Graphic by Carmen Ngo
1. “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Yes, this is a sad book. No, it does not get a happy resolution. Just glancing at the title, I bet you can guess what happens at the end. My first thought when I saw this title recommended to me for Pride Month was, “It figures a gay book would end this way.” But I disregarded this thought and gave it a shot anyway — partially because the cover was so aesthetically appealing — and I was surprised by how much I liked it and how hopeful it made me, despite its obviously morbid tone. It is about a world practically identical to our own, except for one aspect: There is a service called Death-Cast, which somehow knows who will die on any given date. Employees at Death-Cast receive a list every day just after midnight and spend the first few hours of the early morning phoning people to let them know they have less than twenty-four hours to live. Naturally, the two main characters, both in their late teens, receive this call, and circumstances drive them together for their last day on Earth. Cue 368 pages of dual protagonists Matteo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio struggling to cope with their impending loss, all the while learning what really makes a life worth living. Although I am sick of seeing so many dead queer characters, the nature of this story’s conflict requires a tragic ending. With this is mind, I say you may as well make the characters queer! (One is gay, the other is bisexual, and both grew on me like ivy throughout the course of the book.)
2. “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee
Several friends have already complained to me about the cover of this book, so I cannot stress this enough: Do not let this book’s cover deter you from reading it! It was one of the best books I read this summer, queer or otherwise. Set in 18th century Europe, this story revolves around bisexual disaster Henry Montague and his continental tour. Joining him are his best friend — with whom he is hopelessly in love — and his little sister — who recently got a spin-off, which I have yet to read, but which supposedly explores her asexuality. I thought it was written incredibly well, with even pacing, beautiful imagery, and memorable characters. This book brings up queerness, racism, and stigmatization of people with mental illnesses, topics which are seldom represented accurately in period pieces. It is also — for me, at least — a predominantly happy book. People get hurt along the way, yes, but no one dies, and they all live happily ever after — which is both a cliché and somewhat of a generalization, though the sentiment remains the same. If there is a single book on this list I would recommend above all the others, it is this one. Also, it has a memorable name that allows for the companion novel to be called “The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.” Who wouldn’t want to read that?
3. “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” by Rick Riordan
For those of y’all who grew up reading “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” this series is just like that one, with lots of jokes and wacky chapter titles — only much, much gayer. While still advertised as a children’s book, it differs from “Percy Jackson” by being about Norse, rather than Greek, gods. It also comes in a much more compact trilogy, which features Loki as the main villain and the implicitly queer Magnus Chase as its hero, whose love interest is the iconic Alex Fierro. Alex, who is introduced at the beginning of the second book, is genderfluid and uses either she/her or he/him pronouns, often declaring a set of pronouns upon entering a room. As a non-binary reader, Alex’s confidence is, quite frankly, inspiring, and I nearly dropped the book several times during scenes in which gender identity is openly discussed. While I couldn’t always relate to Alex’s emotions or her strong-willed demeanor, I still deeply appreciate her presence in this series. I always looked forward to her chapters, and I got a little happier each time I remembered readers are likely learning about gender fluidity for the first time by meeting Alex. In addition to its unique original characters, this series features a quick and compelling narrative, as well as cameos by Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase, familiar faces from the original series, to make for an overwhelmingly wonderful read. And let’s be honest: We all need a bit of comic relief in our lives.
4. “Our Dark Duet” by Victoria Schwab
The second and final installment of the Monsters of Verity series, “Our Dark Duet” tells the story of a dystopian world in which bad actions have literal shadows, in the form of monsters that come to life in the wake of horrific events. The pettier the crime, the more mindless the monster; but for large-scale atrocities, the creatures seem almost human — take, for instance, one of the series’ two main protagonists, August Flynn. Since it first appeared to me as a classic cishet book, I lost the ability to read for a hot minute after the author introduced a character who uses they/them pronouns. Their name is Soro, and although they aren’t one of the major protagonists, they still get a fair amount of screen time — though I would have loved to see even more of them. They’re an enigmatic character with gray morality, and like August, they are the most human of the creatures generated by violent acts. Significantly, their disidentification with either binary gender does not stem from their status as a monster; rather, there are four such creatures in the book, and Soro is the only non-binary one. For me, this is an important distinction, because if they were non-binary just because they’re a monster, I would probably not count this as true representation. In addition to Soro, there are a few minor side characters who are explicitly not straight, and I was disappointed they didn’t do more in the story — but at least their distance from the protagonists kept them out of harm’s way, in a series where much of the cast doesn’t get a happy ending.
5. “Let’s Talk About Love” by Claire Kann
Last but not least, “Let’s Talk About Love” is a Young Adult (YA) novel about Alice, a college student struggling with life, as college students are wont to do. This piece of realistic fiction delves into something books rarely explore: the complexities of a biromantic asexual identity. In essence, it is a love story, but more than that, it is a life story, introducing genuine characters and providing readers with several hours of light, easy reading. There are some dramatic twists and turns, but, for the most part, it is a feel-good novel, and it gives voice to an underrepresented demographic of readers. For more information about this book, feel free to check out a more in-depth book review I wrote earlier this year!