Queer Harder: 12 Favorites From Past Challenges

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Read Harder is what brought me to Book Riot. I can’t remember now where I first heard about it. But sometime during the winter of 2017, I stumbled across the challenge online, and, because I am who I am, decided to complete not only the 2017 challenge, but the previous two challenges as well. Eight months later, I was writing for Book Riot, and had just had the best reading year of my life.

I’m a lifelong reader, but I never dreamed I’d be immersed in the book world the way I am now. I’ve grown so much as a reader over the past five years, and I’m a happier person because of it. I’ll always have a particular fondness for the Read Harder challenge, not only because of all the amazing books I’ve read because of it, but because of the bookish community it led me to.

I haven’t actually completed Read Harder since 2019, and I honestly think that’s an indication that the challenge is working. It got me reading comics. I started reading more nonfiction, more small press books, more books from different genres and written by authors from different countries. I read more eclectically now than I ever have before. I seek out new and challenging books as a matter of course. I also read more fluffy and comforting books than I used to. Read Harder has given me so many kinds of permission. I might not finish every task each year, but the spirit of the challenge has taken hold, and become my guiding principle.

In celebration of Read Harder’s eighth year, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite queer books that I might not have picked up otherwise. Looking back through my reading spreadsheets, I was amazed by just how many books I’ve read thanks to the challenge — it was hard to narrow it down! I’ve selected books that reflect what Read Harder has meant to me as a reader. These are books that have surprised me and stretched me. Some of them have become beloved favorites. Some of them of have challenged me. Many of them introduced me to new genres and authors I now love. All of them have enriched my reading life in immeasurable ways, and I am forever grateful.

Read Harder 2021

The Marrow Thieves cover

The Marrow Thieves by Cherrie Dimaline

This YA dystopia is set in a grim future in which everyone except for Indigenous people has lost the ability to dream. Because lack of dreaming leads to sickness, white people have begun capturing Indigenous people to mine their bone marrow. Frenchie is a teenager who narrowly escapes a recruiter, and begins traveling with a group of other Native teens and adults who become his family. It’s a harrowing story that deals with the legacies of residential schools, but it’s also full of moments of joy, and the power of story and chosen family.

Task: Read a genre book by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author.

cover of How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

In this lyrical and vivid debut, two Chinese American siblings travel across the post–Gold Rush American west on a quiet to bury their recently deceased father. It’s a richly layered story that deals with colonialism, immigration and xenophobia, land theft, queerness, siblinghood, and a whole lot more.

Task: Read a historical fiction with a person of color or LGBTQ+ protagonist.

cover of Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel

Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel

This beautiful family saga centers a mother and son, exploring how secrets and silences have shaped their relationship, and their family’s life. A year after her husband’s death, Renu is ready to sell the family home and move back to London. Her son Akash is a gay man struggling to get his life together: his music career is going nowhere and his drinking is out of control. When he returns to the Chicago suburb where he grew up to help Renu pack up the house, they begin to untangle the threads of loss, hurt, resentment, and shame that exists between them.

Task: Read a book set in the Midwest.

Read Harder 2020

Cover of All Boys Aren't Blue

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

In this memoir, George M. Johnson writes with so much honestly and warmth about their life. They touch on childhood, family, college experiences, sexual and romantic relationships, gender, self-discovery, and a lot more. It deals with racism and homophobia, but it’s also a celebration of Blackness and queerness, a loud and beautiful declaration of self.

Task: Read a YA nonfiction book.

IRL book cover

IRL by Tommy Pico

Tommy Pico is a real treat to listen to on audio. IRL is one long poem, a dizzying mess of words, and Pico’s brilliant narration brings it to life. He writes about the internet, New York, Indigenous identity, dating, desire, colonialism, language. It’s full of movement, funny and tender and harsh, full of surprising ideas and lines that cut right to the heart of a thing.

Task: Read an audiobook of poetry.

Cover of Small Beauty

Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

This quiet and meditative novel follows Mei, a Chinese Canadian trans woman whose beloved cousin has just died. He leaves his house to her, so she leaves her life in the city and moves in. She spends a year grieving and remembering, reconnecting with her past and learning stories about her family’s history she never knew. It’s about queer and trans lineage, immigration, friendship, small towns, the cost of silence, generational memory.

Task: Read a debut novel by a queer author.

Cover of Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi

Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi

Amrou Al-Kadhi was born and Bahrain and grew up in an Iraqi Muslim household in Bahrain and the UK. In this hilarious and heartwarming book, they share their journey toward themself: their early sense of not fitting in anywhere, their attempts to assimilate into white British culture, their discovery of drag, and how queer and drag community helped them rediscover and reclaim their Muslim identity on their own terms.

Task: Read a memoir by someone from a religious tradition (or lack of religious tradition) that is not your own.

Cover of Plain Bad Heroines

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth

This sprawling epic of a novel is a true doorstopper! It follows a group of queer filmmakers, mostly women, involved in a movie about a 20th century girls boarding school with a cursed history. The narrative jumps around in time, following several interconnecting plots. It’s creepy and weird, full of wonderfully flawed characters, and very, very gay.

Task: Read a doorstopper (over 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman.

Read Harder 2019

Cover of Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens

Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens

This is one of those under-the-radar historical queer romances I want to shove into everyone’s hands! It’s a beautiful polyamorous love story set in 1906 London. Lucien is a working-class journalist who doesn’t usually have the time of day for people like Aubrey, son of an earl. Aubrey is already in a committed relationship with his best friends, a married couple. He’s not looking for another relationship. Until he stumbles into one. Communication, processing, radial politics, tenderness, many kinds of love and intimacy, fiery supporting characters with agency — this book has everything.

Task: Read a historical romance by an author of color.

Cover of Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet, Translated by Bernard Frechtman

I never would have picked up this 1943 novel if not for Read Harder, and I’m so glad I did. Genet write (and then rewrote) the book while incarcerated in a French jail. It’s a strange, dreamlike collection of linked stories about a group of queer and trans characters, mostly sex workers, as they fall in and out of love, fight with each other, change their lives, don’t change their lives, seek out pleasure, and deal with the harsh realties of the world they live in.

Task: Read a book written in prison.

Read Harder 2015

Peter Darling new cover

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

I’ll never stop shouting about this book: it’s both a perfect retelling and a perfect romance. Austin Chant reimagines Peter Pan as a trans man perceived by his family as Wendy Darling. As a child, Neverland was the one place where he could be himself. When he returns there as an adult, desperate to get away from his transphobic family, he finds it changed in ways he never imagined. He ignites his old battle with Hook, which slowly turns into a tender, complicated, and moving love affair.

Task: Read a book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)

Cover of Nevada by Imogen Bonnie

Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Maria is a trans woman living in New York City. She’s smart and snarky and very observation; her narrative voice is brilliant. After a falling out with her girlfriend, she ditches her overwhelming, falling-apart life and takes off on a cross-country road trip that turns into a different kind of journey.

Task: Read a book by a person whose gender is different from your own.

Looking for more inspiration? You can browse through our Read Harder archives for lots of great recs for books from past challenges. And if it’s more reading challenges you’re after, check out these 52 weekly challenges to try, and this list of 50 DIY reading challenges for every kind of reader.