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26 of the Best LGBTQ Novels We Discovered This Year

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A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian is the story of a group of women outsiders who band together and create their own safe haven, the city of Heaven. The women come from different backgrounds and experiences but share a fierce desire to protect and support one another. Among them, there is a transgender Christian convert, a pre-teen graffiti artist, a blind girl born to an orphan, and the queer daughter of a hijabi union leader. Subramanian was inspired to write the novel after spending time studying India’s public education centers, or aganwadis, when she realized their power — they were the only public spaces were poor women of all ages, castes, and faiths could gather in public. (Algonquin Books) — Desirée Guerrero 

Life of David Hockney by Catherine Cusset is a compelling exposé on the life of one of the most revered (and financially successful) living artists of our time. Part biography, part novel, Cusset boldly weaves fiction and fact to paint a colorful portrait of the gay artistFrom Hockney’s small-town childhood in 1930s and 40s England, to the stories behind some of his most iconic worksto his heartbreak at living through the initial AIDS epidemicthe book leaves no stone unturned. Though much of the events and details are embellished or invented completely, Cusset also reveals much of Hockney’s real life, learned through her extensive research, including a personal meeting with the artist himself. (Other Press) — DG  

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson is a refreshingly modern and witty novel that favors reality over romance and sentimentality. Andrea Morales is a 23-year-old artist who desperately cravefreedom from her Midwestern Catholic roots, especially once she realizes she’s into girls. When she decides to leave her hometown, comes out of the closet, and is welcomed with open arms into the tight-knit and supportive underground lesbian community of Portland, Or., it seems all of Andrea’s troubles are over — or have they just begun? When a drunken night after a bad breakup leads to a secret affair with (gasp!) a manAndrea is forced to deal with the harsh realities and consequences that followCould this situation cause her to sacrifice the new life of community and freedom she’s worked so hard to build? (Custom House) — DG 

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Holy Lands by Amanda Sthers is charmingly unique tale that follows the trials and tribulations of a quirky Jewish-American family over a period of several months. After a sudden epiphany, an aging Harry Rosenmerck suddenly leaves his cardiology practice in New York to become a pig farmer in Israel. As Harry’s ex-wife Monique struggles with a serious illness, the couples’ adult children struggle with their personal lives. Their son David, a successful playwright, seeks to mend his relationship with his father (which has been rocking since David came outwhile daughter Anabelle nurses a broken heart in Paris. Written in a wry and whimsical Wes Anderson-esque tone, Holy Lands is the perfect book to curl up next to the fire with this winter season. (Bloomsbury Publishing) — DG 

Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen gives us, perhaps for the first time, a raw and intimate look into what life is really like in Greenland — especially for young queers. Filled with authentically fleshed-out LGBTQ characters, this brilliant debut novel delves into their daily realities and touches on some of the country’s biggest taboos: rampant alcoholism, isolation and depression, and the enduring effects of colonialism (Greenland has been a territory of Denmark since 1814). Whether through Inuk, a young man having an affair with a powerful married man, or Fia, his sister, who’s “gone off the sausage” (given up men), Korneliussen paints an honest and vivid picture of their lives. She also keeps the tone fresh, bold, and honest, never relying on sentimental tropes (i.e., dog sleds and Northern Lights) typically used when describing this part of the globe. A bestseller in both Greenland and Denmark, this new English edition marks the sixth language Last Night in Nuuk has been published in. (Grove Atlantic) — DG 

Why do Birds by Rob Hoerburger takes us back in the glittery neon world of the early 1980s pop music scene. Set in New York City in 1982, the novel follows several queer or gender-nonconforming characters in their plights to find love, success, and reclaim some of the innocence they’ve lost. There’s the former pop superstar who now finds herself growing older, largely forgotten by the world, and struggling with a deadly illness. Then we follow a younger woman and occasional D.J. who is the survivor of a horrific childhood accident, and an undercover gay cop trying to reconnect with a musical past. As their stories unfold and their paths begin to intersect, we see the common themes emerge that unite them but also threaten to destroy them. (71 Songs) — DG 

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In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow, set in Southern Black community in 1941, follows a young, strong, and defiant woman, Azalea “Knot” Centre, who’s not about to let anyone or anything control. Freedom is what she values above all and doesn’t care much about her “reputation” about town. What Knot does like is cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature — and sex. However, soon the consequences of her free-wheeling lifestyle begin to come forth, as Knot finds herself pregnant, broke, and ostracized from her family and local society. Feeling lost and alone, she turns to her friend and neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some sense of family and home. After Otis’s recent failure to “save” his troubled sister living a dangerous lifestyle in the up north, the lifelong fixer is all too happy to try and help Knot and redeem his sense of self-worth. It soon becomes clear that his penchant for focusing others’ problems is really a subconscious effort to avoid dealing with the dep secrets and issues within his own family. Peppered with lively and nuance queer Black gay characters, including Knot’s best friend Valley, In West Mills is a magical, moving story about family, friendship, and the liberating power of love. (Bloomsbury Publishing) — DG 

The Travelers by Regina Porter, named one of the best books of the year by Esquire magazine, follows the story of James Samuel Vincent, an affluent Manhattan attorney who avoids ever mentioning his modest Irish American background, though in many ways still models much of his father’s roving ways. James’s already strained relationship with his son Rufus is further complicated when Rufus marries Claudia, whose mother is Agnes Miller Christie — a beautiful African-American woman who survives a chance encounter on a Georgia road that leads her to a new life in the Bronx. Meanwhile, Agnes’s husband Eddie, on duty on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam, grapples with the escalating racial tensions on the ship and counts the days until he can see his beloved wife again. Filled with authentic, unique, and unforgettable characters  like the unapologetic black lesbian who finds her groove in 1970s Berlin, a moving man stranded during a Thanksgiving storm, and a Coney Island waitress pining for a too-good-to-be true Prince Charming— The Travelers is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be American today. (Hogarth Publishing) — DG 

In Everything Grows: A Novel by Aimee Herman, it’s 1993 when 15-year-old Eleanor (El) is abruptly confronted with the news that her bully has died by suicide. Her mother recently attempted to end her life in a similar fashion, and when El is assigned to write a letter to a deceased person, El chooses to write to James. What follows is an emotional yet ultimately uplifting journey of self-discovery, acceptance of others, and learning that life is better than the alternative. El loses friends, gains new ones, rebuilds relationships within her family, and learns to lean upon a system of support that is accepting of her burgeoning queer identity. (Three Room Press)  DP 

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Northern Lights by Raymond Strom follows Shane Stephenson who returns to his hometown in 1997 in search of the mother who abandoned him in his adolescence. His long blonde hair and androgynous looks are not well received by the locals. His father has recently died and a disapproving uncle kicked Shane out of his home years ago, and the townspeople seem as closed-minded as his uncle was. There is also an undercurrent of white supremacism that runs through the small Minnesota town. Threatened by a particularly violent and bigoted contingent that doesn’t take well to outsiders, Shane eventually finds comfort with a group of other disaffected youth who find escape and solace in the abuse of drugs. Northern Lights is at its heart a story of a son in search of lost family but also on a quest for identity and acceptance. (Simon & Schuster)  Donald Padgett 

Overthrow by renowned critic and author Caleb Crain follows idealistic and optimistic young New Yorkers hoping to change the world in the face of government oppression. Grad student Matthew and skateboarding poet Leif are both involved in the Occupy movement but seem to have little in common. But as their attraction intensifies, Matthew finds himself shunning his studies to spend more time with a magnetic group of young protestors. The group runs afoul of the law when they hack a questionable government contractor and Matthew is forced to choose between loyalty and self-preservation. Crain’s previous writing includes the novel Necessary Errors and works for The New YorkerHarper’s, and The Atlantic. (Penguin Random House)  DP 

Feast Day of the Cannibals by Norman Lock is the sixth stand-alone book in The American Novels series, a unique blend where historic figures are given new (fictional) lives yet their re-envisioned stories shed light on the formation of the American mind and the fabric of our society. In Feast Day of the Cannibals, Shelby Ross is a merchant ruined by the economic crash of 1873. He is hired as an appraiser at the New York City Customs House by Herman Melville, the embittered author of the American classic Moby Dick, and there Ross is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with another young man. Along the way, the reader is introduced to Ulysses S. Grant, Samuel Clemens, Thomas Edison, and Brooklyn Bridge engineer, Washington Roebling. (Bellevue Literary Press) — DP 

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The Prisoner translated by Carol Clark is the first completely new translation of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece since the 1920s and it brings out the original’s comical and lucid prose. Proust effectively wrote sprawling novels with autobiographical elements, and The Prisoner is his magnum opus. Notoriously agoraphobic and neurasthenic, Proust died before the novel was published. The story follows orphan Albertine with whom Marcel had fallen in love at the close of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume in the In Search of Lost Time series. Albertine has moved in with Marcel’s family’s Paris apartment, where there is a seemingly endless flow of money and judgmental servants. Marcel grows increasingly concerned with Albertine’s relationships with other women and becomes more desperate and irrational in his attempts to control her life and eventually confines her to their apartment. The Prisoner is at once a tragedy of possessive love and a comedy of human folly. Clark’s translation provides a new and refreshing read of a timeless classic. (Penguin Random House) — DP 

By Carolina De Roberts, award-winning author (The Invisible Mountain), Cantoras is the story of five women who found a refuge in an isolated South American beach city during a time of political persecution. Uruguay in the late 1970s was a dangerous place for political dissidents and those who did not conform. The military dictatorship outlawed everything from opposing opinions to groups of more than five in a family’s home. Same-sex relationships could be cause for imprisonment or death. Cantoras brings together five women from different strata of society with wildly different personalities who share a desire to escape the heteronormative strictures of society. Over the next 35 years on the beaches of Cabo Polonio, they escape the harshness of their daily lives and discover the beauty and their shared love for life and each other. (Knopf Doubleday) — DP 

The Editor by Steven Rowley (bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus), follows struggling writer James Smale, whose new publisher just happens to be the most famous woman in the world, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the former first lady and American royalty personified. She is impressed with the young novelist’s style and candid exposition of his own deeply dysfunctional family. But Smale finds the pressure of an unraveling family and the relationship with his partner preventing him from completing his manuscript. He is saved by his unlikely friendship with Mrs. Onassis, who deftly pushes and prods the impressionable and fragile young author to finish his work. In the poignant and funny novel, Smale learns to confront the dark secrets of his relationship with his mother and uncovers Mrs. Onassis’s true motives. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons) — DP 

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On Swift HorsesA Novel by Shannon Pufahl is set in the developing West of post-World War II America. Muriel’s mother died shortly after she turned 19, leaving her a house in Kansas and a huge hole in her heart. Despite some reservations, she marries her suitor Lee but it is his gay brother Julius with whom she bonds most. They move to San Diego and plan to live together, but soon the restless Julius is off to Las Vegas where he falls in love with a card cheat named Henry. Muriel gets a job as a waitress where she meets a series of gamblers from the local track. She starts joining them at the track and winning big, hiding her earnings from her husband. Henry eventually gets caught and run out of town. Lovestruck Julius follows and finds himself south of the border in Tijuana. Everyone has a story and a mystery in Swift Horses, and they all are in search of something. The question is whether they will find what they seek or will it tear them apart. (Riverhead Books) — DP 

Wanderer by Sarah Léon, originally published in France to critical acclaim when the author was 21, is the poetic tale of music, love, lust, and dark secrets. Music teacher Hermin was happily living an isolated life near France’s Bourbonnais Mountains when he meets up with an unexpected visitor from his past. Hermin’s former student Lenny, now a renowned pianist, suddenly reappears after vanishing without a word a decade before. As the story shifts back and forth between past and present, details of an intense relationship between the two men unfold. Now the men are forced to confront the ghosts of the past as well as the growing sexual tension. Discover why young talent Léon was the only author personally invited by French President Emmanuel Macron to the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair in this new English version of Wanderer translated by John Cullen. (Other Press) — DG 

The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech follows two young men whose lives intertwine repeatedly over the years. After a chance meeting at a library, troubled college student Ben and aspiring writer Andrew begin an intense relationship. Ben has a dream of traveling to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve, meanwhile, a childhood wish of Andrew’s comes true — though his feelings may now have changed. Eventually, dark secrets and the prejudices of others conspire to tear the couple apart as the story’s gripping conclusion unfolds. (Orenda Books) — DG 

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The Dollmaker by Nina Allen is a beautifully strange tale of two lonely souls brought together by a shared passion — and a desire to break free from the circumstances that imprison them. Andrew Garvie, a master dollmaker of the traditional antique style, had long ago accepted a life of solitude due, in part, to his diminutive size, until he decides on a whim to answer a personal ad in one of the collectors’ magazines. Bramber Winters, a sheltered woman living in an institution with a tragic past, is the author of the ad. Through their letters to each other, along with wonderfully creepy, fairytale-like lore involving dolls coming to life, Allen creates a vividly real fantasy world somewhere between the universes of Tim Burton and Anne Rice. As Andrew sets out with a plan to rescue Bramber, the story gains momentum and will have you turning pages as the exciting climax unfolds. (Other Press) — DG  

The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino is the steamy and scandalous Victorian-era love triangle you’ve been craving. Set in 1837 New York, the story centers on Maire (whose real name is Mary Ballard, altered to hide her Irish identity) and her brother Seanin. The siblings both share a devotion to the same woman, beautiful young heiress, Charlotte Walden, for whom Maire works as a maid. Though her feelings for Charlotte have deepened beyond a working relationship, Maire must regularly hide her heartbreak as she secretly delivers Seanin to her lady’s bedchamber every Thursday night — and then eases her heartache by slipping into a seedy underground world that exists around Washington Square. There she meets strong and industrious sex worker Liddie Lawrence helps distract Maire from her emotional suffering with lust and friendship. As Seanin struggles to navigate the stifling lines of class and nationality, the two women struggle to keep their double lives secret. However, Maire soon realizes that Charlotte may have some secrets so dark that not even she can save her. (Atria Books) — DG  

Don’t Whisper Too Much and Portrait of a Young Artiste from Bona Mbella by Frieda Ekotto is the first work of fiction by the African scholar, professor, and author (What Color is Black? Race and Sex Across the French Atlantic). The book contains three separate narratives that present beautiful, positive love stories between African women. Through examining the romantic lives of queer African women, Ekotto is able to then touch on the larger issues that affect them. She comments on what it’s like living in a post-colonial Africa, and questions from whose perspective is history being recorded. In Don’t Whisper Too Much, we travel back in time to follow young village girl Ada, on a quest to write her own story, her own way. Bona Mbella moves us back to the present, focusing on the life of a young woman living in poverty in a rough neighborhood in a bustling African city. Finally in Panè, the many themes from Don’t Whisper Much and Bona Mbella are brought together while exploring the emotional and sexual connections between these women. Even in the face of suffering and humiliation, they are able to discover their own personal power and ability to transform their lives. This new paperback edition has been beautifully translated into English by Corine Tachtiris. (Rutgers University Press) — DG  

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When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri, acclaimed author of The Assistants, comes the story of two women whose lives suddenly go topsy-turvy when unexpected chemistry suddenly develops between them. Katie Daniels, a 28-year-old Kentucky transplant with traditional values, has just been dumped by her fiancé when she meets the savvy, sexy, and confidant New Yorker Cassidy Price, chicly dressed in a man’s suit. At first, neither knows how to respond to the spark between them but soon their undeniable chemistry and mutual attraction forces them to re-evaluate all their previous notions of sex, love, and lust. At its heart, When Katie Met Cassidy is a fun, heartfelt, and hilarious modern lesbian romance about the complications of gender, sexuality, and the importance of figuring out your true self in order to find the happiness you want. (G.P. Putnam's Sons) — DG  

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell is the followup novel to his wildly passionate What Belongs to Us. In the original, an American teacher in Bulgaria becomes romantically involved with a hustler he picked up in a Sofia public bathroom. In Cleanness, the author expands the teacher’s story to include a much broader and more diverse range of relationships: lovers and friends, teacher and student, past and present. There are new locations, from a writer’s residency on the Baltic Sea to small towns in rural Italy and Bulgaria. The teacher’s romance with a closeted student brings not just physical pleasure but also transforms his understanding of himself and the world around him. Greenwell has written a collection of narratives that stand-alone but also coalesce to reveal a sweeping narrative and character arc. As always, his work contains detailed accounts of explicit sex that are as much titillating as aesthetically pleasing and metaphysically revealing. (Macmillan Publishers) —  DP  

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard is a historical fiction about the early life and loves of Abraham Lincoln. Grounded in fact but brought to life with a flourishing vision of what might have been, the novel is an intimate evocation of the love between the brilliant yet melancholic future President and two of the most important figures in his early life. Mary Todd is the temperamental yet politically wise daughter of slave-owning Southern aristocrats. Joshua Speed is Lincoln’s charming confidante with whom he’s rumored to have a deeper romantic relationship. The story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of both Todd and Speed. This Todd is educated, opinionated, astute, self-possessed debutante with a firecracker personality. She was fiercely anti-slavery in a family of slave owners, and her relationship with Lincoln proved to be instrumental to his later successes. Speed was a more mysterious figure, an extremely close friend at a time when male friendships were often more personal and philosophically intimate than those with their wives. With a style and wit worthy of Austen, Bayard has plotted a complicated story of romance and intimacy. (Algonquin Books) — DP 

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A Transcontinental Affair: A Novel by Jodi Daynard is a story of forbidden love and exploration between two women set against the backdrop of a transcontinental rail journey from Boston to San Francisco following the Civil War. Louisa is a southern bell and preacher’s daughter fleeing Virginia after the devastation of the Confederacy’s disastrous war of slavery and secession. She takes a job as governess to a cruel family as they journey from Boston to California. The view from her window is the only thing that gives her hope and makes her feel alive. Hattie is the brash, daring, and enigmatic daughter of a wealthy Beacon Hill family and daughter of a famous Congressman. She seizes the chance to travel on her own, even knowing that her new fiancé awaits her at the end of the line. The pair meets when Louisa finds Hattie drunk and asleep on a trunk in one of the train cars. The two girls couldn’t be more dissimilar at first glance but are drawn together by a force that neither fathomed possible. Their romance parallels their rail journey, filled with twists, turns, and unexpected stops and starts. Their shared journey opens their eyes to not just their own desires, but also the realities of oppression that exist all around them. Inspired by true events, A Transcontinental Affair is a remarkable story of love, adventure, and self-discovery, a powerful and eye-opening novel that crosses genres as it crosses the continent. (Lake Union) — DP 

Find Me is the follow-up to André Aciman’s 2007 bestseller Call Me by Your Name (adapted into the 2017 Oscar-winning film). Find Me revisits Elio, Oliver, and Samuel 15 years after their eventful summer. The brilliant Elio is now a classical pianist moving to Paris, where new romance awaits. Samuel is changed by a chance meeting on a train. And Oliver is still in America, with a wife and kids, but dreaming of Paris. Could a visit lead to another life-changing encounter? Call Me captured the emotional grip of falling in love and the pain of having it ripped away. Find Me is a worthy follow-up showing the consequences of their choices and asking if it is ever too late to find love. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — DP 

The Last to Let Go by Amber Smith is the author’s second novel focusing on the lasting impacts of family abuse. Life was finally looking up for teen Brooke Winters, who was making plans to change schools and leave her hometown — and troubled family and past — behind. That is, until she receives the news that her mother has killed their abusive father. Now on her own, Brooke struggles to separate herself from her violent and dysfunctional family, though her own abusive outbursts begin to threaten her relationship with her new girlfriend. Now Brooke must find the strength to try to break the cycle and assume her true place in the world — and learn to let go. (Simon & Schuster) — DG 

 

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