A book list by Onset & Rime.
Books by queer authors; books with queer characters; books that center the queer experience; books where being queer isn’t central to the story; joyful stories and difficult stories. A fresh list covering many different voices across the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
A Note: Content warnings have been provided where appropriate. Highlight the "invisible" text beside the content warning label to see. Content warnings are not value statements about the books or judgements about the inclusion of any particular content. They are there to give you a heads up on what to be prepared for so you can choose if and/or when a book is right for you.
1) AND THEN THE GRAY HEAVEN by Re Katz
“And Then the Gray Heaven explores the themes of queer grief and affection, queer failure, burial as hero’s journey, and the grotesqueries of artistic determination […]”
From the publisher: “And Then the Gray Heaven centers on Jules, whose partner B has recently died in a freak accident. Confronting the red tape of the hospital, the dissociation and cruelty of B’s family, and the unimaginable void now at the center of their lives, Jules and new friend Theo embark on a road trip to bury two-thirds of B’s ashes in the places they most belong. Along the way, Katz delves into their relationship and their life stories—Jules’ rise from abandoned baby origins through the Florida foster care system, and B’s artistic transformation, surrounded by kindred spirits who helped them realize it was possible to be regarded as a human and not as a body.”
Content Warnings: homophobia, transphobia
2) BODY GRAMMAR by Jules Ohman
“A coming-of-age queer love story set in the glamorous but grueling world of international modeling”
From the publisher: “By the time Lou turns eighteen, modeling agents across Portland have scouted her for her striking androgynous look. Lou has no interest in fashion or being in the spotlight. She prefers to take photographs, especially of Ivy, her close friend and secret crush.
But when a hike ends in a tragic accident, Lou finds herself lost and ridden with guilt. Determined to find a purpose, Lou moves to New York and steps into the dizzying world of international fashion shows, haute couture, and editorial shoots. It's a whirlwind of learning how to walk and how to command a body she's never felt at ease in. But in the limelight, Lou begins to fear that she's losing her identity--as an individual, as an artist, and as a person still in love with the girl she left behind.”
Genre(s): contemporary, coming-of-age
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, body shaming
3) THE THIRTY NAMES OF NIGHT by Zeyn Joukhadar
“[T]hree generations of Syrian Americans [are] haunted by a mysterious species of bird and the truths they carry close to their hearts.”
From the publisher: “Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.
One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.
As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.”
Genre(s): contemporary, historical fiction
Content Warnings: islamophobia, racism, transphobia, homophobia
4) AND THE CATEGORY IS… by Ricky Tucker
“A love letter to the legendary Black and Latinx LGBTQ underground subculture, uncovering its abundant legacy and influence in popular culture.”
From the publisher: “What is Ballroom? Not a song, a documentary, a catchphrase, a TV show, or an individual pop star. It is an underground subculture founded over a century ago by LGBTQ African American and Latino men and women of Harlem. Arts-based and intersectional, it transcends identity, acting as a fearless response to the systemic marginalization of minority populations.
Ricky Tucker pulls from his years as a close friend of the community to reveal the complex cultural makeup and ongoing relevance of house and Ballroom, a space where trans lives are respected and applauded, and queer youth are able to find family and acceptance. With each chapter framed as a "category" (Vogue, Realness, Body, et al.), And the Category Is... offers an impressionistic point of entry into this subculture, its deeply integrated history, and how it's been appropriated for mainstream audiences. Each category features an exclusive interview with fierce LGBTQ/POC Ballroom members--Lee Soulja, Benjamin Ninja, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, and more--whose lives, work, and activism drive home that very category.”
Genre(s): non fiction, history, art
5) BAD GAYS by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller
“An unconventional history of homosexuality”
From the publisher: “Too many popular histories seek to establish heroes, pioneers and martyrs but as Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller argue, the past is filled with queer people whose sexualities and dastardly deeds have been overlooked. We all remember Oscar Wilde, but who speaks for Bosie? What about those ‘bad gays’ whose unexemplary lives reveals more than we might expect?
Part revisionist history, part historical biography and based on the hugely popular podcast series, Bad Gays subverts the notion of gay icons and queer heroes and asks what we can learn about LGBTQ history, sexuality and identity through its villains and baddies. From the Emperor Hadrian to notorious gangster Ronnie Kray, the authors excavate the buried history of queer lives. This includes fascist thugs, famous artists, austere puritans and debauched bon viveurs, imperialists, G-men and architects.
Together these amazing life stories expand and challenge the mainstream assumptions of sexual identity. They show that homosexuality itself was an idea that emerged in the nineteenth century and that its interpretation has been central to major historical moments of conflict from the ruptures of Weimar Republic to red-baiting in Cold War America.”
Genre(s): non fiction, history
6) HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES by Saeed Jones
“[A] stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.”
From the publisher: “Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.”
Genre(s): non fiction, memoir
Content Warnings: homophobia, racism, sexual violence, abuse, suicidal ideation
7) FUNNY BOY by Shyam Selvadurai
“In the world of his large family […] Arjie is an oddity, a 'funny boy' who prefers dressing as a girl to playing cricket with his brother.”
From the publisher: “[We] follow the life of the family through Arjie's eyes, as he comes to terms both with his own homosexuality and with the racism of the society in which he lives. In the north of Sri Lanka there is a war going on between the army and the Tamil Tigers, and gradually it begins to encroach on the family's comfortable life. Sporadic acts of violence flare into full scale riots and lead, ultimately, to tragedy.”
Genre(s): historical fiction
Content Warnings: homophobia, racism, sexual assault, graphic violence
8) SO HAPPY FOR YOU by Celia Laskey
“A wedding weekend spirals out of control in this bold, electrifying, hilarious novel about the complexities of female friendship”
From the publisher: “Robin and Ellie have been best friends since childhood. When Robin came out, Ellie was there for her. When Ellie's father died, Robin had her back. But when Ellie asks Robin to be her maid of honor, she is reluctant. A queer academic, Robin is dubious of the elaborate wedding rituals now sweeping the nation, which go far beyond champagne toasts and a bouquet toss. But loyalty wins out, and Robin accepts.
Yet, as the wedding weekend approaches, a series of ominous occurrences lead Robin to second-guess her decision. It seems that everyone in the bridal party is out to get her. Perhaps even Ellie herself.”
Genre(s): contemporary, thriller
Content Warnings: homophobia
9) WE ARE WATCHING ELIZA BRIGHT by A.E. Osworth
“[A] woman has her whole life turned upside down after speaking out against workplace hostility–and inadvertently becomes the leader of a cultural movement.”
From the publisher: “Eliza Bright was living the dream as an elite video game coder at Fancy Dog Games when her private life suddenly became public. But is Eliza Bright a brilliant, self-taught coder bravely calling out the toxic masculinity and chauvinism that pervades her workplace and industry? Or, is Eliza Bright a woman who needs to be destroyed to protect "the sanctity of gaming culture"? It depends on who you ask...
When Eliza reports an incident of workplace harassment that is quickly dismissed, she's forced to take her frustrations to a journalist who blasts her story across the Internet. She's fired and doxed, and becomes a rallying figure for women across America. But she's also enraged the beast that is male gamers on 4Chan and Reddit, whose collective, unreliable voice narrates our story. Soon Eliza is in the cross-hairs of the gaming community, threatened and stalked as they monitor her every move online and across New York City.
As the violent power of an angry male collective descends upon everyone in Eliza's life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who to trust, even when she's eventually taken in and protected by an under-the-radar Collective known as the Sixsterhood. The violence moves from cyberspace to the real world, as a vicious male super-fan known only as The Ghost is determined to exact his revenge on behalf of men everywhere. We watch alongside the Sixsterhood and subreddit incels as this dramatic cat-and-mouse game plays out to reach its violent and inevitable conclusion.”
Genre(s): thriller, mystery
Content Warnings: sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking
10) A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE by Arkady Martine
From the publisher: “Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.”
Content Warnings: xenophobia, suicide, violence
11) PHOENIX EXTRAVAGANT by Yoon Ha Lee
“Dragons. Art. Revolution.”
From the publisher: “Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.
One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.
But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.
What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…”
Content Warnings: violence
12) SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Shelley Parker-Chan
“[A]n accomplished, poetic debut of war and destiny, sweeping across an epic alternate China.”
From the publisher: “In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu uses takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.”
Genre(s): fantasy, historical fiction
Content Warnings: violence, misogyny/sexism, ableism, child death, internalised homophobia
13) IN THE RAVENOUS DARK by A.M. Strickland
“A pansexual bloodmage reluctantly teams up with an undead spirit to start a rebellion among the living and the dead.”
From the publisher: “In Thanopolis, those gifted with magic are assigned undead spirits to guard them—and control them. Ever since Rovan’s father died trying to keep her from this fate, she’s hidden her magic. But when she accidentally reveals her powers, she’s bound to a spirit and thrust into a world of palace intrigue and deception.
Desperate to escape, Rovan finds herself falling for two people she can’t fully trust: Lydea, a beguiling, rebellious princess; and Ivrilos, the handsome spirit with the ability to control Rovan, body and soul.
Together, they uncover a secret that will destroy Thanopolis. To save them all, Rovan will have to start a rebellion in both the mortal world and the underworld, and find a way to trust the princess and spirit battling for her heart—if she doesn’t betray them first.”
Genre(s): young adult/new adult, fantasy
Content Warnings: violence, mentions of suicide, mentions of rape
14) ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS by Dean Atta
“[A] romantic coming-of-age novel in verse about the beautiful--and sometimes painful--fallout of pursuing the love we deserve.”
From the publisher: “Fifteen-year-old Mack is a hopeless romantic--likely a hazard of growing up on film sets thanks to his father's job. Mack has had a crush on Karim for as long as he can remember and he can't believe it when gorgeous, popular Karim seems into him too.
But when Mack's father takes on a new directing project in Scotland, Mack has to move away, and soon discovers how painful long-distance relationships can be. It's awful to be so far away from Karim, and it's made worse by the fact that Karim can be so hard to read.
Then Mack meets actor Finlay on set, and the world turns upside down again. Fin seems fearless--and his confidence could just be infectious.”
Genre(s): young adult, contemporary, poetry
Content Warnings: homophobia, fatphobia, racism
15) WHEN YOU CALL MY NAME by Tucker Shaw
“[A] heartrending novel about two gay teens coming of age in New York City in 1990 at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
From the publisher: “Film fanatic Adam is seventeen and being asked out on his first date—and the guy is cute. Heart racing, Adam accepts, quickly falling in love with Callum like the movies always promised.
Fashion-obsessed Ben is eighteen and has just left his home upstate after his mother discovers his hidden stash of gay magazines. When he comes to New York City, Ben’s sexuality begins to feel less like a secret and more like a badge of honor.
Then Callum disappears, leaving Adam heartbroken, and Ben finds out his new world is more closed-minded than he thought. When Adam finally tracks Callum down, he learns the guy he loves is very ill. And in a chance meeting near the hospital where Callum is being treated, Ben and Adam meet, forever changing each other’s lives. As both begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of queer love and life, they realize sometimes the only people who can help you are the people who can really see you—in all your messy glory.”
Genre(s): young adult, historical fiction
Content Warnings: homophobia