As we all know, June is Pride Month. And as we continue on our educational journeys in this electrifying time of social upheaval, celebrating marginalized populations feels more necessary than ever. We’ve seen a lot of ugliness rise up particularly in the last few years—a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down, what with the all-too-recent repeal of trans rights in the US—and it’s enough to make you feel helpless sometimes. While we continue to be let down by those we idolized (cough JK Rowling), we can turn to more positive examples (cough Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson) to shape how we want our future to look. As I talked about in my last post, the idea of joyful expression can be a salve against the wounds inflicted by society, a way of pushing back against a force that wants you beaten down and depressed. But more than just joy, allowing marginalized stories to take whatever form they want—allowing artistic voices to flourish regardless of origin—is what we should be fighting for!
For Pride Month, I put together a list of LGBTQ+ titles that span genres and identities, to give a taste of the kind of variety that’s out there. No doom and gloom here (but maybe some delicious heartbreak). And while VPL doesn’t currently have some newer titles due to Coronavirus-related delays (look out for Something to Talk About, You Exist Too Much, Broken People, and Love After Love in the future), we do carry plenty of others! This list was only supposed to include ten titles, but apparently I wrote eleven, because I can’t count. So now it’s a list of eleven titles, in no particular order.
- Check, Please! (Ngozi Ukazu)
Check, Please! is a graphic novel about baking, friendship, love, and...hockey. What started as a side project, a little something to distract author Ukazu while she worked on her Masters at Yale (no big deal) has become a runaway online success, securing Ukazu a two-book deal. Set in the hyper-masculine world of college-level sports, Check, Please! tells the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a sweet-as-pie (sorry) baker who ends up on his school’s hockey team, and soon finds himself falling for the team’s captain. Cuteness ensues, friendships are forged, media storms are braced with courage, everyone is lovely and nothing hurts. If you need some sugar in your coffee right now, prepare yourself an afternoon to get invested in Bitty and his hockey bros. The world will feel like a better place afterwards! VPL has the first volume in print, but you can also find the entire comic in completion (legally!) online.
- Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (Mariko Tamaki)
So often in the past, queer teen stories centred around the particular angst of coming out. More and more, though, as society makes its gradual shift towards acceptance, that story is changing to a different kind of angst: the angst of just being a teenager. In this graphic novel, Freddy Riley is out and proud at her high school, and is surrounded by equally out friends and peers. The teen angst here comes from her toxic relationship with one Laura Dean. A female fuckboy—she even has the haircut—Laura Dean will not be a stranger to anyone who is or once was a teenager. She’s bad news, but Freddy can’t seem to stay away. Mariko Tamaki is one of my favourite comic authors for her ability to crystallize teenage experiences into truthful, no-pretense stories and characters. Laura Dean is also visually gorgeous, told in black and white with pops of soft pink. (Also available in e-book format!)
- The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
The praise for this book goes beyond anything I can say in a paragraph. Madeline Miller’s debut novel scored her the Orange Prize in 2011 for its perfectly-wrought depiction of the life of Greek hero Achilles, told from the perspective of Patroclus (a minor character in The Iliad). In the ancient text, Homer tells us what happens but not why— why does Achilles lose his whole mind when Patroclus is killed in the Trojan War? (I would say spoiler alert, but this story is thousands of years old) As the kids say, there’s no straight explanation for this. Miller, a Classics scholar, does not claim to reinvent the wheel: “I stole it from Plato! The idea that Patroclus and Achilles were lovers is quite old. Many Greco-Roman authors read their relationship as a romantic one—it was a common and accepted interpretation in the ancient world.” Her writing is almost unaccountably beautiful, making every moment of The Song of Achilles feel profound, the romance achingly swoon-worthy. And after Circe, I need Miller to write interpretations of every Greek myth, thank you.
- Felix Ever After (Kacen Callender)
A much-lauded story of a black trans teen, written by a black trans author, Felix Ever After makes you work for that happy ending. Another story of high school struggles, this one is specific to the trans experience; without shying away from the hurt and bigotry inevitably faced by Felix, Callender’s story is also one of empowerment, joy, and love. Along with the messy dynamics of falling in love with his best friend’s ex-boyfriend and competing for a scholarship to Brown, Felix finds himself the victim of transphobic harassment when someone at school starts circulating photos of Felix pre-transition. There’s a lot going on in this novel, but I think this review from Publishers Weekly says it best: “This top-notch depiction of a messy, complicated, romantic young artist navigating the bumpy road to self-love and self-determination sticks its landing at every turn.” Also, that cover is a work of art.
- Red, White & Royal Blue (Casey McQuiston)
I wrote about this one in my post about romantic comedies, and to quote Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “And you’ll hear it again!” It’s just too delightful not to repeat. Now that it’s summer weather again, you might be looking for a beach read (with or without the beach)—and this one is a scorcher. The plot is pure rom-com: the son of the (female) US president and the Prince of England are forced to play nice for the media after a public altercation. Of course, by rom-com rules, it’s not long before they’re falling head over heels in love with each other. With a whole different kind of scandal potentially around the corner, the two must navigate their public images, their high-powered families, and their feelings in this wholly absorbing, stay-up-all-night read. And good news for all you romantic comedy heads out there, author Casey McQuiston has a new project in the works: a queer spin on Kate & Leopold (!!).
- Gideon the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir)
Every once in a while you come across something that genuinely makes you go “wow, I’ve never heard that before.” Enter Gideon the Ninth by New Zealander Tamsyn Muir. I can’t figure out a more concise way to describe it than this Vox headline: “Gideon the Ninth is about lesbian necromancers in space. Obviously, it’s perfect.” Really, what else do you need to know? Get a glimpse of the opening line: “In the myriadic year of our lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.” This will most likely either entice you or repel you—if the latter, I get it, but if you give this book a chance you will discover a rollicking, genre-bending space opera full of heart and grounding emotion. Also, it’s the first in what’s sure to be a wild series!
- Bloom (Kevin Panetta)
More baking imagery abounds in Kevin Panetta’s Bloom, but this time main character Ari is trying to escape his floury surroundings. He’d rather be playing in the city with his band, but for now he’s stuck working in his family’s bakery. Trying to implement his own replacement, Ari hires the culinarily gifted Hector to work alongside him. Over the course of the summer, the two grow closer. But in true brink-of-adulthood fashion, decisions about the future have to be made—though Ari, clumsy with his emotions, has no idea what he wants. A sweet, quiet, slow burn of a story, Bloom is presented in soothing monochromatic blues. Circling back to Mariko Tamaki, this gentle, thoughtful graphic novel feels like a spiritual match for This One Summer.
- I Wish You All the Best (Mason Deaver)
Sometimes, it really takes an #OwnVoices author to tell a story right, with compassion and nuance. I Wish You All the Best is a teen novel with a nonbinary protagonist, written by newcomer nonbinary author Mason Deaver. While it hits much of the beats expected from a YA novel (parental struggles, a connection with an attractive classmate, last year of high school), the fact that this is a story from a very rare voice in publishing makes it noteworthy. In fact, we often look to the YA genre for examples of diverse representation; sometimes, the most ordinary tale can be made original by telling it through a new voice. Deaver’s work has been described as appealing to fans of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, and I think that is a perfectly apt comparison.
- Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
Another graphic novel (clearly a genre worth looking further into for more LGBTQ+ content), Fun Home is a bit older than the other titles on this list, but it’s such an important contribution that it feels right to include it, just in case anyone out there is still unaware of it. You might know Alison Bechdel as the creator of the Bechdel Test, a feminist resource for tracking female dynamics in film. Fun Home feels like what it is: Bechdel working through her relationships with her late father, her own sexuality, and her father’s sexuality. Because of this it can feel a little navel-gazey, maybe a little pedantic in its references, and light on narrative. But it strikes all the right emotional notes, and is emotionally compelling enough to keep you glued to its pages. Like other graphic novels on this list, the visuals here are monochromatic but richly detailed.
- The Prince and the Dressmaker (Jen Wang)
Ok, yes, this is yet another graphic novel—but this one offers something very different! Straddling the boundary of Junior and YA lit, The Prince and the Dressmaker is a historical sort of fantasy set in Paris. Prince Sebastian’s parents are dead-set on finding him a bride, but Sebastian is more preoccupied with crafting his alter ego: Lady Crystallia, who takes the fashion world by storm. Along with his best friend Frances (the dressmaker in question), Sebastian explores his identity through fabulous gowns and late night balls. What sets this story apart from the others is that it’s more focused on gender expression than sexuality (there is a bit of a romance between Sebastian and Frances), which is not often the case in fiction. It’s a sweet, easy-to-digest read. Also, pretty dresses.
- Crush (Richard Siken)
And lastly, something a little different. I know poetry isn’t everyone’s jam, but if it is—or if you’re open to it—you’ll want to check out Richard Siken’s Crush. Like Fun Home, this one is a little bit older, but it seems to be perennially popular for its “confessional, gay, savage, and charged with violent eroticism” brand of poetry (what a description!). Reading it is like being burned with a lit cigarette, but…in a good way, somehow? Siken clearly struck something special with this collection; it won him the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 2004 and it’s hard to think of comparisons (maybe Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds, which I also highly recommend). Anyway, if you like your poetry intense, raw, and painful (and really, don’t we all?), you’ll love Crush.
This is just a small percentage of the wide world of LGBTQ+ reading! For more recommendations, check out some lists below. And as always, let me know your own recommendations in the comments!
- Teen Reads: Pride Month Goes Digital
- Reading with Pride: LGBTQ Books 2020 (focusing on Children and YA)
- 14 LGBTQ+ Books to Look For in 2020 (Adult picks)
- Glad Day Bookshop: Support a locally-owned queer bookshop! Offering curbside pickup and delivery.
- Support LGBTQ+ groups in Canada
- Support Black-led LGBTQ+ groups in the US