June is pride month, and for readers everywhere this is a good opportunity to read and recommend books which feature LGBTQIA (or GSD) characters or themes. I feel like a lot of the books I pick up anyway tend to have some kind of queer representation, especially in YA. It’s not something I encountered very often as a young person, but since then I’ve found a number of books and authors that I love for their inclusive books and themes. Here are nine books I think you should read during pride month.
Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan
This book got me into Young Adult. I hadn’t heard of David Levithan when I picked it up (for the bargain price of 50p – in hardback too!) but after reading this, he became an instant favourite.
The title makes it pretty obvious that there’s a gay male relationship at the centre of the story. This was what drew me towards it in the first place, as I wanted to read books with queer characters. I read the entire book one Sunday afternoon, and it remains one of my favourite books.
There’s all the drama, conflict, love, friendship and emotion that you’d find in any good YA, but with a diverse set of characters and circumstances at its heart. It’s an incredible book, celebrating love without boundaries and in all forms.
George, Alex Gino
A nice segway from Boy Meets Boy, because David Levithan edited George. This is a book suitable for young readers, as the main character, George, is ten years old. The main thing about George is that everyone thinks she’s a boy, when really she’s a girl.
This book gives a real insight into what it’s like for someone of a young age who is in the wrong body, and perceived as the wrong gender. I can relate somewhat to what it’s like being a trans person*, as I consider myself gender-neutral and do suffer from dysphoria on a daily basis, so I could appriciate the way these difficulties were written and expressed. But even for someone who isn’t trans, this would be a good book to read and is why this book is so important. Parents and children should read this book, if only for the sake of awareness and getting a bit more understanding.
The story itself is fairly innocent, but incredibly powerful: George wants to play Charlotte in the school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. She knows all Charlotte’s lines and has rehearsed them over and over…except her teachers won’t allow her to play a girl’s role. The book takes us through all the internal and external conflicts that this throws up for George, and how she deals with friendship, bullying and her family relationships.
It’s heartwarming, and I was left feeling in awe of the story and the impact it had on me.
Link to the book on Goodreads: George
Autoboyography, Christina Lauren
Are you ready for some bi-pride? This was probably the first YA book I read where the main character is bisexual. It’s the kind of representation that I could’ve done with during my younger and teenage years.
There were some really poignant and important passages in the book, when Tanner expresses his thoughts on bisexuality, and this resonated with me so much that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t encountered it sooner.
The plot also deals with religion and how it can be difficult to navigate openness of sexuality when in a very religious town or household. It’s a fairly lengthy book too (just over 400 pages) and we delve deep into the various themes and really get to know Tanner and feel for him.
I need more books with bisexual characters, so I’m welcoming any recommendations! This book also has a whole heap of links and further reading at the back, so if you grab a copy of this during pride month you’re pretty much set.
A Boy’s Own Story, Edmund White
This was the first ever book that I reviewed on this blog. And it was the first time I read a classic book with homosexual themes. I picked it up in its ‘Banned Books’ edition, because I wanted to know why it had been banned, and when I realised, that just made me want to read it even more.
It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel, and is the first in a trilogy of books. The story is told by an unnamed narrator as he explores his sexuality for the first time, and finds beauty in literature and art. The prose is poetic and witty, and for me a classic. It’s a book I would loved to have studied.
If you haven’t read Edmund White yet, then please get hold of a copy of this one, because this is the place to start with his writing.
The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
At times devastatingly sad, and often powerful, this is a must-read for anyone wanting to discover an early example of literary exploration of gender, sexuality and lesbianism. From the very beginning, Stephen’s identity is significant. His parents wanted a boy, but they got a girl. However, the male name remains, and Stephen grows up to be more boyish anyway.
As an adult, she dresses in men’s clothing and is attracted to other women. She never identifies as male, but embraces her masculine nature despite this being outside of societies norms.
The book could be described as depressing, or even as a cry for change. This is another book which was banned because of its implied sexual content, but is essentially a love story. Despite being over 500 pages, I flew through it and enjoyed every word.
Link to the book on Goodreads: The Well of Loneliness
Cereus Blooms at Night, Shani Mootoo
I wouldn’t have known about this book if it wasn’t for studying it on a gender and sexuality module at uni. The plot itself isn’t necessarily focused 100% on the themes of gender in the book, but it’s present throughout because Tyler is our narrator. Tyler is a male nurse, but his gender is established early on as being pretty fluid.
The book is set in the fictional town of Paradise, and features a diverse cast of characters and stories, but at the heart of it is an old woman, Mala Ramchandin, who ends up in the care of Tyler. It’s a beautiful story, exploring love, violence and mystery. Thanks to this book, Tyler has become one of my favourite fictional characters and narrators.
It’s not an explicitly queer novel like the ones I’ve mentioned above, but is more of a subtle representation. But it’s a definite contender for any reading list wanting a bit of gender exploration.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Cereus Blooms at Night
This Book is Gay, James Dawson (now Juno Dawson)
This book cover screams PRIDE. It’s also a book that I wish had existed when I was a teenager. However, I ended up reading it as an adult and not connecting to it in the way I would have done if I’d have accessed this book at a younger age.
The author, now Juno Dawson, explains all about different sexualities, and dedicated chapters to stereotypes, coming out, homophobia, and lots more. This is alongside diagrams and illustrations, and also features stories from real people talking about their experiences.
It’s a guide, a handbook, and an entertaining exploration of all things related to gender and sexuality. I did have a few problems with this book in some areas, but overall it’s definitely worth having a read.
In Different Shoes: Stories of Trans Lives, ed. by Victoria Villaseñor and Nicci Robinson
This book features 16 contributions from trans people, telling the stories of their experiences, either in poetry or a memoir-ish, storytelling style. Each one is accompanied by an illustration and a Q&A asking questions like what does trans mean to them, and how do they navigate the ‘bathroom problem’.
Reading each of the stories opened my eyes up to what the reality is like for a trans person, and how it’s different for everyone. A lot of the stories in this are from young people, and it’s eye-opening to read their words and their conviction for who they are.
If you want to explore some true accounts of trans life, then this is a good place to start.
A Queer Reader, ed. by Patrick Higgins
I’ve not actually read this one cover to cover, because it’s more of a ‘dip in and out’ book. It tells the story of sexuality throughout history (particularly male homosexuality) and features quotes from literature, poetry, letters, diary entries, speeches from parliament and news reports. It’s basically a gathering of queer material, in chronological order.
I like it for the quotes and the sense of exploration that comes with the layout of the book. If you want to read lots of snippets of queer writing from multiple and varied sources, then this book will be your bible.
One day, I’ll probably sit down and try and read all of it, but for now I’m content to spend time with it now and then, and discover something really funny or profound.
Link to the book on Goodreads: A Queer Reader