Photo: LGBTQ Novels
LGBTQ Novels – Overview
Coming of age narratives as well as young adult fiction have become some of the most common expressions of the LGTBQ+ community in literature. These five novels saw brilliant success for very different reasons. Fortunately, this success has provided representation for a variety of LGBTQ+ identities. Follow along as we dissect the reasoning for the popularity of these books among LGBTQ+ folk, but beware – spoilers ahead!
‘Heartstopper’ Series by Alice Oseman
The ‘Heartstopper’ webcomic, turned best selling graphic novel, turned Netflix series has garnered a lot of attention in the past month due to the release of the Netflix original. Following the stories of Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson, this coming of age, young adult novel is a deep dive into the purity of love and the feelings of freedom that arise with discovering your identity. With four volumes of the graphic novel currently on the market, and more material to come, this series has had immense success in LGBTQ+ circles. Rightfully so!
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Written by 27-year-old writer and illustrator, Alice Oseman, the ‘Heartstopper’ book series, and extensions are simply a breath of fresh air when it comes to LGBTQ+ coming of age narratives. Originally published as a webcomic in September of 2016, the illustrations quickly grew on readers, developing a supportive audience fairly quickly. So what makes ‘Heartstopper’ so special?
Well the answer to that question is multifaceted! One of the reasons for the success of the series is the relatability of the narrative and characters. Being very young herself, Alice Oseman was able to bring those bright and wondrous points of view to the page while maintaining the organizational structure of a novel that was destined for greater things than just a passion project well done. She was also able to write the series using language and speech patterns that are very accurate to younger audiences. This helped the graphic novels in being comforting and approachable. The characters themselves also interact in ways that don’t seem bulky or really staged. In fact, the premise and setting for the plot is so simple and clean that all the events that happen on top of that don’t feel overwhelming or inappropriately inconsistent. By putting an original spin on the “boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love” narrative, Alice Oseman created a beautiful piece of commentary on young love and the struggles of identity, while maintaining the understanding that the connection between our characters is nothing short of beautiful and happy endings are possible.
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While the first volume of ‘Heartstopper’ did not exactly have a happily ever after conclusion, it did leave the ending open for continuation. In future volumes, Nick and Charlie continue growing in the relationship and developing as individuals. What made this series so different from similar literature on the market was the understanding that these two characters get to be happy, no matter the challenges that may arise. Despite its wholesome and comforting nature, the ‘Heartstopper’ series does tackle some serious topics; such as homophobia, eating disorders, mental health struggles, and so on. However, this isn’t done in a patronizing or preachy way. It is simply presented as an issue that many teens do struggle with. Though one thing does stand out, the characters in the books (especially adults) make compassionate choices by correcting others when they say something hurtful instead of letting it slide. This isn’t something that you often get to see as an LGBTQ+ person, and it does come with a certain degree of self-fulfillment to see someone stand up for someone like you.
Heartwarming, diverse, joyous, relatable, and plain neat – the ‘Heartstopper’ series most definitely deserves the praise and attention that it is currently receiving. Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. ‘Heartstopper’ reminds us, as queer individuals, that we deserve happy endings too.
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‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller
Based on Greek mythos, ‘The Song of Achilles’ explores the well-known stories of Achilles and Patroclus. Though released in 2011, this story has been going viral on social media platforms as of late 2021 and early 2022. The popularity of this novel can be attributed to its surprising tenderness. The narrative begins with Achilles and Patroclus at a very young age and follows the two as they grow up, train, and eventually depart to what would become the siege of Troy. By bringing out the queer undertones of the ancient story, Madeline Miller was able to walk the reader through the process of blossoming love and detail the suffering endured after loss.
Reminding audiences of the ‘Percy Jackson’ book series by Rick Riordan, ‘The Song of Achilles’ became nostalgic for readers during the height of the book’s popularity in the summer and fall of 2021. This familiar essence of the book allowed readers to revisit the content that made their childhoods or teen years. Through applying new interpretations to Greek mythos, Madeline Miller successfully created a stunning piece of literature that reminded audiences of the inconsistency of love.
Stretched across months and years, ‘The Song of Achilles’ provides an interesting perspective on growing and maturing while keeping romantic growth separate. The remarkable use of time and important events contributes to the tones of uncertainty within the narrative and allows for in-depth character exploration in order to truly allow audiences a connection to the characters. This connection makes each heartbreak utterly miserable, however, the reader does get the satisfaction of an odd happily ever after.
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Exploring themes of abandonment, disapproval, violence, and even death – ‘The Song of Achilles’ is nothing short of emotional brutality. Though with gentle storytelling, intimate love, and divine connections, this novel makes the reader feel everything all at once.
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky
Though predominantly straight, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ was one of the first mainstream pieces of young adult, coming of age literature to feature LGBTQ+ representation through one of its main characters. Taking the format of letters written by Charlie – a high school student who struggles with mental health – this narrative tackles the questions of letting go, moving on from familiar things, and dealing with new challenges without preparation.
Originally published in 1999, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ has been a staple for coming of age fiction for decades. Delivering valuable messages of accepting the life you were given, this novel attempts to tell teens trapped in situations they don’t know how to control – “it’s okay to not know where you’re going, but it’s not okay to drift”. And while that statement is somewhat self-contradictory, it does have an air of truth to it. Everyone’s figuring things out as they go, and not everyone has a plan. Just keep your head above water and don’t pressure yourself to think ahead, sometimes it’s enough to experience the world at face value.
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‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ by Grady Hendrix
A new and exciting horror writer, Grady Hendrix has a remarkable talent for ridiculous (though incredible nonetheless) narratives ranging from high school girls and demons to suburban moms and vampires. Through his remarkable use of language, setting, and character-building, Hendrix is able to deliver his stories effectively and allow the reader to fully submerge themselves in the worlds which he creates.
‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ follows the story of childhood best friends, Gretchen and Abby. Like any regular teenage girls, they go to high school, talk about seeing a “once in a lifetime” comet when they get old, take mini-adventures, and spend their money on gas and diet coke. Though when an ancient demon ruins their lakehouse sleepover, Gretchen and Abby must test their friendship to gain back their lives.
“I love you dearly, but not queerly” is the girls’ signature sign-off to each other. However, over the course of the plot, they discover that their connection reaches beyond friendship or sisterhood. And when push comes to shove, the love that they hold for each other evolves into a force that is able to banish the demon. “I love you dearly, and queerly” – a line that lead to a (thoroughly prolonged journey that led to a) domestic happily ever after.
Grethen and Abby drifted. They got married to other people and lived in their own houses until they didn’t. Moving in together and taking care of each other in sickness and in health, they lived quiet lives after the horror. But they never did get to see that comet.
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‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Find Me’ by André Aciman
Of course, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ needs no introduction in the sphere of LGBTQ+ literature. Brilliant, and at times repulsive, this novel took the mainstream market by storm. Bringing LGBTQ+ representation to readers worldwide and aiding in the fight to allow bone-chilling romance for queer people, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is nothing short of beautiful.
Following the story of Elio and Oliver, the book takes us back to somewhere in Northern Italy. Incorporating breathtaking scenery and rather philosophical perceptions of the world, the novel establishes an atmosphere that can only be described as a midsummer morning. The most prominent of its kind, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ began a new chapter for LGBTQ+ representation in media. What made this narrative stand out was the lack of implications on the plot that would normally arise in LGBTQ+ literature. The story didn’t tackle homophobia, acceptance, or the concept of identity. Instead, it chose to portray a romance with no strings attached.
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‘Find Me’ – the wildly ignored sequel of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ even corrected its original’s heartbreaking ending with a happily ever after for Elio, Oliver, and their adopted son Oliver. This has allowed queer readers to see the possibilities of happy endings for themselves as well, which cannot be taken for granted. ‘Find Me’ was arguably better than ‘Call Me By Your Name’ due to the same, familiar artistic approach, but without the questionable scenes that left readers skeptical about what could be expected of André Aciman.
Overall, the two-part story was monumental for the LGBTQ+ community because it humanized us to the general public without a patronizing attitude. Beautifully composed, raw, comforting, and heartbreaking – ‘Call Me By Your Name’ brought an artistic interpretation of queer love to the table.
By Micha Jones
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Micha Jones is a writer and aspiring television producer who is dedicated to education and equity. Writing review and feature articles for The Hollywood Insider, they focus on the ways in which media can tell marginalized stories. Through reflecting on the portrayal of social and environmental issues in TV and film, Micha aims to make positive changes in the entertainment industry. Micha’s work often carries The Hollywood Insider’s signature “mic-drop” perspectives and makes an effort to tell educational and socially progressive stories. They strongly believe in accurate representation in film and emphasize the power of the community.