Let me start by saying this is not a list of the best queer books of 2022. It’s a list of 12 of the best queer books of 2022. This has been an incredible year for LGBTQ+ lit. Romance, fantasy, contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, mystery, memoir: I dare you to name a genre that hasn’t had at least a few incredible queer releases this year. And I don’t say that lightly, because it hasn’t always been the case. So making a relatively short list of the best queer books of the year just isn’t possible. There are too many.
What I’ve done instead is select 12 amazing queer books across a wide variety of genres. Together, these books represent the spirit of this year’s queer lit. They’re silly and heartbreaking and joyful, funny and serious and challenging, thought-provoking and sexy and complicated These are books that I personally have loved and that my fellow Rioters have loved. I’ve included the major genres in fiction and nonfiction, as well as a few non-genre categories, like essay collections, short story collections, and YA.
I only chose one book for each category, but I’ve included a few extra recommendations below the main title because I couldn’t resist. Those titles bring the whole list up to 50. But — you guessed it — there are so many more amazing queer books from this year I don’t mention here. The abundance is magnificent. So let’s celebrate it!
The Other Mother by Rachel M. Harper
I have a new favorite genre of queer lit: books that feel like conversations between the queer past, present, and future. This is one of the best books like that I’ve ever read. It’s an intergenerational queer family saga about a group of very messy people — they make mistakes, the hurt each other, they muddle through, they’re flawed and hurt and secretive and loyal. It moves among POVs and takes places across decades. It’s about parenthood, family secrets, identity, marriage, and so much more.
A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt
In this beautiful blend of fiction, oral history, and theory, Belcourt seems to reinvent the novel even as his protagonist ponders if novels are worth writing. It’s about a queer Cree PhD student who abandons his dissertation, returns home to northern Alberta, and tries to write a novel. It’s not possible to summarize a book like this, and it’s hard to even convey just how unique and beautiful it is. It’s playful and sharp, a blend of gorgeously written intimate moments and academic theorizing. Belcourt’s sentences read like poems, and his unnamed narrator feels as real and whole and human as any protagonist I’ve ever encountered on the page.
You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
Emezi’s first foray into romance is a bighearted story about grief, art, healing, and queer friendship. Feyi is just starting to date again, five years after losing her husband in a car accident, and she’s not sure she’s ready. But it turns out she is ready — when she meets the right person, a man working through his own grief, who understands how hard it can be to open up again after loss. This book is sexy, funny, heartfelt, and overflowing with mouthwatering descriptions of meals.
Spear by Nicola Griffith
If you think you didn’t need a queer retelling of Arthurian legend in your life, think again. This quiet reimagining of the story of Percival the Knight is about Peretur, a fiery young woman raised by her mother in a cave in Wales. Longing for something beyond the life she knows, she sets out to find glory. She ends up finding a lot more than that, including the home she’s always longed for. This novella is full of soft magic, queer family, sapphic love, and fierce women wielding swords.
The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang
Neon Yang’s first sci-fi novel is an epic queer space opera full of warring empires and action-backed battles. Misery, who possess rare abilities often associated with sainthood, has always dreamed of leaving their small backwater mining planet. They just never imagined that their chance would come thanks to the voice of an angel beckoning them away, or that they’d end up in the center of a galactic conflict much bigger than them.
See also: My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi (sci-fi/speculative), The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe, Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings, August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White
Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang
These stories, mostly about queer Asian American women, are eerie and beautiful, dazzling and strange. They are about prophetic aunts and hungry widows, demanding ghosts and girls who bring about their own transformations. Chang’s characters live in the in-between spaces: between genders, cultures, and continents, between human and creature, between living and haunting. The writing is electric and vivid, and some of the stories read like short prose poems — all image and theme and character.
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
This is the queer sibling story of my dreams. It’s about Yami, a Mexican American teenager just to trying to get through high school, and it has everything I could possibly want in a YA novel: brilliant, complex characterization; entertaining teen drama; a sapphic love story; messy family dynamics; and a thoughtful, nuanced exploration of immigration, mental health, and suicidal ideation. It doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, but it’s also warm and full of joy. Reyes strikes the perfect balance.
Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
When was the last time you read a murder mystery about a queer family living in an old mansion in the Bay Area in the 1950s? Probably never. Let’s fix that. Andy is a closeted gay cop who’s fired from the San Francisco police force after he’s caught in a raid at a gay bar. He’s then hired by the matriarch of a wealthy queer family (they own a soap empire!) who wants him to investigate the murder of her wife. Everyone is queer! Everyone! It’s an atmospheric, character-driven mystery with a satisfying conclusion, but it’s also a moving story about the ongoing violence of being forced to hide yourself, and the (messy) healing that comes with finding queer community.
Another Appalachia by Neema Avashia
I don’t often read a memoir in a single sitting, but I read this in one long breath, and that’s the best thing I can say about a book. It’s a warm and insightful book about growing up queer and Indian in Appalachia, and about the messy, shifting intersections of home, geography, culture, gender, and history that have shaped Avashia’s life. She’s an astute thinker and a wonderful storyteller. This memoir is full of vivid scenes of family and childhood, and plenty of knotty, challenging ideas about the roles that place plays in our lives.
Before We Were Trans by Kit Heyam
In this brilliant book of trans history, trans historian Kit Heyam shares stories of people from cultures all over the world who have lived outside of rigid gender binaries since long before the phrase “gender binary” existed. Through these diverse, singular stories, Heyam shows over and over again that gender has always been fluid and complicated, that societies have defined it in dozens of ways throughout centuries, and that trans and nonbinary people have always existed, in a thousand different ways. This is a crucial history that couldn’t be more relevant today.
Voice of the Fish by Lars Horn
This breathtaking collection of interlocking essays explores gender and transition, illness and disability, art, water, memory, and the act of reading and writing. Horn writes beautifully about so many things: swimming, the art of tattooing, traveling, masculinity, childhood. But their writing is always grounded in the physical reality of the body: what it’s like to live in a trans body, a gendered body, a body that is visible to others, a body that is not visible to others. They play with form, interspersing longer lyric essays with short lists that utilize quotes, imagery, poetry, and recollections. This is queer writing at its best — a beautiful example of just how inventive and world-opening essays can be.
Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen
Chen Chen’s poetry is playful and silly and joyful in a way that feels distinctly queer. He messes with form, he interrupts himself, he makes his own rules, he puts all his exuberance onto the page. His poems are not frivolous, and the ones in this collection deal with plenty of real-world heaviness: racism, the pandemic, grief. But Chen Chen takes silliness seriously, and he takes joy seriously, and that’s what makes his poems so unique. They’re queerly alive. They’re soft, and they sometimes cut.
Looking for more queer books from 2022? Of course you are! We’ve got you covered with queer books from the second half of the year, queer books from the first half of the year, queer retellings, queer SFF, and queer comics and graphic novels. 2022 has been a banner year for queer lit.