Queer Lit Preview – Queer Books to Read in 2021

As we continue to be kept apart, we need books more than ever to bring us together. That’s especially true of the LGBTQ+ community, where through the act of reading queer books a colourful array of lives and experiences become suddenly accessible. So in what we hope will bring you comfort and community, here’s our extra-special annual primer. Featuring all-things LGBTQ+ lit that our publishers are bringing this year.


January

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht
(Verve Books, 9780857308108, p/b, £8.99)

A gripping female-driven spy novel set in 1960s Buenos Aires with a fantastically original, whipsmart,
queer heroine
.

New York City, 1962. Vera Kelly is struggling to make rent and blend into the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village. She’s working night shifts at a radio station when her quick wits, sharp tongue, and technical skills get her noticed by a recruiter for the CIA. Next thing she knows she’s in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires. When a betrayal leaves her stranded in the wake of a coup, Vera learns war makes for strange and unexpected bedfellows, and she’s forced to take extreme measures to save herself.

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February

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi 
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528236, p/b, £17.99)

An intergenerational saga about three Nigerian women, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.

Spanning three continents, Butter Honey Pig Bread tells the interconnected stories of three Nigerian women: Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Kambirinachi believes that she is an Ogbanje, or an Abiku, a non-human spirit that plagues a family with misfortune by being born and then dying in childhood to cause a human mother misery. She has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family but lives in fear of the consequences of her decision. Now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward.

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March

Black Girl, Call Home: Poems by Jasmine Mans
(Berkley, 9780593197141, p/b, £12.99)

A coming-of-age collection, and a love letter to the wandering Black girl.

A literary coming-of-age poetry collection, an ode to the places we call home, and a piercingly intimate deconstruction of daughterhood, Black Girl, Call Home is a love letter to the wandering black girl and a vital companion to any woman on a journey to find truth, belonging, and healing. From spoken word poet Jasmine Mans comes an unforgettable poetry collection about race, feminism, and queer identity. With echoes of Gwendolyn Brooks and Sonia Sanchez, Mans writes to call herself – and us – home.

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Queer Werewolves Destroy Capitalism by MJ Lyons
(Microcosm Publishing, 9781621067436, p/b, £8.99)

A collection of unapologetically queer, unabashedly smutty erotic short stories with an anti-capitalist slant.

From charnel landscapes to queer utopias, from the crepuscular cruising grounds of 19th century Paris to the urban werewolf hunting grounds of 21st century Toronto, from the tender to the consentacled, these tales of unapologetically queer, unabashedly smutty speculative fiction will thrill, titillate, and delight. A male/male erotic short story collection from Microcosm’s Queering Consent series.  

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Dryland by Sara Jaffe
(Cipher Press, 9781916355347, p/b, £9.99)

A tender, meditative, and quietly kaleidoscopic novel about the 90’s, queer adolescence, and swimming.

It’s 1992 in Portland, Oregon. Fifteen-year-old Julie Winter moves through her days as if underwater – watching skaters through the rain, detached from her best friend’s crushes, listening to the same R.E.M. B-side on repeat. No one at home talks about her older brother, a once-champion swimmer who could be living in Berlin, or could be anywhere. She’d never considered swimming herself. Until Alexis, captain of the swimming team, tries to recruit her. What starts as an flirtation becomes a chance to join in with the world, find out what really happened to her brother, or finally let him go.

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April

A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
(Metonymy Press, 9781999058876, p/b, £11.99)

A collection of short stories that disrupts the notion that trans people can only have one transformation.

A Natural History of Transition is a collection of short stories that disrupts the notion that trans people can only have one transformation. Like the landscape studied over eons, change does not have an expiration date for these trans characters. They grow as tall as buildings, turn into mountains, unravel hometown mysteries, and give birth to cocoons. Portland-based author Callum Angus infuses his work with a mix of alternative history, horror, and a reality heavily dosed with magic.

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Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht
(Verve Books, 9780857308122, p/b, £8.99)

Meet Vera Kelly: a brilliant, smart, unique ex-CIA spy now undertaking her first case as a PI.

When ex-CIA agent Vera Kelly loses her job and her girlfriend in a single day, she reluctantly goes into business as a private detective. Heartbroken and cash-strapped, she takes a case that dredges up dark memories and attracts dangerous characters from across the Cold War landscape. Before it’s over, she’ll chase a lost child through foster care and follow a trail of Dominican exiles to the Caribbean.

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May

100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
(Cipher Press, 9781916355378, p/b, £9.99)

An irreverent, sensitive, and inimitable look at messy queer love through the eyes of a cult hero.

Transgressive, foulmouthed, and wildly funny 100 Boyfriends is a filthy, unforgettable, and brutally profound ode to messy queer love. From one-night stands to recurring lovers, Brontez Purnell’s characters expose themselves to racist neighbours, date Satanists, and drink their way out of trouble, all the while fighting – and often losing – the urge to self-sabotage. Drawing us into a community of glorious misfits living on the margins of a white supremacist, heteronormative society, Purnell gives us an uncompromising vision of desire, desperation, race, loneliness, and queerness.

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Arcadia by Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam, trans. by Ruth Diver
(Seven Stories Press UK, 9780995580749, p/b, £12.99)

An intersex narrator, coming of age in a libertarian commune, sets the stage for this English-language debut.

Farah moves into Liberty House at the tender age of thirteen, with her family. The commune’s spiritual leader, Arcady, preaches equality, non-violence, anti-speciesism, free love and uninhibited desire for all, regardless of gender, age, looks or ability. In this utopian “quiet zone,” far from access to technology, Farah goes through puberty as a transgender transition. Upon discovering they are intersex, Farah begins to question what it means to be a woman or a man, and all the principles those within and outside the confraternity live by and grows empowered to create a better world.

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June

Skye Papers by Jamika Ajalon
(The Feminist Press, 9781952177965, p/b, £15.99)

A dreamy and experimental portrait of young Black artists in the 1990s London underground scene, whose existence is threatened by the rise of state surveillance.

Twentysomething and restless, Skye flits between cities and stagnant relationships until she meets Scottie, a disarming and dishevelled British traveller, and Pieces, an enigmatic artist living in New York. The three recognise each other as kindred spirits – Black, punk, whimsical, revolutionary – and fall in together, leading Skye on an unlikely adventure across the Atlantic. They live a glorious, subterranean existence in 1990s London: making multimedia art, throwing drug-fuelled parties, and busking in Tube stations, until their existence is jeopardised by the rise of CCTV and policing.

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Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner
(Pensinsula Press, 9781913512040, p/b, £12.99)

A surreal inquiry into the effects of state violence and coercion on gender nonconforming, working-class, and Black bodies.

Aspiring writer Sterling is arrested one morning, without having done anything wrong. Plunged into a terrifying and nonsensical world, Sterling – with the help of their three best friends – must defy bullfighters, football legends, spaceships, and Google Earth tourists in order to exonerate themselves and to hold the powers that be to account. Sterling Karat Gold is Kafka’s The Trial written for the era of gaslighting, a surreal inquiry into the very real effects of state violence and coercion on gender-nonconforming, working-class, and Black bodies.

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Future Feeling by Joss Lake
(Soft Skull Press, 9781593766887, p/b, £12.99)

A widly inventive, delightfully subversive, nonconforming debut novel about illusion, magic, technology, kinship, and the emergent future.

An embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man – and must adventure into a mysterious dimension in order to save him – in this wildly inventive, delightfully subversive, genre-nonconforming debut novel about illusion, magic, technology, kinship, and the emergent future. Magnificently imagined, linguistically dazzling, and riotously fun, Future Feeling presents an alternate future in which advanced technology still can’t replace human connection but may give the trans community new ways to care for its own.

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Variations by Juliet Jacques
(Influx Press, 9781910312773, p/b, £9.99)

Innovative and fresh, Variations is a bold and beautiful book of stories unheard; until now.

Variations is the debut short story collection from one of Britain’s most compelling voices, Juliet Jacques. Using fiction inspired by found material and real-life events, Variations explores the history of transgender Britain with lyrical, acerbic wit. Variations travels from Oscar Wilde’s London to austerity-era Belfast via inter-war Cardiff, a drag bar in Liverpool just after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, Manchester’s protests against Clause 28, and Brighton in the 2000s. Rewriting and reinvigorating a history so often relegated to stale police records and sensationalist news headlines.

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Seed by Joanna Walsh
(No Alibis Press, 9781838108106, p/b, £15.00)

A queer non-coming-out story about sex, adolescence, class, fear and contagion in the 1980s.

Seed’s narrator is on the threshold of adulthood, living in an English valley in the late 1980s when life is overshadowed by fears of nuclear contagion, AIDS and CJD. Composed in narrative threads of poetic prose, Seed explores universal themes of restriction and desire, delving deep into the narrator’s subjective consciousness and demonstrating the polyphonic discourse – fashion magazines, art, public health advice – and relationships that shape her becoming.

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July

Here is Where by Morgan Omotoye
(Open Pen, 9781838210618, p/b, £5.99)

A queer love story takes centre stage in this latest novelette by renowned short story journal Open Pen.

Right from the start Pacific Hale is in love with her best friend Dorothy Shu. Pacific is about to discover that love is a battlefield, and to survive she will have to become something new, something terrible and born of fire.

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Transmutations by Alex DiFrancesco
(Seven Stories, 9781644210666, p/b, £12.99)

Transgressive, transformative short stories that explore the margins of trans lives.

A wry, and at the same time dark and risk-taking, story collection that pushes the boundaries of transgender awareness and filial bonds. Here is the hate between 16-year-old Junie, who is transitioning, and their mum’s boyfriend Chad when the family moves into Chad’s house on Lake Erie. And here is the love being tested between Sawyer and his dad, who named his boat after his child and resists changing it from Sara to Sawyer now. These stories enter lands that are violent and comfortless, testing the limits of what it means to be human, sometimes returning stronger and wiser and sometimes not returning at all.

Or support your local bookstore.


August

Since I Laid My Burden Down by Brontez Purnell
(Cipher Press, 9781838390006, p/b, £9.99)

A riotous, hilarious, and heart-breaking cult novel about growing up black, queer, and punk.

When Deshawn hears of his uncle’s death, his riotous big-city life in San Francisco is abruptly put on hold while he travels back to Alabama for the funeral. While there, he’s hit by flashbacks of growing up queer and black in the ’80s South, of a youth filled with strong women, bewildered boys, and messed up queers. Wading through prickly reminders of his childhood, Deshawn reconnects with his old self and the ghosts of his past. A raw, dirty, hilarious, and heart-breaking novel about the experiences that shape us, Since I Laid My Burden Down asks the intimate question: who deserves love?

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September

Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks
(Feminist Press, 9781952177804, p/b, £15.99)

A queer coming-of-age novel about a girlhood interrupted by an eating disorder, only to twist into a genre-bending excavation of gender, identity, and literary mystery.

Meet 12 year-old Margaret Worms: head detective of the mystery club Girls Can Solve Anything. But in high school, the club has disbanded, and Margaret is unmoored, not wanting to grow up. She develops an eating disorder and goes to a treatment centre. There, Margaret’s recovery is complicated by a string of mysteries involving a ghost, a hidden passage, disturbing desires, and her own vexed relationship with herself. A reimagining of nineties adolescence – mashing up girl group series, choose-your-own-adventures, and chronicles of anorexia – in a queer and trans coming-of-age tale like no other.

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It’s Been a Pleasure Noni Blake by Claire Christian
(Text Publishing, 9781922330215, p/b, £10.99)

A feminist, queer, sex-positive and shamelessly feel-good millennial rom-com.

Noni didn’t expect to be starting over at the age of thirty-six. But eighteen months after the end of her long-term relationship, she decides it’s time to start living her life again. While an encounter with a sexy firefighter is a welcome entry back into the dating world, Noni soon realises she’s looking for more than just a series of brief, pleasurable encounters. She’s looking for more pleasure in, well, everything. That’s how she finds herself travelling to Europe to track down the one that got away: the alluring, elusive Molly. But Europe may have other surprises in store…

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My Body Keeps Your Secrets by Lucia Osborne-Crowley
(The Indigo Press, 9781911648130, p/b, £12.99)

A polyphonic memoir about the young person’s body in 2021

Lucia Osborne-Crowley, author of I Choose Elena, writes about the secrets a body keeps, from gender identity, puberty, and menstruation to sexual pleasure; to pregnancy or its absence; and to darker secrets of abuse, invasion, or violation. The voices of women, trans and non-binary people around the world, and the author’s own deeply moving testimony, cohere into an immersive polyphonic memoir that tells the story of the young person’s body in 2021.

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October

Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt
(Cipher Press, 9781838390020, p/b, £9.99)

A dark, unflinching haunted house novel that takes readers from the well of the literary gothic to the heart of the modern-day trans experience in the UK.

Three years ago, Alice spent one night in an abandoned house with her friends Ila and Hannah. Since then, things have not been going well. Alice is living a haunted existence, selling videos of herself cleaning for money, drinking herself to sleep. She hasn’t spoken to Ila since they went into the House. She hasn’t seen Hannah either. Memories of that night torment her, but when Ila asks her to return to the House she knows she must go. Together Alice and Ila must face the horrifying occurrences that happened there and try to rescue Hannah, who the House has chosen to make it’s own.

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A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528564, p/b, £13.99)

Award-winning novelist Casey Plett returns with a poignant suite of stories that centre transgender women.

Centering transgender women seeking stable, adult lives, A Dream of a Woman finds quiet truths in prairie high-rises and New York warehouses, in freezing Canadian winters and drizzly Oregon days. In “Hazel & Christopher,” two childhood friends reconnect as adults after one of them has transitioned. In “Perfect Places,” a woman grapples with undesirability as she navigates fetish play with a man. An ethereal meditation on partnership, sex, addiction, romance, groundedness, and love, A Dream of a Woman buzzes with quiet intensity and the intimate complexities of being human.

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The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration by Shawn Hitchins
(ECW Press, 9781770415614, p/b, £13.95)

A modern gay memoir exploring love, death, pain, and community that will resonate long after the last page.

A lifetime of finding punchlines in his heartache comes to a shuddering stop when comedian and writer Shawn Hitchins loses two great loves, five months apart, to sudden death. In this deeply poignant memoir that combines sober self-portrait with tender elegy, Hitchins explores the messiness of being alive: the longing and desire, scorching-earth anger, raw grief – and the pathway of healing he discovers when he lets his heart remain open.


Or support your local bookstore.

November

Slug and Other Stories by Megan Milks
(Feminist Press, 9781952177842, p/b, £15.99)

A deranged, otherworldly story collection that disrupts conventional ideas about gender, genre, and queer identity.

A woman metamorphoses into a giant slug; another quite literally eats her heart out; a wasp falls in love with an orchid; and hair starts sprouting from the walls. These stories slip and slide between genres – from video games to fan fiction, avant-garde theatre to choose-your-own-adventure – as characters cycle through giddying changes in gender, physiology, species, and identity. Collapsing boundaries between bodies and forms, these fictions interrogate the visceral, gross, and absurd.

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The Last One by Fatima Daas
(Other Press, 9781635421842, p/b, £13.99)

Drawn from the author’s experiences, a powerful, lyric debut that explores the conflicting facets of her identity – French, Algerian, Muslim, lesbian.

The youngest daughter of Algerian immigrants, Fatima Daas is raised in a home where love and sexuality are considered taboo. Living in the majority-Muslim suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, she goes from unstable student to maladjusted adult, doing four years of therapy – her longest relationship. But as she gains distance from her family, she grapples more directly with her attraction to women and how it fits with her religion, which she continues to practice. When Nina comes into her life, she doesn’t know exactly what she needs but feels that something crucial has been missing.


December

Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year Volume 6 edited by Sinclair Sexsmith
(Cleis Press, 9781627783132, p/b, £15.99)

The latest enthralling instalment in Cleis Press’s Lambda-nominated series of the very best in lesbian erotic writing.

This is the 6th volume of the Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year series, and it is also Sexsmith’s third year in a row as the editor. This particular volume will feature representations of queer women, non-binary folks, trans women, and a variety of #Ownvoices viewpoints that are not as frequently seen in erotica. Tales will include characters representing the more marginalised among us when it comes to ability, race, ethnicity, class, neurodiversity, sexuality, age, and religion. The sex acts portrayed in each story will cover all kinds of sensual and sexual expression, as well as a variety of sexual identities.

Order from your local bookstore.

Fancy more fantastic books for the new year? Then be sure to check out our 2021 preview for the books we’re most excited about.

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