For years I've described Andrew Holleran's divine debut, Dancer From the Dance, as one of my favorite books. I've stood in countless gay bars talking to countless gay men and had whole lines from the book appear in my head. It's a masterwork, one that's provided narration for my life with acute precision.
Take this description of one of the main characters: "For such a handsome boy, his soul was a dead weight."
Deadly. Imagine a straight person writing such a perfect line. Nay, imagine reading anything written by a straight person, ever. I certainly can't, especially when Andrew Holleran has a new novel coming out, his first in 16 years.
The LGBTQ+ community is blessed this year with new books by titans of the queer canon like Andrew Holleran as well as debuts from a few authors certain to be the next Andrew Holleran. Meticulously selected, these are the best books of the year (so far).
The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund
The Boy With a Bird in His Chest is #1 on this list for a reason: It's my favorite debut of the year.
This isn't a fantasy book. It's not a book about witchcraft or wizardry. It's simply a coming-of-age story, one that features a boy who just happens to have a bird living inside his chest. (The bird's name is Gail. She's chatty and loves a dad joke.) The premise of the book might sound weird to you, but here's the thing: I want to read more weird in books. And Emme Lund pulls it off quite deftly. I loved this big swing of a debut. It's a wild, thrilling, intimate ride that will stay with you long after the final pages.
The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran
OK, let's get this out the way first: Yes, this novel is set in Florida. I'm so sorry if that's a deal-breaker for you.
But The Kingdom of Sand also has cruising, more than a few hookups at a local porn store, and one of my favorite new characters in years.
The novel, which begins during the height of the AIDS crisis, feels timely and pressing, unfortunately tethered to our present, mid-pandemic moment as it explores loneliness, the promise of death, intergenerational friendship, and our basic human need for connection. It has the wit and keen, often biting observations of gay life that made me fall in love with Holleran's books all those years ago. The Kingdom of Sand is Andrew Holleran at his best.
The Kings of B'more by R. Eric Thomas
The Kings of B'more is a hilarious and uplifting celebration of platonic queer intimacy, one we're desperately in need of. Romance novels are finally having their moment -- just like you, I also forced every single queer person I know to read Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston --but R. Eric Thomas is here to remind you to hold your friends just as close as you do your lovers.
The love story at the heart of the book is between two Black queer best friends who have to try to figure out what their relationship will look like after one of them breaks the news that he's unexpectedly moving out of state. Against all odds, they forged this intense bond, and now what? Their families are going to screw it all up. The book follows the pair as they share one last joyful and exuberantly queer adventure.
Click here to listen to R. Eric Thomas talk about his new book on The Advocate's LGBTQ&A podcast.
Secret City by James Kirchick
This is the book I've been waiting for.
The LGBTQ+ community loves to trade rumors and gossip about politicians that might or might not secretly be gay. It provides a tight, overly simple narrative to explain someone's homophobia. But Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington is not a collection of rumors. It's meticulously researched, a vital new addition to the historical record.
From Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, who Kirchick writes is "the first president to recruit gay people to work in his administration," Secret City chronicles American history, proving that "queer history" in the U.S. is really just "history."
You Make a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
You Make a Fool of Death With Your Beauty made me blush on the train.
From the first steamy sex scene in the first chapter, Akwaeke Emezi lets you know that you're in for a wild ride as the main character figures out how to love again, if loving again is even possible after the death of her fiance. You Make a Fool of Death With Your Beauty is Emezi's sexiest book yet, just in time for the summer.
Readers will also enjoy Bitter, the new prequel to their 2019 YA novel, Pet, about a Black trans girl who teams up with a creature from her mother's painting to defeat a monster living in her town.
Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond
Susie Dumond is here to answer the question on everyone's lips: Where the hell are all the lesbian rom-coms?!
In this affecting, heartwarming debut, a semi-closeted baker turned bridesmaid-for-hire meets the new girl in town, Charley. She's hot, an engineer, and the fireworks are immediate.
If you're looking for the perfect summer romance novel to get lost in, Queerly Beloved belongs at the top of your beach bag.
The Women's House of Detention by Hugh Ryan
Years before the Stonewall uprising, the Women's House of Detention was an unavoidable fixture of queer life in New York City. "It was one of the Village's most famous landmarks: a meeting place for locals and a must-see site for adventurous tourists," historian Hugh Ryan writes. "And for tens of thousands of arrested women and transmasculine people from every corner of the city, the House of D was a nexus, drawing the threads of their lives together in its dark and fearsome cells."
The Women's House of Detention book will reframe how you think about queer history.
Nuclear Family is an entrancing, boldly satisfying debut from Joseph Han.
It feels both massive, grand on a global scale, and also small and intimate: a deeply personal story of a family trying to keep their small business open when their son suddenly causes the eyes of the world to turn on them.
Nuclear Family is a knockout. I was hooked from the first awe-filled chapter.
What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart
Falling in love with someone at the gym? Someone who is older and married and works at the college you attend? That's a great queer tradition, baby.
And as Mallory learns in What We Do in the Dark, it rarely ends like a fairy tale. This sexy, surprising debut by Michelle Hart explores the consequences of desire, how a single relationship has the power to radically transform a person's life.
Virology by Joseph Osmundson
Dr. Joseph Osmundson has written one of the most terrifying, sexy, unfortunately timely books of the year. A leading microbiologist, professor, and cohost of the Food 4 Thotpodcast, Osmundson tackles the scientific and sociopolitical impact of viruses like HIV and yes, COVID-19.
Virology: Essays for the Living, the Dead, and the Small Things in Between is a must-read.
But don't take my word for it. Trust, above all others, the great Judith Butler, who said, "This book is queer pedagogy at its best: non-patronizing, thoroughly smart, and full of urgent and caring knowledge that beckons us to get closer again with caution and passion."
The Town of Babylon by Alejandro Varela
Nothing in Andres's life is going as planned: His marriage has hit a speed bump, his father's health is failing, his brother is dead.
And now he's back in the suburbs where he grew up, not happy about it, but not altogether unhappy about it either. He's curious about this place he used to call home and to make it all the more complicated, he reconnects with his high school boyfriend. The sexual tension between them is still there -- lucky for readers, not so lucky for Andres. Will they bang again in the basement? No spoilers here.
For those sick of the seemingly overwhelming number of queer stories set in large metropolitan cities, this is the book for you. It's a sly, neurotic, gay-as-hell debut from Alejandro Varela.
Fire Island by Jack Parlett
For as long as Fire Island, the popular queer vacation spot, has been around, it's intertwined itself with some of the most influential who have ever lived, including Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, and Patricia Highsmith.
The island's a complex, aspirational utopia, one that's delightfully chronicled in Jack Partlett's new book, Fire Island: A Century in the Life of an American Paradise. It's the history of a queer landmark, its beginnings, its influence, and its seemingly constant evolution.
I recommend reading it on the beach specifically in Fire Island, if possible -- I plan on being that annoying homosexual this summer explaining the history of the Meat Rack while kneeling in said Meat Rack -- but any beach or comfy chair will do.