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10 Top-Notch Novels Featuring LGBTQ Characters

Find engrossing fiction that explores gender identity, the meaning of family and more


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Braden Summers/Getty Images

Looking for some fantastic LGBTQ fiction to enjoy during Pride Month? Here are some wonderful novels released in the past few years to add to your June (and beyond) reading list.

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

spinner image book cover to paradise by hanya yanagihara
Anchor

This is another brilliant, dark novel by the author of 2015’s weighty A Little Life, which was rightly short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. To Paradise (2022) is a complex creation featuring three separate stories in different time periods and altered realities, with overlapping characters. The last section is the most searing, likely to stay in your mind for weeks for its vivid portrayal of a near-future — 2093 — pandemic-plagued, warmed-earth dystopian New York City that feels all too real.

Cleanness  by Garth Greenwell

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Picador Paper

A masterful companion to Greenwell’s 2016 debut What Belongs to You (long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction), Cleanness (2020) also follows an unnamed American expat as he navigates life as a gay man in Bulgaria, where homosexuality remains taboo. Laid out across three sections, these expertly crafted vignettes explore sex, relationships and political upheaval with captivating lucidity. Greenwell excels at capturing the nuances of inner life and physical intimacy in elegant, unflinching prose.

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spinner image Detransition, Baby
Random House

Detransition, Baby  by Torrey Peters

Forget what you thought you knew about love triangles — this debut 2021 novel revolves around an unforgettably unconventional trio. First there’s Ames, who lived as a transgender woman named Amy for several years before detransitioning and living as a man again. Ames is having a fling with his boss, Katrina, and when Katrina learns she is pregnant, Ames turns to his ex-girlfriend Reese, a transgender woman who desperately wants to be a mother, with a radical proposition: that the three of them raise the baby together. What follows is a deeply felt look at identity and longing set among New York’s transgender community that earned Peters a nomination for the 2020 Women’s Prize in Fiction (she’s the first transgender woman to receive the honor), and the PEN/Hemingway award for debut fiction.

spinner image The Guncle
G.P. Putnam's Son

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

This fun tale from the author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor follows gay Uncle Patrick — known affectionately as GUP — as he hosts niece Maisie and nephew Grant for the summer in the aftermath of a family tragedy. An erstwhile sitcom star accustomed to living like a near-recluse in Palm Springs, Patrick quickly realizes that his go-to Guncle rules (for example, “number one: Brunch is splendid”) might not be sufficient when it comes to the realities of child-rearing. The sudden shake-up in his living situation also forces GUP to confront issues like his stalled love life and career ambitions that have been out of the spotlight for far too long. It’s a feel-good story, perfect for summer.

Also check out his latest, The Celebrants, about a group of college friends who reunite 28 years after graduation. Usually their reunions are a celebration of life; this time it’s a bit different.

spinner image Memorial
Riverhead Books

Memorial  by Bryan Washington

A 2020 debut novel from the up-and-coming Washington (his short story collection, Lot, won the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction), Memorial introduces us to Benson, a Black day care teacher, and Mike, a Japanese American chef who live together in Houston. The couple’s domestic life is upended when Mike leaves for Japan to spend time with his dying father in Osaka — just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Houston for a visit and becomes an unlikely roommate with Benson. Told alternately from Mike and Benson’s perspectives as each man undergoes a personal reckoning during their time apart, the novel takes up perennial themes — love, family and the meaning of home — with keen insight into matters of race and identity. Washington has a new novel, Family Meal, coming in October.

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spinner image Skye Falling
Random House

Skye Falling  by Mia McKenzie

Meet Skye: She’s a single lesbian nearing 40 who is willing to do anything to avoid the proverbial white picket fence — like living out of a suitcase while traveling constantly for work. Enter 12-year-old Vicky, who seeks Skye out during one of her visits to hometown Philadelphia with news that she is Skye’s “egg,” the result of an egg donation Skye made in her 20s to help a friend struggling with infertility. Faced with this revelation, Skye makes a surprising choice: to try and form a genuine connection with Vicky. Despite the complications that arise, this funny 2021 tale from McKenzie (author of The Summer We Got Free and creator of the media and education project Black Girl Dangerous) is an ultimately heartwarming one.

spinner image The Prophets
G.P. Putnam's Sons

The Prophets  by Robert Jones Jr.

This beautifully written 2021 novel is a love story about two enslaved men, Isaiah and Samuel, whose devotion leads to trouble on a brutally run Mississippi plantation. The voices of the characters’ African ancestors are woven throughout, Toni Morrison-style, as an older enslaved man who’s embraced the plantation owner’s Christianity begins to turn the community’s benign acceptance of their love into something more sinister. Tension builds toward an inevitably violent reckoning.

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spinner image A Novel With Teeth
Riverhead Book

With Teeth  by Kristen Arnett

The only things more suffocating than the Florida heat are the relationships in this novel, Arnett’s second (her debut was 2019’s Mostly Dead Things). With Teeth, set in the Sunshine State, is an unsparing look at the good, the bad and the ugly of queer marriage and motherhood — emphasis on the bad and the ugly. When we meet protagonist Sammie, she’s at odds with her young son Samson, whose childhood misdeeds foreshadow serious trouble to come in his teenage years. And when Sammie’s marriage to the charming but increasingly aloof Monika comes apart, our narrator only sinks further into dysfunction in this account of the fine line between love and loathing.

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Grove Press

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, this debut novel is an unflinching look at the toll of poverty and addiction on family life. Hugh “Shuggie” Bain is a sweet-natured boy who wants nothing more than for his mother, Agnes, to be happy. But contentment proves elusive for Agnes, a glamorous but unstable alcoholic raising Shuggie and his siblings in a derelict Glasgow housing estate — a community in which Shuggie's sexuality makes him a target of ridicule from adults and peers alike. Both a finely wrought portrait of familial unraveling and an evocative look at the social and economic conditions of 1980s Scotland, author Stuart (who based the book on his own upbringing) has called Shuggie Bain a “love story” — and readers won’t soon forget the wrenching mother-son relationship at the novel’s heart.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

spinner image book cover young mungo by douglas stuart
Grove Press

This is another winner from Stuart, who sets his latest heartbreaking and poignant novel in depressed 1980s Glasgow, amid deep tensions between Protestant and Catholic residents. Sensitive Mungo, a Protestant teenager mostly unattended by his unstable mother, develops a relationship with the kindly James, who is Catholic — a dangerous situation when Mungo’s hot-headed brother Hamish is a violent gang leader. This is juxtaposed with Mungo’s disastrous, mother-approved fishing trip with a pair of men that adds to the novel’s building tension.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2021. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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