Queer books without romances are especially important (and wonderful) because so often, queer characters in books are defined by their sexuality. Don’t get me wrong — I love a queer romance! But a queer character is still queer if they don’t have a partner. A queer character is still queer if they’re not interested in romance. We deserve stories that celebrate all facets of queer life — not just who we fall in love with.
I’m not gonna lie: it can be hard to find queer books without romances. Novels without romance of any kind are actually a lot rarer than you might think — despite the fact that romance is just one of many human experiences reflected in books. Some of these books do have romantic subplots, but none of them have central romances. In order to qualify for this list, I made sure every book that included a little romance passed this simple test: I imagined the story without the romantic subplot. If it still made sense — if taking out the romance didn’t change the plot — the book passed.
So you might encounter a bit of dating in these novels. Some of these characters have partners. A few of them fall in love. But these romantic entanglements are secondary, often cursory. These books are not about romance. They’re about family, friendship, career, and so much more. And they come in all genres: action-packed space operas and meditative coming-of-age stories and silly fantasy adventures.
Realistic Fiction Queer Books Without Romances
Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin
Gilda is a twentysomething lesbian with anxiety and depression. On a whim, she decides to take a job as a receptionist at a Catholic Church, where she hides her sexuality from her employers. Her observations about the world are often darkly funny, though the book itself is an intense and sometimes painful story about mental health, family, loneliness, and the messiness of figuring yourself out.
The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine
This beautiful novel follows Mina, a trans Lebanese American doctor who, at the request of a friend, spends a week volunteering at a refugee camp on Lesbos. While there, she meets up with her brother for the first time in years, becomes close with a Syrian woman, and befriends a gay Palestine nurse. It’s a quiet, character-driven book about cultural identity, what it means to offer help, and a whole lot more. It’s especially refreshing to read a book like this — full of queer characters but not centered on specific queer experiences.
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
While there is dating, sex, and some romance in this novel, it’s not at all the focus. Jonny is Two-Spirit Indigiqueer who’s trying to save up enough money to travel back to the rez for his stepdad’s funeral. Over the course of the book, as he goes about his life, he reminisces about his childhood, his beloved grandmother, and his past relationships. It’s a funny, sad, moving story about being young, queer and Indigenous in the 21st century.
All the Water I’ve Seen is Running by Elias Rodriques
This book begins with several scenes of Daniel, the main character, at home with his boyfriend in New York. So I thought it was going to be a book with romance, and I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be about friendship, memory, and the pull of specific places. When his high school girlfriend Aubrey dies suddenly, Daniel decides to go home to Florida for the funeral. While there, he confronts all the messes he left behind — not only his relationship with Aubrey, but his family’s history in Jamaica and the U.S., and his own past self.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
This historical novel follows two Chinese American siblings who set out on a quest to bury their father in the post-Gold Rush American West. Alone in the world, they look to each other for support and comfort, even as they grow further and further apart. It’s a beautifully written book with characters that leap off the page.
Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks
This surprising and unique book is almost impossible to categorize or describe. It’s about Margaret, who starts a detective club in middle school with her three best friends. When the club falls apart in high school, Margaret develops an eating disorder, and a big chunk of the story takes place at the treatment center she’s sent to. But these are just the barebones facts. Wise and funny, deliciously weird and painfully true, overflowing with queer and trans joy, heartbreak, and knowledge, this book is unlike any other YA I’ve read in recent years.
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative Queer Books Without Romances
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
This light sci-fi novel features a trans violinist who’s just run away from her abusive family, a famous violin teacher who’s made a deal with the devil, and a family of refugee aliens, who, fleeing galactic war, have settled on earth, where they run a doughnut shop. Sound weird? It sure is! It’s funny and whimsical, though not always an easy read — the main character, Katrina, has to deal with a lot of transphobia. Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the book is one part ode to found family, one part celebration of music, and one part hilarious doughnut content.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
In these strange and beautiful stories, trans characters defy expectations, living their lives outside of narrow binaries and stuffy boxes. In one story, a trans man gives birth to a cocoon. Another story is about a character who is a swarm of insects. A person transforms into a mountain and a group of nuns become men for half the year. Each story is surprising and delightful; they’re about the possibilities of transformation, the constant ways that bodies shift, the blurry lines between beginnings and endings.
Finna by Nino Cipri
If a book starts with a breakup, does it count as having to do with romance? I’m saying no, because though this is a book about exes, there’s no central romance: it’s about friendship and other kinds of platonic love. It’s set in a vast furniture store, modeled after IKEA, except this one is full of wormholes to other universes. When one of these wormholes opens up and swallows a customer, Ava and her ex-partner Jules are sent in to rescue her. What follows is a hilarious adventure through a series of bizarre worlds, and a surprisingly tender story about the longevity of queer relationships outside of romantic love.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
This little balm of a book is pure joy. Dex is a garden monk who suddenly finds themself unhappy and unsatisfied, despite living a good, fulfilling life in the city. So they change it all up and become a tea monk, traveling from village to village offering tea and comfort. When this new career path doesn’t assuage their longing for something else, they head into the wilderness, where they meet Mosscap, the first robot any human has seen in centuries. Mosscap and Dex start talking — and they don’t stop. It’s charming and optimistic and funny and thoughtful.
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Anne Xu
This graphic novel is hilarious and action-packed, but it’s the utterly wonderful main character that makes it something special. Kumiko is a grumpy, funny, and very stubborn 70-something bisexual badass. Her adult daughters have convinced her to move to an assisted living facility, but she hates it there, so she breaks out, gets a sweet apartment downtown, and proceeds to happily live her own life. That is, until Death comes calling. Kumiko is not interested in joining him, so she fights him off with a vacuum and then calls on her community to help finish the job.
Looking for more queer books without romances? Check out Tailored Book Recommendations! Your personal bibliologist (aka professional book nerd) can help you find your next perfect read — whether that’s a queer book with no romance or a hidden gem from that one niche sub-genre you’re interested in but have always been too intimated to try.