40 of the Best Queer Books
It is impossible to make a list of the best queer books. These 40 are merely a drop in the vast ocean of queer stories. These are books that have challenged me, comforted me, broken my heart, and pieced it back together. They have opened me up to new worlds of queer experience and reflected my own particular queerness back to me. I love every one of these books with my whole heart, but I could just as easily have made a list of 40 entirely different books and called it “40 of the Best Queer Books.”
This is primarily a list of the best queer books from the past few years. I’ve included a few from the 1990s and early 2000s, but the majority of these books were published post-2015. I also decided only to include living writers (with one exception), so you’ll notice many queer classics missing from this list.
These books reflect a wide range of queer stories. The authors and characters here are of different races, religions, sexualities, genders, ages, abilities, classes, nationalities. But this list is in no way exhaustive or inclusive of every queer experience. No list—even a list of the very best queer books—will ever contain the wild diversity of queer experiences. These books represent the truths, told through fiction and nonfiction, of forty queer writers. They are 40 of the best queer books I’ve ever read, but queer stories, like queer people, are infinite. Read these 40, and then go read 40 more, and 40 more after that.
Best Queer Books: Adult Fiction
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
When Hero arrives in Milpitas, California, to live with her aunt and uncle, she’s trying to start over. Disowned by her parents, and bearing the scars of the political upheaval of the Philippines in the 1980s, she finds an unexpected home in the tight-knight immigrant community. There’s a beautiful queer romance at the center of this novel that is breathtaking in its honesty and complexity.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
In this epic fantasy set in an Africa-inspired world, a man renowned for his sense of smell sets out to track a lost boy. Tracker encounters betrayal as well as surprising moments of intimacy as he navigates living as a queer person in a sexist, violent, and homophobic world. This is a dense, meandering book, but one that it is worth every word.
Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis
Living under a repressive dictatorship in 1970s Uruguay, a group of gay women find freedom in an isolated seaside town, where they build their own queer family. The novel follows these women throughout their lives, as they deal with the fear of living under a violent and homophobic government, and revel in the love they find with each other.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
In this gorgeously imagined novella, based on a song by clipping., the descendants of pregnant African women thrown overboard from slave ships have thrived for generations as water-dwelling mermaids. When Yetu, a young woman who carries memories for her people, flees to the surface, she uncovers truths about herself and her history. This is a painful book about generational trauma, but it’s also a quiet celebration of queerness, as Yetu’s people are free to love as they choose without fear.
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
When her girlfriend dumps her, Maria, a trans woman living in New York City, impulsively decides to drive cross-country. In an unforgettable, bitterly funny, and no-nonsense voice, she tells the story of this transformative road trip. It’s a hilarious and relatable book about getting stuck and unstuck, as well as a complex look at one trans woman’s life.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
It’s hard to describe this novel—it’s a queer coming of age, a letter from a Vietnamese son to his mother, a portrait of families struggling amid economic collapse and the opioid epidemic, a tender and heartbreaking first love story, a collection of memories of abuse, trauma, joy, survival. The language so incandescent that reading it sometimes feels like looking directly into the sun.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
In 1998, Pasty leaves Jamaica for New York, hoping to connect with her old love, Cicely. She leaves her daughter behind, and over the next decade, they both struggle with the consequences of Patsy’s decision. Epic in scope, this stunning book is an unflinching upheaval of the conventional narratives of how mothers, daughters, and queer women are expected to behave.
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
This novel tells the story of Jess Goldberg, who comes out as a butch lesbian in the pre-Stonewall era and sets out on a journey of gender discovery. It celebrates the beauty and complexity of trans lives without glossing over the trauma created by a transphobic society. Feinberg is the only author on this list who isn’t alive, but I couldn’t leave this book out; almost 30 years later, it’s still the kind of queer, trans narrative we badly need: honest, freeing, and vital.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Waters’s classic work of queer historical fiction is a Victorian epic that follows Nan King, an oyster girl from Whitstable, on a twisting journey to her gay awakening. It’s full of unforgettable characters, queer Victorian sex parties, riotous music halls, and feminist politics. Though action-packed, it’s Nan’s relentless pursuit of living as her true self that makes this book impossible to put down.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Wallace is a black gay grad student living in a small Midwestern city. Set over the course of one summer weekend, this book is an intimate look at Wallace’s inner and outer lives: the microaggressions he deals with on a daily basis, the ways trauma lives in the body, the alienation and loneliness of being a black person in a mostly white place. It’s beautiful and painful and full of the kind of raw honesty that feels like a true gift.
Best Queer Books: YA Fiction
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Moss has been suffering from panic attacks ever since his father was murdered by police. Now a sophomore in high school, he’s not only dealing with continued police brutality, but heightened school security as well. He and his friends decide to fight back. This is a heartbreaking book, but it’s also a celebration of queer youth of color. Moss’s group of queer friends is rendered with such care and detail; they are so real they leap off the page.
Dreadnought by April Daniels
When a famous superhero dies in front of Danny, he passes on his powers, which transform her body into what she’s always thought it should be. But this book is not escapist fun: Danny has an abusive father, her best friend suddenly thinks he has a right to make passes at her, and she faces transphobia at every turn, including from her fellow superheroes. But it’s also full of action-packed adventure and great world building, and it’s a joy to see Danny, a gay trans teenage girl, discovering her powers and coming into herself.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
Being HIV-positive is just another part of Simone’s life. She doesn’t think about it that much, expect when people find out, like what happened at her old school, or like now, when she’s really into a guy who likes her back. This warmhearted and sex-positive book is about a bisexual teenager struggling to claim that identity for herself, and it’s got an adorable M/F romance and a wonderful cast of queer characters, including Simone’s dads and her two best friends.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
When Theo’s ex-boyfriend Griffin dies in an accident, his world turns upside-down. He finds himself drawn to Jackson, the boy Griffin was dating when he died. A lot of complicated feelings ensue. Silvera handles the serious subject matter with tenderness and depth. The characters feel utterly real, constantly surprising both themselves and the reader.
Juliet Takes A Breath by Gabby Rivera
Juliet is a 19-year-old Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx. She decides to take a summer internship in Portland with a famous white feminist writer, determined to figure out how to be gay, because she’s not really sure. But instead of answers, she finds a lot more questions. This funny, warm story is an ode to being open and curious, and to all the different ways that young people discover their queerness (and themselves).
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
When Ben comes out as nonbinary, their parents kick them out of the house, forcing them to move in with their estranged sister. Starting over at a new school, Ben finds new community, new family, and a new sense of self. This quiet novel about first love and coming out is full of painful moments, as Ben deals with transphobia and anxiety, but it’s an ultimately hopeful story about one young person finding the courage to be themself.
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
This is a beautiful love story between two black teenage girls with distinct and unforgettable voices. Audre has just arrived in the U.S. from Trinidad to live with her father; Mabel is trying to figure out who she wants to be in the world, and also why she’s been feeling so sick all summer. They fall for each other, and what unfolds between them is full of tenderness, a celebration of blackness, and a hint of magic.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Henry has been getting abducted by the same aliens all his life, and now they’ve given him an ultimatum: the world is going to end soon, and all he has to do to stop it is press a button. But he’s not sure he wants to save the world. His family is a mess, and he’s still grieving the death of his boyfriend. This is a beautiful book about grief, family, and the courage it takes to confront all of life’s messy contradictions.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Marin doesn’t tell anyone why she leaves her home in California so abruptly; she hasn’t talked to anyone from her old life since starting college, including her best friend Mabel. So when Mabel comes to visit, they’re both forced to confront everything Marin has been trying to leave behind. This is a quiet and beautiful book all the various forms that love and grief can take.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Miel is a girl no one understands; she grows roses out of her wrist and appeared one day out of the river. Sam is a quiet trans boy who paints moons to hang in the sky. They’ve been best friends forever, but when they fall in love, they realize they still have a lot to learn about each other and themselves. This is a gorgeous love story full of found family and told in lush, imaginative prose.
Best Queer Nonfiction
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Though Nelson veers off into many fascinating tangents about art and gender theory, this is a book about queer family-making. It’s the story of falling in love, building a queer relationship, and Nelson’s experience of pregnancy and motherhood as a queer woman. She comes at these experiences from different angles, often blending genres and deep-diving into philosophy, but she always returns to the the particular joys and heartbreaks of making a queer family.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez
In this uniquely structured memoir, Hernandez shares stories of growing up and coming of age as a bisexual Cuban-Colombian woman and the daughter of immigrants. She splits the book into thematic sections, exploring language, spirituality, queerness, money, family, and work. Her writing is sparse and thoughtful, as she deftly weaves together the various threads of her identity into a complicated portrait of her life as a queer Latina woman.
Exile and Pride by Eli Clare
In prose as gorgeous and dangerous as the landscapes he writes about, Clare delves into the messy intersections of gender, disability, queerness, rural identity, class, and race. He writes about loving and leaving his home in rural Oregon, coming of age as an activist in dyke communities, and his ongoing journey to understand the experiences of queer, trans, and disabled bodies (including his own). Blending memoir, history, cultural critique, and disability studies, he tells a story much bigger than himself.
Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
In this collection of hilarious and poignant essays, Thomas writes about everything from the evolution of the internet to navigating primarily white spaces as a black gay man. He brilliantly weaves his own moving personal stories into the broader tapestry of the current political moment, never shying away from the complex ways that queerness, race, faith, and class have shaped his life.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
This collection of personal essays is as far-ranging as it is intimate. In beautiful and constantly surprising prose, Chee illuminates so many messy truths about being a human in the world. Every essay—whether centered on growing roses, struggling as a young writer, AIDS activism, or the intersections of queerness and race—is like a small gem: multifaceted, reflective, constantly shifting.
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes was 48 when he moved to New York after the death of his partner and unexpectedly fell in love with the neurologist Oliver Sacks. This book is a love letter to Sacks and to New York City. It’s a beautiful, achingly raw portrait of love, aging, illness and death. But most vividly, it’s a story about the joy of finding deep connection where and when you least expect it.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
In this magnificent, genre-exploding memoir, Machado recounts her experiences in an abusive queer relationship. This book shatters the silences and myths that surround domestic abuse in same-gender relationships. Machado uses a dizzying array of tropes and narrative structures (horror movies, fairytales, choose your own path) to tell a raw, vulnerable story that is both deeply personal and historical in scope.
Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote
In this collection of short pieces about their childhood in the Yukon, their queer coming of age, and their relationship with their big extended family, Ivan Coyote explores all the complexities of gender and trans identity with humor and warmth. It’s a rare treat to find such honest and beautiful writing about trans and queer lives that centers rural, small-town experiences.
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
In clear, straightforward prose, Habib recounts her childhood in Pakistan, her years as a newly arrived immigrant and teenager in Canada, including an unwanted arranged marriage, and her eventual acceptance of herself as a queer woman. She writes eloquently about faith, art, the wide diversity of queer sexualities, and the joy of finding community with other queer Muslims.
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors has given the world yet another gift with this beautiful, heartrending memoir. It’s about Khan-Cullors’s journey to activism, but it’s also about her life as a queer black woman in a white supremacist society. She writes about the trauma inflicted on black communities, and about the depth of love and resilience she has found in those communities.
Best Queer Poetry
Bestiary by Donika Kelly
Kelly’s poems are as playful as they painful. With startling imagery, she writes about love, family, natural and human landscapes, and violence in many guises. In love poems starring mythical beings, birds, monsters, and unnameable creatures, she explores queer desire and identity in refreshing and inventive ways.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
In this incredible collection, Smith writes about black boyhood, queer identity, being HIV positive, the trauma of police brutality, and the stories that bodies hold, carry, and share. Their writing is vivid, inventive, and brilliantly sharp: it cuts you as it opens you. These are poems full of messy truths, masterfully crafted and absolutely vital.
Nature Poem by Tommy Pico
In this long poem, broken into short stanzas, Tommy Pico tries to figure out what it means to write a “nature poem” as a queer indigenous person living in the city. It’s a multi-layered poem about colonization, erasure, and the legacies of violence. But it’s also playful, as Pico weaves Twitter, pop culture, online dating, and text shorthand into the larger narrative. The result is something wholly unique, a poem as irreverent as it is serious.
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
In language that will absolutely sear itself into your heart, these poems tells a complicated story about the fierce and beautiful lives of queer and trans people of color. Thom’s poems are about ancestry and family, trauma and loss, race, class, sex, violence and the power of stories. The poems deal with transphobia, racism, and misogyny head on, but they are also deeply affirming and relentlessly joyful.
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
At the center of these poems is Chen’s relationship with his mother, but from there, he ranges widely into many facets of identity: his queerness, being the child of immigrants, his experience as an Asian American. His poems are alive with the different kinds of love and connection that happen in chosen and biological family, and he writes with particular tenderness and insight about queer adolescence.
Best Queer Graphic Novels & Memoir
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
In this queer classic, Bechdel recounts her childhood growing up in her family’s funeral home, her relationship with her closeted gay dad, and her own coming of age and coming out. The way she weaves together the threads of her and her father’s very different experiences of queerness is nothing short of brilliant.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
In this memoir of gender discovery, Maia Kobabe shares the joys and challenges of eir journey to self-identity. Kobabe reflects on eir early experiences with gender, and how e came to claim eir nonbinary and asexual identities. E is brilliant at capturing the emotional impact of specific moments—from to the trauma of getting a pap smear to the revelation of finding pronouns that feel right.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamai and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Freddy Riley has a problem: she’s in love with the wrong girl, and she can’t seem to make herself let go. This gorgeous graphic novel is a refreshingly honest portrayal of a teenage girl stuck in a bad relationship. It also centers queerness without centering queer suffering. Among her group of queer friends, Freddy’s queerness is ordinary but also celebrated. The detailed art brings Freddy’s Berkeley neighborhood to life, and offers readers a unique look into her inner emotional turmoil.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
This subversive all-ages fantasy comic is full of complicated themes about identity, history, and the shape of good and evil. Nimona is a snarky shapeshifter who joins supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart as his sidekick. Together they plot a series of adventures, continually clashing with Blackheart’s old flame and current rival, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. There are dragons and evil scientists, but at heart, it’s a nuanced book about love in all its forms.
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
The rise of webcomics has been an incredible gift to queer comics creators. This graphic novel, like many other queer comics, began as a webcomic. It’s the story of a young woman searching for the girl she loved at boarding school. She joins up with a ragtag spaceship crew, has adventures, and builds a family. Full of glorious, intricate art, this is a beautiful book about finding your queer family—in space.
Looking for more of the very best queer books? Take a dive into our LGBTQ archives. If you don’t know where to start with the best queer books, why not check out the Best Queer Books of 2017 or the Best Queer Books of 2018?