I have had the absolute joy and privilege of recently reading some incredible books written by authors and featuring characters who are queer. If I had the time and/or space in my posting schedule I would write each a loving, several page long review but unfortunately I don’t – however I also don’t want to miss the opportunity to spread the message of these books far and wide and help them find the bigger audience they deserve!
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I’m going to be focusing on books where the lead character or plot is queer, but I would like to give a shoutout to Slayer by Kiersten White (my review here) and Enchanteé by Gita Trelease which both feature queer supporting characters! In both cases, their sexuality isn’t something that defines them or gets shouted from the rooftops – generally it’s just casually mentioned or referred to and nobody really blinks!
Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by Lev A. C Rosen– This book was a great read and felt like the tonal opposite of Simon Vs by Becky Albertalli while still holding on to the themes of being true to yourself no matter what form that takes.
Jack is openly gay, very happy to lean into stereotypes he subscribes to while still being entirely his own person. He wears makeup and buys clothes from the women’s department of the store, but isn’t defined by his everyday foray into drag.
He runs an online column answering sex and relationship questions which allows the book to acknowledge subjects that seem to be taboo or hushed down in YA lit like gay sex, asexuality and being okay with sleeping around and having fun in your teens (as long as everyone is consenting and in the loop, of course).
The last turn that turns this into the anti-Simon is that instead of a cute, closeted email relationship, Jack has a creepy stalker. Honestly, the mystery element of this book took me by surprise but the best part of it was how it was used to call other characters (and society) out on judging people – maybe if Jack wasn’t so flamboyant, he wouldn’t get this unwanted attention, points out his high school principal. With a great set of supporting characters, this book really starts an open and honest conversation about subjects that are severely lacking in YA.
When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri – I’ve seen this book get some pretty harsh reviews for not being a perfect bible for lesbian fiction and it makes me super mad. Listen, LGBT+ fiction doesn’t always have to be a modern classic masterpiece.
Sometimes it can be crappy chicklit with all the crappy tropes that creates like an emotionally unavailable dude, a naive girl in the big city, a quirky sidekick with funky hair and a location with a sentimental attachment being forced to close – except the dude is also a gal, the naive girl is a whipsmart lawyer, the quirky sidekick’s hair is a badass green fauxhawk and the location is a rowdy gay bar. Everyone is a stereotype. Everyone is saying cliched lines. Its every Nora Ephron movie except with lesbians.
Is this a great novel? Nah. But are You’ve Got Mail or When Harry Met Sally great films? Also nah. It’s cool that amongst all the trauma and angst of queer literature theres a growing movement of other genres being included, and I think When Katie Met Cassidy is a great champion for romcom-chicklit just as Simon Vs was for YA high school fiction.
In At The Deep End by Kate Davies – as a bi girl living in a heteronormative world (try sing that to the tune of Madonna’s Material Girl for bonus fun), I don’t know a lot about the lesbian culture. I have a lot of gay male friends, who are more than happy to share experiences of gay bars, Grindr and the subcategories they fall into, but not the female equivalent. In At The Deep End absolutely blew my mind as I experienced everything for the first time alongside Julia.
Obviously, not every lesbian will be represented by the kinks featured in this book (we meet a colourful variety of queer women with different views and levels of interest of what Julia is experiencing) but it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the more… ahem, hardcore side.
The best part of this novel has to be Julia’s voice – I listened to it as an audiobook and Lucy Briggs-Owen absolutely brought her to life. She is a millennial Bridget Jones, kind of anxious about everything, thinks she’s suddenly become cooler because she now has access to a society her hetero friends don’t, and wants to do better than her mundane job but can’t really drum up the energy to find anything else. Her girlfriend Sam is a lesbian Christian Grey, demanding and controlling but also Julia’s window into a community she didn’t know she was a part of. It’s a mashup that really shouldn’t work, but absolutely does.
This book is graphic (sometimes comedic, sometimes very very sexy) and so not for everyone! But if you want a funny, warming, mainstream look into a sadly often ignored culture, then this on I wholeheartedly recommend.
Once & Future by Cori McCarthy & Amy-Rose Capetta– The reason I read this book was for it’s amazing and diverse representation and with that it absolutely delivered. There were characters of all sexualities and genders and ethnicities and not a single one was token or thrown in to appear woke. The authors’ passion and love for equality and acceptance for everyone really shines through and I truly adored that element of this book – based on that alone it’s easily five stars and an excellent lesson to other authors on how accurately and correctly include diversity within a novel.
Unfortunately, among all the wonderfulness of a broad spectrum of characters I did have some issues, mainly with the pacing of the plot, underdeveloped relationships and a plot twist/relationship towards the end which I found very odd (especially because it featured a bi girl and for me felt like it leaned into the stereotype of bisexuals being greedy, although I am sure that was not intended due to the authors’ incredible sensitivity with their representation).
However, I would recommend this book as an inclusive piece of writing and I’d take excellent representation in a mediocre novel over terrible representation in a literary masterpiece any day.
Have you read any great queer literature recently? Is there a certain type of representation you’re always on the lookout for? Please feel free to recommend books in the comments below!