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.
Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht
(Verve Books, 9780857308108, p/b, £8.99)
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.
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528236, p/b, £17.99)
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.
Queer Werewolves Destroy Capitalism by MJ Lyons
(Microcosm Publishing, 9781621067436, p/b, £8.99)
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.
Docile by K. M. Szpara
(Tordotcom, 9781250216335, p/b, £16.99)
Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects – and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.
Dryland by Sara Jaffe
(Cipher Press, 9781916355347, p/b, £9.99)
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.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
(Metonymy Press, 9781999058876, p/b, £11.99)
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.
Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht
(Verve Books, 9780857308122, p/b, £8.99)
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.
100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
(Cipher Press, 9781916355378, p/b, £9.99)
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.
Arcadia by Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam, trans. by Ruth Diver
(Seven Stories Press UK, 9780995580749, p/b, £12.99)
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.
Stone Fruit by Lee Lai
(Fantagraphics, 9781683964261, h/b, £29.99)
Bron and Ray are a queer couple who enjoy their role as the fun weirdo aunties for Ray’s niece Nessie. Their bi-weekly playdates are little oases of wildness, joy, and ease in daily lives that ping-pong between familial tensions and isolation. As their emotional intimacy erodes, Ray and Bron turn to repair their broken family ties. Taking a leap of faith, each opens up to their respective sisters and learns that they have more in common with their siblings than they ever knew. In time, the emptiness they feel after their break-up is supplanted with a deep sisterly love and understanding.
Transmutations by Alex DiFrancesco
(Seven Stories, 9781644210666, p/b, £12.99)
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.
Let The Record Show by Sarah Schulman
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 9780374185138, h/b, £33.99)
Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today’s activists, Let the Record Show is a revelatory exploration – and long-overdue reassessment – of the coalition’s inner workings, conflicts, achievements, and ultimate fracture. Sarah Schulman, one of the most revered queer writers and thinkers of her generation, explores the how and the why, examining, with her characteristic rigor and bite, how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a liveable future for generations of people across the world.
Skye Papers by Jamika Ajalon
(The Feminist Press, 9781952177965, p/b, £15.99)
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.
Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner
(Pensinsula Press, 9781913512040, p/b, £12.99)
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.
Future Feeling by Joss Lake
(Soft Skull Press, 9781593766887, p/b, £12,99)
An embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man – and must adventure into 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.
Variations by Juliet Jacques
(Influx Press, 9781910312773, p/b, £9.99)
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. Innovative and fresh, Variations is a bold and beautiful book of stories unheard; until now.
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.