LGBTQIA+ Fiction | Recent Reviews in LJ

To celebrate Pride Month, here are 12 fiction titles featuring queer characters to expand your library's LGBTQIA+ collection.

To celebrate Pride Month, here are 12 fiction titles featuring queer characters to expand your library's LGBTQIA+ collection. Also read: Trans Love | Collection Development

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill. Doubleday. May 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780385548229. $28. FANTASY

Barnhill’s (The Witch’s Boy) adult debut is a feminist historical fantasy tackling self-discovery, queer identity, and dysfunctional family. On April 25, 1955, hundreds of thousands of women transformed into rampaging dragons and left charred corpses, destroyed buildings, and broken homes in their wake. That day, Alex Green lost her cherished Aunt Marla, and ever since, her parents have refused to acknowledge the loss of Marla or the addition of a new baby, who’s related to Alex by blood but not by parentage. Alex’s crush on schoolmate Sonia and concern about her precocious sister’s fixation on dragons are further complicated by her father’s growing aloofness, her mother’s restrictive smothering, and a world that insists the Mass Dragoning never happened. Facing loss, heartbreak, and fury, Alex wonders: will the fire that burns inside her give her wings? Or cost her those she loves most? Barnhill’s sharp and lyrical prose showcases the joys and agonies of female power in this coming-of-age/alternate history. VERDICT Readers will be moved, discomforted, and inspired by Alex’s introspective voice and experiences.—Reviewed by Kristi Chadwick

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake. Berkley. (Bright Falls, Bk. 1). Feb. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9780593336403. pap. $16. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Delilah Green is only coming back to Bright Falls, OR, to photograph her stepsister Astrid’s wedding, but sparks ignite almost immediately when Delilah and her stepsister’s longtime friend Claire Sutherland meet again. While they’re both sure of their attraction, the pre-wedding festivities mean that their focus should be on Astrid—whether they’re attending her carefully planned events or plotting to break up her engagement to a possessive misogynist. What follows is a series of fun, steamy hookups derailed by real adult life: Claire has a tween daughter, and Delilah is trying to launch her art career in New York. Can they sabotage Astrid’s relationship while they build their own? This is Blake’s adult debut; her experience in middle grade and young adult (Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea) shows in Claire’s relationship with her daughter and her ex. VERDICT The connection among Claire’s friends and the development of Delilah’s backstory add depth to a fun hometown romance, planned as the start of a series of Bright Falls–set queer romances.—Reviewed by Katelyn Brown

Boys Come First by Aaron Foley. Belt. May 2022. 388p. ISBN 9781953368256. pap. $17.95. F

DEBUT Nonfiction author Foley (How To Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass) spares no detail in this fiction debut set in the Motor City, including depictions of sexual relationships. Dominick has moved back to Detroit from New York after going through a breakup and losing his job. Troy is a teacher whose school may be closing. Remy, or Mr. Detroit, is a realtor in charge of converting the school property into a series of studio apartments. The three men are friends who are navigating being Black and gay in Detroit and coping with the way in which changes in the city affect their friendship (for instance, Remy is concealing the truth about the school from Troy). Foley creates a rich setting and strong characters. Each chapter shifts perspectives among the three men; Dominick’s and Troy’s chapters are written in third person, while Remy’s is written in the first to show his strong sense of self. VERDICT Readers who enjoy character-driven romance, especially LGBTQ+ fiction, will appreciate this book. Some may be put off by the explicit sexual content, but the plot and the strong characters should keep them turning pages.—Reviewed by Natalie Browning

You’re a Mean One, Mathew Prince by Timothy Janovsky. Sourcebooks. Oct. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781728250618. pap. $15.99. LGBTQ ROMANCE

Matthew Prince lives in a luxury New York City apartment with his wealthy parents, who also pay his credit card bills, and he bases his life on how social media will view him. He creates havoc and scandals with every step, leaving his parents’ PR firm to clean up the mess. But when Matthew’s generalized anxiety disorder overwhelms him and he panic-purchases an island (a small one), it’s one scandal too many. His parents cut up his credit cards and send him to his grandparents’ house in the small town of Wind River for Christmas while they handle his latest disaster. Storming into his grandparents’ small cottage, he discovers a further outrage: He has to share a room, and bunk beds, with their boarder, Hector Martinez. Hector is hardworking, humble, and sincere…the exact opposite of Matthew. And he snores. Matthew is certain this will be the worst holiday of his life. Little by little, however, he begins to find his footing, and maybe even a direction for his future, as his frozen heart begins to thaw. This contemporary gay romantic comedy is told from Matthew’s point of view, giving readers a close look at his anxiety, body issues, and lack of close relationships. While he could be, and occasionally is, unlikable, Janovsky (Never Been Kissed) gives Matthew a realistic backstory and believable emotional growth. The secondary characters aren’t as well developed, leaving the focus on Matthew, but they all play important roles in his story. VERDICT Fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Courtney Kae will clamor for this slow-burn, opposites-attract holiday treat.—Reviewed by Heather Miller Cover

Wherever Is Your Heart by Anita Kelly. Self-published. (Moonlighters, Bk. 3). Mar. 2022. 103p. ISBN 9781737229827. pap. $8.99. LGBTQ ROMANCE

June spends much of her life on the road, driving cross-country as a long-haul trucker. Now that her 50th birthday has come and gone, she knows her truck-driving days are numbered, and she’s ready to be brave and confess her feelings for Mal Edwards, the handsome butch bartender at her local queer dive bar. Mal and June are both hesitant and a little time-hardened. Their foray into a relationship, an overnight trip to the Oregon coast, is a warm getaway that nicely balances their uncertainty about relationships with their genuine attraction and mutual interest in moving forward together. VERDICT This new novella from Kelly (Love & Other Disasters) is recommended for readers who appreciate a character-focused romance and some quality queer postcoital processing. There’s nothing external preventing Mal and June from getting together; rather, they gradually unpack assumptions that each has internalized about what makes them undesirable to potential partners.—Reviewed by Katelyn Browne

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May. Redhook: Orbit. Mar. 2022. 432p. ISBN 9780316287159. $28.00. FANTASY

DEBUT This compelling queer gothic gas-lamp tale of witchcraft, wealth, and war is filled with brooding atmosphere, sensual details, and a sense of creeping dread. The story is set on a magical island off the coast of England, just after a Great War where the trenches were filled with magic instead of mustard gas, and where the craft that both sides relied upon is facing a Prohibition of its own. The witches of Crow Island face a threat to their existence when the blood debt they accepted for their happiness comes due in a storm of murder and madness. One woman wants to escape, while another finds her lost heritage hidden in the island’s magic. VERDICT May’s debut fantasy novel, a tale of secrets, lies, and mistakenly raising the dead, will keep readers guessing and turning pages to the very end. Highly recommended for lovers of dark, witchy fantasy, especially those seeking read-alikes of Alix Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches or Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.—Reviewed by Marlene Harris

The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories from Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe. Harper Voyager. . ed. Apr. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780063070875. $28.99. SF

DEBUT In the Afrofuturistic world of musician/actor Monáe’s Dirty Computer (inspired by her album of the same title), people are computing machines, and tyrannical “thought police” control dirty memories—eliminating all recollections of desires or behaviors that are believed to be deviant or aberrant. It’s totalitarianism that maintains itself by eliminating any memory of being different, as a way of creating a kind of utopia. Monáe’s collection of stories revolves around one queer woman, Jane 57821, who escapes the world of Dirty Computer and looks for a place where she can be who she wants. Jane 57821 becomes an inspirational figure whom the “clean” computers of New Dawn must capture, cleanse, and rehabilitate before others question the sanitized version of the greater good. VERDICT Monáe’s collection speaks to both the sf tradition of mind-control tyranny and the way that the powerful marginalize individuals in order to control the whole. Highly recommended for readers of conspiracy and thought-control sf or of Afrofuturist works by the likes of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, and Nnedi Okorafor.—Reviewed by Marlene Harris

Body Grammar by Jules Ohman. Vintage. Jun. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780593466698. pap. $17. F

DEBUT At the tipping point of her adolescence, Lou would rather be behind the camera than in front of it, despite the modeling agents persistently sinking their teeth into her. She’s preoccupied with documenting those around her, not so much with modeling. Ohman’s debut trails Lou as she makes her journey of self-discovery. Thrust into the hurricane that is the modeling industry, Lou takes on the weight of finding purpose. The evocative narrative that explores the relationship between movement and self-expression in this title is gripping, nearly transporting readers into the bodies and minds of the characters. At times, the story falls flat and becomes predictable. However, this coming-of-age tale is redeemed by tender moments of queer connection and raw vulnerability. VERDICT Lou’s strut through the tribulations of youth and identity will be relatable for those in their late teens, making this title especially enticing for younger audiences. Libraries where queer fiction or coming-of-age stories are popular should consider adding Ohman’s debut to their collections.—Reviewed by Grace Caternolo

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde. Riverhead. Mar. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780593330029. $28. F

DEBUT In 2014, Nigeria’s president enacted a draconian law targeting LGBTQ+ residents with torture and imprisonment for freely loving the person of their choice. Marginalized, forced underground, or compelled to exist in two different skins, gay, lesbian, transgender, and nonbinary Nigerians still manage to overcome boundaries and soar with pride in this bold, erotic first novel from Lambda Literary Fellow Osunde. Blending stark truth with a jolt of magic realism, the narrative prominently presents the devil as a force for good, with Osunde creating vivid characters whose emotions run the gamut from shame and desperation to joyous abandon as they seek compassion and acceptance. These so-called vagabonds, introduced in a series of vignettes, hide in plain sight in Lagos, ranging from a single father who’s unaware of his daughter’s sexual abuse, to a mother who will die to protect her gender-neutral child, Gold. Readers will witness a dance of seduction between two beautiful women who eschew the gazes of men, and they’ll recoil from the violent end to the burgeoning love between Johnny and Livinus. VERDICT Osunde writes like the visual artist they are, having directed and produced Tatafo, a forthcoming film based on this novel. Their vibrant style breathes life into people whom hypocritical politicians would prefer remain hidden. Ideal for readers of Akwaeke Emezi.—Reviewed by Sally Bissell

The Half Life of Valery K. by Natasha Pulley. Bloomsbury USA. Jul. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9781635573275. $27. THRILLER

British novelist Pulley (The Kingdoms), noted for her speculative fiction and fantasy titles, here builds a thriller on the true story of a 1957 nuclear explosion near Chelyabinsk, a city in Siberia. Even today, the scientific record of this horrific incident is uninformative. The potential for catastrophe in this still-secret radioecological research center is alarming. Pulley imagines a second disaster in her volatile alt-history exploration. In 1963, Valery K, a biochemist sent to the gulag for political crimes, is reassigned to a lab in the center’s “chocolate factory,” where radiation research is ongoing. Very quickly he catches on to the explosive dangers bubbling in the lake where waste from 1957 was dumped. The people in charge pooh-pooh his concerns but he snags the attention of the resident KGB director. In an awesome twist, the two heroes work to prevent another massive blowout. VERDICT Scientific research, KGB shenanigans, queer love, and the heartache of suffering children are just a few of the enriching intricacies Pulley traces with intelligent wit and confident narration. A gifted writer of well-drawn characters, Pulley has given the nuclear noir genre a fresh and stimulating take on Chernobyl-style terror.—Reviewed by Barbara Conaty

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart. Atlantic Monthly. Apr. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9780802159557. $27. F

After the splendid Shuggie Bain, Stuart continues his examination of 1980s Glaswegian working-class life and a son’s attachment to an alcohol-ravaged mother, with results as good yet distinctly different; this is not a sequel. Here, Mo-Maw has abandoned her children in a self-pitying bid for her own happiness while 15-year-old Mungo is better able to articulate his own roiling emotions than the younger Shuggie. With big-hearted older sister Jodie, Mungo lives in a council flat they’ll soon lose if Mo-Maw doesn’t show up. He’s fearful that his brother, Hamish, will drag him into the “Proddy” (Protestant) gang he commands with ruthless authority and even more fearful that Hamish will discover the relationship he’s stumbled into with genial, pigeon-tending James, not only because being queer is considered contemptible but because James is Catholic. Meanwhile, an in-and-out-the-door Mo-Maw sends Mungo on a fishing trip with two shady men she barely knows, thinking to make a man of him; anticipating the outcome of these twinned storylines makes for anxious, propulsive reading. VERDICT In language crisper and more direct than Shuggie Bain’s, if still spiked with startling similes, Stuart heightens his exploration of the sibling bond and the inexplicable hatred between Glasgow’s Protestants and Catholics, while contrasting Mungo’s tenderly conveyed queer awakening with the awful counterpart of sexual violence. Highly recommended.—Reviewed by Barbara Hoffert

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner. St. Martin’s Griffin. Oct. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781250841001. pap. $16.99. LGBT ROMANCE

In Wilsner’s (Something To Talk About) second queer romance, college senior Cassie Klein is avoiding her school’s family weekend by drinking alone in a local bar. Alone, that is, until she spots an incredibly attractive older woman, Erin Bennett, who is also drinking by herself. They’re soon drinking together, then having sex in Erin’s car. Regretfully, Cassie forgets to get Erin’s number. With nothing but time to kill over the weekend, she agrees to go to breakfast with her bestie Parker and Parker’s mom. Mediating a tense family meal is worth the free waffles. However, it seems Cassie has already met Parker’s mom: Erin. And Cassie can’t resist flirting a bit. Flirting turns into secretly making out, which turns into calling, and eventually Cassie and Erin are in a relationship. A very secret relationship that Parker can never find out about. VERDICT Wilsner’s steamy, fast-paced secret-lovers contemporary romance features fully realized queer protagonists and secondary characters. Told from Erin’s and Cassie’s perspectives, it gives readers a window into their relationship, in and out of the bedroom. It’s not a romantic comedy, but definitely has humor, as well as great dialogue and hot sex scenes. Recommended for general purchase.—Reviewed by Heather Miller Cover

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