When I first began writing these posts for the library over two years ago, I talked about my experience with LGBTQ+ fiction, and how this genre has improved and expanded over the last decade or so, particularly in young adult books, but that it still had a long way to go in terms of inclusivity. I mentioned how, while it was getting better with each year, much of this category of fiction still had tragic endings for queer characters, inaccurate stereotypes, and a very narrow focus on almost entirely cisgender, white, gay men rather than the wide scope of identities within the queer community. Since those posts, I’ve read some queer fiction, but I hadn’t really kept up with the expanding genre until very recently. With this month being a very difficult Pride month in some ways, I’ve used it as an opportunity to try to catch up and find some joy in recent queer fiction. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was blown away by how far LGBTQ+ fiction has come.
I remember when I was a teenager, it was a rare find to come across a teen book with LGBTQ+ characters. In order to find these books, I would have to read the back of book after book in the library, and sometimes even the blurb on the back of the book didn’t make it clear the book would feature queer characters. I read hundreds of books every year, and of those, I found maybe five featuring gay or lesbian characters that I read before I turned eighteen. It wasn’t that these titles didn’t exist at all, but there were very few, and the ones that existed were difficult to find unless you already knew about them. But revisiting the genre more fully now, queer fiction has seen an explosion in popularity. And these titles aren’t just being published at a higher rate, they’re rising to the top of bestseller lists and winning awards! The first queer fiction book to win a Pulitzer Prize was in 2018, with Less by Andrew Sean Greer, while the first to win a National Book Award was young adult title Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (which went up against four other finalists, two of which also had LGBTQ+ main characters) in 2021. And many others are gaining recognition and popularity, from Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters topping the New York Times Bestseller list to Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage being picked up by Amazon for a TV adaptation before the novel was even released. This increase in publishing and visibility means it’s not only easier for queer people to find books that reflect their experiences, it is also more common for straight and cisgender people to read these books and gain some understanding of the queer community.
With the rise in the number of queer books being published, there has also been an impressive increase in the diversity within this type of fiction itself. There’s definitely still titles featuring cisgender, white, gay men (as there should be!), but there’s also a much larger voice given to the more marginalized parts of the queer community that was largely ignored before, and the intersections they might have. One great example is Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, a young adult fantasy novel with incredible asexual representation where the main character’s Indigenous heritage helps guide her through solving her cousin’s murder. Another is Morgan Roger’s Honey Girl, a queer, Black-led romcom that examines anxiety and depression in adulthood. And just as there has been increased diversity in the types of queer expression we see, there has also been the ability to branch out and feature queer characters in a wide variety of genres, from titles like One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, which uses elements of fantasy, time travel, and historical fiction to draw comparisons between 1970s and present-day queer communities, to Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin, where post-apocalyptic themes are used as a metaphor to explore the body horror and violent transphobia that many trans people face. It’s incredible to see queer stories not just present in many different genres, but using those genres to dive into what it means to be queer in the past, present, and future.
More than anything else, what I found in my recent exploration into queer fiction is that the genre is no longer limited to coming of age romance and searching for acceptance, but now has the freedom to explore nuanced queer issues, both to the benefit of non-LGBTQ+ people who can get a glimpse into queer struggles and joy, and for queer people who can finally feel seen. Whether you’re looking to understand the queer community, looking for books that reflect your own experiences, or just looking for your next best seller to read, check out a queer fiction title this Pride month from this list!