Best Queer Books of 2017
I love reading end of year lists, but I tend to have an issue with them—the same issue I usually have in life: could be gayer. Could be more queer! Luckily, the Book Riot community reads a ton of LGBTQ+ lit, so this post is to gather up our favourite queer books published in 2017, all in one place. In case you’re looking for certain kinds of representation, we’ve tried to indicate which groups are represented in each title.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (queer)
A delicious mix of horror, speculative fiction, and feminism, Machado’s short stories play with the question of what it means to be a woman, and who is allowed to claim ownership of women’s bodies. Most refreshing of all is how unapologetic her protagonists are when it comes to their own sexual appetites. In a world that lays claim to women’s sexuality while simultaneously shaming them for it, Machado’s world of sexually voracious women was one I wouldn’t mind living in, despite the terrors that tended to lurk in dark corners.
Mean by Myriam Gurba (queer)
I felt disoriented for the first few paragraphs of Mean. But I soon eased into the lyrical rhythm of Gurba’s writing, the beauty of her words contrasting sharply with the ugliness of her experiences, and with her brazen honesty around her interior world. This book is billed as Gurba’s coming-of-age journey as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. But it is so much more than that. It is an exploration of sexual violence, guilt, culpability, race, misogyny, and homophobia. It is an accounting of what we owe to the world, and what we owe to ourselves.
Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant (bisexual woman, lesbian love interest)
I knew I would love this just from the cover, but it went above even those expectations. I was giggling and swooning while reading. It was ridiculous. This is a tiny little graphic novel that tells a queer, poly, BDSM story that is sweet and kind and the artwork is beautiful, and I just wanted to crawl inside the pages and curl up there. What a treat.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (bisexual woman)
All of my picks just made me squee happily while I read them. This is a book that has both a fat, geeky, anxious aspie protagonist and a Chinese-Australian bisexual protagonist. There’s an F/F interracial (both POC) romance between two vloggers who are fans of each other! This is a love letter to fandom that all takes place at a convention, and I gobbled it up in a day.
Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (bisexual girl)
Finally! A middle-grade book where a girl has a crush on a girl! And it’s obvious, right from the cover! This is such a necessary book to exist. Queer kids rarely have media that represents them. Plus, this is adorable, and I kind of feel like I understood more about Shakespeare from this than from taking university classes about him? Mattie also comes out in a very accepting environment, which is great.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (gay, bisexual)
This was my first Adam Silvera book and it left me wanting to read everything by him. They Both Die at the End is the heart wrenching story of Mateo and Rufus’s last day on earth. They both get the call that tells them they will die sometime in the next 24 hours. What I loved about this book was that despite taking place in the course of one single day, it manages to create a deep and meaningful relationship between its two central characters.
Release by Patrick Ness (gay)
Release follows Adam Thorn on a single, odd day of his life where he must come to terms with himself and find release. All the while, his story is connected to the spirit of a girl who has recently died, and has come back to the living world to find her own release. Release is ultimately an amazing and honest book about love, family, friendship, and so much more.
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren (gay, bisexual)
Tanner and his family relocates back to his mother’s hometown of Provo, Utah, forcing him back into the closet in order to adhere to the popularly held LDS beliefs. Then he meets Sebastian Brother, a devout LDS prodigy and they both go down a journey of self-discovery, the true meaning of religion, and what it means to be honest to yourself. I cried. I laughed. I “aw”ed. And I cried some more. This book, straight up, (along with its cover) is beautiful.
Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett (trans, queer)
Not only is this a groundbreaking book (the first anthology of speculative fiction by trans writers), but there are simply so many incredible stories in here. I was totally blown away by the quality of the stories: their inventiveness, their humour, and their emotional impact. I CRIED and I LAUGHED. Just to give you a taste of some of my favourites: a trans woman with a uterus transplant finds herself mysteriously pregnant and acquiring Virgin Mary status; a non-binary person finds a mysterious egg that spawns an alien double that looks just like them; a trans woman and a cis woman in love team up to use the latest body swapping technology to their advantage.
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (lesbian)
This is one of those YA books clearly written by an adult who actually spends time with teens and knows them. The characters were messy and made lots of mistakes, perhaps most of all the main character Sana whose journey to discovering her lesbian sexuality and dealing with knowing that her dad is having an affair has lots of bumps. I LOVED the queer girls of colour romance and I really appreciated the book’s complex look at racism, stereotyping, relationships, and culture. Sana’s journey to learn to stop lying and hiding from the problems in her life was too real.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (gay, bisexual)
I’ve loved every book Adam Silvera has written, but I particularly love History is All You Left Me. Why? Because not only is it beautifully written, not only it is both heartbreaking and hopeful, not only is it about boys loving boys and loss and grief and healing, but the main character also struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s so nice to see not only queer characters, but also characters struggling with mental illness (and the overlap of the two) in a YA book that doesn’t trivialize or romanticize any of the issues that come with it.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (lesbian, bisexual)
One of the many things I loved so much about this book was that while the lgbtq representation was right up front, romance wasn’t the focus of the story. Instead it was about grief and healing and two best friends (and former almost-girlfriends) reconnecting after a difficult year. And it’s just such a lovely, soft read. It’s a slow book, but not in a bad way, more in a way that makes you slow down and take a moment to appreciate everything.
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember (bisexual, lesbian, queer)
A queer retelling of The Little Mermaid featuring mermaids falling in love with Viking warriors and trying to outwit the trickster god Loki? Yes please! Honestly, I don’t know what more needs to be said about it, except that it’s also body-positive and features a fat mermaid (she needs blubber for those arctic winters, okay?) and is just a really fun read.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant (trans man)
This queer retelling of Peter Pan is everything I ever dream of in reimagined stories. Peter is recast as a young trans man, who flees to Neverland in an attempt to escape his unaccepting family, who insist on calling him “Wendy” and refuse to see him for who he is. In Neverland, he finds adventure, romance, acceptance, and the possibility of living life as his true self. But living in Neverland has its price, and Peter is forced to confront not only who he wants to be, but where he wants to be that person. Part love story, part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, the whole book is perfect, and the ending gave me shivers. For real shivers. It might have been my all-time favorite ending of any book I read this year.
O Human Star, Volume 2 by Blue Delliquanti (gay, trans)
I am a little bit (okay, A LOT) obsessed with this webcomic, written by a queer comic artist based in Minnesota. I don’t want to give anything away, so very broadly: it’s the story of two gay robotics inventors and the trans robot one of them ends up raising as his daughter. The world building is flawless, the art is gorgeous and expressive, and the story is stunning—relatable and fast-paced, with beautifully realized and emotionally complex characters. It’s everything I want in a comic. At its heart, it is a story about queer family: what it means to belong, what makes us human, and the affirming and unique webs of connection that queer people build with each other.
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes (gay)
Bill Hayes’s memoir about his relationship with the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks has nothing at all to do with being queer. That’s part of why I’ve included it here. There are many spectacular books that are specifically about the queer experience, but queer people also experience things that are universal: falling in love, starting over, moving to a new city, the illness and death of loved ones, grief, exuberance, the glorious and heartbreaking unexpectedness of life. This book is about all of that. It’s gorgeously written, heartbreaking, intimate, and thoughtful: a big tumbling mess of a book about what it feels like love and lose another human. I cannot recommend it enough.
Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan (trans)
I am pretty picky about mysteries, but this book managed to make me happy in pretty much every way. Sure, this is the classic “long ago crime comes back to haunt group of friends,” but it’s so much more than that. There’s a solid plot with great twists and turns, well developed characters that we see grow and change, and it manages to be a book about queer issues where everything comes together naturally and feels earned.
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal (gay)
This delightful and empathetic novel examines the search for identity within the Indian immigrant community. A great example of intersectionality in action with issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, we follow Ranjana, a mother who has just sent her only child to college, and Harit, an isolated middle-aged man who only finds connection by dressing up as his dead sister for his mother. This is a generous, funny, and tender book where you feel like you know these characters well and want nothing more than to spend time in their company.
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King (gay)
This speculative novel takes place in near-future China where the one-child rule and a preference for male children has created a society where there aren’t enough women to go around. In this society, women take on additional husbands and men must prove their worthiness. It’s also a society that focuses so strongly on procreation that homosexuality is outlawed. This book has a fascinating combination of gender roles turned upside down with traditional ideals of patriarchy still being used to hold people back.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (lesbian)
I loved this retelling of Snow White much for many reasons. In part, much like cis-het characters aren’t really identified as such—it’s just assumed and isn’t really a major part of the story—Lynet’s sexuality was just how it was. It was not really relevant to the story and it wasn’t a major plot point any more than any other romance. I liked its understatedness and acceptance without question.
Little & Lion by Brandi Colbert (bisexual woman, lesbian love interest)
I loved this novel for its MANY layers. It dealt with sexuality, racism, mental health, blended families, racism, and the various issues that can go along with all those. The characters were multidimensional and flawed and perfectly human. I think it should be required reading for young adults.
Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (bisexual girl)
This book won my heart in the very first chapter. Finally, a book about a queer girl who doesn’t hate her small town! Protagonist Billie is in love with her two best friends—one guy, one girl—in equally confusing and wonderful ways, but in attempting to keep her feelings hidden and not ruffle feathers, she finds she’s missing out on the opportunity to explore her own identity and just maybe inspire some change. This book pulls no punches, and Stevens nails the complexity of small town and religious attitudes towards queerness, but by the end I felt triumphant.
10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac (lesbian)
This is the funniest serious novel I’ve ever read about anxiety. I love how protagonist Maeve navigates her first girlfriend and intense family issues all the while staying real about the impact of anxiety on everyday life. Mac doesn’t offer any magical fixes or dramatic saves, but Maeve’s growing self awareness and humor offer the perfect amount of levity in the story and demonstrate compassion for those with anxiety.
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill (queer)
The Tea Dragon Society is a charming graphic novel with small hints at romance and a fairy tale vibe that’s perfect for younger readers. I’m not sure what charms me more—the dragons who can grow tea leaves, or how casually diverse and inclusive O’Neill draws the story. Either way, this story about friendship and valuing fading art forms is a definite keeper.
Spinning by Tillie Walden (lesbian)
Walden’s graphic memoir is a starkly beautiful story of a girl stuck in place: between youth and adulthood; figure skating and art; between hiding from her desire and embracing who she is. At just twenty years old (!), Walden proves herself an immensely gifted artist.
Also duh, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.
Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel (trans, bisexual, gay, genderfluid)
I rarely, oh so very rarely, appreciate non-fantastical YA. I fell head over heels for Sonia Patel’s newest, Jaya and Rasa, from the moment I spotted its stunning cover in the library. I appreciate so much getting to know these two wounded characters from pre-adolescence. Jaya is a transgender teenage boy, something his traditionally-minded Gujarati family would never accept. Despite not being able open up at home, he manages to find his own identity thanks to Nirvana, guitars, charity work, and a best friend who also doesn’t fit in well at his snooty prep school. Rasa has been forced to grow up too fast thanks to being forced to become provider to her younger siblings. When she thinks things might be looking up, despite CPS separating her from her younger brother and sisters, she finds herself trapped in the life of a high-end prostitute. Jaya and Rasa is less Romeo and Juliet in Honolulu, as it’s been billed, and more of a painfully honest look at what growing up “other” is like. Nothing is sugar-coated, the reality is bleak and honest, but Patel gives us just a bright enough glimmer of hope to keep reading, to keep going.
Annika Barranti Klein
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (enby, queer)
How about a speculative western where the hippopotamus in the room is the hippopotamuses that are ridden like horses were in the real 1890s, not the fact that one of the heroes uses nonbinary pronouns? Oh, and the main character falls for them. Sound good? It is.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (bisexual)
There should probably be a thousand YA novels about the grand tour that was popular among the upper class in 18th century Europe, but I’ll settle for this suuuuuuper bisexual one about rakish Monty, who is in love with his (biracial!) best friend Percy. Bonus: his sister Felicity, who is awesome in this book, has her own story coming out next year, and she is on the ace spectrum.
The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (bisexual)
This story is about Julie from Code Name Verity before the war, and she kisses both boys and girls and it’s magical and perfect and I love it forever.
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White (gay men, trans love interest)
Will Dillard’s story takes place in two timelines: his childhood in the Mississippi Delta, leading up to his summer in a gay conversion camp, and his life as a graduate film student, learning about a slasher flick based on that summer and deciding to confront his past with a southbound road trip. I love the slow-moving, Southern Gothic style of storytelling, and the way Nick White painted all his characters—even the antagonists—with unexpected strokes of empathy. Themes of redemption and forgiveness shine through, the most beautiful being Will’s self-forgiveness when he remarks on “my own worst desire, which turned out not to be my attraction to the same gender but my longing to obliterate myself completely and remake something new and wholesome in its place.”[UPDATE: Sarah’s contributions were accidentally excluded from the original post! Here they are:]
Sarah S. Davis
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee (asexual)
Finally, finally, the asexual novel I’ve longed for. I adore this book and it’s riffs on fandom, friendship, and exploring your sexuality. In some ways, it reminded me of an ace Fangirl. The ace community often has to speculate if a character is asexual, so bravo to Kathryn Ormsbee for confronting it head on.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (generally queer) by Mackenzi Lee
It lives up to the hype. Historical fiction and adventure aren’t really my jam, but I would listen to our hero, Monty, narrate anything. Buried in the swashbuckling plot are little pockets of tragedy, as Monty opens up about the trauma he has experienced. Debauchery and self destruction are Monty’s way of dealing with the doom of his future and unrequited love. Whether Monty and his crew are facing pirates or prison, the real danger–life after the Tour–is never lost on Monty. The ending took my breath away.
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (generally queer)
I wrote here that this warm middle-grade novel is the queer happily-ever-after we deserve, and I’m sticking to it. One gay couple and one lesbian couple decide to co-parent each other’s children and raise a big, multiracial family together. But when one of their aging parents moves in with them, it throws them all for a loop, especially nine-year-old Sumac. It’s a story of a child slowly discovering that regardless of what changes may rock her world, the home her queer parents have built for her is safe.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (lesbian)
There’s a lot to love about Meddling Kids, the tale of a Scooby Doo–like detective crew all grown up and facing the monsters of their past, but the queer romance between two women who have been close since girlhood is closest to my heart. Together, these characters navigate the space between platonic female friendship and romantic lesbian love in a way that stays true to the characters as individuals while striking all too close to home for anyone who has ever had to figure out exactly what kind of beast their love for someone is. To realize that at the end of the day, you just love someone no matter what is simultaneously the simplest and most complicated feeling a person can have. This is a love story that gets that.
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (bisexual)
This book is gorgeous for all sorts of reasons. For one, it’s magical realism, and that rarely exists in YA, or at least I’ve never heard of it in quite this style. For another, it’s all about this gorgeous lush plant life magic: the Nomeolvides women, who are the protagonists, are all connected to the earth, their names describing the kind of flowers they make bloom. And, best of all as far as I’m concerned, is how McLemore portrays the protagonists queerness. All the young women in the book are queer, and the five McLemore cousins are very clearly bi, with various degrees of preference and what they’re attracted to. Some are into the butch look for women and a soft beauty in men, some are into masculine men and feminine women, some are into the bothness of an androgynous neighbor who plays with gender and presentation on the regular. The depiction of bisexuality is beautiful and there are some paragraphs that deconstruct biphobic beliefs really, really well but without breaking the narrative style.
Those are our favourites! What did we miss?
Looking for more queer books? Check out: