It’s Pride month! Over the past few decades, our ever-developing society has steered itself towards a more inclusive route. Communities, topics, and groups that were once considered underrepresented in the media are now being covered more than ever, including the LGBTQ+ community.
Pride is all about the celebration of individuals, whether they are fictional or not, so in honour of that, today we’ll be counting down 3 of my favourite books featuring characters from the LGBTQ+ community.
Disclaimer: The following books have LGBTQ+ characters but some of their main plots aren’t centred around their sexual/gender identity.
3. Alex Fierro from The Hammer of Thor, by Rick Riordan (2015)
As the second book in Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, The Hammer of Thor surprises its readers with one of the best depictions of a trans, genderfluid teenager I’ve ever seen, and even earned Riordan the 2017 Stonewall Book Award for “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience”.
Despite its middle-school target audience (14+), The Hammer of Thor introduces us to a rather mature 16-year-old Alex Fierro, an oddly charming Latinx with a complex but well-crafted disposition. While Alex’s gender identity acts as a vital addition to the plot, it does not take away from or overwhelm her idiosyncratic characteristics as an individual. Unlike a bunch of other distastefully written books out there, Riordan has been careful to not make her just another genderfluid character named Alex, but to create an Alex whose gender fluidity is a crucial part of her personality, however, does not make it all that she is.
With one of Alex’s first words to Magnus (the series’ protagonist) being, “Call me she — until and unless I tell you otherwise,” followed by Magnus’ nonchalant reaction, we realise later in the book that this encapsulates their relationship’s dynamics for what it truly is: respectful, accepting, and honestly just so cute. Diving deep into this particular interaction, Riordan allows for a non-dramatic reveal of a non-cisgender character, which essentially catalyses the normalisation of people admitting to identify as anything other than heterosexual or cisgender. All in all, it’s a clever move to break the whole stereotypical coming out narrative one might’ve expected in a book that targets 14-year-olds.
An engaging plot, no recycled cliches about past oppression, and a very, very shippable ship. What more could I ask for really? :D
2. Marin from We are Okay, by Nina LaCour (2017)
Honestly, I picked this up just because the cover looked so aesthetically pleasing, like it’d be a cute little (it was only around 240 pages) story—little did I know it’d turn out to be the exact opposite. We are Okay is a beautifully intimate story narrated through the unsure eyes of a queer Latinx woman who takes us along with her as she hesitantly faces queerness, loneliness, and grief. It is- quite frankly- one of the ugliest novels I’ve ever read, and I say that with all of the awe and respect I have in me.
Right in the depths of her winter break, we meet Marin, who’s a thousand miles away from home at a college in New York, waiting alone on campus for her best/’more-than’ friend Mabel to visit. She’s far from ready, but expects to face the tragic chain of loose ends she left untied months ago back in California, and by extension, the visit stirs up her self-suppressed romantic attraction for her best friend. LaCour’s attention to detail and evocative language makes it possible to understand what exactly Marin was going through, and the way grief and loneliness are explored in this isolated setting only made Marin’s emotional distress more clear, raw, and aching.
The amount of diversity in We are Okay is insane, we’ve got a queer woman dealing with the death of a loved one, running away from everything she’s ever know, and to top it all off, she’s in love with her best friend. Besides the unthinkable ways in which isolation was explored, the fear Marin has of admitting to loving Mabel only makes the relationship between Marin and Mabel all the more precious, fragile, and stunningly earnest. It’s the type of fear that roots out of the prospect of someone you love being disgusted with you, it’s the fear of rejection—not just of friendship, but rejection of the person you are. Illustratively depicting the anxiety of a closeted Mabel extremely well, LaCour does an admirable job of bringing this fear past the pages and seeping through us.
Without any plot twists or dramatic reveals, We are Okay is just an incredibly introspective tale of life. But that’s part of its charm, don’t you think?
1. Patroclus from The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller (2011)
I love modern reinterpretations of mythological figures, and without any doubt, this book takes the crown as one of the best retellings I’ve ever read. I could sing out praises of this novel all day, possibly amounting to 1001 pages long, but for the sake of this being an article, I’ve got to keep this short.
Miller spent 10 years writing this wonder, and boy does it show. She takes us through her incredibly well-crafted masterpiece, brimming with beautifully written prose revolving around the story of ancient Greece’s infamous hero, Achilles, from the eyes of his unconditionally loyal companion/’something-more-than-that’ Patroclus. Though unlike Miller’s inspiration, in Homer’s Iliad, the pair play the role of lovers in The Song of Achilles.
Their love and attraction for each other were never explicitly stated, but it was undeniably emanating right off the pages. With their unwavering respect for each other and an unbounded existence of something I can only identify as true love, Miller takes you on the poetical formation of an unbreakable bond. Seen through the eyes of Patroclus, the author builds their relationship eloquently as they mature, and along with that, their deepening intimacy.
Wow, a tastefully written book of love, war, and choice, oh how rare it is to find a gem like this.
For most of us, Patroclus reintroduces himself in The Song of Achilles as the kindest boy who ever lived. Sweet Patroclus was Achilles’ anchor, guiding and steadying Achilles every time it seemed as though he would drift off into an ambiguous route. With Patroclus always being there for Achilles, whether it be physically or emotionally, Miller manages an impressive feat—staying true to the original dynamics of the pair’s tale while still spinning a fresh new take on their relationship.
All told, The Song of Achilles is a poetic love story in all its glory. It’s truly beautiful beyond comparison to any other book, and it makes me feel emotions more complex than I know how to express in words.
Read this, I can swear on anything that you won’t regret it.