In the UK, February is LGBTQI+ month. In light of this (and the fact I have been single on Valentine’s day for 25 consecutive years) I wanted my features this month to focus on LGBTQI+ literature. So, here are my top 5 novels that feature LGBTQI+ characters.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.
Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.
Okay, so I know this is a graphic novel rather than a ‘traditional’ novel but I love it so I’m including it! This also is more of a memoir rather than a work of fiction. Not only is the art style fantastic but the way Bechdel depicts her realisation of her own identity is wonderful. This graphic novel has it all, tragedy, here, humour and drama but, ultimately, it is very real and it’s one of the most powerful novels I read at university. As an aside, this has also been adapted into a fabulous musical too!
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
I loved this depiction of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship, especially because it was from Patroclus’ perspective. I especially loved how this novel documented the relationship from the very beginning. We see the boys learn to navigate their relationship and gradually become men fighting a war. Whilst the stories of Achilles often focus on the bravery and brutality of the warrior (which was still present in this novel) but, we also got to see a softer side to him too. Be warned, if you do pick this novel up, make sure you’re got tissues on hand!
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
This is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. And it serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation.
This short novel is a lovely letter a son has written to his mother. I loved how raw and poignant his letter was illustrating what he has been through as a gay man. Although he is writing this letter to his mother, he knows she won’t be able to read it which allows him to be honest in a way that is heart wrenching. Not only does this novella cover the struggles he faced as a gay man, but also the struggles of being an immigrant in America. This is a beautiful and fascinating account which I still think about even months after finishing the book.
The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett
In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love…or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.
This fantasy novel wonderfully explored the intricacies of court politics. Our protagonist finds herself holding the mantle of the Winter Duke after her entire family mysteriously falls ill during an event where her brother was to choose his wife. So, naturally, Ekata decides to choose one of the ladies for herself instead of being forced into the marriage that her father’s counsel wants her to. I really loved the dynamic between Ekata and Inkar, seeing them go from being strangers trying to make the best of a bad situation to becoming a genuine and believable couple (not just one for political gain) as the novel progressed.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
Books are dangerous things in Collins’s alternate universe, a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England. It’s a world in which people visit book binders to rid themselves of painful or treacherous memories.
After having suffered some sort of mental collapse and no longer able to keep up with his farm chores, Emmett Farmer is sent to the workshop of one such binder to live and work as her apprentice. Leaving behind home and family, Emmett slowly regains his health while learning the binding trade. He is forbidden to enter the locked room where books are stored, so he spends many months marbling end pages, tooling leather book covers, and gilding edges. But his curiosity is piqued by the people who come and go from the inner sanctum, and the arrival of the lordly Lucian Darnay, with whom he senses a connection, changes everything.
I was bought this novel as a gift during a time where I wasn’t reading as much as I usually would, therefore I didn’t actually know anything about this novel going into it. I feel like I can’t talk about this one as much as the others because of spoilers, but just know that I adored the two boys in this story and what happened to them in the past to bring them to their situations in the present. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it still brings a smile to my face when I think about it.
Whilst I was compiling this list I was surprised, but not shocked, at the lack of novels I’ve read that would be considered ‘own voice’ novels. Yes, there are a couple on this list, but not as many as I would like as I think it’s incredibly important to read LGBTQI+ own voices novels. However, I will be discussing this further in my Thoughtful Thursday feature coming next week!
What are some of your favourite LGBTQI+ novels? Let me know in the comments!