15 LGBTQ Reads for Mid and Late 2021
Representation matters. I always say this to myself and to my students and my friends whenever I pick up a book that I want to read or recommend.
As a high school teacher, I love all the personalities and backgrounds represented in my classroom. It thrills me to see that young adult novels are being churned out full of characters that a teen who considers themself as part of the of LGBTQ family will be excited to read and see themselves as a part of the pages and story. It also excites me to see so many amazing adult novels being released with these same themes, full of magical characters, as well as realistic situations and epic stories to boot.
It was really hard to select which books to add to this list, because so many amazing queer books are coming out during the fall and winter, and many are available for this summer season. Added to this list are also a few exciting adult reads, that parents or those seeking an LGBTQ book with older characters and themes can enjoy as well.
Read on for 15 anticipated and available LGBTQ books that I have read or I am excited to read, and make sure to make room in your bookshelf for some fresh, unique and exciting stories. As an added bonus, the authors also talked to us briefly and told us what we can expect from these amazing reads, as well as their inspiration behind the queer characters and themes. Enjoy finding your next pick to flip through, and keep reading for some amazing LGBTQ tales that inspire.
Young Adult Books
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (June 1)
Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo are selected at their prestigious school, Niveus Private Academy, to be the senior class prefects. It’s exciting news, news that can lead to stellar college applications and a variety of opportunities. Not only that, but now either of them could be valedictorian.
Then, after the announcement is made, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them. These are secrets that they definitely did not want revealed, and it leads to a series of events sure to shake up both their lives.
When we asked the author about the thriller, she said: “Ace of Spades is a Dark Academia YA Social Thriller set in a private school called Niveus Private Academy. It is best pitched as Get Out meets Gossip Girl (but queer) and the story follows Devon and Chiamaka, the only Black students at the school. I was inspired a lot by the world and characters of Gossip Girl, as well as the move from my diverse town in South London to my very white university town in Scotland.”
The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon (June 1)
Wyatt Croft is a witch. Yet, his importance in the world of Asalin is dimmed by the fae, who rule. Even his engagement and future marriage to his best friend, fae prince Emyr North, doesn’t change a thing. Then, one fateful and tough night, Wyatt loses his magic and decides to escape to the human world.
Emyr, with a very different and cold attitude, tracks down Wyatt in the human realm, and demands they keep their engagement. Transgender Wyatt does not want to keep this promise. Emyr assures them they could lose a chance at the throne together, and he could lose the throne. Hesitantly, Wyatt reaches a deal with Emyr, even though he has changed so much he barely recognizes the boy he used to care for. But, what happens next might make him realize that the old Emyr might still be someone that could resurface.
Author H.E. Edgmon said to us about the novel: “We so often see queer main characters sanitized, and expected to be perfect, in order to make themselves sympathetic. With The Witch King, I wanted to write a story that, through a magical allegory, forced readers to reckon with the ugly things done to trans kids and how those experiences can make us angry or ‘unlikable’ in response — while also showing those same trans kids that their anger is valid, and they’re still wanted, and powerful, and loved.”
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury (June 15)
Voya Thomas is a witch. After years of waiting for an important trial known as The Calling, which she must pass in order to get and own her powers, she fails. Devastated, she decides to listen to one of her ancestors when they say that in order to come into her powers, she must follow a certain path. This is to kill her first love, or, her family of witches will lose their powers. Only problem is, Voya has yet to meet her first love.
Full of a cast of queer and relatable characters, this book is much more than your usual urban fantasy. When we asked Liselle Sambury about the novel, she said she related a lot with Voya, who is also a Trinidadian-Canadian who grew up in a household with a lot of people — she has ten other people living in her house, while the author grew up with seven.
She also said about her inspiration: “Blood Like Magic was born out of a desire to write a fun book about Black witches in the future and me missing my hometown of Toronto while I was living outside of it. I had started NaNoWriMo in 2017 with a different novel, but lost steam pretty quickly into the month. At that time, I was living in northern Ontario for the first time and having a bit of a career struggle, and I longed to be back in Toronto. I missed my favourite places and people there. I knew I wanted to write something set in my city instead and was suddenly hit with a desire to see a story of Black witches, and I thought propelling it into the future would be cool. I honestly just wanted to write the sort of fantasy story that I loved when I was a teen but didn’t get to see with heroes who looked like me.”
Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson (July 6)
Breakups are hard. Especially for Olivia, who thrives when falling in love. What she needs is an escape to help her forget her most recent split, so she decides to attend the Farmland Music and Arts Festival with her best friend, right before her senior year. What follows is an eye-opening experience, where she meets a girl called Toni, who is one year from starting college. Toni attends to remember her late father, who was a roadie at the event. Little do they know that finding each other was just the beginning of an ultimate summer adventure, sure to change both their lives.
When we spoke to Leah Johnson (also the author of You Should See Me in a Crown), she talked about how it was a book that she adored writing. “Every book I write is the book of my heart, but this book takes a special piece of me: my love of live music and the communal joy that we have when we get to spend time together in those spaces, what it feels like to become brothers and sisters and family with strangers who are standing next to you while you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, what it’s like to be young and unsure and scared but also hopelessly hopeful about the future and what it might hold for you. I really hope that folks like this story. I hope that it touches people, and that it brings us to a different space, one that we haven’t been able to inhabit physically for the past year. I hope that this story inspires young queer Black girls everywhere to know that you don’t have to be loved in spite of your queerness, but you can be loved for the whole of who you are.”
The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould (August 3)
In this eerie novel, Snakebite, Oregon, is in the midst of a mystery. TV’s Paraspectors, ghost hunters, have come to town with their daughter Logan Ortiz-Woodley, and somehow they’re being blamed for what’s happening in the town. From teens disappearing — some of them turning up dead — to the weather acting strange, something odd is definitely happening in the area.
When Logan arrives with both her dads, she feels the ghosts haunting the town. The first one to disappear was the boyfriend of Ashley Barton, a girl in Snakebite, and Logan can feel his ghost. Seeking answers, her and Ashley team up, only to realize they might also have growing and intense feelings for each other.
When we asked the author about the novel, she said: “Small-town mysteries have always been my favorite niche genre, especially the ones that involve the haunting and occult, and especially ones where the big bad says something about the world we live in. The Dead and the Dark is the intersection of everything I love: fledgling lesbians, a small-town crime, and a supernatural force that’s more than just a monster.”
Things We Couldn’t Say by Jay Coles (September 21)
This novel filled with heart explores the story of Gio, a bisexual boy coming to terms with coming of age as he grapples with family drama and explores not only what it means to be himself, but who he can be himself with.
When we asked Jay Coles about the book, he said he was inspired by author James Baldwin. “Fun fact: I’m a huge James Baldwin fan. I love how Mr. Baldwin masterfully writes about the Black queer experience in ways that resonate. I’ve always wanted to attempt at doing the same. The story of my protagonist, Gio (also named after a James Baldwin book), came to me quite naturally,” he said. “Right before the pandemic hit and flipped life upside down, Gio’s story came to me as I was sitting at my desk and staring at my computer screen. I knew he was a Black boy wrestling with bisexuality, family, friendship, love, identity, grief, and other complexities of teenagerhood. It didn’t take long for things to come together on the page. It was both painful and fun getting to piece together Gio’s story and I’m so excited for him to be out in the real world in a handful of months!”
But do expect an emotional rollercoaster, he added. “Readers can expect to be taken on an emotional journey with Gio from beginning to end as he wrestles with the world and his inner self. He’s navigating parental abandonment, coming to terms with his sexuality, and trying to figure out love in all its ambiguity. Some additional things highlighted in the book include biphobia, internalized homophobia, racism, and all the ways the world tries to force us to hide our true selves. Those are heavy, I know, but I promise you that the book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe. *wink*”
The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros (September 7)
In this fantasy novel, it’s 1893 in the city of Chicago, and Alter Rosen is there, dreaming of a better life. All he wishes for is to bring his family to America with him, which would mean things would be different. They are oppressed in Romania and he longs for their safety and happiness.
Suddenly, Alter’s best friend, Yakov, is murdered, becoming yet another victim…another murdered Jewish boy, all while people celebrate the World Fair. Then he is possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, a situation that leads him into the arms of a boy of Alter’s past…a boy he used to and still loves so much.
When asked about this novel, author Aden Polydoros said: “The idea for The City Beautiful came to me after reading an article about HH Holmes, a real-life serial killer who is active in Chicago around the same time as the world’s fair. It really got me thinking about life in Chicago during that time, and the 1893 world’s fair, and the messages the different exhibits were propagating to the visitors there.”
“I realized that the fair’s date coincided with the large-scale immigration of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe during the late 1880s and early 1890s. I thought about how interesting it be to write about a Jewish immigrant who had recently arrived in America, and what his experiences may be like during that time. A murder mystery and supernatural elements of the story came later, and before I knew it, a wonderful idea had formed.”
Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat (September 28)
In this high fantasy set in London, main character Will is on the run from a group of men that killed his mom, and in the midst of it all discovers that a certain fate awaits him, which is to fight beside the Stewards. The Stewards are meant to protect others from the Dark King, if he were to return, so Will is quickly put in training to become what he is mean to be, a unique hero against eerie enemies that resurface.
When we asked the author about Dark Rise about his inspiration behind this world, which also features strong LGBTQ representation, he said: “I wanted to write a classic battle between good and evil, but then drastically destabilise it, so that the reader is white-knuckling it – oh my god, what is going to happen!? And as a queer writer, it was exciting to centre queer characters in that kind of high-octane battle for the fate of the world.”
Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle (October 5)
This story, featuring gorgeous graphic illustrations, follows a group of popular girls who take in the main character, Becca, only to have Becca realize that they have a deep dark secret: they’re werewolves. After a full moon party with the squad, Marley, Arianna, and Mandy, she realizes she’s into more than she bargained for after moving to San Francisco and getting adopted by this crew.
As things get a little messy with the pack, who actually attack boys that try to take advantage of unsuspecting girls, Becca starts realizing something about herself that truly surprises her. Not only is she in with the most popular girls in school, but as she becomes closer and closer to them, she just might be in love with one of her new besties.
When asked about the fun story, Maggie Tokuda-Hall said to us: “Squad is the book of my secret ugly heart, the one I’ve wanted to write since I was in high school. It’s for all of us who feel so furious we could bite.”
City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn (October 19)
In this edgy young adult sci-fi, author Claire Winn weaves an intricate story with characters Asa Almeida and Riven Hawthorne. One the heiress to a tech empire and the other a gunslinging smuggler, they come from completely separate worlds. Yet, when Asa finds herself having to escape a serious situation, and her getaway spaceship crash lands on the planet Requiem, she comes face to face with Riven.
Riven is trying to go up in society at Requiem, so she sees opportunity in Asa, who she holds captive. A spoiled rich girl is just what she needs to go up and up…until trouble arises and she just might have to team up with Asa. What follows is a great adventure, where both girls might discover that they need more from each other than they truly bargained for.
“This book is the irreverent, queer-found-family adventure of my heart,” said author Claire Winn. “It was a blast to write a breakneck-paced book with two lead characters who are complete opposites — one headstrong and impulsive, the other sheltered and brilliant (and who end up falling for each other in a bisexual love triangle, slow-burn style).”
If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich (December 7)
Imagine that you are part of the biggest pop group in the world. World tours are the norm and so are obsessed fans. Imagine having a huge secret amidst it all.
In this book, Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are part of the boy band Saturday. During a massive world tour through Europe, and through all the ups and downs of being on the road, they begin to get closer and closer and develop feelings for each other. But is this something that should get out, and that they should confess to their fan base? Their management strongly disagrees.
When asked about the novel, one of the authors Sophie Gonzales said: “With this book, we set out to write a story that shines a light on the pressures and abuses the entertainment industry subjects its talent to. In this case, diving deep into the specific injustices committed toward queer artists: historically, and presently. Widespread awareness is an important step on a long and necessary road to systemic change. We’re blessed to be given the opportunity to play a small role along that road.“
Co-author Cale Dietrich added: “If This Gets Out began with the friendship between Sophie and I that started on Twitter in 2014: we were both writers of queer books who dreamed of being published one day, and we both cared deeply about queer characters and representation in YA. We were inspired to write this book as we’re both fans of boy bands and thought it would be fun and exciting to set a story in that world, and it also gave us the perfect opportunity to examine the insidious way that the entertainment industry has treated queer artists for years.”
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (June 8)
In this adult fantasy, princess Malini is imprisoned in the Hirana. The ancient cliffside temple used to be a source of magical deathless waters, and now it’s meeting its own ruin. Exiled by her brother, Malini has no choice but to be there for now, and as the days go by she grows more and more frustrated with her fate.
Priya longs to keep the truth of her past completely hidden. On order to survive, her current fate includes working as a servant in the regent’s household, cleaning Malini’s chambers, who she cannot stand. One day, Malini sees Priya’s true nature and being. What follows is a story about a princess who has her eyes set on stealing the throne, while the other is simply a priestess seeking to save her family. But, as they get to know each other, they realize that the secrets of Hirana just might be entwined to their destiny, and that they just might make a powerful duo after all.
Author Tasha Suri told us about her inspiration behind the tale. “The Jasmine Throne is a fantasy novel inspired by the mythology, epics and history of India. I’ve always wanted to explore the roles of women in the tales I grew up with, and place women like them – clever, political, stubborn and vengeful women – at the heart of an epic of my own,” she said. “Writing a story about a captive princess, a maidservant with secret magical gifts, and the way they fall in love and set an empire ablaze has given me the chance to do exactly that.”
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu (August 31)
This high-end futuristic fantasy, Anima is an extrasensory human. Anima’s job is strictly to protect and watch Ora’s citizens, through a network called the Gleaming. But, what happens next changes Anima’s world, when an outsider comes into Ora with items and curiosities from other worlds, making Anima curious as to what lies behind Ora.
Told through the lens of four interconnected stories, and an intricate cyberpunk world, the author creates compelling moments and characters and completely does away with conventional pronoun use.
When we spoke to S. Qiouyi Lu about the novel, the author mentioned ae was inspired to write something full of adventure and diversity. “I wrote In the Watchful City in part because I wanted to see a lengthier work that uses neopronouns extensively.”
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (September 28)
In this sci-fi-inspired fantasy, the lives of three women become entangled by chance and fate.
For Shizuka Satomi, her stress comes from a deal with the devil. To escape damnation, she needs to lure seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She’s delivered six, but has yet to meet her mark.
Then she meets Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway with amazing talent, that just might be her final soul needed. But, soon after, she also meets Lan Tran, a retired starship captain, refugee and mom of four, and starts falling for her, realizing that there’s no rules when it comes to love and fate.
When asked about the novel, the author said: “I wanted to evoke the names and faces of people I’ve known all my life.”
“In the book, I wanted to share my hometown, the miso soup, kiwi boba, weekend menudo, and Chinese BBQ duck. I wanted to share the donuts, and the donut people, of my childhood. I did a lot of research, even bought an instrument off of eBay to learn firsthand how a violin feels as it sings,” she continued. “Some things, though, I already knew — there’s no better way to feel damned, cursed, or an alien on your own planet than being a transgender woman of color. And the music of so many queer and transgender voices — whether still here, or taken from us — is always, always heard. But abuse survivors and immigrants and queer runaways still have the birthright to dream. I wanted to mix the personal with the miraculous and fantastical — to show that queer and transgender people are miraculous and fantastical.”
A Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow (October 5)
In this adult novella reimagining the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, Zinnia Gray is getting ready to celebrate her 21st birthday right next to her best friend, Charm, who is completely focused on making this day the best one ever for her. A fan of the tale of Sleeping Beauty since she was young, which had her collecting all the different tales and merch to come related to the story of this princess, Zinnia is excited when she realizes her birthday party is themed after the character.
Another thing about Zinnia: this birthday might be her last, for she suffers from a rare condition that might make her not live past this birthday. Yet, when she pricks her finger inside the tower where her birthday is held thanks to a spinning wheel that Charm got for her, she’s transported into a world she never knew to be possible, and realizes a lot about herself and love.
When asked about Spindle Splintered, Alix Harrow said she was inspired by a certain superhero cartoon film.
“When I walked out of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — a flawless film — I turned to my husband and said something like: ‘Oh my God, I want to Spider-Verse a fairytale.’ See, the thing about Spider-Verse is that it was the first superhero story I’d ever seen that knew it was a retelling. It knew how many times we’ve seen Peter Parker get bitten and how many Aunt Mays we’ve met, and it played with that familiarity. And that’s true of fairytales, too — they’re retellings. We’ve all seen dozens of Snow Whites bite into poisoned apples and Sleeping Beauties prick their fingers. Spider-Verse managed to harness that familiarity, to play with it. I wanted to bring that self-aware meta madness to a fairytale and see what happened.”
What other queer and LGBTQ novels have you read and loved lately? Which ones are you looking forward to reading next? Let us know on Twitter @BookRiot and let me know as well at @AuroraMiami.