By Richie Bowman
I’ll be the first to admit– I don’t read straight books too often anymore. As a queer person, why bother, when we’re entering a renaissance in the publishing industry that’s included more representation than I've ever seen? It’s unbelievable to me, especially since I can still remember the first book I read with any queer representation: Flawless by Sara Shepard, book two in her Pretty Little Liars series, back in the year 2008. For those of us who were middle schoolers at the time, there are probably some distinct memories of her neon colored covers with Barbie dolls adorning them, a sign at the time that this was JUST FOR GIRLS. I didn’t know when I bought it that there would be queer characters. Hell, I didn’t know when I bought it that I was gay. I just knew this book called out to me from the shelf and I needed to take it home. Once I’d read it though, I hid it under my pillow, where it stayed until I moved to college. It was a secret. It was an object of affection. And, for a little queer girl in Idaho, it was a sign that maybe, somewhere, there were other people like me.
Obviously, the landscape for queer lit is broader than it was in my childhood. With multiple reputable sites touting their “best gay books of the year” lists and BookTok promoting everything from Adam Silvera to Madeline Miller, it’s hard to believe there was a time when you truly had no choice but to stumble onto queer representation. Now, the publishing industry runs rampant with options. This is good! It is also overwhelming. I never thought I’d see a time where I thought we had too many queer books; I still don’t, really, but it can seem unfathomable to wade through all the options at hand.
So, for anyone out there looking for a good sapphic read, I have compiled a list of some of my favorites, so you too can find the next book you want to hide under your pillow.
What a fun time this was! I love a book that shows friendship between queer people, and this is the ultimate found family vampire story. It follows three women who have been turned into vampires by their shared ex-boyfriend, and their plot for revenge against the man who stole their life. This is an easy read, perfect if you’re looking for queer content where queerness is incidental to the plot.
You Don’t Live Here by Robyn Schneider
It’s rare I see a bisexual character handled with any grace, but You Don’t Live Here perfectly tackles it here. Sasha is a wonderfully realized character who shows interest in both men and women throughout the course of the novel– neither are painted as better or worse, and it’s a nice glimpse into coming out during the current political climate. If you like love triangles without all the drama, or a heartwarming coming out saga, this one could be your new favorite.
Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun
Butch representation! A very silly and contrived fake marriage plot! Fun friends and roommates to fill out the background! Nonbinary representation! There is so much fun to be had in this holiday romcom about two women, Jack and Ellie, who met for a one night stand and thought they’d never see each other again, until a fake engagement between Ellie and Jack’s brother brings them back together.
Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
If you like astrology and high school sweethearts meeting again in adulthood, you’ll love this book! It’s the third in Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars series. They can be read in any order, and the finale is absolutely my favorite of the bunch. Margot and Olivia’s chemistry is sparkling the whole time, and this is absolutely a steamier alternative to Kiss Her Once for Me.
We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets
This book follows a group of 20-something content moderators as they fall apart under the pressure of the gig. Our lead, Kayleigh, is struggling in her relationship with fellow moderator Sigrid throughout the course of the book, and it’s another prime example of some excellent fiction that doesn’t shy away from its queerness, but knows the characters have more to offer than just their sexuality. A tense and gripping thriller, it’s the perfect antidote to the upward trend of burying your gays in murder mysteries.
Patsy is a Jamaican woman who emigrates to the United States to try and build a new life for herself. Leaving behind everything she’s known, she goes on a journey to try and find the one woman she’s ever loved. It’s told in dual perspective between Patsy and True, the child she left behind, who discovers her own identity in her mother’s absence.
Often passed over in favor of more explicit queer content, this short novel follows two mixed women in the ‘20s in Harlem dealing with race and a very intense friendship. While the majority of the novel deals with race-passing, there are constant allusions to the similarities between being mixed race and being bisexual.
Part of the famed Beebo Brinker Chronicles, Odd Girl Out is especially distinct in queer history for being one of the first lesbian pulp novels where both girls stayed alive and safe by the end. These books are definitely pulpy, with the fun intensity and wild antics of a soap opera, but the whole series offers a very intimate look on queer culture in 1950’s New York. They’re all worth a look!
The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes
People often say coming out isn’t a one time event; it’s a constant series of moments that never really end. The same can be said for coming into your own queerness, at least in the case of Crewes’s graphic memoir, which follows all the little moments that tipped her off to her sexual identity.
Myriam Gurba is brash, bold, and a little mean in her memoir that I could not tear myself away from. Although far from a happy queer tale, Gurba doesn’t much care for your opinions as she leads you through the series of sexual assaults that helped shape her backbone of steel. Her queerness, race, and her dreaded “victim” status coincide to create one of the most powerful and surprisingly funny stories I’ve read. (If you like this, you should see her brilliant takedown of American Dirt in “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck,” published on the website Tropics of Meta.)
That’s my top ten! But no list is complete without one to grow on, so my final pick is one to watch out for.
Moby Dyke: An Obsessive Quest to Hunt Down the Last Remaining Lesbian Bars in America
This pride month (June 2023) we’re getting the fabulous Krista Burton’s debut novel. If you’ve followed her blog Effing Dykes, you know as well as I do how fantastic a voice in the queer community she is. With lesbian bars’ rich history in this country, I could not be more excited to see history meet today in this new book.
It’s been a long road to get here from the days of taking what we can get. Whether you’re looking to laugh, cry, or fall in love, there is finally a queer book out there for you. So hop on over to your local bookstore and see if one of these is worth its place under your pillow!