Once upon a time, there was queer representation.
We hope you love the products we recommend! All of them were independently selected by our editors. Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Content warning: Some of these stories mention suicide, racism, violence, and other incidents that could be triggering.
1.Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is a YA novel about the monsters some are too afraid to face.
Promising review: “Beautiful, haunting, captivating, with a touch of magic and fantasy — just brilliant! The message throughout this story is so timely. The town of Lucille is sure it is rid of corrupt politicians, child abusers, murderers and other monsters. Jam, a young trans girl, lives with her loving parents. She and her best friend Redemption have grown up believing there are no more monsters. Jam’s mother, Bitter, paints a picture that comes alive and presents itself to Jam. It — Pet — tells her that there is a monster in Redemption’s house and Pet is here to hunt it. A wonderful story that will stay with you for some time. This book has made it to my ‘best ever’ book list.”
2. Refuse by Julian Randall is a collection of poems that chronicle a journey into queer Afro-latinidad identity set against the backdrop of the Obama election, Frank Ocean’s music, and nostalgia.
Promising review: “An extraordinary book from a very young poet. Readers can tell when a gift for graceful expression lies in an author’s bones, and Randall fits the description. A simple idea such as DNA is described wonderfully (noting that race is a major theme of the book): ‘Beneath my skin I keep 23 versions of the same drowned map’. Throughout we see a perfect meld of self-exploratory confession and poetically ambiguous language. The number of false steps in this book are so few I can practically count each one.
Randall’s exploration of styles and formats — with a keen ear for irony, perhaps even satire — is also impressive. The pieces here include prose poetry (“I Think Everybody Has a Year They Never Really Leave”), a skin-crawling parody of an academic disciplinary letter, and simulated abstracts of research articles (we never see the articles themselves). Perhaps the annotated Lord’s Prayer may be contrived, but candor reigns through most of the book. Even simple observations like a heavy rain are breathtakingly set into verse and a context: ‘it rained until every puddle was rabid.’
Still young, the author relives in detail his attendance at a privileged, nearly all-white school, a self-identified queer man who defied stereotypes by playing football. Many actual, physical wounds from abuse and football playing enter the scene. Relations with his parents and struggles with college are clearly very current with him, and he shares them with readers. Other themes include failure and suicidal feelings, Randall’s attempt to feel part of our country after Obama’s election, and the cultural impact of Frank Ocean.”
3. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, a YA memoir-manifesto about growing into one’s queer identity as a young Black man in New Jersey and Virginia. You’ll definitely want to read this before the Gabrielle Union-produced TV adaptation hits the screen!
Promising review: “There aren’t many memoirs written with a teen audience in mind, so I didn’t quite know what to expect going into this book. It is important, though, to mention that this isn’t just a memoir. As it says on the cover, Johnson calls this a memoir-manifesto. And it is most definitely both.
Johnson spends time telling his own story of growing up knowing he wasn’t quite like all the other boys, but without the words to express how he really felt. This memoir doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of his life, which Johnson mentions at the beginning; some people think some of the subject matter might be too heavy for a teen or young adult, but that is the age he was when experiencing these things.
I was already hooked before I even finished the introduction. This paragraph really struck me:
“I want the words of my life story to be immortalized. I want to immortalize the narrative of joy and pain, this narrative of triumph and tragedy, this narrative of the Black queer experience that has been erased from the history books. An existence that has been here forever.”
As much as this is a record of Johnson’s life, it is also a guide to young queer Black boys. He speaks directly to boys who are like him who might not have the support they need to flourish. He is there for the Black queer boys who have no one to turn to in their own lives, and he is vocal about his support.
I hope that his books lands in the hands of those who need it most, because for those kids, this memoir-manifesto could be life-changing.”
4. Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, a darkly humorous fiction novel that follows Jessa-Lynn Morton in the wake of her father’s death by suicide.
Promising review: “Wow, what a find. Thank you to Tin House for being such a reputable publisher; I know that pretty much anything I pick up with their name on it is going to be great, and Mostly Dead Things is quite truly fantastic. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read in years.
A deeply strange slice of life novel set in the almost otherworldy state of Florida, Mostly Dead Things centers on Jessa, a third-generation taxidermist determined to keep the family business afloat after the sudden suicide of her father. Jessa and the supporting characters refuse to be painted with a broad brush of any kind; I found myself transfixed as each one formed on the page and then evolved before my very eyes, dashing my initial assessments as I continued to read. Arnett weaves a very tight narrative; each chapter feels almost self-contained in a way, pushing toward a larger plot and character arc. Each sentence is so beautifully constructed. Not a single word is wasted, and the pacing is pitch perfect. The use of metaphor is breathtaking in some places; I found myself putting the book down on multiple occasions to really think about the way she utilizes language. Arnett is a true master of her craft. As an aspiring writer myself, this novel has informed so much of what I want to communicate to readers of my own work. I can’t wait to read more of her work.”
5. HULL by Xandria Phillips, an experimental collection of poems that grapple with the effects of colonialism and racism on a queer Black person and their body.
Promising review: “The first poem positions readers to read the colonial into modern lives and landscapes. It haunts, present observations, and dreams that emerge. In the most fragmented poems — ‘we cosmology,’ ‘for a burial free of sharks,’ and ‘a fruit never tasted’ — I am reminded of Beloved’s fragmented monologue tracing the Middle Passage and ultimately pain. Despite the pain catalogued, there is also beauty in the descriptions. ‘Apostled lips’, ‘broth of light’ ‘waterbed mouth,’ “’want-made waste’ — so many hushed narratives even in the book’s adjectives. Subtle but bold, haunting and atmospheric, this book deserves many reads.”
6. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby, a series of essays chronicling her life’s most relatable touchstones: Moving, marriage, and meetings with TV executives in Los Angeles.
Promising review: “This is the most entertaining book I have read in a long time…think looooooong time. Most of us could use a little, or a lot, of Samantha Irby’s ability to not take life so seriously. So, buy this book. Take your tea glass to the front porch and prepare to forget the rest of your day as you spend it chuckling along with Samantha and her everyday observations.”
7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, a graphic novel wherein the reader watches Bechdel grow from a young child into a young adult, revealing the truth about her identity to herself and her family while also unveiling the truth about her father’s identity after his death.
Promising review: “When it comes to biographies, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home really belongs in a class of its own. It is funny, sweet, brave, honest and memorable. It combines a very personal journey and a fascinating family drama. If it had only been a prose novel, it would rank among my favorite memoirs. As a graphic novel, it is a work of stark beauty and mastery of the art form. Some people may be nervous about the subject matter. I understand this may not be for everyone, but I think that you should read this book and try to be as brave as the courageous woman who wrote it.”
8.Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, a collection of essays and speeches in which Lorde interrogates (the failings of) feminism through an intersectional lens. Her writing is at once lyrical and commanding, asking its readers to investigate their biases, and capacity for empathy and growth.
Promising review: “Audre Lorde’s work has become an American classic. Her brilliance is penned in each piece. Cheryl Clarke who is an amazing author and poet wrote the opening. I highly recommend this and other works by Audre Lorde.”
9. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, a YA verse novel that follows Michael, a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London, as he comes into his own as a drag queen.
Promising review: “You know those books that you can read in one day, and it makes you feel all types of emotions? That’s The Black Flamingo. I related to this story in my own way in regards to how I navigated through my high school and college years never truly knowing who I was or how I fit in. The main character, Michael, is a mixed-race gay teen who navigates through life without knowing where he truly belongs. During college, he finds his true self as a drag artist called The Black Flamingo. Such a powerful story about self-acceptance and embracing our own uniqueness. BUY THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY!”
10. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, a collection of short stories that blur the line between horror, fantasy, and science fiction in their depictions of the myriad violences inflicted upon women in their lifetimes.
Promising review: “I kept being astonished, page by page, by a unique and feminine viewpoint so very different from my own. Every story had me startled by such a different (or possibly just differently gendered) point of view than anything I’ve read before. A pleasantly paradigm shifting read. Recommend.”
11. Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis, an education in the racist history of prisons, the call for prison abolition, and the power of the imagination.
Promising review: “I believe that this is a very important book. In it, Angela Davis puts forth an extremely compelling case for the abolition of the modern prison system. It was a complete surprise to me to learn that the modern prison system (being locked up as the final punishment) is a fairly recent phenomenon that was considered to be very progressive and humane compared to the former shaming, corporal, and capital punishments that were meted out hundreds of years ago.
This book focuses a great deal on the intersection of African American history with prison history, which adds a whole extra layer of horror to the way the system works. I’d be very interested to see how the numbers and statistics have changed (or not) in the past 15 years since it was published, but the book is definitely still relevant and informative.
It’s also easy to read, not dry or dull at all. Very interesting and flows well which makes the reading enjoyable even while the subject matter is often difficult.
Prison reform is an important topic in my social circles as a Quaker, but I had never seriously heard anyone put forth the idea that prisons should somehow be done away with. I finished this book with a new perspective with which I wish more people would become familiar.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested or involved in prison reform, African American history, and/or social justice issues in general.”
12. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin contains two letters written during the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, examining America’s history of racism.
Promising review: “This is a book to read with a pen! My copy, brand-new, and fresh from the mailbox now has underlining everywhere and notes filling the margins. The language is beautiful in this book and there is a lot of wisdom to gather. This is my first James Baldwin and I crave more!
The book consists of two letters, a short one written to a nephew and a longer one written to discuss his thoughts and feelings about race, religion, and life. This is the most beautiful description in the entire book. I cannot possibly think of a more exquisite way to word how James sees his brother and how we often see those we have watched grow up.
‘Other people cannot see what I see whenever I look into your father’s face for behind your father’s face as it is today are all those other faces which were his. Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child.’
Baldwin starts his letter by informing his nephew of how Black people can be destroyed if they believe what some white people think about them.
‘…We, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.'”
13. Birthright by George Abraham, a collection of poems in which we are all tasked with being present, particularly in the liberation of Palestine. These poems tackle generational trauma and healing via the de/construction of inheritance and home.
Promising review: “Paying homage to those who have suffered and are suffering in Palestine is something I believe everybody needs to lend their time to. On top of covering the struggles of past and modern day Palestine, Abraham also manages to beautifully and heart-breakingly capture mental health struggles, as well as struggles within western society. I would completely recommend this book to anybody and everybody.”
14. Real Queer America by Samantha Allen follows Allen, a trans woman, as she roadtrips to the heart of conservative America and discovers how the LGBTQIA communities there are fighting for more equitable treatment and policies.
Promising review: “I really enjoyed reading this book. The author takes a road trip through a few red states. The book begins in Utah, then travels to Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana, and Texas. In each state, Allen offers reporting on what is being done in these red states to make LGBTQ people feel safe and accepted, especially for the younger generation. You will meet bar/cafe owners, political activists, social workers, counselors, and ordinary citizens working hard to make the places they live better for everyone. The writing is very good, and I really enjoyed arm chair traveling and reading about all the varied places and people. This is a fun book to read, but it is also an important book. Enjoy.”
15. Some of Us Did Not Die by June Jordan, a collection of essays that digs into the hypocrisy and contradictions living within American culture and politics.
Promising review: “What a voice. What a writer. What a loss. This is one of the most important selection of essays I have ever read. As timeless and pertinent as Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider.
A few of my favorite passages:
‘Like running, trying to live a good life has to hurt a little bit, or we’re not running hard enough, not really trying.’
‘In the context of tragedy, all polite behavior is a form of self-denial. I can remember being 8 years old and there was my mother warning me to watch the tone of my voice in the middle of a violent fight between my father and myself. The purpose of polite behavior is never virtuous. Deceit, surrender and concealment: these are not virtues.’
‘At a minimum we have the power to stop cooperating with our enemies. We have the power to stop the courtesies and let the feelings be real. We have the power not to vote, and not to register for the draft, and not to applaud, and not to attend, and not to buy, and not to pay taxes or rent or utilities. At the very least, if we cannot control things we certainly can mess them up.’
‘This means that, as a Black feminist, I cannot be expected to respect what somebody else calls self-love if that concept of self-love requires my suicide to any degree. And this will hold true whether that somebody else is male, female, Black, or white. My Black feminism means that you cannot expect me to respect what somebody else identifies as the Good of The People, if that so-call Good (often translated into manhood or family or nationalism) requires the deferral or the diminution of my self-fulfillment. We are the people.”
16. Flannelwood by Raymond Luczak, a fiction novel that follows the lives and loves of Bill, a 40-year-old barista and failed poet, and James, a disabled factory worker. They spend winter in their flannel sheets, but change comes with the spring.
Promising review: “A great story written in moving and evocative prose. Flannelwood addresses the questions we have all asked ourselves when being rejected. ‘What did I do or didn’t do to make this happen?’ But maybe it really IS the other person. The story deconstructs a relationship that ended before it could blossom and allows the narrator to grow and come into his own.
There are parallels to the Djuana Barnes classic Nightwood, including discussion of that book’s plot and characters. But it is never dry or academic. The prose will touch you deeply and will haunt you for years to come. An excellent read.”
17. Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood, a collection of poems about growing into a woman in a world that romanticizes violence against women.
Promising review: “Olivia Gatwood’s Life of the Party is about the cloying fear of violence and murder that girls live with. The poetry is heavy, a haunting in words, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable. But it needs to be said. It’s a painful reminder of the danger that is associated with girlhood, but it’s also freeing in a way to recognize these universal experiences for what they are — universal.
Gatwood’s prose is beautiful and stirring. Her poems reference killers and victims and some who may be both. Some poetry books don’t tell a cohesive story, just groups of poems on pages. Not this one. There are chilling subplots and tangents, asides and reveals that re-contextualize poems that were beautiful the first time through and horrifying the next. These poems are striking and haunting and resonate long, long after they’ve been read.”
18. Ash by Malinda Lo, a fiction novel about a grief-stricken Ash, who is left in the care of her cruel stepmother after the death of her father. This lesbian retelling of the classic Cinderella story gives the reader a new understanding of what a happy ending can look like.
Promising review: “I literally couldn’t put this book down. So, Malinda Lo has been recommended to me over and over. And I totally understand why now. This definitely hits two of my favorite things. 1) Re-tellings of fairy tales. 2) REALLY GOOD representation. Ash is a Cinderella re-telling. One that actually starts with both her mother and father alive. It then slowly turns into the Cinderella story people are more familiar with. And then it takes a turn. In order not to spoil this, let’s just say that the fairy godmother doesn’t exist. But faeries DO.”
19. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn, a fiction novel based in Jamaica’s hot tourist destination, Montego Bay. Our protagonist Margot works to send her little sister Thandi to school to avoid having her follow in her own footsteps. But, a new resort exposes Margot to both new work opportunities as well as a forbidden love.
Promising review: “This novel is an honest and sometimes difficult to read portrayal of real life humanity at its worst and its best. It’s brilliantly structured, nicely paced and beautifully written. I found myself almost holding my breath waiting to see if the characters would do the expected… And most did not. This is a book about real feelings and real life. It will resonate with me for a long time. I respect the author for the courage to write it.”