What Are Good Books Featuring LGBTQ Characters?
Posted on 19th of April, 2019

Answers

LGBTQ representation has come a long way in recent years and I think it has now reached a point where you can walk into any bookshop or browse one online and you will have a whole section dedicated to it. It wasn't always this simple and convenient, so if you are looking for books from less enlightened times I would recommend you peruse one of these ones;

1. The Bell jar (1963) by Sylvia Plath - This is a very sad book in many ways because it mirrors the life of the author who also suffered from mental illness. It wasn't long after the publication of this book that Plath took her own life, so it remains her one and only novel. It isn't the protagonist of this story, Esther Greenwood, who non-cisgender, but actually one of the other characters, Joan Giling, who is a longstanding friend of her from high school. She's a relatively minor character in the story, but one of the most memorable. Joan ends up in the same asylum as Esther after trying to commit suicide, but ends up taking her own life in the end. Joan is openly a lesbian in the book and it certainly seems that she has feelings for Esther, so there has long been speculation that her suicide was due to her friend not returning her affections.

2. The Charioteer (1953) by Mary Renault. It wasn't until 1953 that this book by English author Mary Renault saw the light of day in the United States. What truly makes it unique for its time is that although it is a war novel, it doesn't shy away from making homosexuality one of the focus points of the story. The lead of the story is soldier named Laurie, who is injured and spending time at a military hospital. It is here that he has to choose between two potential love interests, both of them men. The author handled this controversial topic quite well and I think that to this day, it is still one of the favorite "classic" books in the LGBTQ community. The author also wrote historical novels that are set in ancient Greece, which contain a lot of LGBTQ elements. The reason why Mary, who was a lesbian herself, was able to write quite freely about these controversial (for the time) topics, was that she emigrated to South Africa. For all its faults, the country was quite liberal in their views of homosexuality, especially compared to Britain.
You may think that LGBTQ characters in literature is a fairly modern phenomena, but I have actually read a couple of really old books that feature them. They are not always as obvious about it as modern books, due to the norms of the time in which they were written, but it is usually pretty easy to spot them. I'm sure there are plenty of other people with more modern suggestions, so for the sake of interest here are two of the oldest books that I have read that contain LGBTQ characters.

1. Carmilla (Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - 1872). Quick quiz, who wrote the very first fictional tale about vampires? If you answered Bram Stoker, then I am afraid that you are wrong! While Dracula is obviously the most famous fang faced blood sucker, Carmilla was written a couple of years before and featured a female vampire by the name of Carmilla. The story is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who befriends another girl named Carmilla. It wouldn't be a spoiler to reveal that Carmilla turns out to be a vampire, it is also quite evident that she is a lesbian. Not only are all her victims female, but she also makes a couple of sexual advances towards Laura, the protagonist of the tale. It also wouldn't be a stretch to say that Carmilla laid down the template for a lot of tales to follow where the female vampire is portrayed as a lesbian.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde - 1890). This book is perhaps a bit better known, but in case you don't know, it features not just one, but two queer characters. If you haven't read the book in a while it might not actually be that obvious since at the time when the book was written, it was still a crime to be homosexual. This resulted in Wilde's editor wading in and censoring most of the obviously homosexual content. It was obviously impossible to remove everything, but he certainly toned things down a lot. It wasn't until more than a hundred years later that the full uncensored version of the book was released and everyone could clearly see that Basil Hallward was obviously gay and Dorian Gray himself bisexual.
I'm seeing lots of books with gay or lesbian characters, which is nice, but trans people are still very underrepresented in books. If you don't mind reading something that is not fiction, then give "Trans: A Memoir" by Juliet Jacques a shot. It is the memoir of Juliet where she talks about her life and how she underwent surgery at the age of thirty. I would also recommend another non-fiction book written by a transgender author. It is "Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout" by Laura Jane Grace. Even if you are not familiar with the the band "Against Me!" this is a fascinating tale of of their lead singer who dealt with gender dysphoria for a long time until revealing her transgender status in 2012. It's not your typical rock and roll memoir, but what else would you expect from someone who had the courage to name one of her studio albums "Transgender Dysphoria Blues." I'll end things off with "She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders" by Jennifer Finney Boylan. This book has the distinction of being the first ever book that was published by an openly transgender American author, which then went on to become a bestseller. It is a heartwarming tale and deals with a lot of topics that trans people who are in the act of transitioning with has to deal with.
A favorite of mine is Daja Kisubo from Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens books by Tamora Pierce. She also features prominantly in The Will of the Empress, which is where I believe readers find out for the first time that she is a lesbian, or "nisamohi" as it is refered to in the book. She is a total badd*** and can perform magic that deals with fire and metal. Daja was an outcast for most of her life because she was the lone survivor of a shipwreck, which is sseen as bad luck amongst her people. This thankfully changes when she rescues some traders from a fire in one of the books.

Another sweet lesbian couple is Mom Jo and Mom Lara from the Ukiah Oregon series of novels written by Wen Spencer. They are the adoptive mothers of the main character in the books after Mom Jo caught him in a humane trap. (It's a long story, but he was raised by wolves before that).

For something a little more realistic and less fantasy, I would suggest seeking out a book called Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian. One of the central characters in the story, Dana Stevens, undergoes a sex change operation after starting a relationship with a heterosexual woman. Being transgender obviously complicates her relationship, but the book also deals with the reaction of the community to the change.

Last up, I would suggest reading the Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare as the books feature a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and even transgender characters if I am not mistaken.

I hope this list helps, I know you could probably find a ton of books with queer characters in their own special catagory in the library or online stores, but I think these are some of the more "mainstream" books.
I have a couple of favorites, so here they are in no particular order! (Please note that my taste runs towards young adult novels, so if that is not your style, then my suggestions will probably not help.)

1. How to Survive A Summer (Nick White.) How To Survive A Summer is about a boy named Will Dillard who ends up traumatized after spending four weeks at a place called Camp Levi. Will was forced to attend this summer camp when he was only fifteen years old and its purpose was to "cure" him of being gay. Unsurprisingly, the camp was a total failure, but it did leave Will with a lot of unresolved issues that continued to impact his love life for many years later. Eventually circumstances force Will to return to the camp and face his past in an effort to move on. I will be the first to admit that How To Survive A Summer is not going to be a book that everyone will instantly love. It is slow, it can meander, and the stream of consciousness writing style is an acquired taste. But, stick with it and you'll find a story that many queer people who were raised in conservative households can empathize with.

2. The Great Believers (Rebecca Makkai.) The Great Believer is a book about a character named Fiono who reflects on her life and the people that she has lost. It starts with the funeral of her brother in 1985 during the AIDS epidemic that ravaged Chicago while also jumping to Paris of 2015, where the protagonist is now much older and trying to track down her daughter who got involved with a cult. This is a book with lots of stories that intertwine and while it has a couple of weak spots, it is a compelling novel nonetheless.

3. Boy Meets Boy (David Levithan.) Boy Meets Boy is one of my favorites, even if it is based around the usual "boy meets girl" trope that is so common. What I love about this book is that it is set in a small town in American that is very gay-friendly. It is the kind of place that I hope will be real one day as they openly embrace LGBTQ people there. The story is about a boy named Paul who has been openly gay since he was in kindergarden and his crush on Noah, who is new to town. It is very uplifting to read a gay romance that isn't mired in the usual anti-gay setting.

4. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Emily M. Danforth.) OK, so this is yet another novel about a homosexual teen that is sent to a conversion camp, but I think it is an issue that weighs heavily on the minds of all queer teens who have conservative parents. In this book, a twelve year old girl loses her parents in a car crash and is placed in the care of her conservative aunt as well as grandmother. This places her in a really awkward position as she was just discovering that she is queer. When she begins a relationship with one of her friends, her guardians discover this and is sent to a conversion therapy camp, where the rest of the novels takes place. It is not all doom and gloom, though, as she makes friends at the camp and remains steadfast in her determination not be "converted."

5. Everything Leads to You (Nina LaCour.) I wanted to end this list with something positive and uplifting, so Everything Leads to You is a perfect example of that. Too many books in the LGBTQ genre is filled with angst, so it is nice to occasionally read something that is a little lighter, you know. This book is about two girls, who just happen to unapologetically like girls. There sexuality do not define who they are, which is always a big plus in my opinion. It is also a great book about friendship and devotion, along with plenty of cute conversations and lighthearted banter. A big bonus if you love movies is that they play a big role in the story, so don't sleep on this book!

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