Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Written by: Karina Jones
School is out for the summer, which means most people are either bored or stressed out by a summer assignment they don’t want to do, centered around a book they don’t want to read. If you’re the former, you can fill your time by going to your local bookstore (or hopping online to avoid heat and cicadas) and buying these books that feature LGBTQ+ characters, then sitting down with a nice cold drink and enjoying these wonderful novels. If you’re the latter, you can make your summer assignment more bearable by picking up a book you actually enjoy reading when your eyes glaze over from reading something written 50+ years ago.
The beginning of July marks the end of pride month, but as many LGBTQ+ advocates have said throughout June, it is important to celebrate and fight for sexual and gender minorities every month of the year. Reading novels featuring LGBTQ+ characters is beneficial to both allies and members of the community. Members of the community can find familiarity and solace in characters who struggle with similar burdens, and gain hope when those characters surmount various obstacles. Allies can gain empathy and understanding for members of the LGBTQ+ community by reading stories about their triumphs and failures. Some of the books on this list will be older and some more recent, some may be familiar and others will be more obscure. Happy reading!
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
The lesser known companion novel to Albertalli’s Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda and Leah on the Offbeat, The Upside of Unrequited features many LGBTQ+ characters, depicted in ways that combat stereotypes and open the reader’s eyes to unique family dynamics. As a special addition to the novel, the main character’s family experiences the day Obergefell v. Hodges, the court case that legalized gay marriage, was decided.
Albertalli’s description reads; “Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love--she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
“Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness--except for the part where she is.
“Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
“There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkein superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
Mikuta is a Korean-American writer currently studying English with a focus in creative writing at the University of Washington. Her debut novel, which was released on the last day of pride month, is centered around two girls fighting on opposite sides of a war who find themselves falling for each other. The novel breaks barriers by putting two LGBTQ+ characters at the forefront of a sci-fi/apocalyptic novel, rather than the typical coming-of-age book.
Here is a more in-depth description of Gearbreakers: “We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...
“The shadow of Godolia's tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
“Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.
“As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia's reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer—as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…”
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Commonly described as a combination between Gossip Girl and Get Out, Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut novel has been highly anticipated within the reading community. It contains black LGBTQ+ characters in a unique and suspenseful thriller. The description reads: “When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.
“Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.
“As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?
“With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.”
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
For those who want a classic coming-of-age story but in a unique format, Heartstopper is for you. It’s a graphic novel about the progressing romance between two teenage boys and part of a series that is soon to be turned into a Netflix drama show. Here is a description of the comic; “Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn't think he has a chance.
“But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This pride month, many LGBTQ+ content creators and advocates have focused on spreading the message that the LGBTQ+ community is not new; genderqueer and homosexual people have existed as long as chiset people have. This historical fiction novel about Old Hollywood contributes to that message, featuring a bisexual star who was married seven times to seven different men, but whose story is shaped by the woman she never married. The description reads; “Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
“Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
“Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.”
Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
One of New Hampshire’s first transgender state legislators, Lisa Bunker was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. Her novel features a transgender girl who finds an opportunity to express her true self for the first time, and use her skills in coding and hacking to solve a mystery at her school. Bunker’s description reads; “Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she's in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she's coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she's able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.
“When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school's website, Zenobia knows she's the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.”
Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau
This self-published novel follows the journey of Jespar Dal’Varek, a bisexual war vetran with special capabilities. As much fun as it is to read trending novels published by top companies, it is also important to support books that are self-published or published by indie publishing houses. To get an idea of what lies ahead in Dreams of the Dying; “Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is ‘all right.’
“Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.
“Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.
“Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?
“Described as ‘Inception in a Polynesian fantasy setting,’ Dreams of the Dying is a slow-burning, haunting blend of fantasy, mystery, and psychological horror, that explores mental illness, morality, and the dark corners of our minds.”
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
This 848 page standalone novel centers around three female characters and contains a slow-burn lesbian romance. The goals of these three characters can be found in the description; “A world divided.
“A queendom without an heir.
“An ancient enemy awakens.
“The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction--but assassins are getting closer to her door.
“Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
“Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.
“Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.”
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Another feminist fantasy featuring lesbian lovers, The Jasmine Throne is a tale of a
vengeful princess and a powerful priestess, explained in more detail here; “Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
“The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.”
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.
Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
A fantasy/sci-fi novel with a genderfluid main character, Mask of Shadows follows Sal, a thief who wants to up their game, described here; “I needed to win. They needed to die.
“Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.
“When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen's personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
“But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.”