To all the readers tired of generic representation and sloppy LGBT characters thrown into a storyline for some diversity, this is for you. The following is a list of fictional works with LGBT main characters whose plots don’t completely revolve around their coming out, their sex lives or struggles with being a part of the queer community.
Each story is rated based on the quality and originality of the writing style, how central the LGBT characters are to the plot and how diverse the characters in the story are overall. Anywhere from a half point to a full point is deducted if the book lacks these criteria or contains elements that hinder the LGBT narrative.
It’s time we acknowledge and embrace more stories where gay and trans people can exist in worlds of magic and superpowers, action and romance science fiction and horror. Stories where they have lengthy, detailed backstories and depth. The queer community isn’t a monolith, and it deserves to be represented in as many different roles as straight people have been portrayed in.
Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (9.5/10)
Set in a fantastical world of magic, mythical realms and foreign tongues, Six of Crows tells the story of elaborate heists, schemes and adventures all in the name of riches and revenge. Six allies must band together, staying five steps ahead of the enemy to claim their reward and secure their freedom. Led by master criminal Kaz Brekker, the unlikely team includes spy Inej Ghafa, soldier-turned-convict Matthias Helvar, Grisha Heartrender Nina Zenik, runaway Wylan Van Eck and sharpshooter Jesper Fahey.
These books are exciting and compelling at every twist and turn. Bardugo has done an incredible job of constructing both relatable and complex characters, as well as a unique universe with its own mythology and suspense. It is a great read that makes readers feel the spectrum of human emotion.
What I really like about this book is that it has the same quality as any heteronormative fantasy book but with a bisexual character and a gay character. Bonus points for diverse characters in terms of their ethnicities, body types and disabilities. I took .5 points off because I thought the queer relationship could have been explored a bit more or even pushed more to the forefront. Plus, women-loving women (wlw) characters or trans characters would also be nice to have. (Note: It has been released that Six Of Crows, along with Bardugo’s Grishaverse Trilogy, will be combined to make an 8-episode Netflix series in the near future.)
Recommended age: 13+
All For The Game series by Nora Sakavic (8/10)
For a low-budget book series, All For The Game weaves a seriously gripping tale about the players of a made-up sport called ‘Exy.’ With a secret identity, Neil Josten is a teenager on the run from his tragic past. He finds a place to call home with an Exy team made of misfits. Playing with them, Neil learns more about what, and who, he truly wants in life. Together they compete at tournaments, fighting like their lives depend on it. Because, well, they do.
The online following for this series is tremendous, and the fan-made content makes visualizing the story much more enjoyable. An abundance of quotable lines, Sakavic’s excellent deconstruction of sexuality and love and the interesting character dynamics make this series a must-read.
I’m docking two points for this series: one just for the incredibly slow burn, and another for graphic scenes of violence, drug abuse and rape. These books are not for the faint of heart, as they have some intense and dark themes concerning mental illnesses and torture.
Recommended age: 17+
Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi (7.5/10)
Tammi’s debut novel is a clever Sapphic retelling of the heroine Atalanta’s story from Greek mythology. Adding in some original characters of her own, Tammi summarizes the legend of Atalanta, a fierce warrior and athlete who attempts to find her place and live up to her namesake.
It is on this journey that Atalanta runs into Kahina, a former hunter of Artemis full of grace and attitude who is on a mission of her own. Once they get to know each other better, Kahina devises a plan for Atalanta to beat men in a competition to win her hand in marriage. The story is told from both Kahina and Atalanta’s perspectives as they navigate their lives and feelings for one another.
Overall this is a really cute book for readers craving more wlw content in literature that isn’t cheesy or boring realistic fiction. I didn’t give as many points for this one because the writing wasn’t anything impressive or special, some parts were a bit rushed. However, with an interracial queer couple and a captivating spin on a classic, Outrun The Wind is still a worthwhile read.
Recommended age: 13+
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (10/10)
In a brilliantly crafted, poignant epic, Miller pays homage to the mythology behind ancient Greece’s most famous hero, Achilles. Miller eloquently and painstakingly describes the history of Achilles and his “closest companion,” Patroclus, as they are brought closer to fate’s final destination.
The plot centers around the passionate, soulful connection between Patroclus and Achilles as they grow from boys to men, battling gods, armies and prophecies alike. Centaur mentors, royal rulers and idyllic kingdoms set the scene for their heroic journey. Miller breathes life into these legends as she paints a realistic picture of hubris, romance and drama in the era of the Trojan War.
This is the single most profound book I have ever read, and I believe it will always be a classic which speaks to the timeless tragedies of love and bloodshed. Every sentence is beautifully written and all-consuming, leaving you no choice but to cling to the story in breathless anticipation with every turn of the page.
Recommeded age: 17+
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (8.5/10)
Arranged marriages and kingdoms and magic, oh my! In this book, Coulthurst delivers a charming story of a fantasy world on the precipice of revolution between those born with illegal magical powers and those without. Princess Dennaleia, who has an affinity for fire, must hide her secret as she travels to Mynaria to wed the prince and secure an important alliance.
However, as the story progresses, Denna finds her heart pulling her in another direction. Namely, towards the stable girl and sister of the prince, Princess Amaranthine. In the midst of assassinations and a brewing war, Mare and Denna make it their mission to save their kingdoms and each other.
This was the first wlw fantasy novel I ever read, and I was overjoyed at the prospect of reading about gay princesses falling in love. Coulthurst really delivered with her exceptional characterization and descriptive storytelling. I took one point off because there could have been more diversity, and the last half point was subtracted because at some points the writing became slightly basic and cliche.
Recommended age: 17+
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (6/10)
This series follows the thoughts and actions of five friends from Henrietta, Virginia, as they explore ley lines, psychic readings, dream worlds and the tombs of kings who have been dead for hundreds of years. Blue Sargent, Richard Gansey III, Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny must best fortune and fate, creatures of nightmares and other enemies as they rush to save Cabeswater, a dream forest filled with Latin and endless possibilities and the natural world.
Recommended age: 15-17+
This story, set in the late 1980’s documents the twisting and rocky lives of two Mexican-American boys (named after famous philosophers) living in El Paso, Texas. Author Sáenz offers a refreshing and authentic take on Latinx culture as well as how it intersects with sexuality and masculinity.
In a radical coming-of-age story, Ari and Dante struggle to figure out their complicated feelings for one another, their cultural identities, and family dynamics. Sáenz transports the reader into the strange, hilarious and often wise mind of a teenage boy, successfully capturing a relatable and universal inner monologue.
This story wins major points for focusing on a marginalized group rarely documented or celebrated in literature. I did, however, deduct a point for the spots in the book where the plot seems to lag and the slow burn nature of their relationship.
Recommended age: 13+
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (9/10)
Basically a gayer, more diverse version of Harry Potter, Rowell’s Carry On tells the tale of two wizard roommates at odds who must come together to defeat a larger evil. Because who doesn’t adore an enemies-to-lovers trope, right?
The Watford School of Magicks is full of misspellings, silly spells and bewitched drama. Simon Snow is the Mage’s favorite, the supposed Chosen One who can’t even properly use his wand, and completely opposed to Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch (Baz). Baz is the snobby heir to an old family of magick, supposedly a vampire, and definitely in love with Simon.
This book is devastatingly funny, light-hearted, and a perfectly adequate read. I took away one point because I was craving more mythology and backstory for Rowell’s world of magick, and it never came. Also while it’s very entertaining, the book isn’t completely groundbreaking. (Note: Rowell’s sequel to Carry On, called Wayward Son, is expected to be released in 2019.)
Recommended age: 13+
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson (7/10)
The perspective in this book switches between a pair of artistically gifted twins that live paradoxical lives under the same roof. Jude is popular, boy crazy, Dad’s favorite, and she hides her artwork. Noah is nerdy and weird, a proud artist, Mom’s favorite, and he desperately tries to hide how boy crazy he really is.
When tragedy strikes, both siblings flip flop, losing sight of everything they once knew. Noah and Jude must embark on a journey to find their way back to each other and who they were meant to be. Along the way, the twins learn more about themselves, their family and love.
This is both a heart wrenching and heartwarming narrative that is both artistic and imaginative. I docked points because half of the narrative is Jude and her cliche het-romance with a “bad boy”, and Noah’s eventual relationship isn’t official until the very end of the book, which makes it seem a bit like an afterthought.
Recommended age: 15-17+
Bonus LGBT books to check out in 2019:
Featured Image by Marielle Devereaux