February is LGBTQ+ History Month, so we here at SASiety want to share some of our favourite LGBTQ+ books with you all. We celebrate all things LGBTQ+, and cannot wait for the day on which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, aromantic or pansexual authors and characters in literature no longer raise a single eyebrow and make nobody clutch their pearls. It’s beautiful to see so many LGBTQ+ books out there already – especially in the Young Adult sector as well. It is so important that readers can identify with the characters they’re reading about.
This week, we the SASiety Committee want to highlight our favourite LGBTQ+ reads from around the world! Let us know what you think of our picks down in the comments!
Elena's pick: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, first published on 13th February 2018 by Grove Press. 240 pages.
Finalist for the PEN / Hemingway Award for a Debut Novel
Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Winner of the Otherwise Award
Named a Best Debut Novel of 2018
Finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Freshwater is the sort of book that stays with you months after you have read it. It’s poetic and lyrical, capturing not only a mood but the very experience of existing: “I am a village full of faces and a compound full of bones, translucent thousands.” Still, when concerned about being human (and a great deal of the book is actually concerned with the opposite), the book really stands out mainly because of its simplicity and matter-of-factness. To be seen as a human, to be understood as a human, to be defined as a human poses a set of limitations and constraints that come from a long history of defining the human in order to contain and oppress, which leads to pathologizing behaviours that do not comfort to the norm, thus classifying them as abnormal. Freshwater shows another way of existing, of opening up new ways of being, of rejecting the binary human, defying classification. It suggests an in-betweenness, a multiplicity. The novel swiftly interchanges between the mythical and the real (both equally true); focusing on Ada and the spirits in her head (that both guide her and plague her), while Ada swirls in self-destruction, feeling entrapped in her flesh; Ada actively seeks an “otherness,” seeking to be free of definitions. This is a story of becoming, of transitioning, of being.
Conny's pick: Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Set in the late 1980s in Texas, this beautiful coming-of-age story follows the lives of two teenagers, Ari Mendoza and Dante Quintana, who have had very different upbringings. One has a brother in jail and a family that barely talks, the other is the son of a professor. While they are both Mexican-American and living in a border city, they sometimes struggle with their ethnic and cultural identity and upbringing, as they try to figure out who they are and where they belong. As the two friends go through puberty, they struggle with family dramas and relationships, the ups and downs of friendship, peer pressure, and sacrifices. Aristotle and Dante, like most teenagers, experiment with their sexuality, encounter external and internalized homophobia and toxic masculinity, and learn that showing emotion doesn’t make them less of a man or any less than what they have always been. Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe is a beautiful juxtaposition of lyrical chapters and relatable, often gritty, topics. Beyond teenage angst, this novel highlights the many facets of puberty and its emotional and hormonal upheaval. Sometimes, all you need to make sense of it all, is an old pick-up truck, the desert, your best friend, and a sky full of stars.
Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, first published on 21st February 2012 by Simon & Schuster. 359 pages.
Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Michael L. Printz Award Nominee
Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children’s/YA
Deutscher Jugendliteratur-preis Nominee
Pura Belpré Award for Narrative
Natalia's pick: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, first published on 20th September 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing. 352 pages.
Orange Prize for Fiction
Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Novel
Chautauqua Prize Nominee
The Song of Achilles is Madeline Miller’s retelling of events in the Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ companion, lover, and ultimate reason for reentering the fray of the Trojan War. The Patroclus that appears in the Iliad is one that is scarcely sketched in, functioning more as a plot device than a person. Miller, however, breathes life into the old myth and fleshes out both the character and the relationship between the two men. Simply put, theirs is a complex partnership and one that maintains over many years, and Miller manages to delicately balance all of these multitudes. Her writing style is refreshingly modern for a classical story, whilst hitting all the major beats of the main source material – you’ll zip through it without noticing the time!
Monja's pick: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World is not an LGBTQ+ book per se but touches upon the topic in various ways. The novel is deeply moving and fascinating: in the minutes after Leila’s death, she recalls sensuous memories and the friends she made during her bittersweet life. They are desperately trying to find her and are faced with discrimination and marginalization along their way. The novel is queer in the broadest sense, as it is not only centred around some LGBT characters but also, in more general terms, focuses on people living outside social norms. Shafak highlights the mistreatment and misunderstanding of LGBTQ+, refugees and sex workers in Istanbul and Turkey during the second half of the 20th century. She gives a voice to disenfranchised people who are buried in the Cemetery of the Companionless. In the end, you’ll see that they are not alone, not forgotten as her book is not only about groups that were considered misfits in society but also an ode to friendship.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak, first published on 6th June 2019 by Viking Press. 312 pages.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019
Blackwell’s Book of the Year 2019
Shortlisted for Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize 2020
Poppy's pick: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, first published on 8th June 2006 by Houghton Mifflin. 240 pages.
Stonewall Book Award for Non-Fiction
Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir / Biography
Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Reality-Based Work
Fun Home is a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel (she of the Bechdel test), and chronicles Bechdel’s youth in rural Pennsylvania. The title of the book comes from the nickname Bechdel and her siblings gave to the funeral parlour owned by her father, where they would often help out as children. The narrative is non-linear and often revisits the same moments from Bechdel’s childhood, each time in such a way which reflects how the adult Bechdel retrospectively understands more of her own family dynamic than she could as a child. The main strand throughout the story is around the relationship between Bechdel and her father, and as the story progresses and revisits and remakes itself Bechdel (and the reader) come to recognise and understand why Bechdel and her family are the way they are.
The book is certainly bleak in parts, but not only does it never devolve into full-on angst, there’s no sense of self-indulgent victimhood or blame. There’s also an unmistakable joy to be felt when Bechdel recounts her first experiences living away from home and the ‘click’ moment of realising she’s a lesbian, both of which represent a much needed, refreshing breath after the suffocating atmosphere of the Fun Home. Above all I adore how ambiguously Bechdel presents her relationship with her father, and that at no point does any figure within the story become a caricature; everyone is presented as a messy, complicated human, trying to survive the best they can in the world they’re in.
Islay's pick: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Carry On is the first book in Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow trilogy. The book joins ‘worst Chosen One to ever be chosen’ Simon Snow in his final year at Watford School of Magicks, where he is facing an absent mentor, his own unreliable magic, and a monstrous threat quite literally walking around with his face. Add to that the infuriating absence of his nemesis/roommate Baz and you’ve got a fast-paced fantasy YA with mysteries, ghosts, romance and magical beasts galore. Carry On offers a fascinating wizarding world to get lost in, with a unique magic system based on idioms, jingles and popular phrases ( casting ‘Some like it hot’ to melt some butter is a personal favourite), alongside a diverse wizarding school that plays to tropes but also happily subverts them. Issues of class, race and sexuality are all explored within the novel as you join Simon, Baz and their classmates in a journey not just to stop the threat to their world, but also to find their place within it. If you’re in the market for magical boarding schools, mysterious prophecies and all of the complexities of loving your roommate/enemy, then Carry On is the fun-filled but thoughtful book for you.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, first published on 6th October 2015 by St Martin’s Griffin. 522 pages.
Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Nominee
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for YA Fantasy & Sci-Fi
Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas Nominee for Mejor Novela Extranjera Independiente
Can you suggest any other not-to-miss titles? We’d love to hear your recommendations! Let us know in the comments or on our social media!
The SASiety Committee is determined to ensure that all of SASiety is and always will be a diverse, inclusive and safe space for all. We are allies and will always stand with and support our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
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