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19 Queer Books About Losing a Parent

This time of year can be especially hard for folks who have lost a parent. The death of a parent can be grieved in so many different ways, and for queer and trans people in particular, there can often be additional layers of complications to this experience. The books below make it clear there is no one way to process the death of a parent or rebuild a life after. The characters and real people below all confront and work through — and don’t work through! — loss in their own ways, but there’s universality in their specificity. The books below are organized into three sections — books about losing a mother, losing a father, and losing both parents — and cover the genre spectrum, including literary fiction, memoir, poetry, thriller, YA, and even romance. In some of these books, the death of a parent is like a haunting, not necessarily the central plot or story of the book but a significant emotional presence throughout. Others deal with the death of a parent more directly, making it the primary narrative. The list is not exhaustive, so please shout out any of your favorite queer books about losing a parent in the comments.


Queer Books About Losing a Mother

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart

Yes, this is a novel about a college freshman embarking on an affair with a much older woman, but the death of protagonist Mallory’s mother haunts the story subtly in the background. Sex and grief often go hand in hand, and We Do What We Do in the Dark knows this well.


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

The fourth section of Saeed Jones’ much-accoladed memoir details the pain and complex emotional journey of losing his mother and dealing with the aftermath of that loss. Saeed is a poet, and you know it when reading his nonfiction work. Here you’ll find a stunning portrayal of parent loss.


Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko

Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko

Written by pop star Hayley Kiyoko and inspired by her early hit of the same name, Girls Like Girls follows closeted queer teenager Coley in the aftermath of the death of her mother when she’s forced to move to rural Oregon.


True Love and Other Impossible Odds by Christina Li

True Love and Other Impossible Odds by Christina Li 

Protagonist Grace Tang loses her mother just before her freshman year of college in this YA romance. Grace subsequently tries to hack love by creating an algorithm for relationships but quickly learns the heart isn’t so easily programmed, growing increasingly closer to her coworker Julia. The book jumps between this time in Grace’s life and the time when her mother was still alive.


Find Me by Rosie O’Donnell

Find Me by Rosie O'Donnell

Though not always at the forefront of her memoir, Rosie O’Donnell grapples with the death of her mother when she was a young girl throughout Find Me.


Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

This poetry collection is one of the most poignant literary explorations of the concept of exploring deep personal loss aside bigger communal loss — both rendered intimately on the page by Ocean Vuong and covering his grief about the death of his mother as well as societal grief.


Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson

Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson

Among the many topics of the essays in Mara Wilson’s memoir are ruminations on the significance of losing her mother at an early age.


Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

If you’re looking for a book about losing a mother and can only get one at this time, you should get this one. This memoir really is so situated in the heartache of motherloss and all the messy feelings it unearths. It will have you crying in just about any grocery store.


Queer Books About Losing a Father

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

I am married to the author of this novel about a lesbian in Florida who takes over her father’s taxidermy business after he commits suicide, but believe me when I say its explorations of death and grief are profound. The book injects humor into unexpected places and turns taxidermy into a gorgeous metaphor for how we preserve, reconstruct, honor, and transform the dead.


Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

A true classic in the gay books about dead parents canon, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a must-read for anyone who has experienced significant loss of any kind. The graphic memoir tracks Bechdel discovering in college that her father is also gay and closeted. A few weeks after she realizes this, he dies from what appears to be suicide.


Death Valley by Melissa Broder

Death Valley by Melissa Broder

This brilliant novel and playful work of autofiction by Melissa Broder isn’t about a father who has died but rather a father who is dying. The protagonist absconds to the desert to process her frustrating feeling of limbo and grief — and to work on a novel about grief — and encounters a mystical cactus that points her not toward answers so much as more questions. Her father has been in the ICU for an extended period of time following a bad accident, and the book also contends with chronic illness through the protagonist’s husband. It’s a short, gripping book that’s easy to get lost in.


City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter

City of Laughter by Temim Fruchter

I cannot stop recommending this novel, which is about four generations of Jewish women in the same family and the silences they maintain and run up against. It’s also steeped in the grief of the queer protagonist, who has just lost her father with whom she shared a close kinship, forcing her to reckon with her fractured relationship with her mother.


Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan by June Jordan

Directed by Desire by June Jordan

Obviously this compendium touches on a lot more than parental loss, but poems about her mother’s suicide crop up from time to time in June Jordan’s body of work. You can get a taste of one online, with “Ghaflah,” one of the many poems featured in Directed by Desire.


Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Māhealani Madden

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

This is one of my favorite memoirs of the past five years and, honestly, of all time. In it, T Kira Māhealani Madden grapples with all sorts of complexities in parent-child dynamics, including addiction. It’s a book about family in many configurations, and it’s guided by the grief of losing her father.


Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz

Lost & Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz

This award-winning memoir follows Kathryn Schulz as she falls in love with her wife, with whom she starts building a life together. But her life is upended when her father goes into a hospital for a heart condition and dies unexpectedly. The book contends with the fraught intersections of falling in love and falling into deep grief.


Queer Books About Losing Both Parents

When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar

When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar

Fatimah Asghar’s novel follows orphaned siblings Kausar, Aisha, and Noreen as they raise themselves and each other following their parents’ deaths. Their stories are told in gorgeous lyrical prose.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

This beloved coming-of-age novel follows young queer girl Cam in Miles City, Montana, who has to move in with her conservative aunt and grandmother after her parents die in a car crash. The book deals with queer coming of age in a small town, conversion therapy, intense young crushes, and more.


Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey

In this deeply disturbing horror novel, Vera returns to her childhood home to say her goodbyes to her mother who is dying, which is made complicated by the fact that Vera and her mother have long been estranged. Here, Vera also confronts memories of her now-deceased father, who was a notorious serial killer. So, yes, let’s just say parental loss in this book is quite complicated.


Family Meal by Bryan Washington

Family Meal by Bryan Washington

In a strange coincidence, this novel actually also involves a queer protagonist named Cam whose parents died in a car crash when he was young. The Cam of Family Meal though is an adult man, who moves back to his hometown of Houston following the tragic loss of his lover Kai, whose ghost gently haunts Cam. His return to Houston leads Cam back to his childhood friend TJ, whose family took him in after his parents died.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 847 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you for this list! Do you have any recommendations for books dealing with the loss of homophobic family? They’re alive and well, they just hate you now etc. It’s a real specific kind of loss and I haven’t found much material about it – I’d appreciate anyone’s ideas.

  2. Everyone who clicked on this may also enjoy the podcast Don’t Tell The Babysitter Mom’s Dead– hosted by Buzzfeed Lesbian Brittany Ashley and featuring many queer guests such as Mara Wilson. It’s defunct now but what does exist is really incredible.

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