This list was originally compiled in 2018, inspired by Book Riot’s the Best Books Set In Every State, and has been updated in 2022 to contain even more books than before! We especially wanted to round out those states where I’d struggled to find books last time, and although there were exceptions, many states remained formidable challenges, particularly Wyoming and South Dakota!
Some items of note: an overwhelming chunk of our literature is set in New York and California. This is true about literature in general but especially for us, as New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles have been queer refuges for decades, thus making us even more likely than the average author to set our stories there. After taking care of the iconic/classic novels/memoirs for those states, there was little room left for hundreds of incredible books that would’ve absolutely made the list had they been set anywhere else at all.
I attempted to provide a diverse array of experiences, especially in states where I had lots of books to choose from, and also to pick books that had a distinct sense of place.
Table of contents
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg (1987)
The film adaptation tragically excluded an explicit acknowledgment of the romantic relationship between Idgie, an unrepentant tomboy of Whistle Stop, Alabama; and Ruth Jamison, who comes to town to teach at the local Vacation Bible School. This remains an eternal classic of lesbian literature.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler, by Casey McQuiston (2022)
Chloe’s Moms move her from SoCal to Alabama for high school and she’s spent four uneasy years at the puritanical Willowgrove Christian Academy with one goal in mind: winning valedictorian. Her competition: principal’s daugher and noted prom queen Shara Wheeler. Then, a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and then vanishes altogether, leaving behind a number of former kissing partners and a bunch of cryptic notes. Now they’ve gotta play detective to figure out what happened to Shara and get her back for graduation.
The One You Want to Marry (And Other Identities I’ve Had): A Memoir, by Sophie Santos (2021)
This debut memoir from one of comedy’s most exciting emerging voices traces Santos, the only child of a Filipino-Spanish US Army officer and a “spitfire nurse” stuck in 99.6% white communities, through the “awkward, cringeworthy, hilarious, and longest possible journey of coming of age and into her own.” Funny, brutally honest and heartwarming, this memoir sees Santos transform from a tomboy misfit into a beauty pageant contestant and sorority girl before finding her voice on YouTube hosting “The Lesbian Agenda.”
Grief Map, by Sarah Hahn Campbell (2017)
Grief Map charts the incandescence of profound loss, the cartography of the heart, all the messy stuff we try to make clean in the aftermath of unspeakable loss. Sarah left Lia behind in the small Alaskan town where they’d made a life together — she had to, to protect her daughter — but never stopped loving her. She’s in Colorado when she learns Lia has died, and thus is plunged into a dark time machine of grief/memory.The result is“part memoir, part poetry, part elegy.”
The Dead Go to Seattle, by Vivian Faith Prescott
Prescott is a fifth-generation Alaskan, born and raised in Southeastern Alaska, and a member of the T’akdeintaan clan. These 43 interconnected stories, told by a Native American woman kicked out of her home for being gay to a researcher from the Smithsonian with a time machine, are a true evocation of the state she loves so dearly and the struggles she has with it: colonialism, homophobia and erasure.
Borealis, by Aisha Sabatini Sloan (2021)
This 144-page essay is “a shapeshifting logbook of Sloan’s experiences moving through the Alaskan outdoors,” looking at shorelines, mountains, Black fellow travelers, open spaces, and the web of queer relationships that connect her to a quaint Alaskan town. She “complicates tropes of Alaska to suggest that the excitement, exploration, and possibility of myth-making can also be twinned by isolation, anxiety, and boredom.”
Bright Lights of Summer, by Lynn Ames (2014)
As World War II rages overseas, 16-year old Theodora “Dizzy” Hosler joins the World Champion Phoenix Ramblers softball team and meets Frannie, who shares her passion for the game and also for other women. Think “A League of Their Own” if it had dared to go where we went with it in our heads.
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School, by Sonora Reyes (2022)
After being outed by her crush and ex-best friend, queer Mexican-American sixteen-year-old Yamilet Flores transfers to a mostly white, very rich Catholic school and immediately falls for Bo, the only openly queer girl at school. But Yami can’t risk losing it all again (or her Mom finding out). So she’s gotta ask herself WWSGD: What would a straight girl do?
Cottonmouths: A Novel, by Kelly J Ford (2017)
After failing out of college, Emily returns to her small Arkansas hometown and falls back in with Jody, her ex-best-friend and first crush — who has, in Emily’s absence, both had a child and built a meth lab in her backyard. It’s a tiny corner of the Ozarks, a place run on gossip and good Christian values, where “an ache born in the woods across the creek” can get you involved with a meth business that seems like a means to an end until nothing means anything anymore.
Coal to Diamonds: A Memoir, by Beth Ditto (2012)
Ditto stood out growing up in Judsonia, Arkansas — “a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school” — she was a fat, pro-choice, “sexually confused” singer with an eighties perm, Kool Aid hair and five siblings with whom she was often left to fend for themselves. This memoir follows her from those early years to her punk family in high school before her ultimate decamping to Olympia, Washington, to join a community that would eventually be her forever home.
San Francisco & Northern California
Valencia, by Michelle Tea (2000)
Tea’s exuberant fictionalized memoir is an iconic ’90s time capsule of a young dyke finger-fucking, writing, performing and falling in love all over San Francisco’s Mission District — back when twentysomething working-class artists could, you know, afford to live there. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Fiction.
Curious Wine, by Katherine V. Forrest (1983)
Considered a seminal classic of lesbian literature, Forrest’s first novel puts six women with a lot of feelings in a picturesque Lake Tahoe cabin, where two fall for each other in a story that was pretty remarkable for its era, if a little cheesy.
Hoochie Mama: The Other White Meat, by Erica Lopez (2001)
Tomato “Mad Dog” Rodriguez returns to the Mission from jail (she kidnapped her ex-girlfriend for just a few minutes) to find gentrification in full swing in the final book of the Trilogy of Tomatoes series. Lopez keenly evokes late ’90s/early 2000s San Francisco through the eyes of a queer Latinx woman with a voice entirely her own.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Humor and Lesbian Fiction.
The IHOP Papers, by Ali Liebegott (2007)
Girl flees her homophobic family and her small town for San Francisco, then still a reliable dyke mecca, and learns how to live and love while waiting tables in a story that also approaches self-harm, polyamory, poetry, addiction, recovery, dyke drama, and falling in love. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian General Fiction, Stonewall Literature Award Nominee
Life Is Wonderful, People Are Terrific, by Meliza Banales (2015)
18-year-old Missy Fuego is the first in her family to leave home when she heads off to a prestigious hippie school in Santa Cruz and becomes a stripper to pay her tuition in this energetic tale of”being young, drunk, punk and Xicana in Northern California in the ’90s.”
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo (2021)
San Francisco in 1954 isn’t a safe place for a Chinese-American seventeen-year-old like Lily Hu to fall in love with another girl, but after meeting Kathleen Miller beneath the flashing neon sign of the Telegraph Club lesbian bar, a world opens up to her and there’s no turning back. Winner of the National Book Award, Stonewall Book Award and Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.
Los Angeles & Southern California
Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour (2012)
Blissful, sun-soaked, California summer love: a proficient and accomplished young set designer in Hollywood finds the girl of her dreams while on the hunt for clues about the hidden life of a movie icon whose letter she found at an estate sale.
The First Bad Man, by Miranda July (2014)
Delightfully weird and entirely original, the queerness in bisexual artist/writer July’s first novel comes in a little later as an intimacy develops between Cheryl, who works from home making self-defense videos, and Clee, her foisted-upon houseguest. July has a way of creating bubbles of regimented, depressive solitude within massive hyper-social cities, giving voice to a human cut off from emotional community but still dutifully visiting her color doctor and developing soothing internal routines. As Lauren Groff wrote in The New York Times, “This is a book that is painfully alive.”Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction.
The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles), by Amy Spalding (2018)
17-year-old Abby’s been content to run her plus-size fashion blog and play sidekick to her hetero friends and their ambitious romances until she meets Jordi, a fellow intern at Jordi’s fave L.A. boutique. “You’ll want to go shopping with Abby,” writes author Gretchen Murphy of the experience of reading this book. “You’ll obsessively need to sample every cheeseburger in town. You might even plan a foodie-fashion-fun times vacation in L.A.”
And Playing the Role of Herself, by KE Lane (2005)
A pure, delicious, lesbian romance snack — a closeted lesbian actress falls for her co-star, who Crystal describes as a “tall, husky-voiced lady with an angular face and slightly cleft chin who is reminiscent of every actress who has ever starred inLaw & Order.” Cheesy, but beloved.Winner of the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Ann Bannon Award.
Southland, by Nina Revoyr (2003)
This ambitious, gritty crime novel tackles a great expanse of time with a Japanese-American lesbian law student drawn home after the sudden death of her grandfather, who she learns was keeping a significant a secret all his life about four African-American boys found frozen to death in his grocery store during the Watts Riots of 1965. Lauded for its exposition of Los Angeles history and its compelling characters throughout. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Fiction, Stonewall Literature Award Nominee
Mean, by Myriam Gurba (2017)
“Her brain starts in one place and ends up across the street and you are chasing her, laughing, suddenly unafraid of cars,” writes Aisha of the queer mixed-race Chicana narrating this biting, fresh, darkly rollicking mash-up of true crime, memoir and ghost story. Mean covers a lot of ground — Southern and Northern California, for starters, and also surviving sexual violence, misogyny, homophobia and a very small town.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for LGBTQ Non-Fiction.
Excavation, by Wendy C Ortiz (2014)
Wendy is already struggling with an abusive family and the unknown folds of her own sexuality and sexual orientation; her eighth grade teacher irrevocably alters her ability to do either when, under the guise of encouraging her writing, he begins a relationship with her. But Oritz doesn’t consider herself a victim, even as she “digs into her past so as to fight her demons, revealing with utter honesty and unrestrained prose the vicious details of her ordeal.” Through enduring details, “a crystallized moment in time emerges: Los Angeles in the 1980s.”
Girl Walking Backwards, by Bett Williams (1998)
Syke’s story isn’t inspirational or even politically correct; it’s just explicitly authentic, evading sensationalism and preachiness. She’s just a concupiscent teenage girl obsessed with this punk goth cutter named Jessica and persistently dodging her Mom’s obsession with the Santa Barbara New Age scene and the healers and hypnotists she’s convinced would cure Skye of her bisexuality. Skye’s high school story isn’t defined by cliques or academics or athletics, but the feeling of the thing: when just going to somebody’s house felt like a potentially life-changing adventure and everybody seemed cooler than you.
Tell Me What You Like: An Alison Kaine Mystery, by Kate Allen (1993)
A lesbian cop walks into a Denver bar, gets herself a leather-dyke dominatrix girlfriend who reluctantly shows her the S/M ropes and eventually investigates a string of lesbian murders. There’s just one problem: every victim just so happens to have been a client of her girlfriend’s. A hot little mystery peppered with wry observations on lesbian subcultures — and delightfully kinky sex.
Sadie, by Courtney Summers (2018)
This riveting New York Times bestseller follows Sadie, a queer kid living in poverty in a rural Colorado trailer park with her addict mother, who’s been raising her sister alone in their isolated small town until that sister turns up dead. When an aspiring podcaster picks up the case Sadie’s determined to solve, things really pick up and you can’t put it down.
Patience & Sarah: A Pioneering Love Story, by Isabel Miller (1969)
Based on the true story of painter Mary Ann Wilson and her “companion” Miss Brundage, this tender story finds wealthy Patience White and boyish Sarah Dowling leaving their homes to buy a farm together in Connecticut. Author Alma Routsong sold the book on street corners and at Daughters of Bilitis meetings before assuming a pseudonym and finding a real publisher.Winner of the American Library Association’s First Stonewall Book Award.
Pages For You, by Sylvia Brownrigg (2001)
Seventeen-year-old Flannery Jansen is new to everything around her in her first year at Yale, including her unexpected desire for a brilliant older woman ready to teach her everything —Baudelaire, lipstick colors, or how to travel with a lover — and Flannery is eager to learn. It’s an early classic of lesbian YA. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Fiction
As I Lay Frying — a Rehoboth Beach Memoir, by Fay Jacobs (2004)
Fay Jacobs and her girlfriend Bonnie fell in love with the seaside town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, a longtime gay and lesbian vacation enclave, at first sight. The “sometimes provocative, sometimes political, occasionally heartwarming, and always hilarious” essays collected in this book trace their journey from visitors to residents, and everybody they met along the way.
Confined Desires, by Katherine McIntyre (2021)
Sky’s crush on her best friend Mia seemed doomed to be eternally unrequited — until Mia moves home after a breakup and the pandemic hits and they’re quarantined together. After seven years apart, sparks are flying as attraction grows in new and unexpected places.
Down to the Bone, by Mayra Lazara Dole (2012)
“Miami is the lushly portrayed setting for this Cuban community,” writes the Kirkus Reviewof this coming-of-age novel centered on a lesbian who has her life ripped out from under her after a nun discovers love letters between her and her girlfriend, getting both of them expelled and her girlfriend shipped off to Puerto Rico to marry a boy andre-frame her relationship with Laura as a brief foray into sin. Laura reels and rebuilds, assembling chosen family in this sexy, sometimes clumsily written but consistently engaging story.
Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett (2019)
After her father’s suicide, Jessa-Lynn Morton has stepped up to manage his declining taxidermy business while her family crumbles around her. Her mother’s making secret scandalous taxidermy art and the only woman she’s ever loved, Brynn, chose to marry and have a kid with her brother Milo before walking out on all of them. Jessa’s forced to learn who these people really are and where she fits in in this wry, funny debut novel seeped in the grit and swamp of its Florida setting. Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction
Fiebre Tropical, by Julián Delgado Lopera (2021)
Fifteen-year old Francisca is uprooted from the life she loved in Bogotá, Colombia into a lonely Miami existence that gets even tougher when her Mom gets swept up into a very weird local evangelical church. But that’s where Francisca meets Carmen, the opinionated and magnetic preacher’s daughter, who Francisca is increasingly drawn to as her home life — and the mental health of her mother and grandmother — hurtle into an unstoppable decline. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Fiction
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, by T Kira Māhealani Madden (2019)
This brilliant coming-of-age memoir (one of my favorites of all time!) by acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden wrestles with desire, family and belonging through Madden’s life as a queer biracial teenager growing up in Boca Raton, Florida, “a place where she found cultlike privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight.” Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Memoir
Ordinary Girls, by Jaquira Díaz
Diaz writes “fiercely and eloquently of her challenging girlhood and triumphant coming of age” in this memoir describing a childhood lived in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, dealing with a splintering family, her mother’s mental illness, her sexual identity and her community’s struggle with Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism. Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Memoir
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (1982)
The American classic set in rural Georgia is a raw emotional account of pain, passion and survival told by Celie, who seizes your whole heart with letters that trace her coming of age, falling in love for the first time and breaking free.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, by Jaye Robin Brown (2016)
An out-and-proud lesbian is stuffed back into the closet when her family moves from Atlanta to the conservative Rome, Georgia; but how can she lay low when she meets her new friend’s sister, Mary, and yearns for so much more than she can say?
The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghost, by Tiya Miles (2015)
Miles, an accomplished scholar of Native American and African-American histories, mines a little-known chapter of this country’s past — slaveholding by Southern Cherokees — for her first work of fiction, which sees a biracial magazine writer, an African-American debutante and a “Twizzler-chewing Converse-clad Cherokee-Creek” queer heroine in the present day looking backwards to reconcile the now at a secret-laden historical site in Chatsworth, Georgia.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction.
Odd One Out, by Nic Stone (2018)
Lauded for its deft handling of race and sexuality and authentic adolescent feelings, Odd One Out presents three teenagers in Decatur, Georgia — two girls and one guy — each telling their own story in their own voice, each hung up on one or both of the others. The latest celebrated debut from (bisexual!) New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin.
Name Me Nobody, by Lois-Ann Yamanaka (2000)
You never doubt the authenticity of 13-year-old Emi-Lou’s voice as she grapples with pre-teen shit like feeling ostracized, liking girls, and dreaming of a family that deserves the love she has to give. A reviewer writes, “It’s often hard for people to capture Hawaii pidgin properly without making it sound like some gratuitous affectation, but Yamanaka’s uncanny ability to create and re-create the streams of language that I [grew up in] leads me right back to the world I knew, but as seen through the dazzling screen of her limitless imagination and heart.”Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Children’s/Young Adult Fiction.
Dyke (geology), by sabrina imbler (2020)
Intertwining threads of autofiction, lyric science writing and the story of a newly queer Hawaiian volcano, this is a weird small book that asks big questions about race, love, sexuality and desire. In inventive prose, imbler “subverts the flat, neutral language of scientific journals to explore what it means to understand the Earth as something queer, volatile, and disruptive.”
Summer Bird Blue, by Akemi Dawn Bowman (2018)
Rumi Seto isn’t sure of much, but she is sure of one thing: she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. But then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi’s set to live with her aunt in Hawaii, where she must navigate her losses and find a way back to her music with the help of the boys next door. Along the way, Rumi discovers that she is asexual and aromantic.
Idaho Code, by Joan Opyr (2006)
Everybody knows your business in this small homophobic town where Wilhelmina “Bil” Hardy is “trapped in the coils of her eccentric family and off-the-wall friends” and “neither the course of true love nor amateur sleuthing runs smooth.”Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Mystery.
Grassy Flats, by Penny Hayes (1992)
Aggie and Nell are struggling to run their potato farm in 1930s Idaho while the country remains mired in the Depression. When they’re spotted kissing by one of many asshole men in their town, word spreads quickly and they’re forced to deal with a town-wide shunning in addition to the struggles they already faced. But support comes from unexpected places.
Memory Mambo, by Achy Obejas (1996)
25-year-old Cuban-American lesbian Juani Casas is often her own worst enemy — torn between family and authenticity, home and homelands, as she manages her family’s laundromat in Chicago and dates closeted women. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Fiction.
Coffee Will Make You Black, by April Sinclair (1993)
One of the first queer books I ever read, this coming-of-age novel is at once witty and profound, lighthearted and historically resonant. Jean “Stevie” Stevenson is coming of age in Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s — an era of irrevocable social upheaval, especially within her neighborhood. “Against this remarkable backdrop,” writes Open Road Media, “Stevie makes the sometimes harrowing, often comic, always enthralling transformation into a young adult — socially aware, discovering her sexuality, and proud of her identity.”
Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country, by Chavisa Woods (2017)
Set entirely in rural Illinois and often centered on queer outsides, Woods’ collection exposes the expanse of an oft-overlooked population of an elusive yet omnipresent American landscape. It’s all there: dive bars, self-destruction, intergenerational trauma, the psychic burden of war, small-town church culture, the hunt for something haunted ’cause it’s something to do. “Not stories of triumph over adversity, but something completely other.”Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction.
The Girls in 3-B, by Valerie Taylor (1959)
In this “classic pulp tale showcasing predatory beatnik men, drug hallucinations, and secret lesbian trysts,” three best friends from small-town Iowa — Annie, Pat and Barby — arrive in 1950s Chicago amid a massive cultural shift, seeking independence, self-expression and sexual freedom. Their three pathways — including, for one, the happy security of a lesbian relationship — serve as meditations on women’s economic reliance on men and 1950s sexual psychology.
Hoosier Daddy: A Heartland Romance, by Ann McMan and Salem West (2016)
A rare look at lesbian romance in a rural, working-class community, where Jill Fryman — a line supervisor at a truck manufacturing plant — finds herself greased up over El, “a sultry labor organizer from the UAW” who’s rolled into town to unionize the plant after a Japanese buyout.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Romance
Liz Lighty’s plan to get out of Campbell, Indiana forever by attending the elite Pennington College is dashed when her financial aid unexpectedly falls through, but then she remembers her school’s scholarship for prom queen and king. Nothing appeals to her less than stepping into the spotlight and competing for this honor in her prom-obsessed small town of social media trolls and catty competitors, but nothing’s getting in the way of her dreams. If only she wasn’t competing against Mack, another outsider who’s smart, funny and the object of Liz’s affection.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction, Stonewall Book Award: Honor in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado (2019)
“The dream house, when we do arrive there, is both real and an abstract idea,” wrote Rachel in her review of In the Dream House. “It’s the literal house that Machado shared part-time in Bloomington, Indiana with her then-girlfriend, and also it’s the relationship itself: cluttered, isolated and isolating, a home but not one Machado owns or has her own space in, something with a dark basement she hesitates to enter, rooms each with their own bad memory. It’s a memoir of Machado’s survival through that abusive relationship, and trying to reckon with all that her experience implies or reveals.” Lambda Literary Award Winner for Non-Fiction, Stonewall Book Award: Honor in Non-Fiction
The Butches of Madison County, by Ellen Orleans (1994)
“Odd little gem” is a fitting term for this quirky book that pokes fun at lesbian life and The Bridges of Madison County with one broad but affectionate stroke. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Humor.
Death by Discount, by Mary Vermillion (2004)
In hopes of helping her aunt whose partner just got murdered keep her struggling radio station alive, Mara’s returned to her inadequate hometown of Aldoburg, Iowa, which’s currently at war over the potential opening of a new Wal-Mart. A beautiful police officer catches Mara’s eye just as she begins suspecting her aunt’s opposition to the Wal-Mart might have something to do with her partner’s murder. Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Debut Fiction and Lesbian Mystery.
Far from Xanadu, by Julie Anne Peters (2005)
Julie Ann Peters is a prolific writer of queer YA novels, and this heartbreaking yet hopeful one takes her to a small Kansas town where Mike (real name Mary Elizabeth) is coping with her father’s recent suicide when she falls in love with a glamorous new (straight) girl named Xanadu.
My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus, by Kelly Barth (2012)
What happens when fundamentalist Christianity and a big crush on a girl face off? An honest and hilarious little story about a good Christian girl, the tiny imaginary Jesus she takes with her everywhere, and the rewarding search for a church where she can be both Christian and gay.
Under the Rainbow, by Celia Laskey (2020)
A queer task force from Los Angeles sends its team to Big Burr, Kansas, the most homophobic town in America, turning the lives of everybody involved upside down. This novel-in-stories switches voices from task force members and lifers in this novel Kate wrote is “sure to be a comfort and resource for many, as we try to bridge the growing gap between “coastal elites” and “flyover states.”
Dress Codes for Small Towns, by Courtney Stevens (2017)
Billie McCaffrey is the tomboy daughter of her small Kentucky town’s preacher in this “John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.” When Billie’s best friend Janie falls for their friend Woods, Billie realizes that she herself is in love with Janie AND Woods, and struggles to keep her feelings to herself while running around with her group of scrappy friends who like to get into trouble and build their own furniture.
Honor Girl, by Maggie Thrash (2015)
Honor Girl “is a witch of a book in the best possible way.It put a spell on me,” wrote Mey Rude of Thrash’s debut graphic memoir about the author’s time at Camp Bellflower for Girls, one of the south’s oldest camps, located deep in the heart of Appalachia — where she inconveniently developed a crush on her counselor Erin.
Her Name in the Sky, by Kelly Quindlen (2014)
In her senior year at a Catholic school in Baton Rouge, Hannah Eaden realizes she’s in love with her best friend. Her best friend is completely there for it, but her community isn’t. “One of the best novels I’ve read that covers the day-by-day thoughts and experiences of a teenage girl dealing with learning her sexuality,” writes the Lesbrary.
Spelling Mississippi, by Marnie Woodrow (2002)
It’s water, not a desire to die, that inspires a high femme in an evening gown and tiara to jump headfirst into the Mississippi River off a wharf in New Orleans’ French Quarter one night as Cleo, the novel’s protagonist, watches. Cleo was conceived during a flood, and their mutual love of water is only one thing that eventually bonds these women together in a seductive work of historical fiction that evokes everything beautiful and dirty about the Big Easy.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich (2017)
They came to a hot New Orleans summer, age 25, to fight the death penalty with an internship at a law firm that represents people accused of murder. The intellectual and emotional memoir / thriller hybrid that resulted from this experience earned The Fact of a Body a spot on every best books list last year. The Times said it “pushes the boundaries of writing about trauma,” Vogue called it a “masterpiece” and The Times of London called it “utterly remarkable and heroically accomplished.” Lambda Literary Award Winner For Lesbian Memoir/Biography.
A Good Idea, by Cristina Moracho (2017)
Fin heads back to her Maine hometown after her best friend drowns, her boyfriend confesses to the crime and then has the confession thrown out. Finn is determined to solve the crime herself. Then she meets Serena, falls hard, and ends up questioning if anybody really knows anybody in this town.
Country Girl, City Girl, by Lisa Jahn-Clough (2004)
Phoebe Sharp lives with her father and brother on a small farm in Maine, where she sports braids and Goodwill sneakers while reading fairy tales to her goats and pursuing casual photography. She’a also friendless: until city girl Melita shows up on the Sharp’s farm in trendy clothes with a big attitude. As their friendship develops, so do feelings for each other that neither is entirely sure what to do with.
The World Cannot Give, by Tara Isabella Burton (2022)
“The GirlsmeetsFight Club”in the story of shy Laura Stevens, who hopes her new life in St. Dunstan’s Academy in Maine will be like the life described by “prep school profit” Sebastian Webster in his novel about the school. Soon she meets charismatic religious fanatic Virginia Strauss, who presides over the Webster-worshipping choir and soon pulls Laura into a “world of transcendent music and arcane ritual” thick with intrigue and danger. But how far will her devotion to Virginia go?
Cytherea’s Breath, by Sarah Aldridge (1982)
20th century Baltimore: a physician struggling to establish herself meets a wealthy patron with whom she battles sexism and fights for her voice. Sarah Aldridge is the pen name of Andya Marchant, who was president of legendary lesbian publishing house Naiad Press before leaving to found A&M Books of Rehoboth Beach, which republished all 14 of her groundbreaking novels following her death at the age of 94 in 2003.
Grace After Midnight: A Memoir, by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson and David Ritz (2009)
Pearson’s memoir traces her life from being born weighing three pounds to a drug dependent mother in East Baltimore to her time as a “baby gangsta” and eventually landing in Maryland Correctional Institution for Women at the age of 15 for killing a woman in self-defense. She eventually turned her life around, earning her GED and her release in 2000, eventually landing her pioneering lesbian role on The Wireafter meeting Michael K. Williams in a Baltimore club.
Bogeywoman, by Jaimy Gordon (2011)
In this book from National Book Award winning author Jaimy Gordon, Ursie Koderer lands herself in a Baltimore psychiatric hospital after cutting herself at camp, and joins up with other misfits on the adolescent ward to cause trouble. But when she’s implicated in a crime, she ends up locked away and has the chance to meet Doctor Zuk, a woman psychiatrist with whom she begins a wild, intoxicating affair.
Cool For You, by Eileen Myles (2000)
This is where it all began. Or, where it would begin if Myles ever stuck to linear narratives, which they don’t have to because they don’t write books really, they invent books. Reading this novel is like scampering behind abrilliant, gritty, cocky and defiantly poetic tomboy taking you on a adventure through working-class Boston and then some — the Catholic nuns, the nursing homes, the beautiful mean girls, the stupid boys, the dying father and Eileen, who declares early onWhy can’t I record everything down like my life counts, like I’m the Queen of England or Bobby Vee, and that way I can be safe and not have to wait to die to be important.She can!
Marriage of a Thousand Lies, by SJ Sindu (2017)
How does one achieve adulthood while navigating multiple marginalized identities, two of which have required you to marry your gay best friend to please your Sri Lankan parents? Lucky loves her family, but longs to be an out lesbian, too, a challenge that grows increasingly urgent when she’s made to return from New York to the wealthy and insular Boston Tamil community she came from to care for her grandmother.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction, Stonewall Literature Award Nominee
The Provincetown Series, by Radclyffe
Radclyffe is our most prolific and acclaimed author of lesbian romance. Her series is devoted entirely to the charming coastal town that’s long been a lesbian vacation haven and — as it is for teenager Brianna Parker, Doctor Victoria King and the new Sheriff in town, Reese Conlon — a year-round home. Side characters come and go, as do the slings and arrows of life and love on the coast, throughout this seven-book ride.
Drum Roll, Please, by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (2018)
Melly’s off at Band Camp in the Michigan woods with her BFF Olivia, who made her join band in the first place. But the summer isn’t really going her way: her parents get divorced, Olivia ditches her, she’s not sure she’s got the talent to be the rock ‘n’ roll drummer she dreams of — and!!! She’s falling for Adeline, another girl at camp!!
Her, by Cherry Muhanji (1990)
A lyrical map of the lives and loves and relationships (with men, with women, with their families) bustling within a community of black women who moved to Detroit when the getting was as good as it would ever be: working the lines at the Ford Motor Plant in the 1950s. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Debut Fiction.
In The Key of Us, by Mariama J. Lockington (2022)
Thirteen-year-old Andi, heartbroken over the loss of her mother, finds an ally in Zora, a returning camper to Harmony Music Camp, where Andi’s been accepted to play trumpet. As the only two Black girls in a sea of white faces, they connect in kayaks and cabins, struggling to figure out who they are and who their families have made them. It’s “a lyrical ode to music camp, the rush of first love, and the power of one life-changing summer.”
Charlie Mack Motown Mystery Series, by Cheryl A. Head (2016 – 2021)
The six books in this series follows Charlene “Charlie” Mack, head of a highly respected public relations firm in Detroit. The series takes her all over the city — a threat at the The Detroit Auto Show, a serial killer in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, a hate group targeting black churches in Detroit and mosques in Dearborn — and sometimes out of it.
Hallowed Murder (Jane Lawless Mysteries Series Book 1), by Ellen Hart (1989)
Hart has won six Lambda awards for her 25-book-strong Jane Lawless lesbian mystery series and this is where it all began, with a story about a University of Minnesota sorority facing charges of murder and Jane Lawless, the alumnae advisor who steps in to find the truth — a truth “as chilling as the Minnesota winter.”
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel (2008)
Before The L Word, there were The Dykes To Watch Out For. Collected in award-winning volumes, syndicated in fifty alt newspapers, DTWOF is a “wittily illustrated soap opera” Bechdel calls “half op-ed column and half endless serialized Victorian novel” that traces the lives and loves of lesbians in a midsize American city that isn’t explicitly named, but has an intentional Twin Cities vibe. Bechdel started writing it while living in St. Paul and based Madwimmin Books on Amazon, Minneapolis’s women’s bookstore, the oldest in the country before it shuttered in 2012. This volume is the story of an active, thriving community of lesbian adults — a rarity in lesbian literature — who match every tug on your heartstrings with a good, solid drag on us all.
Blood, Money, Murder, by Jesse Chandler (2016)
Shay O’Hanlon is the co-owner of Minneapolis coffee shop The Rabbit Hole, and her girlfriend is Police Homicide Detective JT Bordeaux. When some suspicious-looking strangers show up at Shay’s coffee shop demanding to speak to her surrogate mother, Eddy Quartermaine, Shay ends up drawn into a firestorm spanning twenty-five years and a winding path of money, murder and betrayal in this installment of the Shay O’Hanlon cozy mystery series.
Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy (2017)
6-foot-tall Ramona Blue has got blue hair, a pregnant sister with an annoying boyfriend, a flaky mom and just the tiniest bit of personal space in the trailer she’s shared with her family since Hurricane Katrina. She’s also got an identity crisis — after coming out as a lesbian, she finds herself falling for a boy and wondering if her sexuality might be more fluid than she’d thought.
Cooking as Fast As I Can: A Chef’s Story of Family, Food and Forgiveness, by Cat Cora (2016)
Food Network star and first female Iron Chef winner Cat Cora write about growing up in a Greek home in Jackson Mississippi, “where days were slow and every meal was made from scratch.” By 15 she was writing a business plan for her first restaurant and laying the groundwork for her eventual career — but she also struggled to cope with sexual abuse and the experience of being a lesbian in the Deep South.
Deliver Us From Evie, by M.E. Kerr (1995)
A tough-as-nails tomboy scandalizes her small Missouri farm town by dressing like a boy and eventually seducing Patsy Duff, the wealthy daughter of the town’s top dog. Bittersweet and packed with twists and turns, it’s refreshing to find a masc protagonist being unapologetically herself in a seemingly hopeless place.
Jam! on the Vine, by LaShonda Katrice Barnett (2015)
Ivoe Williams, born to a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, escapes menial labor in the segregated corner of the Jim Crow south for a new life in Kansas City, where she reunites with her former teacher/lover Ona. Together, drawing on Ivoe’s lifelong love of writing, they found the first female-run African-American newspaper to cover 1919’s lynchings, race riots and the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction, Stonewall Book Award: Honor Books in Literature
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by emily m danforth (2010)
This gorgeous, dusty coming-of-age YA novel revives the archetypal coming out narrative through smart, dexterous writing as gripping as it is literary and a narrator who takes up residence in your heart from the start. From coveted intense ’90s woman mix-tapes, subtextually queer vampire movies and girls in cowboy boots to the hard-wrought friendships forged in conversion camp, it’s no wonder this book got picked up as one of 2018’s best films.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult Fiction.
Storms, by Geri Hill (2011)
This “angsty romance” set on a Montana ranch, where heiress Carson Cartwright lands after leaving her glamorous life behind to reconcile with her father on his deathbed. That’s where she meets Kerry Elder, who wants to convert the Cartwright ranch into a guest ranch to help Carson’s brothers turn a profit — and who has some pretty strong chemistry with Carson! But neither are prepared for THE WILD STORMS OF SUMMER.
Not Otherwise Specified, by Hannah Moskowitz (2005)
Etta Sinclair, a bisexual black woman who’d do anything to get out of Nebraska, has been kicked out of and tormented by her former group of friends, who call themselves The Disco Dykes, ever since she started dating a guy. But she finds a new friend at her eating disorder support group, and together they plot to audition for an exclusive New York school for the performing arts. According to The Lesbrary, “Not Otherwise Specified is the book that has been missing from the LGBT-YA canon.”
The Sky Always Hears me and the Hills Don’t Mind, by Kristin Cronn-Mills (2009)
Sixteen-year-old Morgan works in a grocery store in a small town in Nebraska — her Mom was killed in a car accident when she was three, her father is an alcoholic and her popular jock boyfriend is boring. But her Grandma is awesome and she’s pretty excited about having kissed her next-door neighbor, Tessa.
Nevada, by Imogene Binnie (2013)
Part One is all New York: transgender punk Maria Griffiths’ girlfriend cheats on her, she falls apart in Brooklyn, has bad sex in a Burritoville, and ponders the point of it all. Part Two opens in small-town Nevada with a new narrator, a twenty-year-old stoner named James, and then who should walk in to James’ story: “As soon as Maria Griffiths sees James Hanson in the Star City, Nevada Wal-Mart, she’s like, that kid is trans and he doesn’t even know it yet.” Electric, awkward and “unlike anything you’ve read before.”Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Transgender Fiction.
Desert of the Heart, by Jane Rule (1964)
Back when pulp fiction was one’s only route to lesbian fiction, Desert of the Heart(the basis of the classic 1985 lesbian film Desert Hearts)came out in proper hardcover and changed the game. This romance between an English professor hitting up Nevada for a quickie divorce and a cartoonist with a job at a Reno casino showed that in an arid place where nothing grows, love can.
Snowsisters, by Tom Wilinsky and Jen Sternick (2018)
Tess, a fan fiction writer who lives on a dairy farm and Soph, a lesbian poet who attends a fancy boarding school in Manhattan, end up roommates at a week-long writing conference in rural New Hampshire. They grow as writers and people while dealing with the variety of other girls at the retreat (including a trans girl and a TERF) and, obviously, falling in love with each other.
A Chapter on Love, by Laney Webber
Heartbroken Jannika Peterson is looking for a new start in Grangeton, New Hampshire, managing a local bookstore. Lee Thompson, Jannika’s former summer camp counselor, is looking for a fresh start of her own after her wife’s death with a new job in a new town. When the two women reunite, sparks fly — but are they ready for a second chance at love?
A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir, by Daisy Hernandez (2015)
Starting, as so many lesbian stories do, in Catholic School (hers in Union City, New Jersey), this memoir sees a Colombian-Cuban woman carve out her queer, political and artistic identity flush against what the women in her family have taught her about love, money and race. Sandra Cisneros: “Hernández writes with honesty, intelligence, tenderness, and love. I bow deeply in admiration and gratitude.”
Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio, by Carly Usdin and Nina Vakueva (2018)
Chris is thrilled to have landed a job at New Jersey indie record shop Vinyl Mayhem. When Rosie Riot, the staff’s favorite singer, vanishes the night before her band’s show, Chris learns something else about her co-workers: they’re all members of a secret fight club that battles the patriarchy and also crime, and they’re gonna find Rosie!
Bingo Love Volume 1: Jackpot Edition, by Tee Franklin, Marguerite Bennett, Gail Simone, Alyssa Cole, Jenn St Onge and Beverly Johnson (2018)
It’s been decades since Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met and fell in love at church bingo in 1963 — before being thrust apart by societal norms, marrying men and starting families. But now, reuniting at a church bingo hall, these grandmothers have a second chance at love.GLAAD Media Award Nominee for Best Comic Book
Give it to Me, by Ana Castillo (2014)
Described as “Sex in the City for a Chicana babe who’s looking for love in all the wrong places,” this story of a recently divorced 43-year-old (bouncing from Albuquerque to Chicago to Los Angeles) who’s got sexual tension with her just-out-of-prison male cousin, a lot of family secrets and a thirst for it all.Lambda Literary Award Winner for Bisexual Fiction.
Like Water, by Rebecca Podos (2017)
Savannah Espinoza always thought she’d be one of the kids who fled her small New Mexico hometown after graduation, but her father’s diagnosis with Huntington’s disease landed her in the “stuck” group she wasn’t prepared to join. Then she meets Leigh, thoroughly disillusioned with small-town life herself… and unlike anybody Vanni’s ever met. Lambda Literary Award Winner for LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult Literature
The Five Wounds, by Kirstin Valdez Quade (2022)
This “miraculous” and critically heralded debut novel, centered on 33-year-old unemployed Amadeo Padilla and opening in Holy Week in the small town of Las Penas, New Mexico, traces the first year in the life of the baby of his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel and the five generations of Padilla family that converge upon its debut. Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Fiction
Summer Fun, by Jeanne Thornton (2021)
Working at a hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, young trans woman Gala finds herself obsessed with a 1960s California band The Get Happies that stopped making music and never released their rumored album “Summer Fun.” This “brilliant and magical work of trans literature” sees Gala and The Get Happies’ leader B— exchanging letters in a dialogue about creation and counterculture.
The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith (1952)
The relatively happy ending and “more explicit sexual existences” of lesbian author Highsmith’s only lesbian-themed novel was revolutionary for its time: a romance between wealthy suburban woman Carol and 19-year-old Therese, who lives on her own in New York City, works at a swanky department store, and loves a glove lunch. You may know it as, of course, Carol.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, by Audre Lorde (1982)
Evocative and seductively uncontrived, Lorde’s “biomythography” — a genre she invented combining history, biography, and myth — traces a tongue-tied, studious daughter of West Indian immigrants in Harlem through her exploration of the girl bars of 1950s Greenwich Village and her first relationships with women.
After Delores, by Sarah Schulman (1988)
A Lower East Side waitress gets tangled up in some heady, hilarious plot while mourning her breakup with Delores, the ex she can’t let go of in a story that highlights the emotional anarchy of lesbian life and relationships at a time when coming out often meant breaking ties with family and sometimes society itself. Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Best Lesbian Fiction, Stonewall Book Award Winner
When Katie Met Cassidy, by Camille Perri (2018)
The rare light, funny queer rom-com for adults from a major publishing house, begging to be the lesbian Love, Simon. “As timeless, warm and funny as When Harry Met Sally,” writes Elisabeth Egan, “with the same Big Apple backdrop and a modern tribe of bar-hopping friends who become as close as family.”
Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown (1973)
Molly Bolt always gets (but rarely keeps) the girl — like in sixth grade in the South, in her Florida high school and at the University of Florida with her alcoholic roommate. It’s that last one that sends Molly to New York, where shit gets real gay. Beloved and scorned for its explicit portrayal of lesbianism, its pained but freewheeling narrative somehow remains relatable and entertaining as hell all these years later.
Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden (1982)
The first-ever young adult novel to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending stars 17-year-old Liza from Brooklyn Heights and Annie Kenyon, also 17, who lives in a low-income neighborhood uptown with her immigrant parents. Their friendship becomes love and also just generally speaking if you haven’t read this you probably should, it’s required.
Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg (1993)
Always and forever canon, Stone Butch Blues is the hard-wrought chronicle of Jess Goldberg, a working class masculine-of-center woman born in upstate New York aching to find a place where she can be herself and also employed, loved and happy. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Small Press Book, Stonewall Book Award Winner: Literature
Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters
One of the most significant queer books of the last decade, Detransition Baby follows the lives of three women thrust together by an unexpected pregnancy and its presented co-partening opportunity: Amy, a trans woman who has de-transitioned and now goes by Ames; Ames’s ex-girlfriend Reese, a trans woman who sleeps with married men and wants a baby and Katrina, Ames’ cis woman boss who he’s having an affair with. “The book understands that trans women know more about being women — and more about being men — than any cis person ever could,” wrote Drew Gregory in her review.
The Ada Decades, by Paula Martinac (2017)
Seven decades of racist turmoil and secret gay networks inCharlotte, North Carolina are pushed through 11 interconnected stories centered on one woman’s personal history, who is developing throughout “her own form of Southern womanhood – compassionate, resilient, principled, and lesbian.”
Dead Letters From Paradise, by Ann McMan (2022)
It’s 1960, and EJ, a spinster postal investigator in the Winstom-Salem Dead Letter Office, is living a quiet life when she’s handed a stack of handwritten letters addressed to a non-existent person at the town’s 18th-century medical garden where she volunteers. Uncovering the identity of the writer leads her to confront the harsh realities of racial injustice and unravel the contours of her own life and the forbidden passion she connects to so intensely.
Memoir of a Race Traitor: Fighting Racism in the American South, by Mab Segrest (1994)
bell hooks called this memoir, updated and back in print in 2019, “a courageous and daring [example of] the reality that political solidarity, forged in struggle, can exist across differences.” Mixing childhood memories with contemporary events, Segrest explores her experiences in the 1980s as a white lesbian organizing against the far-right movement in North Carolina.
Prairie Silence: A Memoir, by Melanie Hoffert (2013)
Melanie yearns for the golden expanse, elusive charm and reliable rhythms of her family’s farm in rural North Dakota — although she left because of what she doesn’t miss, like being asked if she’d found a “fella” yet. In this affecting memoir, she goes home for the harvest to discover it all anew. You can take the Midwest out of the girl, but can you take the girl out of the Midwest?
The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich (2008)
The unsolved murder of a farm family and the subsequent hanging of the innocent Native American men accused of comitting it continues to haunt the small town of Pluto, North Dakota, echoing through the generations in this masterful novel with multiple narrators. Evelina Hart, a Part-Ojibwe part-white ambitious romantic, is one of those narrators, beginning as a young girl enraptured by her grandfather’s stories and eventually coming into her own as a lesbian and moving away from the reservation.Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Fiction
The Changelings, by Jo Sinclair (1955)
Published during the Lavender Scare and set in Cleveland, The Changelings isn’t explicitly queer, but is described by Out History as “unmistakably a lesbian novel… with its muted but unmistakable eroticism between young adolescent girls.”The Changelingsis #71 on the Publishing Triangle’s list of top 100 Lesbian & gay novels. Furthermore, they write on Out History, The Changelings is “a lesbian, feminist, and anti-racist novel, written by a Jewish woman, in which a cross-race relationship between adolescent girls — one Jewish, one Black — shapes a narrative about desegregation, white ethnic racism, class, anti-Semitism, and Jewish identity.” Pulitzer Prize Nominee
Fat Angie, by e.E Charlton-Trujillo (2013)
Angie’s been through a lot: her mother is emotionally abusive, her classmates at her small-town Ohio high school bully her, and her sister, a solider, is missing in action. After having a very public mental breakdown in front of a gym full of kids, she’s feeling pretty hopeless about the next year of school until K.C Romance shows up and sees her in the way Angie wishes she could see herself. Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian General Fiction, Stonewall Book Award Winner: Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award
Rust Belt Femme, by Raechel Anne Jolie (2020)
Growing up in a working-class Cleveland exurb, Jolie’s life was full of race cars, beer-drinking men and the women who loved them. But after her father was killed by a drunk driver, she and her mother found themselves homeless and taking their trauma out on each other, and Jolie escaped to the upscale progressive suburbs of Cleveland Heights, where she immersed herself in early 90s culture of Nirvana, flannels, cut-offs, coffee shops and lesbian witches. This is how she became who she is today: “a queer femme with PTSD and a deep love of the Midwest.”
Edited Out, by Lisa Haddock (1994)
The 24-year-old Irish-Puerto Rican protagonist of Edited Out is a copyeditor at her hometown newspaper in Frontier City, Oklahoma, where she’s pretty devoted to mourning her ex. Then she gets wrapped up in a new story that takes her in unexpected directions: two years ago, a lesbian teacher allegedly sexually assaulted and killed a 12-year-old, and then killed herself — and Carmen ends up nearly risking it all to find out what really happened.
Queerly Beloved, by Susie Dumond (2022)
A semicloseted queer baker and bartender in mid-2010s Oklahoma is outed and fired by her Christian employer, giving her the chance to turn a one-off gig as a stand-in bridesmaid into a full-time business. She also meets Charley, a hot masc engineer who’s new to Tulsa, and they fall for each other right away.She’s coming into her own at last, but her people-pleasing nature could still unravel everything she’s trying to let herself be.
Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera (2016)
When Gabby, a former Autostraddle Editor, sent me JTAB as a word document in the winter of 2015, I printed it out and didn’t leave my bed ’til I’d finished the whole damn thing. I cried like a mom at a wedding at the end, filled with love for the book and the success I knew it’d be. Eventually, Juliet Takes a Breath rode word-of-mouth to become a bona-fide hit, eventually endorsed by Roxane Gay, Tegan & Sara and Sara Ramirez, among others. This debut novel illuminates one life-changing summer for Juliet Milagros Palante, who leaves the Bronx for an internship in Portland with her favorite feminist author, diving with a thirst for experience and a general cynicism towards love into racial consciousness, her identity as a writer, her relationship to her body — and to the bodies of, you know, other women.
Dryland, by Sara Jaffee (2015)
Explores the uncertainty and complexity of adolescence for one 15-year-old girl in early ’90s Portland, missing her former-Olympic-swimmer exiled brother, considering literally diving in herself when Alexis, the girls’ swim team captain, beckons her hither. “It reads like My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase cut with Annie Dillard, plus something all Jaffe’s own,” raved the Portland Mercury.
Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, by Karelia Stetz Waters (2014)
Sara Quin’s front-page endorsement of this novel — she cried her eyes out, and was “so touched and amazed to read something that so closely echoed my own adolescence” — is likely all you need to fall for the story of shy, nerdy Triinu Hoffman of rural Oregon, who in 1989 is finding herself (and her love for girls) while her town takes sides over equal rights.
Stray City, by Chelsey Johnson (2019)
A fresh-out-of-a-breakup lesbian sleeps with a straight cis man, gets pregnant, and keeps the baby in this story divided into three parts and spanning a decade from 1998 to 2009, beginning with a love letter to Portland that made Vanessa’s “homesick heart miss my former home so deeply I felt a physical pain in my chest… the portrait Chelsey paints of queer friendship in this book is just inescapably honest and embarrassingly real.”
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel (2007)
Now one of the best-known and most beloved lesbian books of all time, Bechdel’s darkly comic graphic novel about growing up with a closeted father in a Pennsylvania funeral home remains a poignant interrogation of where family ties begin and end, what love can look like, and how repression becomes the most debilitating expression of all. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Memoir/Biography, Stonewall Book Award Winner: Non-Fiction, GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book
The Summer We Got Free, by Mia McKenzie (2013)
Once adored and respected in their West Philadelphia neighborhood, Ava Delaney’s family faces 17 years of ostracization after being rocked by a violent event. After they’re displaced from the community they live in, a mysterious woman arrives to stir up the spirits’ home and unleash Ava’s free-spirited potential. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Debut Fiction.
Catherine House, by Elisabeth Thomas (2020)
Deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, Catherine House is a crucible of reformist liberal arts story, with a huge endowment, highly exclusive admissions and impressive alunus. Ines arrives ready to leave her partying life behind for one of intellectual discipline, only to find that the closest thing to a home she’s ever had feels like a gilded prison where a friend’s desire to be accepted ends in unexpected tragedy.
Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult (2011)
It’s not often that a lesbian story ranks atop the New York Times Bestseller list, or is taken up by a mass-market mainstream writer like Jodi Picoult. After ten years trying to get pregnant, two miscarriages, and losing a baby at seven months, Zoe’s marriage to Max falls apart, and Zoe finds herself falling for Vanessa, a teenager she finds floating at the bottom of a pool. That yearning to parent hasn’t gone away, though, and then this becomes the personal/political paradigm that vaulted it into public consciousness and got Ellen DeGeneres to option the movie rights — “the story of a lesbian fighting for the right to use frozen embryos created by her and her ex-husband.” The Rhode Island setting is piquant, “from artificial birdsong at Kent County Courthouse to Italian cuisine on Federal Hill.”
The Drowning Girl, by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2012)
India Morgan Phelp is a schizophrenic lesbian with a trans girlfriend in Providence, Rhode Island, who fears she can no longer trust her own mind or her sense of identity in this “eerie masterpiece of literary horror and dark fantasy” told by an unreliable narrator. She hops in and out of multiple timelines and universes, confronting mysterious artists, mermaid/sirens, a wolf posing as a woman, and a hitchhiker with a culty past.
Plain Bad Heroines, by emily m danforth (2021)
This epic novel weaves together several haunting and intersecting storylines surrounding the Brookhants School for Girls and its mysterious shuttering a century ago after two young Mary MacLane fans suffer a macabre death. Now, wunderkind writer Merrit Emmons’ breakout book about the incident is being adapted for the screen, starring lesbian it girl Harper Harper (who is obviously in our opinion based on Kristen Stewart.) Stonewall Book Award: Honor in Literature Shortlist
The House You Pass Along the Way, by Jacqueline Woodson (1997)
From the winner of the 2018 National Book Award for her poetry collection brown girl dreaming (which is also partially set in South Carolina) comes this early work, a queer middle-grade classic: a subtle story about Stagerlee, a 14-year-old mixed-race girl who’s never really fit in and isn’t sure how to start. When her baby lez cousin, Trout, comes to stay for a summer, Stagerlee finds a comrade when she needs it most.Lambda Literary Award Winner for Young Adult/Children’s Book.
The Revolution of Little Girls, by Blanche McCray Boyd (1991)
Growing up in South Carolina, Ellen Burns prefers playing Tarzan to playing Jane and spikes her Coke before the beauty pageant. In the ’60s/’70s she makes it into Harvard, finds herself as a lesbian, and drinks way too much. “Funny… lively and wry, insightful and poignant,” wrote The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “[A] psychedelic and unsettling journey into a Southern heart of darkness.”Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Fiction.
Two Or Three Things I Know For Sure, by Dorothy Allison (1995)
Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Dorothy Allison is one of lesbian literature’s most profound, heart-searing, gut-getting voices. I could underline every word in this book that speaks emotional truth to intergenerational trauma, sexual violence, abuse, poverty, and the stories we build and tell to go on, to get naked again, to be women who survive.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Biography/Autobiography.
Charity: A Novel, by Paulette Callen (1997)
In late 19th-century Charity, South Dakota, “live and let live” is the only way to live, at least if you’re white and male.It’s not the best place for schoolteacher Augusta Roemer to be in a relationship with Jordis, a Sioux woman. The first in what would become a series, Charity: A Novel was lauded as “so piercing in its depiction of small-town life that it leaves the reader startled by its straightforward insights.”
Like Me, by Chely Wright (2011)
The memoir that scandalized country music, galvanized a rapt fan base and changed Nashville forever: Wright’s story of ascending to fame as a country singer while hiding the truth about her sexual orientation.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Memoir/Biography.
Quiver, by Julia Watts (2018)
Two teens from very different cultures in Rural Tennesee — one is the eldest of six in an evangelical Christian Quiverfull family and the other is a gender-fluid kid from Knoxville who just came to town with her socialist vegetarian family seeking a more “natural” life — build a friendship based on an intangible connection that seems doomed but ultimately is not.
Say Jesus and Come To Me, by Ann Allen Shockley (1982)
Traveling minister Reverend Myrtle Black comes to Nashville to organize local women to protest the government’s racism and sexism following a brutal assault on two local sex workers. Then rhythm-and-blues singer Travis Lee, freshly arrived at rock bottom, walks into Myrtle’s church looking for salvation and instead finds an intense physical and emotional connection with the Reverend.
Forgetting the Alamo or Blood Memory, by Emma Pérez (2010)
Micaela Campos is a Tejana lesbian cowgirl offering a different vantage point on the American West after the fall of the Alamo in 1836, when Mexicans and indigenous people were under attack from white settlers. Then she falls for a Black & Indigenous woman and learns that “there are no easy solutions to the injustices that birthed the Texas Republic.” Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction.
Mean Little Deaf Queer, by Terry Galloway (2009)
Described by Casey as “a darkly humorous and relentlessly frank memoir,” this book chronicles the awkward growing up in Austin, Texas, of a queer, coke-bottle-thick glasses-wearing self-proclaimed “child freak” who found her calling on the stage. Lambda Award Nominee for Lesbian Memoir/Biography.
Orpheus Girl, by Brynne Rebele-Henry (2019)
The Orpheus myth is re-imagined as a love story between two teenage girls in a small conservative Texas town who are sent off to conversion therapy at Friendly Savors after getting outed. But Raya is determined to escape Friendly Saviors and its cruel abuse and live openly in the world with her true love.
are you listening?, by Tillie Walden (2019)
This graphic novel follows two women, Bea and Lou, looking to escape and process their grief and trauma on a road trip through West Texas, where the landscape grows unsettling, a mysterious cat joins their journey and they’re haunted by a group of dangerous men.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Comics
Just Your Local Bisexual Disaster, by Andrea Mosqueda (2022)
This voicey debut novel follows Maggie, an aspiring photographer growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, has three friends to choose from as potential dates to her sister’s quinceañera: her best friend and first crush Amanda, her twice-over ex-boyfriend Matthew who still carries a torch or Dani, the new girl.
Saving Alex, by Alex Cooper (2016)
Alex Cooper fell in love with Yvette, came out to her Mormon family in her nice ordinary town, and was immediately shipped off to St. George, Utah for a treatment program — and eventually got rescued by a legal team in Salt Lake City who were ready to make history. A straightforward account of an unfortunately far-too-common experience we’re rarely invited to with this level of detail, and from somebody on the frontlines of the subsequent battle.
A Long Way to Fall, by Elle Spencer (2022)
Bridget Berg’s training for the Olympics when her father’s sudden death puts her in charge of his ski lodge in Elk Mountain, Utah. Kennedy Fleming’s only in town to put her Dad’s vacation home up for sale — until she meets her neighbor, Bridget, and sparks fly. But then Kennedy makes a discovery about their families that could cause Bridget to lose it all.
Dismantled, by Jennifer McMahon (2009)
The reckless heady ambition of four college students in a remote cabin in the Vermont woods turns fun into a tragedy. The three survivors want to put it behind them, but it comes back to haunt in unexpected ways in this strange and imaginative literary thriller.Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Lesbian Fiction
The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s been obsessed with physical fitness all her life, and this graphic memoir follows her hopping from one fitness craze to the next: learning Karate in New York to yoga in Minnesota to, finally, landing her now-home of Vermont, where she tackles high-intensity interval training; all the while reaching into the literary past and future for something like transcendence.
Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley (2014)
This Harlequin Teen novel sets up a very unlikely lesbian romance in 1959, between one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School and the white daughter of one of their Virginia town’s most vocal opponents to school integration. Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Children’s/YA Fiction.
Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body, by Megan Milks (2021)
This ” queer coming-of-age novel about the twists and turns of gender, identity, and mystery” finds Margaret, former head detective of the mystery club Girls Can Solve Anything, feeling unmoored by the pressures of high school and growing up, eventually acquiring an eating disorder that lands her in a treatment center — where she finds a string of new mysteries unravel before her. Lambda Literary Award Nominee for Transgender Fiction.
Testimony, by Paula Martinac (2021)
Rural Virginia, 1958: history professor Gen’s healing from the breakup of her secret lesbian relationship and has just earned tenure as a woman in a men’s field when a nearby men’s college uncovers a “homosexual circle” that bleeds suspicion onto both campuses, putting Gen at risk when she’s spotted kissing a woman by her neighbor. Based on the true story of UCLA professor Martha Deane.
Dora: A Headcase, by Lidia Yuknavitch (2012)
This retelling of Freud’s Dora from the author of The Chronology of Water follows queer teen Ida, who’s one step ahead of the psychiatrist her father sent her to, as she carries out self-proclaimed “art attacks” with her small posse of pals — including a trans woman, a gay guy and her crush, a queer Native American girl named Obsidian.
Always, by Nicola Griffith (2007)
Set in Griffith’s current home of Seattle, Always marks the return of Griffith’s sensual lesbian detective Aud Torvingen, this time escaping Atlanta for Washington to deal with the real estate manager trying to wrestle away her father’s estate. But danger finds her there, too, this time on a film set marked for sabotage.
The Freezer Door, by Matilda Bernstein Sycamore (2020)
Seeking communal pleasure in Seattle, The Freezer Door “offers a complex meditation on the trauma and possibility of searching for connection in a world that relentlessly enforces bland norms of gender, sexual, and social conformity while claiming to celebrate diversity.”
Written in the Stars, by Alexandria Bellefleur (2020)
In this queer rom-com re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is an uptight actuary who goes on a very bad date with Elle, a twitter astrologer — but Elle’s not sure what to think when Darcy’s brother tells her he’s glad the date was such a success. Darcy begs Elle to play along and we all know what fake gay dating leads to, don’t we??? Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Romance
The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli (2017)
From the author of the book that became Love, Simon comes this heart-flutteringly delightful story narrated by Molly, a 17-year-old (straight) girl with a cynical lesbian twin sister, Cassie, who’s got a pansexual girlfriend with a cute hipster BFF named Will who Molly’s got a thing for. Cassie and Molly have two moms and, as Casey pointed out, “in addition to the nice spectrum of queer women represented, this novel also features multiple Asian American and Jewish characters!”
Pulp, by Robin Talley (2018)
Charming and profound, this story about stories weaves together women across generations — 18-year-old Janet Jones, living in DC at the height of ’50s McCarthyism and keeping her relationship with her best friend Marie a secret, who finds her refuge in lesbian pulp fiction and, finally Abby Zimet, doing a senior project on lesbian pulp fiction 62 years later, desperate to uncover the true identity of her favorite author. “Not many YA novels contain one lesbian romance, let alone four,” writes Booklist, “but Talley’s newest pulls it off, while creatively spanning time and genre.”
A Study In Honor, by Claire O’Dell (2018)
This feminist twist on Sherlock Holmes finds its Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes using espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans in a near-future Washington DC. Lambda Literary Award Winner for Lesbian Mystery.
Blue Apple Switchback, by Carrie Highley (2016)
In West Virginia in her early ’30s, lifelong tomboy Carrie discovers her love of cycling, has an affair with a female cycling friend, and then follows her husband to Asheville, only to find her turn at a heterosexual married life exactly as precarious as she’d always feared.
Sugar Run: A Novel, by Mesha Maren (2019)
After 18 years in prison for manslaughter, Jodi McCarthy can’t go back to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, so instead sets out for someone she left behind. Along the way, she meets a troubled young mother with whom she will make a fresh start in the “charged insularity of rural West Virginia” in this “searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.”
Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, by Neema Avashia (2022)
This memoir traces the pathways of Avashia’s identity as a queer desi Appalachian woman through lyric and narrative explorations of foodways, religion, sports, beauty standards, social media, gun culture and more, mixing “nostalgia and humor, sadness and sweetness, personal reflection and universal questions.”
Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw (2012)
Five high / drunk / sleepy adults leave a rural Wisconsin wedding reception late one night in 1983, and the accident that ensues never lets them go. The bride’s sister, Alice, and the groom’s sister, Maude, had discovered feelings for each other that night, but after what transpired, didn’t see each other for two years afterwards. Although it’s not a queer book, Maude and Alice’s romance is the book’s most enduring love story.
Tomboyland, by Melissa Faliveno (2020)
This mix of personal narrative and cultural reportage investigates growing up queer and gender non-conforming in flyover country, tracing Faliveno’s childhood in working-class Wisconsin and her more recent landscapes, asking questions about “belonging and the body, isolation and community, and what we mean when we use words likewoman, family, and home.”
All This Could Be Different (2022)
In this “wise, tender, and riveting group portrait of young people forging love and community amidst struggle,” we find Sneha newly arrived in Milwaukee for an entry-level corporate job that sucks her soul but enables her to help her friends and family and to start dating women, like the enigmatic dancer Marina. But soon enough, it all starts to unravel: secrets unearth themselves, evictions loom, jobs nosedive, and Sneha struggles to be open with anybody.
October Morning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, by Lesléa Newman (2020)
Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Commies, was a keynote speaker for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming the week Matthew Shepard was murdered. This novel in verse is her “deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day.”