In Celebration of Pride Month: 5 Queer Books That Shaped Me
I realize this will come as a shock to most of you (ha ha), but even as an adult, I read mostly YA. I read YA because those are the kinds of books I work on, and I work on those kinds of books because I love YA. It’s a chicken and egg situation that all leads to my happy place: young adult books that grapple with coming of age alongside other serious (and not so serious) life complications and identities. As someone who identifies as bisexual, YA books that feature authentic, well-drawn queer characters are particularly important to me, and thinking about that got me thinking about which queer books were important in my own life. So here you are: a Pride Month special on the delightfully queer books that helped to shape who I am.
I’ve been spending a lot of time when I should have been writing this post trying to figure out what the first queer book I ever read was. I came to understand my own identity post-college, and so I hadn’t spent my teen years as actively seeking representation in literature as many other queer people I know. On reflection, though, I think I was doing that (hello, Buffy the Vampire Slayer obsession), just not consciously, and I certainly didn’t shy away from books with queer content. After a lot of searching my own brain, I’m fairly certain that the first queer book I ever read was the classic Annie on My Mind, first published in 1982. It’s the story of two high school girls in New York who fall in love and have to deal with the consequences. It’s old, it has some outdated language, it’s occasionally problematic, but it was my first exposure to explicit queerness (and particularly queer women) in literature, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart.
I first started reading Check, Please! when it was still a webcomic on Tumblr, and I’ve been addicted ever since. The comic has been fundamental in my re-imagining of queer stories as something that can be inherently positive, something that moves beyond being an “issue” book. Check, Please!, although not without its moments of darkness and seriousness, is unrelentingly happy. Okazu has stated that the point of the story is that the main characters, hockey players Bitty and Jack, get their happy ending. Knowing that there’s a happy ending makes the moments of casual homophobia and the toxic masculinity in sports easier to get through, and have made me demand more from queer literature.
As much as I love and adore Albertalli’s first and most famous book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, it’s Leah that feels like “my” book. It was really the first time I ever read about bisxuality, specifically, in a novel, and I really related to Leah’s fear of coming out even to her closest friends who she knows would be okay with it. Add to that her often grumpy but ultimately heartfelt narration, which is unlike any first person perspective I’ve seen in YA, and I was bound to fall in love with this book.
When I got into publishing, part of my goal was to put myself in a place where I could elevate the voices of queer people, and queer women in particular. So when I got my first job as an intern at Swoon Reads, I was delighted to discover that the first book I would be helping out with was super gay. Working on Jen’s book was a delight, and really helped me to feel that I was doing exactly what I came into this industry to do. Plus, it’s about a queer teen band! What’s not to love!
My current reigning favorite queer book (although who can pick, really?) is a new adult (very new adult–not for kids!) romance that had me swooning almost from the very first page. In it, the son of the first female president of the United States falls in love with the prince of England, and, as one might imagine, hijinks ensue. This book embraces queer characters across the spectrum of identities, and across the spectrum of comfort with their identity, which is what I found most compelling. There are characters who are extremely casual about their sexuality or gender identity and have clearly lived with it for a long time, and there are characters who are just coming to realize their own queerness and are having the accompanying panic attacks/sense of wonder. This book made me laugh, this book made me cry, this book reaffirmed my faith in humanity.
Happy Pride Month, Swooners!