Graphic by Ria Kotak
1) “The Illuminae Files” by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
“The Illuminae Files” is a science fiction trilogy co-written by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and illustrated by Marie Lu. It is set in the 26th century and tells the story of a corrupt corporation that attacks a small planet in the hopes of taking over its illegal mining business. When their planetary assault fails and a few ships of civilians escape, the corporation decides it must destroy all evidence of its failed attack and sets off in pursuit of the fleeing civilians. Add to this the drama of two high-school students, who thought their break-up was going to be the hardest part of their day, and this series has both high stakes and comic relief.
There is one (1) man in the background whose husband is mentioned, and technically there’s an AI system that is non-binary (using it/its pronouns), but otherwise, nothing in this book is particularly gay. Still, the story is fast-paced and compelling, albeit quite terrifying, and it is told in a non-traditional format. Each book imitates a dossier of files relevant to the case being made against the corrupt corporation, combining illustrations of spaceship schematics, interview transcripts, and email messages. It is definitely one of my favorite series!
2) “Interview With A Vampire” by Anne Rice
“Interview With A Vampire” by Anne Rice is a gothic vampire story following the life of Louis, a human-turned-vampire. Louis recounts his life as both a human and a vampire to an unnamed human interviewer, referred to as “the boy.” It serves as a cautionary tale for vampirism, with themes of immortality, fears of change, morality, and the value of life itself.
The book isn’t explicitly gay. However, there is a subtext that suggests otherwise. When Louis describes his male counterparts, he often describes them with such passion and conviction that one could write whole essays about Louis’ sexuality and homoeroticism. The book is also littered with motifs of love and queerness, from the otherness and morality of vampires. We, as queer people, often have to come to terms with our otherness and morality the same way as the vampires in “Interview With A Vampire.”
Another thing that I should mention is the family dynamic between Louis, Lestat, and Claudia. How does it not scream gay that two men who share eternity together raise a vampire child? If you’re into vampires, darkness, and good gothic shit, “Interview With A Vampire” is a good book for you.
3) “The Diviners” by Libba Bray
Set in 1920s New York City, “The Diviners” follows Evie O’Neill, a spunky young flapper girl, and her friends as they solve a mystical murder. Evie’s supernatural abilities as a “diviner” allow her to uncover secrets about an object’s owner by holding them, bringing her closer to the killer’s identity than anyone else could have gotten. She discovers more people with similarly supernatural abilities, and together, they work to defeat the spirit serial killer.
The aesthetic setting of the novel lends itself well to the occult-y, “creepy crawly” tones Bray incorporates. It combines the glitz and glamour of the era with a dark look at the underbelly of the city. The final book of the series just came out in February of 2020, so I look forward to reading the conclusion of Evie’s story, with all the teenage love, angst, and supernatural excitement that entails!
4) “Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins
Who doesn’t love a wacky heterosexual romance story every now and again? “Anna and the French Kiss” is a YA novel about a high school student named Anna whose father is a famous romance author, though she absolutely detests him and his writing. He decides to send his daughter to finish high school in France, just because he can, and Anna is upset that she has no say in the matter. So, with a grudge against her father and absolutely no background in French, Anna moves into an American boarding school in Paris. While there, she meets many fun characters, including her love interest, the dashing Étienne St. Clair. The story follows Anna’s first year in Paris, as she makes friends and struggles to feel at home in a new city.
Stephanie Perkins has written two other novels that form a quasi-trilogy: “Lola and the Boy Next Door” and “Isla and the Happily Ever After.” Both take place in the same universe as “Anna and the French Kiss,” with Anna appearing as a side character, along with a few of her friends from Paris. In my opinion, the first book is the best, but all three are upbeat and entertaining, while the last two have faint seasonings of gay. The second novel’s protagonist, Lola, has two dads, and the third book’s hero, Isla, has a bisexual sister.
5) “Home Fire” by Kamila Shamsie
A bit of a tonal shift from the previous recommendations, the British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie’s “Home Fire” is a retelling of the classic play “Antigone” with a modern-day British-Muslim family. The novel follows siblings Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz Pasha (corresponding to Sophocles’ Ismene, Antigone, and Polynices, respectively). Aided by Eammon Lone (Haemon), son of British Home Secretary Karamat (King Creon), the family navigates the politics of “Britishness” and cultural and religious Muslim identity.
If you’re familiar with the Sophocles text, you can imagine how this book generally plays out. Even with that knowledge, Shamsie engages readers in a passionate dialogue that is true to the original themes of loyalty, family, and obeying the laws versus obeying one’s moral integrity. The characters face opposition on both ends, from Islamophobic encounters and policies to discord and betrayal amongst the family.
Shamsie’s discussions of assimilation and acculturation don’t shy away from struggles Muslims in the UK face, and though the novel is not explicitly queer, there’s a brief moment of gay content: a male childhood friend of Parvaiz’s helps Aneeka sneak onto a flight, and when asked why, he admits to having had a crush on Parvaiz. “Home Fire” is graphic and heartbreaking, but its deeply poetic style and political message stuck with me, and is especially relevant in the Brexit era.