints moons and a girl who grows flowers from her wrists. They live in a fantastic world full of magic and witches, and tell a story of true love and friendship.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a heartwarming coming-out story of Simon, a sweet, sweet, child who is searching for love. I ugly cried when it was released as the movie “Love Simon” in 2018, and it is a story that I cannot get enough of. (Not to mention that it includes many, many Harry Potter references, shout out to Dumbledore).

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