18 of the best books that tell LGBTQ+ stories

Joanne Finney
·7-min read
Photo credit: Good Housekeeping
Photo credit: Good Housekeeping

From Good Housekeeping

The Channel 4 series It's A Sin, about a group of young - mostly gay - friends who move to London in the lead up to the HIV and AIDS crisis, has broken records for the broadcaster, becoming its biggest ever instant box set. This speaks volumes about the desire many people have for more LGBTQ+ stories.

It's not just TV where representation is vital. Books are an important way of telling LGBTQ+ stories, covering the joyous moments and the challenges. For anyone struggling with their sexuality or gender identity or wanting to better understand, a book that reflects back your own feelings and experiences can be a life-saver.

From moving novels, such as Jeanette Winterson's lesbian coming-of-age tale, to insightful memoirs, like Amrou Al-Khadi's eye-opening story about being a Muslim drag queen, there's something here for everyone. Read them yourself then pass them on to those who need them...

All The Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks

This heartbreaking account of caring for men with HIV and AIDS in conservative 1980s America will have you raging one minute and crying the next. It starts on the day a 26-year-old Ruth visits a friend in hospital and notices another patient's door is painted red and that nursing staff are reluctant to enter. On impulse, she enters and looks after the young man in there who is dying of AIDS. It's the start of her journey as an activist and ally, and her eventual role as an adviser to Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis. The lengths she goes to advocate on behalf of those who are too ill to is incredibly inspiring.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Many have compared this smart and sexy debut to Normal People by Sally Rooney. Ava is a young Irish woman living in Hong Kong who becomes involved in a love triangle with a banker named Julian and a lawyer named Edith.

The Gender Games by Juno Dawson

Dawson documented her journey while transitioning in a column for Glamour magazine, and she now writes young-adult novels. This memoir expands on her experiences as a trans woman and discusses how claustrophobic society’s binary expectations of gender are.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson’s novel, first published in 1985, is semi-autobiographical: a young girl growing up in a strict Pentecostal community, struggles with her sexuality, her strict mother and teenage angst.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Over the course of four decades, a group of four male friends share their joys and sorrows as they make lives for themselves in new York. Jude, the central character, is haunted by abuse from his past and it affects the relationships he forms. It’s a gruelling read at times as it covers some difficult subjects but this mesmerising novel is a love letter to the sustaining power of friendship.

For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu

This coming-of-age novel is about the only son in a Chinese family, and how he actually identifies as a girl. Set in small-town Ontario, it's told with dark humour and warmth.

The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

William Beckwith is young, moneyed and charming and spends his days and nights in early '80s London chasing erotic encounters. When he comes to the aid of an older man in a public toilet he ends up with an unlikely job - to write his biography. Through reading Lord Nantwich's diaries he uncovers elements of a sad and unpleasant past. A thought-provoking look at a time just before the AIDS crisis.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This important and powerful novel made Alice Walker the renowned writer she is. Set in the segregated American South of the 1930s, the story follows Celie, a 14-year-old Black girl living in poverty, separated from her sister and suffering abuse at the hands of her father. But when the mysterious jazz singer Shug Avery comes to stay, Celie discovers friendship, love, faith and more importantly, strength. This bold and emotional story is a must-read.

Tales Of The City series by Armistead Maupin

For many, these are the queer books that they read as teenagers. Maupin creates a completely believable world, where the matriarch and landlady Mrs Madrigal presides over a group of friends and lovers - straight, gay, cisgender and transgender - in a houseshare in San Francisco. The series concluded with a ninth instalment, The Days of Anna Madrigal, in 2014.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

This funny and insightful novel follows two couples as they navigate mid-life - gay couple Zoe and Jane are contemplating divorce, while on the other side of New York their friend Elizabeth is dealing with her husband Andrew's breakdown. Novels that feature gay parents are rare so we love this book for its representation of diverse families.

Biche by Stephanie Theobald

22-year-old George has moved to Paris for a wild adventure. By day she works in a temp job and lives in a dingy flat with two other girls but by night she gatecrashes fabulous fashion parties with her best friend, a gay man called Holly. Then George falls head-over-heels in love with Lucinda, a high-powered, Roedean-educated English lawyer... A coming-of-age story that's by turns raunchy, hilariously funny and poignant.

Life As A Unicorn by Amrou Al-Khadi

Growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, Al-Khadi always felt different. This honest memoir charts the author's journey from childhood, including a two-year scholarship at Eton and their discovery of drag and how life-changing it was. It's also about the author's relationship and reconciliation with their mother.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Originally published as The Price Of Salt, this moving book was recently adapted for the big screen (starring Cate Blanchett) and - deservedly - introduced it to a whole new audience. Published in the 1950s, it is known for being the first lesbian novel to portray a happy ending. It tells the story of Therese Belivet, a lonely young woman trapped in a department-store day job, whose life is turned upside down by glamorous surburban housewife Carol Aird.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

This eye-opening collection of essays, speeches, letters and interviews by activist and writer Audre Lorde explores race and sexuality. Among the pieces is her famous essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

At the centre of this genre-bending memoir is the love story between Maggie Nelson and the artist Harry Dodge, who is gender fluid. As Nelson recounts her pregnancy, she questions ideas of femininity and motherhood, as well as looking at what makes a queer family.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Driven by the same captivating storytelling as Patrick Gale’s previous novels, A Place Called Winter is the bittersweet story of a man forced to flee London for newly colonised Canada after his illicit relationship is discovered. A moving read about sexuality, secrets and finding yourself.

Trans Like Me by CN Lester

This accessible book is a mixture of memoir and writing about trans issues in the current climate. It's the ideal read for anyone who is looking to better understand the trans experience. Lester also weaves their own story into this thoughtful, well-written book.

How Beautiful The Ordinary edited by Michael Cart

This anthology features stories by some fantastic writers, including Emma Donoghue (of Room fame) and Jacqueline Woodson, all of which explore elements of queerness and gender identity. This would make a good read for a curious teen.

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