Fall is always a big season for book releases. There are a few big queer books coming out in the next few months I can’t wait to get my hands on — Family Meal by Bryan Washington and Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang, to name just two. But now is also a great time to look back at the first half of the year to see what you might have missed. So many incredible queer books have come out this year already — it’s impossible to keep track of them all.
So, to help you out, here’s a handy list of 12 of my favorite queer books from the first half of 2023. At the time of writing, most of these books had under 250 Goodreads ratings, and all of them had under 400. Several of them had less than 50! Buzzy books are gonna buzz, and I’m always thrilled when queer books get lots of attention. But I’m even more thrilled when people pick up under-the-radar queer books, because, to be honest, it’s where the real magic happens.
This is an eclectic list, with something for everyone: speculative short stories, a fictional memoir about a trans musician, poetry, a middle grade graphic novel and a creature-horror-turned-social-horror graphic novel, contemporary fiction from Nigeria, and more.
Any Other City by Hazel Jane Plante
I cannot understand why the queer internet isn’t screaming about this book! It is everything I love about queer lit: it’s full of characters who are whole, flawed, and constantly changing. It’s about queer healing and the power of queer community and all the specific weirdnesses and wonders of trans life. It’s written as the fictional memoir of a semi-famous trans musician, Tracy St. Cyr. In the first half, she’s 20, alone in a new city for the first time. In the second half, she’s in her 40s, alone again in the same city, this time to recover from a traumatic event. Hazel Jane Plante is writing some of the most innovative, challenging, and complicated contemporary fiction there is. You don’t want to miss out.
Shakti by SJ Sindu and Nabi H. Ali
What a charming and delightful middle grade graphic novel! Shakti has just moved to a new town (again) and three of the girls in her middle school are making her life hell. But the teachers don’t notice, because they’ve been cursed by the bullies. Luckily, Shakti is a witch, too — she and one of her moms come from a long line of witches connected to the Hindu goddess Durga. This is such a lovely book about power, courage, forgiveness, queer family, and friendship.
Horse Barbie by Geena Rocero
Is it too early to declare 2023 the year of the celeb trans memoir? I don’t think so, because, in addition to this one and Pageboy, we’re getting memoirs/nonfiction books from Raquel Willis and Schuyler Bailar this fall! In Horse Barbie, Geena Rocero writes about her life as a trans pageant queen in the Philippines, the years she spent closeted during her modeling career in the U.S., and her journey to activism and advocacy. It’s intimate and vulnerable, and, despite some heavy subject matter, it is also overflowing with trans joy, which makes it a pleasure to read.
Freedom House by KB Brookins
I love poetry collections that play with form, and Brookins does so here in such interesting ways. One poem is written as a CV; another of my favorites is an erasure poem of an abortion ban bill. Brookins writes about Black trans life in all its complexity. This is a book about violence and freedom from violence, transphobia and trans joy, alienation and homecoming.
And Then He Sang a Lullaby by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu
This is the first book from Roxane Gay’s new publishing imprint, but even so, I haven’t seen it getting a ton of buzz. It’s a devastating novel, but one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. It follows two gay men in Nigeria, each with very different life experiences, who meet and fall in love at university. Somtochukwu writes with incredible honesty and care about what it’s like living under a homophobic government (as so many people do) — and about the liberatory possibilities of queer love.
Transitional by Munroe Bergdorf
This book is a blend of memoir, journalism, and social commentary. Bergdorf draws on stories from her own life, as well as scholarship from other trans writers and thinkers, to illuminate how transition, in all its forms and meanings, is an innate part of being a human. She shares a lot of information and ideas, but she does so in an intimate, conversational tone. It’s a quick and impactful read.
Notes on Her Color by Jennifer Neal
If you enjoy family dramas, fraught coming-of-age stories, and books that are just a little bit magical but don’t feel magical at all, this quiet, unsettling novel is for you. Gabrielle has inherited the ability to change the color of her skin from her mother. She can pass from her natural brown into any other color: shimmering blue or deep yellow — or white. Her father is violent and abusive, and her relationship with her mother is turbulent. She finds refuge in the home of her piano teacher, who reminds her of her own power, and the power of music. This is an intense but beautiful read.
Uranians by Theodore McCombs
This is one of those books that I simply cannot stop screaming about. It’s an eerie and beautiful collection of speculative short stories, all set in slightly twisted versions of the world — past and present dystopias and utopias. The titular novella is set on a spaceship hurtling away from Earth, carrying a crew of mostly queer scientists and artists — not to settle a new planet, but simply to observe it. It’s one of the most profoundly beautiful mediations on queer aesthetics, grief, lineage, art-making, family-making, and possibility that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.
Journal of a Black Queer Nurse by Britney Daniels
This is a collection of memories and stories about Daniels’ experiences working as a traveling nurse, both before and during the pandemic. She writes about the racism, sexism, and homophobia she’s experienced from patients and hospital staff, and exposes the ways in which the medical system fails almost everyone, including her and other nurses like her. It’s a sobering and infuriating book, but an important one.
More Sure by A. Light Zachary
This is easily one of my favorite poetry collections of the year so far. Zachary writes about gender, wildness, family entanglements, being autistic, language, queer and trans sex, and so much more. They reimagine quotes from ancient philosophers as queer life advice. They write from the perspective of a coyote. They play with form in delightful and surprising ways. This collection is exuberant, defiant, and tender.
The Secret Summer Promise by Keah Brown
Are you looking for a fun, breezy summer romance? Something lighthearted and easy and full of teen drama? This is the book for you! Andrea is a Black queer teenager with cereal palsy who just wants to have the perfect summer with her best friend. The only problem: she maybe kinda sorta has a crush on said best friend, and she’s afraid telling her will explode their friendship. This is such a gentle, wholesome book. I especially love how Brown gives Andrea space to be her whole disabled self — her disability is a part of the story, because it’s a part of her, but it’s not the center of the story.
Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky
I devoured this in one sitting and I’m going to need everyone to read it now, please. It’s wildly good: funny, smart, disturbing, a little absurd, enraging — and, most importantly, deeply moving. I sobbed at the end. Sammie has been out as trans for a while now, but their old college friends don’t really seem to get it. So they’re apprehensive about a weekend-long bachelor party, especially since it’s happening in El Campo, an island city in the middle of the Atlantic, which is basically a shrine to capitalism. They’re right to worry, because in addition to the infuriating transphobia they face, something sinister is going on that no one else seems to notice. Lubchansky gleefully plays with horror tropes, skewering everything from tech bros to the gender binary in the process. It’s perfect.
Looking for more lesser-known queer reads? Take this quiz to get an under-the-radar queer rec! You might also want to check out these under-the-radar queer BIPOC books, and these award-winning but under-the-radar queer books.