These top LGBT books, covering fiction and nonfiction, brush on topics relevant to all walks of life: identity, morality, social justice, and self-acceptance. Prepare to come face to face with how far our society has come—and how far we have yet to go.
Topic: Family life and relationships
Consenting Adult, by Laura Z. Hobson
Same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states in 2015, but in the closeted climate of the 1960s, Hobson’s tale of a mother struggling to understand and accept her son’s homosexuality pushed the conversation forward.
The Lord Won’t Mind, by Gordon Merrick
Entering college in the late 1930s, Charlie just has to find a nice girl, get married, and have a few kids. Instead, he meets Peter Martin, who is everything that Charlie has ever wanted, and Charlie is forced to choose between two options: complying with the expectations of society and family, or following the call of true love. A timeless read, this classic gay love story spent 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list more than 40 years ago.
The Charioteer, by Mary Renault
Set in World War II England, the love triangle connects a wounded soldier torn between his love for a younger conscientious objector and an older, experienced schoolmate. This novel has been called one of the foundation stones of gay literary fiction, ranking alongside James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar.
Topic: Bullying and hate crimes
The Drowning of Stephan Jones, Bette Greene
We wish stories of homophobia had no basis in truth, but this senseless act of violence was based on real events. Though it’s been decades since the book was written, this profoundly moving story continues to force the reader to confront the ill effects of bullying, hate crimes, and groupthink.
Shine, by Lauren Myracle
Sixteen-year-old Cat’s best friend is victimized by a hate crime, and she wants to find out who committed it. This is a haunting mystery that turns a small Southern town on its head and illustrates the difficulty of defying your community to seek what’s right.
Topic: Memoirs and personal discovery
Becoming a Man, by Paul Monette
At the core of this memoir is a classic coming-of-age story. Monette grew up all-American, Catholic, smart, successful … and afraid to be who he really was — gay. It was the 1950s and being a homosexual was not in the least bit acceptable. Monette kept his secret throughout his adolescence for fear of ridicule and rejection. His journey to adulthood and to self-acceptance is filled with grace and honesty. It’s an intimate portrait of a young man’s struggle with his own desires that is witty, humorous, and deeply moving.
A Boy’s Own Story, by Edmund White
Critically lauded upon its initial publication in 1982 for its pioneering depiction of homosexuality, A Boy’s Own Story is a moving tale about coming-of-age in midcentury America. With searing clarity and unabashed wit, Edmund White’s unnamed protagonist yearns for what he knows to be shameful. Looking back on his experiences, the narrator notes, “I see now that what I wanted was to be loved by men and to love them back but not to be a homosexual.” This trailblazing autobiographical story of one boy’s youth is a moving, tender, and heartbreaking portrait of what it means to grow up.
Topic: Women’s perspectives
Desert of the Heart, by Jane Rule
Rule’s first novel — now a classic of gay and lesbian literature — established her as a foremost writer of the vagaries and yearnings of the female heart. This is a novel that dares to ask whether love between two women can last. (It also has one of our favorite opening lines: “Conventions, like clichés, have a way of surviving their own usefulness. They are then excused or defended as the idioms of living.”)
Loving Her, by Ann Allen Shockley
This is a groundbreaking novel of two very different women, one black and one white, and a love threatened by prejudice, rage, and violence. A struggling African American musician, Renay is married to a violent, abusive alcoholic. While performing at an upscale supper club, she meets Terry Bluvard. Beautiful, wealthy, and white, Terry awakens feelings that the talented black pianist never realized she possessed—and before long, Renay moves into Terry’s world of luxury and privilege. Yet the storm clouds of her previous life still threaten, and Terry’s love alone may not be enough to protect Renay.
Beyond the Pale, by Elana Dykewomon
Set in Russia and New York during the early 20th century, Beyond the Pale follows the lives of two women born in a Russian-Jewish settlement who immigrate to New York’s Lower East Side. Touching on the hallmarks of the Progressive Era—the Women’s Trade Union League, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, anarchist and socialist movements, women’s suffrage, anti-Semitism—Dykewomon’s Beyond the Pale is a richly detailed and moving story, offering a glimpse into a world that is often overlooked.