20 Must-Read Books We Missed Last Year

By Clea Kim and Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com May 13 2013 4:00 AM ET

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (Simon & Schuster, $37.50) 

Author Andrew Solomon is a National Book Award winner for his work Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which won 13 other awards and was a finalist for a Pulitzer. This book is even better. In Far From the Tree, the gay author has culled 10 years of research and conversations with 300 families across the country to examine many forms of difference that parents and children feel from one another. He talks to parents of kids who are deaf, transgender, prodigies, gay, criminals, or have Down syndrome — people in each of his dozen or so subgroups didn't want to be in the book with the others — in an unbiased way to explore so many of our long-held assumptions about nature versus nurture, the value of life, identity versus ability, and so much more. It's an astonishingly smart and provocative book that is both challenging and compassionate, and reading it creates a sort of community of its own. People will be talking about this 962-page opus for decades to come, and if you read it, it'll stay with you for almost as long. Dare we call it the best book of 2012?

Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics by Urvashi Vaid (Magnus Books, $21.95)

One of the most influential social justice activists in the U.S., Vaid — who lives in New York with her partner, humorist Kate Clinton, and is battling cancer right now — has one of today's brightest lesbian minds. Her treatise looks at the strategic pitfalls of LGBT politics, leaders, and organizations that rely on a narrow framework of equality. As more people focus on quick successes, Vaid also argues for seeing beyond the short term for long-term gains.

Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper by Geoffrey Gray (Broadway, $15)

One of the most fascinating reads of 2012, Skyjack honors the 41st anniversary of D.B. Cooper's daring 1971 jump — from a moving plane with 20 pounds of cash strapped to his chest — and tries to separate fact from fiction about the jump, the manhunt that proceeded, and why Cooper is now the Bigfoot of law enforcement. Gray was the only reporter to have been granted access to Cooper's FBI file, and he crisscrosses the country meeting possible suspects (including a transgender woman, Barbara Dayton, who is worth her own book), and trying to solve this case. A must-read for crime and Cooper buffs as well as lovers of good long-form journalism. But if you don't have time to read, don't worry: There's a movie version coming soon. 

Rest for the Wicked by Ellen Hart (Minotaur Books, $25.99)

Lambda and Minnesota Book Award–winning author Ellen Hart, a top author in the gay mystery genre, is out with a new novel featuring Jane Lawless, a character who has appeared in Hart’s 19 other mysteries. DeAndre Moore came to Minneapolis with a purpose, but his situation takes a turn for the worst. He calls his uncle Nolan’s business partner and private investigator Jane Lawless for help. By the time Jane listens to his voice mail, DeAndre has been knifed to death outside a gentlemen’s club minutes earlier. And soon he isn’t the only one murdered. Jane sets out to find out who killed DeAndre and how his death is connected with the others. If you have read Hart’s novels before, this will be another interesting and suspenseful addition to your collection. 

Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00)

This memoir by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa tells the story of unexpected love and the delicate ties and dangers it brings. Newspaper editor Torregrosa meets Elizabeth, a writer with whom she falls madly in love. When Elizabeth is sent to the Philippines to cover the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, Torregrosa gives up her job and joins Elizabeth. There the two begin their relationship while covering the political madness and uproar. Although their relationship flourished in the islands, it ends in heartbreak when they return to the United States. Torregrosa captures the transformation and intimacy of love. You will be mesmerized by this story of valor, passion, and heartbreak. 

We Kick Balls: True Stories From the Youth Soccer Wars by Dan Woog (Create Space, $12.95)

Dan Woog, a Westport, Conn.–based soccer coach, writer, and educator, tells his unique tale of soccer and life. Woog has experienced it all. He has taken his teams to Europe, Brazil, and Australia, coached in front of 77,000 people, helped raise $25,000 at a car wash, and acted in a soccer movie. He’s won state championships, been named national coach of the year, and inducted into Connecticut’s Hall of Fame. After telling stories of coaching players and helping those with personal struggles and tragedies, Woog unveils coming out as a gay man in his final chapter. This is not only a soccer book but also a book about teenagers, society, and self-discovery. 

The Godfather's Daughter: An Unlikely Story of Love, Healing, and Redemption by Rita Gigante (Hay House, $24.95)

You don't have to be a New Yorker to have heard of the notorious Mafia boss Vince "The Chin" Gigante, the leader of the Genovese crime clan and the head of all five New York crime familes for decades. Turns out his daughter, all grown up now, is a lesbian and a fascinating new voice. In this brilliant memoir Gigante talks about growing up in a culture of secrecy, confessing to the godfather that she — the youngest child in hyper-devout Catholic family — was gay, and what happens to the whole family when the truth of their lives comes out. 

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (Dutton Books, $16.99)

San Francisco native author Nina LaCour, who is married to photographer Kristyn Stroble, tells the story of best friends Colby and Bev. The two have a long-standing pact to graduate and travel across Europe with Bev’s band, the Disenchantments. But once the band starts the tour, Bev breaks their pact and goes to college. But Colby still goes on tour with the Disenchantments, struggling to deal with his feelings and separation from Bev. This coming-of-age book will enchant all readers with its colorful language and themes of music, art, and love. 

The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard edited by Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod (Topside Press, $19.95)

This novel is written by a combination of dynamic writers illustrating transgender narratives. Twenty-eight authors from the United States and Canada come together in a single book to showcase the future of trans literature and the next big thing in queer art. This is the first collection of literary fiction featuring transgender protagonists. Their work represents a variety of no only gender identities but also narrative styles. A must-read for LGBT folks and anyone who isn't familiar wtih Imogen Binnie, Carter Sickels, Ryka Aokil, Donna Ostrowsky, Terence Diamond, and Stephen Ira (yes, that Stephen Ira) — some of the most innovative writers in the anthology.

Cowboys, Armageddon, and the Truth: How A Gay Child Was Saved From Religion by Scott Terry (Lethe Press, $18.00)

At the age of 10, Scott Terry was preparing for Armageddon because he had accepted the Jehovah’s Witnesswa’ prediction that the world would end in 1975. As a child, he prayed for God to rid him of his growing attraction to other men. But as Terry reached adulthood, he found himself no longer believing in the end of the world. Throughout his journey, he left the Witness religion and became a cowboy, riding bulls in a rodeo. Terry conquers the obstacles of parental abuse, religious extremism, and homophobia and learns to live openly as a gay man. This memoir offers a look into a child’s world of abuse, homophobia, and religious radicalism. Terry narrates a compelling story and gives readers a look into the Jehovah’s Witness faith. 

Broken Like This by Monica Transandes (St. Martin's Press, $24.99)

The first novel from GLAAD's director of Spanish language media, Monica Transandes, offers a tender and languid look at love, loneliness, and transformation. Beautifully done.

 

The City of Devi by Manil Suri (W.W. Norton & Company, $26.95)

The author of best-selling novel The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva returns with a new novel, The City of Devi. The city of Mumbai is evacuating under the threat of nuclear obliteration, and Sarita, a 33-year-old statistician, can only think of being reunited with her physicist husband, Karun. In her journey to find him, Sarita must go through a near-abandoned city, facing Hindu and Muslim gangs. With her is Jaz, a Muslim whose true religion is sex with other men. Meanwhile, the goddess Devi ma has appeared on a beach to save her city.  Sarita’s journey leads her to this beach, thrusting her into a life-altering trinity. This powerful novel combines politics, religion, sex, and India’s global emergence. 

 

Crossing the Bridge: From Mennonite Boy to Gay Man by James L. Helmuth (iUniverse, $13.95)

It's a classic coming-out tale, except James Helmuth was married to a woman for 22 years, had two kids, and grew up in the Mennonite religion. Still, many will see themselves in the author's short unflinching narrative.

Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality by Hanne Blank (Beacon Press, $27.95)

Blank is brilliant as always in this must-read history of heterosexuality from its "origins" in the 19th century to the present.

Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled by Michael Cobb (NYU Press, $21)

Using high and pop culture references from Virginia Woolf to Morrissey to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," the author offers a smart and stunning look at the  "moribund desperation" of coupledom.

 

The Breeders by Matthew J. Beier (Epicality Books, $14.99)

The story is set in the future after the Bio Wars, a war between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Homosexuals, who were once the social minority, have won and taken over the world. They realized the dangers of an overpopulated planet, seized government power, and created a society of perfectly engineered families. Grace and Dex — heterosexuals who are part of the government’s controlled backup plan for reproduction — find themselves in a difficult situation. Grace is pregnant with Dex’s baby. They have two options: Surrender to the government or run and risk being banished to the Antarctic Sanctuary, an isolated biological reserve where reproductive criminals are sent. They decide to run in search of hope for their unborn child. This heart-wrenching story is filled with passion and inspiration. It will truly be an engrossing read for the LGBT audience.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (Knopf, $24.95)

Lesbian author Ayana Mathis's debut novel, which was also selected for Oprah’s Book Club, tells the story a young woman, Hattie Shepherd, who runs away to Georgia in 1923 (part of the Great Migration north) and settles in Philadelphia for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries an unworthy man at the age of 16 and helplessly watches her firstborn twins become ill. Hattie then gives birth to nine more children, who she raises with determination but no compassion. However, she promises to prepare them for an unloving and unkind world. Throughout the book, you will witness the dramatic episodes of the lives of Hattie’s nine children and one grandchild, to make the “twelve tribes.” This powerful debut will take you on a journey through the lives of an unforgettable family, filled with love, hostility, and the desire for the American dream. 

First Spring Grass Fire by Rae Spoon (Arsenal Pulp Press, $14.95)

Transgender indie musician Rae Spoon has six albums under the belt, but this raw and beautifully lyrical new memoir-meets-novel about growing up queer in a strict Pentecostal famly with a schizophrenic father is the best contribution yet. 

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me by Ellen Forney (Gotham Books, $20)

In one of the year's best graphic novels, Forney looks at her her own years of struggle with bipolar disorder, artistis with mood disorders like Sylvia Plath, and tons of hot sex in between. It just works.