Hi, Gay! Happy Pride Month! We are sashaying away with deals!
In honor of the one month a year where queer content is embraced (read: commodified) by large corporations including social media, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and share a list of 10 of my favorite queer books that you should read. Read ‘em during pride month or any other month, because we exist year round. Below you’ll also find links to some similar lists I’ve written for Book Riot. Happy perusing!
When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones
I sought this book out after having seen the author’s life and activism portrayed in the film Milk and miniseries When We Rise, and it did not disappoint. (To quote my Goodreads review from 2017, “Can someone help me find my heart? Because this book just ripped it from my chest.”) Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was born in the last generation of gay men who grew up wondering if other people like him existed. Turns out there were, as thousands of LGBTQ+ people were drawn to San Francisco in the 1970s, fuelled by changing social norms and progressive politics. But Jones’ life in the gay rights movement, including working alongside Harvey Milk, was not without its upheavals, given the AIDS crisis into the ‘80s, same-sex marriage in the 2000s, and the continued fight for LGBTQ+ equality that continues today. When We Rise is the story of it all, and it’s sure to enthrall new generations of gay youth who yearn to understand how we got to where we are. And once you’ve read the book, be sure to stream the miniseries adaptation on Disney+!
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really? Despite the fact that Mark and Kate have sat next to each other in class for an entire school year, their paths have never really crossed—until one night, after Kate has just blown her chances with the girl she loves and Mark is torn, in love with his best friend Ryan and not sure if he feels the same way. In just a short time, Mark and Kate find everything they’ve been looking for in each other, in a way neither of them have ever quite felt before. Written in alternating points of view by LaCour and Levithan, You Know Me Well is a heart-aching story of first (gay) loves, and all the messy, glorious feelings that come along with them.
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
When Ollie meets Will during a summer vacation, it’s the fling fantasy he’s always imagined: he’s warm, affectionate, and kind—everything Ollie could ever ask for in a boyfriend. But when vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back, he figures that’s the end of it. That is, until Ollie’s family moves across the country and he starts attending school with none other than Will himself. But the Will his school knows and the Will that Ollie met on vacation are two vastly different people: the confidently queer guy from the summer has disappeared into a closeted jock of a class clown who Ollie really doesn’t care for. But when Will keeps showing up in every area of Ollie’s life, he has to decide if his heart is worth giving to someone twice.
Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette
Born into a small New England town in the 1950s, Paul Monette struggled for most of his life to imitate a straight man. Although he made up for it by being “perfect Paul” with straight As and the star of social and literary pursuits, he never feels truly happy and at home in his own skin. Spanning a youth of Ivy League colleges of privilege, living abroad, loveless intimacy, and unrequited passion, he is haunted and finally saved by the image he’s been yearning for his entire life, something he’d never seen with his own eyes: two men in love and laughing. Tragic but necessary, Becoming a Man is essential reading for young gays seeking to understand an entire generation wiped out by the AIDS crisis.
We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar
My So-Called Life meets When We Rise in this heartbreaking coming-of-age tale. In early 1980s New York, 16-year-old Michael enjoys living in the shadows of his best friends: James, a queer performance artist whom everyone wants but no one can have, and Becky, a straight shooter who just wants to protect her friends. Michael knows he likes boys but makes the wise choice to keep a low profile, since his brother Connor was kicked out of the house for being gay, not to mention the misunderstood AIDS that’s beginning to plague gay people. To pass the time, Michael and his friends hang out at The Echo, a dance club where labels don’t seem to matter as long as you’re dancing. But then Gabriel enters his life, and Michael must decide what he’s willing to risk for the chance of a first love.
Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon
In 1973, when the Watergate hearings are in full swing, the Vietnam War is still raging, and homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness, 16-year-old Jonathan Collins—a bullied and anxious teenager—feels completely alone in the world. To cope, he escapes into the safe haven of his imagination where his late mother and his hero, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, guide him through life. In his alternate reality, he can be anything: a brave superhero, Ziggy Stardust, or just a “normal” boy who doesn’t like other boys. When he completes his treatments, Jonathan will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web waltzes into his life. Reading Ziggy, Stardust and Me felt like looking into a mirror and seeing the bullied, anxious teenager I once was, who dwelled intensely in his own imagination and blasted Madonna through his headphones walking home from school to drown out the voices of people who didn’t understand him. This was the book I would have needed when I was younger, and I’m so glad it exists now. I hope it reaches the misfits who need it most.
Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
One of the most high-profile books in gay literature, Dancer from the Dance depicts the adventures of Malone, a beautiful young man searching for love amid New York’s emerging gay scene. From Manhattan’s Everard Baths and after-hours discos to Fire Island’s deserted parks and lavish orgies, Malone looks high and low for meaningful companionship. The person he finds is Sutherland, a campy quintessential queen—and one of the most memorable literary creations of contemporary fiction. Hilarious, witty, and ultimately heartbreaking, Dancer from the Dance is truthful, provocative, outrageous fiction told in a voice as close to laughter as to tears.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Not only is Tell the Wolves I’m Home required reading for anyone interested in the AIDS crisis, but also required reading for introverts and definitely introverts with anxiety. It’s 1987, and the only friend that 14-year-old June has in the world is her Uncle Finn, a renowned painter. Unable to fit in at school or with her older sister, Finn is the only person that understands June and makes her feel safe—not only her godparent, but her only confidant. But when Finn dies far too young from an illness June’s mother can’t bring herself to talk about, June is forced to face all of her hidden fears, anxieties, and feelings—with the help of a new friend who might just be her saving grace.
A Star is Bored by Byron Lane
Charlie Besson is about to have an insane job interview. His car is idling, like his life, outside the Hollywood mansion of Kathi Kannon. THE Kathi Kannon, star of stage and screen and People magazine’s worst dressed list. She needs an assistant. He needs a hero. Kathi is an icon, bestselling author, and an award-winning actress, most known for her role as Priestess Talara in the iconic blockbuster sci-fi film. She’s also known for another role: crazy Hollywood royalty. Admittedly so. Famously so. Fabulously so. Charlie gets the job, and embarks on an odyssey filled with late night shopping sprees, last minute trips to see the aurora borealis, and an initiation to that most sacred of Hollywood tribes: the personal assistant. But Kathi becomes much more than a boss, and as their friendship grows, Charlie must make a choice. Will he always be on the sidelines of life, assisting the great forces that be, or can he step into his own leading role?
Heartstopper: Volume One by Alice Oseman
This graphic novel series, recently adapted into a practically perfect Netflix series, is full of heart and personality is sure to capture your attention from the very first page. Charlie is a highly-strung, openly gay overthinker. Nick is a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player. The boys meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but neither of them can deny that there’s room and desire for something more. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But as both boys are about to learn, love and human attraction work in mysterious ways.
For more queer book recs, check out these other lists I’ve written:
• 12 Gay YA Books to Make You Feel Yourself (or Make You Cry)
• 8 Queer Read-alikes for Your Favorite Love Stories
• 12 Books for Gay Teens Who Have Just Come Out
What are some of your favorite queer books?