There is certainly no shortage of queer fiction books out there. Just head to somewhere like GoodReads.com (a database of pretty much every book ever published), and you’ll find tens of thousands of books that discuss queer themes. Obviously, you have no chance of being able to read every single one of these. We don’t expect you to either. Many of them are quite terrible. That’s why we want to point you toward the best queer fiction books. Every single book you see on this list is must-read queer fiction.
Some of these books are heavily focused on dealing with homosexuality in a world that isn’t quite as accepting as it should be. Others have homosexuality in the background. It exists, but it isn’t the focus of the book, which is exactly how life should be. Just acceptance that same-gender relationships exist, and there shouldn’t be too much focus on it.
We know that there are some people who may disagree with the books that we have included on this list. There are many other books that could have landed on this list (we’ve read hundreds of queer fiction books), but we think the books we have included cover a broad range of genres, and they are easily accessible. Some of them are real classics. We suggest that you read all of them.
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
If you are queer, then you likely had a moment in your life where you weren’t quite sure why you were not feeling attraction toward the opposite sex. You felt ‘wrong’ for being attracted to the same sex. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being attracted to the same sex, but this is something that has gone through every teenager’s mind. The Color Purple by Alice Walker, published in 1982, discusses these themes.
The Color Purple is a collection of letters written by a 14-year-old girl who is struggling to understand why she finds women attractive and has absolutely no attraction to males. Along the way, there are some pretty dark and heavy scenes. In fact, The Color Purple is one of the most banned books in America, even though it has won several literary prizes (including the Pulitzer Prize) and has had multiple movies based on the plot.
The ’lesbian’ discussion isn’t the main focus of the book. It is in the background, although good chunks of the book are dedicated to discussing the main character’s feelings toward women. This is a book that is incredibly heavy on awful situations. So, we do have to give a bit of a trigger warning here – if you do not want to read about child abuse, domestic abuse, female circumcision, and more then look away. However, if you do, you may be missing out on one of the best-written pieces of queer fiction ever.
The Bone People – Keri Hulme
The Bone People is a book about relationships, romantic and familial. There are three different characters in this book. Each of them is looking for love in their own way. One of the characters is asexual, aromatic, and agender. It is said to be semi-autobiographical, and this character is based on the author, Keri Hulme.
As with some of the other books on this list – the focus isn’t on being queer. It is about the emotions associated with finding the love that you need in your life. It is the exploration of romance, platonic love, and the clash of different cultures (Māori and European).
This is an incredibly complex book, and some people have difficulty navigating the writing prose (the book has been written in multiple styles, which gives it a very whimsical quality). However, if you do try it out, you could end up reading one of your favorite pieces of queer fiction ever.
Stone Butch Blues – Leslie Feinberg
This is a book inspired by the real events in the author’s life. The main character of Stone Butch Blues is a butch lesbian in 1970s America. This was at the time that the US was going through a turning point when it came to queer rights, but it wasn’t quite there yet.
The book is an exploration of what it was like to be a butch lesbian in that period. There is rampant homophobia, transphobia, and public ridicule. However, if you went looking, you would find the queer community that would be readily accepting of who you are.
Stone Butch Blues is really a journey about going from believing nobody would accept you for who you are, to finding a community that you can thrive in. This is something that every queer person wants for themselves, and this book goes to show that even in a time that was historically unaccepting, there were communities that were there to provide support.
The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
Back in the 1950s, there were a lot of pieces of lesbian fiction being released. Obviously, nowhere as many as there are today, but there were a few lesbian-focused books. The problem with queer fiction back then is that it was incredibly rare for anybody to get a happy ending. Lesbian relationships in queer fiction were almost doomed to failure. The Price of Salt bucked this trend.
The Price of Salt was written by Patricia Highsmith in the 1950s, although she released it under the pseudonym ‘Claire Morgan’, as many of the other books that she wrote were in the suspense genre, and The Price of Salt was anything but.
Perhaps the best way to describe the plot of The Price of Salt without ruining the plot is as a ‘sexual awakening’. A woman, clearly unhappy with her marriage, realizes that she has an attraction to a female that has come into her life. The book discusses the breakdown of marriage and the evolution of a new romantic attraction.
The Price of Salt has now become a must-read for lesbians, and you’ll often find the book discussed in queer communities, mostly because of how it bucked the trend of lesbian relationships and, for once, gave somebody a happier ending than what was normal for a book at the time.
The Prophets – Robert Jones, Jr.
We’re going more contemporary with The Prophets. This is a newer book that focuses on the love between two enslaved men. As you can imagine – as slaves, they don’t really have anything to lean on other than each other and what follows is a beautiful story about how the love between the two of them evolves.
However, Christianity threatens to ruin their romance. The slave owner recruits a slave to start preaching the gospel on the plantation. As he does, the people who were once so accepting of the love the two enslaved men feel start to turn against them. They believe that their romance is wrong and that it needs to be ended as soon as possible.
This is a wonderful book that explores slavery, being gay in an unaccepting environment, and how religion is seriously impacting the LGBTQ world. It was first published in 2021, so it isn’t on many top queer fiction book reading lists yet, but it will be soon. We wouldn’t be surprised if this was queer fiction that people continued to embrace for years to come.
Milk Fed – Melissa Broder
The main theme in this book is eating disorders. The main character of the book spends her time calorie counting to an absolutely incredible degree. She then encounters a woman who is the polar opposite of her. One who absolutely loves food. Over time, the main character starts to tackle her eating disorder, while also tackling her feelings of love for the new woman that has entered her life.
Along the way, you’ll get to hear an exploration of the relationship between a mother and daughter (which is incredibly eye-opening, especially from the perspective of the eating disorder).
The one thing that we should point out is that Milk Fed has incredibly explicit sex scenes. If that’s not for you, then you may need to give this book a skip.
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
Being a gay person in a strictly anti-gay religion is tough. This book is an exploration of that. The character grows up in England, in a Pentecostal group of people. The book deals with her challenges of being gay when her religion tells her that it is completely wrong.
Along the way, the main character battles with her demons. She sees herself as committing a sin, but she can’t hide what her true feelings are for other women.
This is a book that has been incredibly popular among the lesbian community, and there is even a TV show based on it.
Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown
Rubyfruit Jungle is a book that explores the idea of being a lesbian in the 1970s. Many people see this as a ‘coming of age’ lesbian story, one of the first of its kind. Many lesbians have commented on how the book details their exact experiences of being a lesbian. In fact, it is so popular that it has been referenced in many lesbian-focused books over the years, as well as appearing in several movies.
For us – this is a must-read piece of queer fiction. Not just for lesbians, but gay people too.
Mostly Dead Things – Kristen Arnett
This book is a little bit different from some of the others on this list. This is because the ‘queer themes’ are in the background. Much of the story deals with the main character’s way of dealing with her father’s death and the business that she now has to run. Along the way, she tackles the romantic feelings she has for her sister-in-law.
The book is a blend of drama and comedy, and it is one of the best-written pieces of queer fiction in recent years.
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room is a classic piece of gay fiction. Written in 1956 by prominent civil rights activist James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room follows the life of a gay American man living in Paris. Throughout the book, you’ll read about his relationships with other men, his pursuit of others in many gay bars throughout Paris. Along the way, the book tackles themes such as social alienation, gender identity, and LGBTQ+ positive areas as a safe space. It is a book that discusses the discomfort, particularly in the 1950s, of being who you wanted to be in public. Something that James Baldwin suffered from in his life, not because of homosexuality, but because he felt alienated for being black (he did live in 1950s America, after all).
If you must read just one piece of gay fiction, we highly suggest Giovanni’s Room. You’ll see why it is a classic and has become staple reading in LGBTQ+ circles (and beyond).
Remember – we’ve only just scratched the surface of queer fiction books here. While these are our favorite queer fiction books, we probably could have included dozens more on this list. You may even be able to come up with a list of your own. That’s fine. However, if you haven’t read any of the books on this list, give a few of them a spin. You’ll fall in love and, if you’re queer, you may even recognize a bit of yourself in them.