2021 queer books you might have missed – and why we need to talk about them

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I don’t spend enough time on bookish social media making scientific, data-driven claims, but there is something that I have noticed in the hours I have spent browsing Queer Bookstagram: the same books queer appear again and again. Don’t get me wrong: most of these books are books I’ve read and liked, or books I can’t wait to read. I am delighted that they continually appear in my Instagram feed. I am delighted that they are being noticed by the mainstream press, that they accumulate many Goodreads reviews and that they are on Best Of lists. They should grab some attention! They deserve attention! It is not one or the other.

I’m pretty deeply immersed in the queer book world at this point. Every time I come across a book on a 2021 queer book list that I do not have heard about it, I’m excited. I choose my queer reading from an extremely large pool because I spend a lot of time keeping up to date with what’s new and browsing independent press catalogs. But there are so many readers who don’t pay such attention to every queer book published. Readers rely on BookTok, Bookstagram, BookTube, Book Twitter, book blogs and newsletters, bookstore displays… the list goes on. Take a step back and think about it. How do you decide what to read next? The answer is different for everyone, but it is often a variation of “I’ve heard about this from …” Talking about books on the Internet is important. I’m talking about a book that I like, someone else decides to read it, and they talk about it too, so someone else is reading it, and someone else, and someone else… and soon this book is everywhere you look. It is a beautiful thing.

I just want more. More talk about more books. I don’t want anyone to stop screaming how much they loved this high profile homosexual romance. I just want to see all the other amazing queer romances released in the same year get some love too. Queer lit is so vast. It comes in all genres. There’s queer horror and queer sci-fi, queer humor and everything in the sun. And, best of all, there isn’t just one queer horror book released each year, or just one queer mystery! Yes, some genres still have a long way to go in terms of diversity and the number of queer books published each year. But let’s stop pretending there’s only room for one literary novel by a trans author, or a fantasy with an ace protagonist, or a lesbian thriller. It’s a pattern of scarcity rooted in racism, sexism, and homophobia, and I’m not buying it. Queer lighting is plentiful. I want to see this abundance celebrated.

Today I’m highlighting a small sample of queer books from 2021 that you might not have heard of. It’s time to fix it! Many of them are my personal favorites. These are also the books that I don’t see every time I open Instagram. They don’t have a lot of Goodreads reviews – a lot of them under 300. Time to fix that! If you are ready to scream all queer books with me, read on!

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters got a lot of attention, which is amazing! This was by far one of my favorite reads of 2021. I loved it too Summer pleasures by Jeannie Thornton. It’s another contemporary novel written by a trans woman that explores all the intricacies of trans life. Why are so few people talking about this one? It’s hilarious and tender and so observant, and it’s brilliantly structured as a series of letters written by a trans woman to her idol, a mysterious pop singer from the 1960s.

Summer pleasures is just the start, however. Have you heard of A woman’s dream by Casey Plett? Or A natural history of transition by Callum Angus? These are two absolutely breathtaking collections of short stories from transgender writers that came out last year. A natural history of transition is fantastic, while A woman’s dream is strikingly realistic. Both feature changeable and unpredictable trans characters, quirky and weird, selfish and funny characters.

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett is another queer literary novel that I see a lot on the internet. You guessed it, this is another novel that I love. I also like Love in the big city by Sang Young Park, a sad, curvy, and thoughtful novel about a gay man living in Seoul and his various romantic entanglements. And I like The spectacular by Zoe Whittall, which is such a quietly strange novel. It’s about Missy, a rock musician who grew up in a town in Vermont, and her complicated relationship with her mother, who left when Missy was a child.

Cover of the book Love in the big city

Then there is And then the gray sky by RE Katz, which is a beautiful meditation on queer grief, partnership, and art. It’s a little literary book published by a small press, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from shouting about it. And I still can’t figure out why people don’t jump up and down The wrong end of the telescope by Rabih Alameddine. I liked this one so much that as soon as I finished it I went and bought the whole Alameddine backlist. The city of arsonists by Hala Alyan is a brilliant two-generation family saga of a Syrian-Lebanese-American family, and while she seems to be receiving some well-deserved love, can we also say how strange it is?

Skye Papers cover by Jamika Ajalon

Delicious girl by Morgan Rogers is an Instagram favorite. Again, I can see why! It’s the candid and often hilarious story of a woman who gets drunk, gets married in Vegas and then falls in love with his wife. Equally hilarious and touching is Skye falling by Mia McKenzie. Skye has a habit of running away from all of her problems, but that strategy abruptly stops working when 12-year-old Vicky, her daughter via egg donation, shows up. Skye Papers by Jamika Ajalon is another queer novel about being young and how complicated it can be to figure things out. Like Delicious girl, it brilliantly captures the feeling of being adrift in the world and in your life.

In the field of speculation, A psalm for the wild-built by Becky Chambers is the one that pops up all over my Instagram feed all the time. I understand why – this was another 2021 favorite for me. But let’s take a minute to appreciate how much queer speculative fiction has been published in the past year! I loved that of Nino Cipri Fault, the whimsical and heartwarming sequel to Finna. Defekt is about a loyal employee of the IKEA LitenVärld-style furniture store who, during an overnight inventory change, discovers that there is much more to his world – and his life – than there is. thought so. Family found! Vengeful furniture! Tender romance and fierce friendship! I need us all to scream about this one.

shadow life cover

I tried on my own to get everyone I know to read Shadow life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu, a graphic novel about a badass bisexual elder who fights death with a void. I mean, do I really need to tell you something else about this one? Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Future feeling from Joss Lake, a speculative novel about a trans dog walker who stumbles on an adventure in a mysterious dimension. And I’m just as excited by In the vigilant city by S. Qiouyi Lu, another queer fantasy novel that I haven’t seen a lot of people talk about.

I don’t want to stop there, but I suspect I have already gone on too long. And these are just a few of the queer books of 2021 that I have personally loved, or can’t wait to read. I didn’t even get into YA, or non-fiction, or romance. Fortunately, this isn’t the only place you can find some fantastic and lesser-known queer books. You can take this quiz to get a queer rookie under the radar! Here’s a great list of queer books under the radar by authors of color. This list of queer releases from June of last year features trending books and lesser-known gems! And our The Best Books You’ve Never Heard of series also has some great weird choices.


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