Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
One of my favourite parts about these month-long celebratory events at the Pond is that I get to inundate all of you with book recommendations. And what better month than Pride Month?
For us at the Pond, Pride Month is an opportunity to spotlight and celebrate the incredible work done by queer authors. Moreover, it’s important to us that the work that we do when celebrating Pride Month is deserving of the intersectional Pride Month flag that we have proudly used in our banner. Therefore, the books that we recommend will include books by authors of colour and disabled authors – and we encourage all of our Pond friends to make their Pride reading intersectional and colourful. 🌈
Last year, we did five book recommendation posts (you can find a full list here!) and we thought: why don’t we do it again? But, rather than recommend the same books over and over again every year, we wanted to give you all a fresh and updated list of queer books that we at the Pond have read and loved.
This year, the book recommendation posts that we will be sharing will be:
- 8 Books with Gay and M/M Rep
- 12 Books with Sapphic and F/F Rep
- 10 Books with Trans, Nonbinary, and Genderqueer Rep
- 10 Books with Bisexual and Pansexual Rep
- 10 Books with Asexual, Aromantic, and Questioning Rep
And if you want to check out last year’s book recommendation post for sapphic and f/f rep, find it here!
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
Harlem, 1926. Young black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.
Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She’s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan’s hottest speakeasy. Louise’s friends might say she’s running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don’t tell her that.
When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she’s been trying to ignore–several local black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.
Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She’ll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.
CW: I had the pleasure of having Nekesa Afia visit us earlier this year for Black History Month and, after my interview with her, was a book I added immediately to my to-read list. Historical fiction – set during the Prohibition and Roaring 20s! – with a Black queer female lead, with a mystery at its center that the main character, Louise, has to solve. This book came just in time for Pride, and I’m looking forward to picking this book up!
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
“I refuse to be nothing…”
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
CW: In my book review for She Who Became the Sun, I said that it was: “glorious yet brutal … a tour de force that will elevate the historical fantasy genre, a beacon of what all historical imaginings should aspire to be.” And you know what? I slapped with that line because months on from reading it, I firmly stand by this.
- If you love detailed historical fiction with a queer twist, stories heavy with foreboding and dread, and themes of power, war, betrayal, and revenge – then you’ll love this and She Who Became the Sun will feed you.
- The characters in this are incredible. Realised, fascinating, and complex, I was pulled into their desires and motivations, their ambitions. Zhu Chongba was a phenomenal main character, and I am equal parts terrified and excited of her.
- The perspective characters in this book are mostly queer. Zhu herself is genderqueer and has a compelling and complex sapphic relationship with a woman whose genuine kindness is rare in wartime. There are moments of dysphoria, and I loved the complex and nuanced way that this book navigates gender.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.
Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.
Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.
Skye: This book is a repeat recommendation from our recently-concluded API Heritage Month series, but I honestly think the book deserves a spot on here as well! I won’t make too much of a fuss here about how much this book means to me personally in terms of Malaysian representation (you can check out the aforementioned post or the interview below for that!), but I will append this: in addition to the book’s very poignant themes of family and diaspora, this book also deals with: A) the unique grief of being queer and not out to your family, and B) the void of fresh college graduation and not knowing what comes next. If you’re looking for queer SFF new adult with queerness as subplot instead of main focus? Look no further!
A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix by C.B. Lee
1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd business woman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her only memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.
But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports — that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.
Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.
CW: The very first chapter of this book pulls you in with the true tale and history of Zheng Yi Sao, one of the most successful and notorious pirates in history. From there, the story does not let you go, and you’re swept away into Xiang’s world. Set towards the end of the age of piracy, C.B. Lee has given us a spectacular and wondrous story about two queer girls who set off on life-changing adventure. I’m partway through and looking forward to sharing my thoughts in full once I’ve finished it, but I know that this is going to be a 2021 favourite.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her father’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.
In New York, she’s able to ignore all the annoying questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.
Joce: Honey Girl is one of the most impeccable books I’ve ever read. In the span of 300 pages, Morgan Rogers brings Grace to life and her journey as she navigates life and love post-graduation.
- This book has found family! These friends, while grappling with their own worlds, accept every part of Grace while supporting her unconditionally. There is something to be said about the safety of a queer community of color, and that warmth shines through in Morgan Rogers’ character constructs.
- The intimacy in Honey Girl is immaculate and intoxicating; in the way the book weaves connections between these stories and the most fragile human emotions.
- The experience Grace has trying to find a therapist covers so many nuances in the mental health system as a queer Black woman, and the book explores trauma, safety, and racism.
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...
The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.
As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…
CW: Giant mechas and queer girls fighting an oppressive government? Yes please! Visual and unexpectedly emotive, Gearbreakers is a glorious, graphic, and a super fun read.
- Though there’s action, I think this is ultimately a very emotive and character-driven book. The story is about teens and kids who become soldiers to fight a senseless and violent war.
- I loved how identity is explored here, especially through Sona’s narrative – how she is made in the image of her enemy, loses herself along the way, and grapples with the loss of her identity and agency after being made a soldier.
- I loved Sona and Eris together, my two darling queer darlings. The romance between them is unlike anything I’ve read before – it isn’t romantic, per se, or soft, but there is a fierce tenderness and an undeniable connection between them. I loved that.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
CW: The Jasmine Throne is a book that I’m reading next – and I could not be more excited. A feminist Indian-inspired fantasy, led by morally grey queer women entangled in plots of revenge and become unlikely allies, forbidden magic, with themes of rebellion. I cannot wait to read this enchanting feminist fantasy with complex themes and powerful women are the fore.
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.
CW: First The Henna Wars and now with Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, Adiba is proving that young adult contemporary romances have so much to offer, and I am loving Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating.
- Featuring two girls who could not be more different; kind, helpful, and compassionate Hani and reserved yet confident Ishu – yet being the only two Bengali girls in their school, they are seen as the same and I liked how the story explores and challenges this.
- The romance in this was just gooey and soft, and if you love the fake dating trope, then you will absolutely adore Hani and Ishu’s romance and how it blossoms and grows.
- I love how this book explores relationships – from complex family relationships, the weight of expectations and friendship struggles.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.
America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.
CW: Malinda Lo is one of the leading and trailblazing queer Asian voices in young adult literature, and I will literally read anything that she writes. Last Night at the Telegraph Club is promised to be a vivid and engaging historical fiction, and for Lily, an Asian American living during the Red-Scare and also discovering that she is a lesbian, things are tenuous, yet she finds home and belonging in the Telegraph Club. I’m looking forward to reading beyond the first few chapters – I had a peep and it took everything in me to put it down for the time-being and return to work!
Love and Other Natural Disasters by Misa Suguira
When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.
That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.
Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.
CW: Misa Sugiura gave us It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, a queer YA about two girls who fall in love and the messiness and complexities that come with it, and This Time Will Be Different, an empowering story about advocacy and fighting for what is right, so naturally I’m incredibly excited to read her latest book, Love and Other Natural Disasters! Sapphic girls fake dating and then actually falling in love, and a story that explores coming out, family, and chasing the life we envision for ourselves? I cannot wait to dive into this.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Fire burns bright and has a long memory….
Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.
Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?
Skye: This novella has been floating around the Pond for a while now, and there isn’t a day that goes by without me thinking “gosh, I really do need to finally pick up this book”. Of course, any story by Aliette de Bodard needs no defending: Fireheart Tiger in particular has garnered so much praise ever since its release that it is only fitting that it just keeps on living rent-free in my mind. It’s rare that we get to see queer representation that showcases how queer relationships can also be toxic and abusive—a subplot intertwined with the book’s exploration of colonialism in a Viet-inspired fantasy world. One day when I finish my TBR backlog I will finally get on reading this long-awaited book, and I already know that it’ll be glorious.
These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy
When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.
But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.
As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.
CW: How about a retelling of the Slavic folktale, the Firebird? These Feathered Flames is a compelling story about two sisters and princesses on the precipice of change.
- If you love stories about complex sibling relationships, then you will love These Feathered Flames. Izaveta and Asya were wonderful and intriguing characters, both with motivations and duties of their own, who have to traverse the distance created by their years apart, despite longing for each other’s sisterhood.
- There’s a gorgeous and tender sapphic bodyguard/royal romance that’s also hate-to-vulnerable-moments-in-the-night-to-undeniable-attraction.
- The story is taut with court intrigue, the possibility of betrayal at every turn, and dangerous threats at work that will challenge both Izaveta and Asya.