The 20 Best LGBTQ Books, According to Queer Authors
We asked nine queer authors to share the best LGBTQ books they've ever read. Here are their top picks.
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LGBTQ books you’ll fall in love with
LGBTQ books haven’t always enjoyed bestseller status the way many do today. Once upon a time, queer authors who were brave enough to live their truth (or at least write about it) often did so by being creative with their words, giving readers a hint of queer content while carefully avoiding any obvious signs.
Today, we’re fortunate to live in a time when LGBTQIA authors—that is, authors who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other sexual orientations that are not heterosexual—can write openly and honestly. Though LGBTQ books are more likely to make an appearance on banned books lists, the demand for queer books continues to grow each year. These days, you’ll find memoirs and coming-out stories, trope-filled romances (fake dating, anyone?), teen books with gay and trans leads and more must-reads by favorite authors and new voices alike.
Whether you’re seeking queer novels written by female-identified authors, books by Black authors, books about queer theory (we suggest starting with the works of Judith Butler and Michael Foucault) or any other book under the literary rainbow, you’ll find titles to love on our list of LGBTQ books recommended by popular and up-and-coming queer authors. These picks for the best books span genres, from longtime LGBTQ essentials to fun beach reads, exciting YA books and more to enjoy for Pride Month and beyond.
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1. The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye
Published in 2021 by trans journalist Shon Faye, The Transgender Issue offers readers an introduction to trans politics, highlighting the fight for trans rights in the face of systemic transphobia. Tackling topics like health care, class, incarceration, sex work and more, this work of nonfiction offers a thorough exploration of trans identity.
Why they love it: “If, like most people, you’re a little confused as to why there’s so much fuss about the trans community in the media right now, this book is a clear-eyed, sane exploration of the state of transgender politics—essential reading for anyone invested in LGBTQ rights,” says Dawson.
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2. Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen
Recommended by: Philip Ellis, author of Love & Other Scams
GLAAD Award–winning journalist Samantha Allen has written the perfect satire of popular reality dating shows, and you won’t want to put this one down. Patricia Wants to Cuddle revolves around a fictional TV show called The Catch, which pits four women against one another in pursuit of an eligible bachelor, and they all come with their own agendas. Named one of the best books of 2022 by NPR, Chicago Review of Books, Them and more, it’s a book Kirkus Reviews calls a “one-of-a-kind queer horror comedy for people who watch The Bachelor and The X-Files back to back.”
Why they love it: “I love novels that blur the lines between genres, and Patricia Wants to Cuddle straddles its clashing tones perfectly,” says Ellis. “It’s both a razor-sharp satire of dating shows like The Bachelor and the fandoms that surround them, and a horror story about a remote island and the cryptid who preys on unwitting tourists. Bloody good fun.”
3. We the Animals by Justin Torres
Recommended by: Aaron H. Aceves, author of This Is Why They Hate Us
Justin Torres’s 2012 debut, the bestselling, award-winning We the Animals, centers on a young half–Puerto Rican boy coming of age in a household with three brothers. O, the Oprah Magazine called the novel “honest, poetic and tough” and said “it makes you reexamine what it means to love and to hurt.” The book has even been adapted into an award-winning film, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
Why they love it: “Told in a series of fleeting, emotionally dense vignettes, this short but impactful novel is about queer adolescence and growing up in a dysfunctional family,” Aceves says. “The main character’s experience of his intersectional identity—gay and Puerto Rican—especially resonated with me as a queer Latino.”
4. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
A moving day-in-the-life snapshot of a gay, middle-aged widow and English professor named George, A Single Man is set in Southern California in the 1960s and explores grief in a whole new way. When it was published in 1964, it was revolutionary, and it’s since become a real classic piece of literature. The novel has received plenty of praise and was even adapted by fashion designer Tom Ford into a 2009 film starring Colin Firth.
Why they love it: “[This book] allowed me not only a sense of what loving another man felt like but also the kinds of stories it was possible to tell as a gay writer,” says Rowley.
5. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby, the fiercely popular writer behind the blog Bitches Gotta Eat and author of multiple books, delivers another rip-roaringly funny essay collection with 2020’s Wow, No Thank You. In it, Irby tackles her new life as both a 40-year-old woman “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees” and a successful author living with her wife in a liberal town in a “red” state. The book became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction.
Why they love it: “Irby is one of the funniest writers of our time, and every one of her essay collections is packed with vulnerability, wit and passages that turn you into That Person Giggling in Public,” says Bartz. “Just thinking about Wow, No Thank You makes me crack up—it gets deeply real about … turning 40, trying to fit in, the horrors of dating and, um, certain intestinal difficulties.”
And let’s just say she’s not alone in her love for this book. “I’ll preface this by saying that, outside of psychology texts for work, I’m not a big reader of nonfiction. So even after a friend forcibly pushed this collection of essays by the divine Samantha Irby into my hands, I was reluctant to dive in,” admits Gagnon. “Well. Five minutes later, I couldn’t stop laughing. If you’re a fan of David Sedaris, you’ll gobble up any of Irby’s books. This one is my particular favorite, mainly because it was the first I encountered, but I’ve read them all.”
6. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
In Irish author Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 novel, Jim and Doyle make a pact to swim to a distant island on Easter and claim the space for themselves. But of course, parents and fate have different plans for the boys in this tragic story of young love. Written in stream-of-consciousness prose, the book has earned comparisons to the work of greats like James Joyce, whose A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in 1916, the year this historical fiction novel is set.
Why they love it: “My favorite coming-of-age story, it’s an elegant and often unsettling look at two working-class boys discovering themselves, each other and their country leading up to Ireland’s Easter Uprising of 1916. It’s heroic, insightful, endearing and, like all good love stories, tragic,” says Schultz.
7. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Recommended by: George M. Johnson, author of All Boys Aren’t Blue
James Baldwin’s first nonfiction book is a collection of 10 essays that had previously been published in top magazines, like The New Leader and Harper’s Magazine. Published in 1955, Notes of a Native Son describes what it means to be Black in America in the 1940s and ’50s, leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.
Why they love it: “Notes of a Native Son is a classic. And as a Black, queer writer, we don’t have as many texts as we should from the past that give us context into life from a Black, queer lens. His book does that and more, as it speaks to race issues in America, many of which I still face today, and lays a groundwork for the work I do in that same right.”
8. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Recommended by: Minna Dubbin, author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
This impactful memoir by award-winning author Carmen Maria Machado takes a long, hard look at a previous abusive relationship and the impact it was having on her life. Exploring each chapter through a different trope, In the Dream House tackles themes of religion, history, queer stereotypes, fairy tales and even a haunted house, bringing Machado’s pain and the factors that caused it to light.
Why they love it: “I loved the way Machado structured the book into tiny chapters so that each one felt representative of the fractured and out-of-control feeling of being in an abusive relationship. All minority groups are under societal pressure to perform perfection (the model minority) in public because we desperately want to be accepted and treated as equals, and because we’re each seen as representative of the larger group. As a result, published stories of abusive queer relationships are rare, and this visibility and representation offered by In the Dream House is hugely important, aside from the fact that it’s a powerful and beautifully written book. I devoured it.”
9. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
Recommended by: Author Steven Rowley
This adorably sweet story about two teenage boys who become unexpected friends (and maybe more) gained a massive following as a web comic before finding publishing success: The 2019 YA graphic novel quickly hit the New York Times, USA Today and national Indie Bestseller lists. But the success of the Heartstopper series (which now includes six volumes) has expanded beyond the page. In 2022, Alice Oseman created the Netflix adaptation, winning the story an even wider fan base and critical acclaim. A second season will release on Aug. 3, 2023.
Why they love it: “Oseman’s work follows in the footsteps of other great LGBTQ+ graphic novels, like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel,” says Rowley. “There’s something so powerful about seeing these characters drawn on the page when gay people spent much of history in the shadows.”
10. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Published in 1987, award-winning author Ellen Kushner’s debut novel has since become a cult classic. The first in the World of Riverside fantasy book series (there are three in total), Swordspoint follows the life of Richard St. Vier, a master swordsman who finds himself thrust into a series of duels and difficult decisions that blur the line between heroism and villainy. The novel has received praise from the likes of George R.R. Martin and was even inducted into the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards Hall of Fame.
Why they love it: “This classic genre-bending queer novel challenges the reader to drop expectations and submit to the flow of the story. It is so rewarding,” says Mora. “This is my all-time favorite book.”
11. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Recommended by: Author Brandon Schultz
Casey McQuiston’s New York Times bestselling Red, White & Royal Blue tells the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the bisexual First Son of the United States, and his arch nemesis, England’s (very gay) Prince Henry. Naturally, an enemies-to-lovers romance ensues. The book became the feel-good novel of 2019, winning Goodreads Choice awards for best debut and best romance the year it was released and earning the Best Book of the Year title from Vanity Fair, Vogue, NPR and others.
A few years later, it’s still one of the most popular gay books on shelves. And it’ll be getting the film treatment in the coming months, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can watch these LGBTQ movies.
Why they love it: “At the opposite end of the seriousness spectrum: a ridiculous romance between the First Son and the English heir—total beach read that’s a lot more fun than you’ll want to admit,” Schultz says.
12. No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell Moore
Recommended by: Author George M. Johnson
No Ashes in the Fire is a difficult but vital memoir of growing up Black and queer by award-winning author and Black Lives Matter activist Darnell Moore. In it, he recounts his earliest memories of harassment as a frightened 14-year-old at the hands of three neighborhood boys who tried to set him on fire. A New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2018, Moore’s book details the long and difficult journey from being the victim of bullies to becoming an outspoken advocate for liberation in a society that often struggles with notions of justice.
Why they love it: “Darnell Moore’s No Ashes in the Fire became one of my inspirations to write All Boys Aren’t Blue. It was a book written by a friend and mentor that gave me the agency to also tell my own story. It impacted the way I process the traumatic things in my own life and gave me the license to find my own voice to also tell my story.”
13. What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart
Recommended by: Author Steven Rowley
When college freshman Mallory meets an older, married woman at her university gym, her life is turned upside down. Embarking on an affair that wholly consumes her, Mallory falls into a world of isolation that follows her even after the affair comes to an end. Publisher’s Weekly called Michelle Hart’s 2022 debut novel, What We Do in the Dark, “auspicious and breathtaking.”
Why they love it: “I was recently moved by [this book], which explores through a contemporary lens the price queer people have paid for years of solitude and secrecy,” says Rowley. “It made me think of how my life truly began when I was able to embrace who I was.”
14. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Recommended by: Author Juno Dawson
This bestselling debut novel by author Torrey Peters was chosen for Roxane Gay’s Audacious Book Club and named one of the best books of 2021 by a bevy of publications, including Vulture, Time, Bustle and Marie Claire. Peters’s book about three (trans and cis) individuals tackles both what it means to be a woman and what it means to have a family.
Why they love it: Dawson recommends this breakthrough novel about a complicated “throuple,” noting that Sarah Jessica Parker is also a fan. “The novel even featured on Carrie’s bookcase in And Just Like That,” says Dawson.
15. Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick
Recommended by: Author Philip Ellis
Who doesn’t love a royal romance novel? Playing the Palace follows Carter Ogden, a brokenhearted American event planner who suddenly meets and quickly begins dating the openly gay Prince of Wales. But as anyone who’s followed a royal relationship knows, everyone—and we do mean everyone—has an opinion on the couple, and the spotlight can create plenty of challenges. But don’t worry: It’s a rom-com, so you’ll find plenty to swoon over in this one.
Why they love it: “BookTok sensation Red, White & Royal Blue is certainly the best-known royal rom-com out there, but I strongly urge you to also pick up Playing the Palace, in which a neurotic party planner from New Jersey becomes entangled with a British prince,” says Ellis. “As escapist summer reads go, it’s pretty much perfect: Every page is more irreverently hilarious than the last.”
16. This Is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves
Recommended by: Author Maria Ingrande Mora
When Aaron H. Aceves’s debut young adult novel was published in 2022, it became an American Library Association Rainbow Book List Selection and Cybils Award finalist. This Is Why They Hate Us centers on Enrique “Quique” Luna, a queer teen whose only goal one summer is to finally get over his crush on a boy named Saleem. But his plan to get with a slew of other romantic prospects is not at all what he expected.
Why they love it: Mora loves this particular book because “queer teens feel so achingly real in this beautifully messy coming-of-age story.”
17. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Recommended by: Authors Juno Dawson and Aaron H. Aceves
James Baldwin is, without a doubt, one of the most famous Black gay writers of all time. Many are familiar with his If Beale Street Could Talk (which was adapted for film in 2018), but Giovanni’s Room, published in 1956, was among his most controversial and most overtly queer works. (It’s also one of the most famous LGBTQ books of all time.) The story revolves around an American man who meets an Italian bartender named Giovanni at a gay bar in Paris, and it highlights the struggles of his various relationships with men.
Why they love it: “The undisputed LGBTQ classic is enjoying something of a resurgence on TikTok, with good reason,” says Dawson, calling it a must-read even 60 years on.”
Aceves couldn’t agree more. “When people ask me what my favorite book of all time is, this is the answer I give them,” he says. “Of course, because it’s James Baldwin, the writing is at times lyrical and breathtaking and at others disarmingly frank. It’s a novel I reread often, and [I] find myself coming away with a new outlook on life.”
18. Real Easy by Marie Rutkoski
Recommended by: Author Andrea Bartz
A People Book of the Week and Amazon Editor’s Pick, Real Easy by New York Times bestselling author Marie Rutkoski is a compelling murder mystery that will have you questioning everything with each flip of the page. “It’s a riveting whodunit set in a Midwestern strip club in the ’90s, where dancers begin to disappear,” says Bartz. Named a New York Times Best Crime Novel of 2022, Rutkoski’s book made a number of must-read lists, thanks to her superb storytelling skills.
Why they love it: “Fans of beautifully written, character-driven mysteries à la Tana French and Jane Harper, take note: Real Easy is about to become your new favorite thriller,” says Bartz. “Beneath the gorgeous prose and crackling suspense is a thoughtful meditation on femininity, trust and the roles women play.”
19. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
Recommended by: Author Philip Ellis
From World Fantasy Award–winning author Ellen Klages comes a story about the intersecting lives and loves of six women living in 1940s San Francisco. Playing with themes of magic, pulp, comedy, forbidden romance and queer history, Passing Strange is a novel you’ll soon be recommending to all your friends. Klages’s book was even a finalist for the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella.
Why they love it: “I adored this novella about the interconnected lives of a group of queer women navigating love and anti-LGBT laws in 1940s San Francisco,” says Ellis. “Unlike many other historical lesbian romances, however, Passing Strange is shot through with flourishes of magical realism: While the inner lives of Klages’s characters are painted in rich, realistic detail, it also reads like the best kind of fairy tale.”
20. They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
Recommended by: Author Andrea Bartz
Layne Fargo’s latest book, 2020’s They Never Learn, is a psychological revenge thriller for feminists that Bartz describes as “one of the darkest campus thrillers of our time.” In it, a college professor named Scarlett Clark moonlights as a serial killer. The catch? Her “victims” are actually perpetrators of sexual assault, making her something of a vigilante. The novel has four out of five stars on Goodreads and has been described as a good fit for fans of the show Killing Eve.
Why they love it: “Fiercely feminist and thoroughly effed-up, this twisted tale packs complex characters and thought-provoking commentary into a whip-smart page-turner,” says Bartz.