We’re going into 2018 strong for LGBTQ representation in books and I am overjoyed. Every year, my reading challenge is ‘read all the queer stuff.’ It’s an easy challenge to complete, because there is still a drought, but it’s also becoming more exciting each year because the quality and range of LGBTQ titles that are being published is awesome. 2018 brings us more rep for queer POC and for trans and non-binary people across a wide genre spectrum. Superheroes are coming out, and the focus has been turned more towards marginalised voices from underrepresented parts of the globe. There is still a long way to go, but looking at the list below I think we can high-five independent publishing this year, and we can even do a firm thumbs-up for publishing in general.
Heartland is a pulpy, uproarious word-party of a novel by Lesbian Avengers co-founder Ana Simo. As I write this I’m about ten pages in. It really sucks your brain in. It’s about a thwarted writer who is suffering from a broken heart and terrible writer’s block. And there is only one solution for that – murder. Specifically the murder of the woman who stole her girlfriend. Heartland is trashy and smart and wonderful and, frankly, an electric book to kick of queer lit in 2018.
In Vol. 1, Kevin Keller does what most queers do as soon as they are able – he leaves his small town for the excitement of the big city. In Kevin’s case, he leaves Riverdale for New York. Trying to juggle dating with a high-pressure journalism job, Kevin must try to make his New York dream come true before the city eats him alive (as if). Hot on the heels of the super-popular Riverdale TV show on Netflix, this new collection by Dan Parent is a real treat for Kevin fans. And he has many – he was the first ever fictional GLAAD anti-bullying ambassador, to give you an idea how popular he is.
Andrea Gibson is one of the most influential spoken word artists out there. Their poems focus on gender, politics, social reforms and LGBTQ rights and activism. Take Me with You is a pocket-sized book of poems, quotes and fragments that are split into three sections: love, the world, and becoming. Gibson, who identifies as genderqueer, is an influential spokesperson for the LGBTQ community whose fans include Margaret Cho and Tig Notaro. Head over to their YouTube channel to listen to their poems.
The Diamond Setter follows Fareed, who crosses illegally into Israel to try and find out more about his past. He takes with him a famous blue diamond with the intention of finding its rightful owner. Fareed ends up in Israel’s vibrant gay scene. He falls in love with both an Israeli soldier and his boyfriend, who is the narrator of the book, and reveals the story of his family’s past: a tale of forbidden love that connects Fareed with the owner of the diamond. Next in a much-needed, quietly-growing canon of queer Middle-Eastern literature, The Diamond Setter will appeal to anyone who loved Saleem Haddad’s bestselling 2016 novel Guapa.
This is one of the books I am most excited about in 2018. It stars Sandra Pankhurst; husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife and now trauma cleaner (which is exactly what is sounds like). Author Sarah Krasnostein follows Sandra as she clears up after deaths and crime, caring for both the living and the dead. It’s pegged as the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, and an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together. I cannot wait.
N’Tyse is one of the few street lit authors who writes LGBTQ fiction. Street lit tends to be pulpy, fun and fast-paced and the plot of Stud Princess ticks all those boxes. It’s about two women who find themselves blackmailed into working as escorts for Queen-Pin Chyna, and then having to go against the grain to prove their love for one another, bearing in mind whose turf they are treading on.
As well as being a strong contender for ‘cover of the year’, The Night Ocean just sounds really great. It’s about a man named Charlie who has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, specifically one episode in the legendary horror writer’s life: in the summer of 1934, the ‘old gent’ lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert at his family home in central Florida. Against his wife Marina’s wishes, Charlie is desperate to find out what the two men were up to. Just when he thinks he’s solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it’s suicide. Marina doesn’t believe them. As a heartbroken Marina follows her missing husband’s trail, the novel moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Florida to Mexico City.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (translated by Lawrence Schimel)
La Bastarda is the story of orphaned teen Okomo. Forbidden from seeking out her father, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of mysterious girls revelling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture. I don’t even need to tell you how amazing, and vital, and exciting this one sounds. Roll on April, please.
When he discovered his past self currently living in the present was gay, Iceman realised he might not be being entirely honest with himself. Now he finds himself not only having to juggle his social life with his superhero one, but also having to come out to his parents all over again for a completely different reason. But as a founding member of the X-Men, he’s more than ready for the struggle.
Michelle Tea has been a hero of mine ever since I read Valencia as a teenager. She is awesome, and if I were to meet her I’d probably get shy. Especially after the reccent Black Wave, which is the queerest book I have read. Against Memoir, out in the UK in May, is a collection of essays about ‘all things artistic, romantic, and neurotic.’ It also features dykes on bikes. YES PLEASE. (As a side note, Against Memoir is the next book in the Feminist Press’s Amethyst Editions imprint, which is curated by Michelle Tea and champions emerging queer writers. You can read more about the imprint here).
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (translated by Tina Kover)
I was lucky enough to get an early proof of this (thanks, Daniela!) and I loved it. The story takes place in a Parisian fertility clinic where Kimia is waiting to find out if she is pregnant. During her wait, she thinks back to how she got there, tracing back her ancestors and her own childhood in Iran. A queer punk-rock fan, Kimia is also a master storyteller; we learn about her great grandfather and his 52 wives, and then her own parents, radicals and fierce opponents of Iran’s new regime. The book offers a fascinating look at a different side to Iran, and adds another LGBTQ voice to the growing canon of Middle-Eastern queer lit. I especially enjoyed the parts about Kimia’s coming out and childhood gender-confusion, which is relatable in many ways no matter where the story takes place.
Sodom Road Exit is described as ‘a family melodrama and a lesbian supernatural thriller written by a Lambda Literary Award winner’ and also ‘as riveting as Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Spellbound’ and I’m not sure you would need any other reason to look forward to this. Set in the summer of 1990, it takes place in the small town of Crystal Beach and its abandoned amusement park. When Starla returns to the town as a debt-riddled university drop-out, she starts hearing inexplicable sounds and seeing unimaginable sights. But she is far from a conventional protagonist: when others might feel fear, she feels lust and queer desire. I am giddy.
Casey Plett is another Lambda Award-winner, this time for transgender fiction. If you read McSweeny’s you might have come across her writing before – she wrote a column on transitioning. Little Fish is her first novel, and it sounds so, so good. It follows Wendy Reimer, a 30 year-old transwoman living in Winnipeg who comes across evidence that her late grandfather may have been trans himself, leading Wendy to unravel the mystery of his life against the challenges of her own life, from sex work to alcoholism to suicide. Like Sodom Road Exit, Little Fish is published by Arsenal Pulp Press, who are doing amazing things for LGBTQ literature.
I read a proof copy of this in bed on a Sunday morning. It’s that kind of book – fun, light and completely enjoyable. It starts with Katie Daniels, a Kentucky high-flyer with traditional values who now lives in New York. Katie has been dumped by her fiancé and is surviving on takeaway food, Wild Turkey bourbon, and tears. Then she meets Cassidy. Cassidy is basically a Shane; a charming androgynous lesbian who has slept with most of New York. It’s a story that has been told many times before, but Perri does it with wit, style, and smarts. It has some infinitely relatable moments that many queer women will find hilarious, and it also has a lot of heart. It’s basically like watching a romcom that looks like an episode of Girls and has lesbian protagonists. And I don’t think I have ever actually read anything that fits that description before.
Sweet and Low is a collection of short stories ‘that tackles issues of masculinity, identity, sexuality and place.’ It’s by Nick White, whose How to Survive a Summer was one of my favourite LGBTQ books of 2017. White’s work has been described as ‘southern gothic with a contemporary edge’, which is a genre (is southern Gothic even a genre?) that I am very keen on. His prose is dark, witty, and often uncomfortable, and he writes about social issues with a sharp eye. I’ve always really enjoyed short fiction and am glad it’s a growing trend at the moment. Hopefully Sweet and Low will get some traction in the UK. Plus, the book cover is a real heartthrob.
Another offering from Aresenal Pulp Press, Forward is a graphic novel about two women who are trying to put the pieces of their lives back together after trauma. Rayanne has closed herself off after a terrible breakup. She has crushes, but she prides herself on being able to resist them. Then, unexpectedly, one of her crushes begins to affect her more than the others and threatens to upset her carefully controlled existence. Ali, meanwhile, is numb and lost after losing her wife to cancer. One day she is ambushed by her attraction to another woman, an attraction that is both invigorating and fantastically inappropriate. In the same vein as Blue is the Warmest Color, Forward is a beautifully executed, heartbreaking and poignant comic with moments of startling humour.
Technically this came out in 2017, but the shiny new paperback will be available in 2018 and I am including it because it’s good. Protagonist Lucky is married to Kris, and both of them are gay. Their marriage is a means of hiding their sexuality from their conservative Sri Lankan families. But when Lucky’s high school crush Nisha appears back in her life, Lucky finds it harder and harder to hide who she is. SJ Sindu is a Sri Lankan-American author and it’s great to see her adding her voice to the LGBTQ lit canon. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.
The first volume of this phenomenal comic was my absolute favourite release of 2017. I loved everything about it: the art, the writing, the characters, the story. It was a truly mind-blowing reading experience, unlike anything I’d read before. So obviously the 2018 publication of Volume 2 has me tipsy. At the end of the first book, we saw Karen come out to her brother, and I can’t wait to see where Ferris goes with that story line. I wrote enthusiastically about Volume 1 here if you need a recap.
Queer Africa, edited by Karen Martin and Makhosazana Xaba
Queer Africa is much-needed collection of ‘unapologetic, tangled, tender, bruising and brilliant stories about the many way we love each other’ by African writers, about Africa. Honestly I can’t believe this is only just being published in the UK now, in 2018, and would like to shout out to the excellent New Internationalist for giving it to us. As New Internationalist puts it, ‘there is an urgent need for writing that challenges the hateful rhetoric of religious and political leaders and that encourages open dialogue.’ The full list of stories and authors hasn’t been released yet, and I can’t link to it as it is not finalised, but I know it contains fiction from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa Botswana, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
I’m pretty shouty about queer literature, and write about them often on this blog. So if you’d like some reading recommendations for books that are already published and available, have a read of these posts: