The 10 Best Queer Books of 2018 (that I read, at least)

Some of these were published in 2018, some I just read in 2018! They span pretty much every genre and are all 5 stars, I-can’t-believe-how-much-I-loved-this-book kind of books.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

I predicted in my January 2018 Goodreads review that this would be my favourite bisexual book of the year, and I was right! It took me a little bit to get into this, but once I was on board with the dry humour and understood who the main character Elliot was (obnoxious little turd that he is who has never been loved), I could not stop reading this book. It’s a wonderful nuanced portrayal of a bisexual boy. It’s about a kid who goes away to a portal fantasy world that isn’t quite the idealized thing he imagined and who’s built up so many walls around him to protect himself from a world who doesn’t care about him. Just like the people around him in the book, when I first met Elliot I found him abrasive and obnoxious; but it didn’t take me long to love him. It was so amazing to watch his journey. I was not expecting this book to make me cry, but the parts about Elliot confronting how he has dealt with the trauma in his life did. Did I mention it has an ADORABLE verrrry slow burn queer love story? Also, there are unicorns and harpies and mermaids who are also nasty but also flawed species just like humans. And the humour is great! It had me laughing out loud many, many times, most of all Elliot’s friend Serene’s matriarchal elf speeches about protecting fair gentlemen and how women are especially suited for the battlefield.

All Violet by Rani Rivera

WOW. What a stunning collection of poetry. Themes include fleeting moments of connection, bisexual dating and crushes, drug / alcohol use and addiction, music, depression, and the humanity of people dehumanized by society. Often sad, raw, but occasionally very funny, with beautiful unique imagery. This is a really amazing poetry collection and I wish more people knew about it. Let me convince you to read it: here’s full review on my blog. And here’s an excerpt from one of my favourite poems:

I love them
broken and beaten badly,
pock-marked and toothless,
spent and riddled with rue.

I love them lying
with sleep in their eyes,
the sunlight curdling
in sweet bellies
heaving with an unrest of a few
too many.

I love them motherless
and taunted. Violent
and entitled.

I love them on fire. I love them on ice.

I love them hairy and unclean.
Hearts pierced and sagging.

I love them old. I love them new.

I love them mean.
I love them talking and talking.
I love them destructed and
pinned with little needles,
smokestacks of inconstancy.
Nailed to the wall and stuck on
with glue.

I love them dancing, dancing.

Little Fish by Casey Plett

What are you doing with your life if you haven’t read this book? Plett’s debut novel is a hard-hitting, beautiful, and thought-provoking novel. Amazing, complex, authentic characterization; Plett isn’t afraid to make her characters messy. I was especially astounded at how she dealt with religion in the lives of some characters. She is also really talented at dialogue. I always marvel at how her characters sound like such real people. The novel is about a 30-year-old trans woman named Wendy living in Winnipeg, her group of trans women friends, and her Mennonite family. The crux of the plot is Wendy discovering her grandfather might have also been trans but it’s just as much about other issues like alcoholism, sex work, friendship, suicide, and being poor. This was the kind of novel that broke me but also built me back up. Full review here.

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

This ridiculous tongue-in-cheek book was probably the most fun I had reading all year. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure historical romance novel. From witty banter with a Darcy-esque aristocrat to pirate adventures in Egypt with your lesbian lover to do-gooding with a rogue Scotsman to paranormal intrigue with Lord Craven aka Rochester, all the plotlines were creative and most of all side-splittingly funny. This book had me laughing out loud many times. It hits the perfect spot between a genuine homage to and affectionate parody of the genre. You get to choose between endings like “Upon travelling to Egypt and falling in love with the lady you are accompanying, you and she join a band of lesbian pirates” or “Co-running an orphanage with your husband Mac, a taciturn but kindly Scotsman who eschews social conventions and likes to have sex in the stables.” Or how about “The Reverend next door to the house where you work as a governess ends up being a sexy villainous vampire and you join him, becoming a vampire Queen and taking over the Lord’s mansion.” Whatever way you go, a happy ending is in store for you!

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom

There aren’t many books in my lifetime that I’ve read that I would truly consider a work of genius. I mean the kind of book that feels timeless and like it should be read and discussed far into the future; the kind of book that is really doing something unique and ground-breaking. But debut novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom is one of those books. (By the way, I also loved her debut poetry collection, A Place Called No Homeland, so you can count me among her top fans now, eagerly awaiting whatever she does next). Fierce Femmes is a funny, dark, innovative story that completely takes apart the genre of the trans memoir. The subtitle, A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, is only the first clue that you are about to read a mind-blowing breakdown of genre and gender. Kai Cheng Thom’s writing is the kind of beautiful that grabs you by the throat. For example: “Little cocoon apartment, I love how you rattle and shake in the wind. You are mine like nothing has ever been before. Someday you’ll tear open, and I will fly out with the wings I have grown inside you. Still shimmering. Still wet.” She also plays with genre, the concept of truth, and the self to wonderful and provocative effect. See here for my full review.

The Last Place You Look and What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka

These first two books in Lepionka’s new mystery/detective series were just excellent. The Last Place You Look was a fabulous and assured debut mystery, and the second one was even better. It begins with Roxane Weary, a bisexual PI who’s been drinking too much while grieving the death of her cop father, who she had a complicated relationship with. A new case, which starts off as a missing person sighting related to an old murder case, becomes more complex the more Roxane investigates. The mystery in What You Want to See is even more complicated—the kind that starts one place (supposedly cheating spouse) and ends up somewhere else (murder and real estate fraud) entirely. Really amazing, messy, authentic characterization and relationships and some beautiful understated writing. Lepionka has Roxane in a slightly better place in book two, which is some fascinating character development but not too emotionally healthy to be boring, you know?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This complex, beautiful novel is perhaps one of my favourite reads of all time?? I was completely mesmerized by the complex characters, 110% invested in their lives, fascinated by the historical details and insights into the human condition, and unbelievably moved by the story. I cried so many times! It follows two women’s lives: Evelyn Hugo, a legendary 1950s movie star who’s famously reclusive, and the young journalist she’s chosen to tell her life story to, Monique Grant. It has a beautiful epic love story that spans most of Evelyn’s life, and a wonderfully nuanced and smart portrayal of a bisexual woman! Evelyn was such a fascinating character—she describes herself like this: “I’m cynical and I’m bossy and most people would consider me vaguely immoral”—and she’s bisexual to boot.It’s one of the best bisexual characters and bisexual representation I have ever encountered. There’s one particular scene where she specifically addresses her sexual identity that was so incredible. Also: fabulous audiobook voice acting; I definitely recommend checking it out in that format. I just want to start re-reading this now that I’m thinking about it again.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

I was completely blown away by the intricate and varied art in this graphic novel, which is all done with ballpoint pen! It’s unbelievable! Ferris draws real people, Chicago street scenes, copies of 1960s horror magazine covers, reproductions of classic art, and more. You won’t believe it until you see it for yourself:

monsters-021

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And the story is similarly impressive, with multiple plotlines happening for tween Karen who’s growing up poor in 1960s Chicago. Lots of tough stuff in here: sexual assault (not pictured), death from cancer, the Holocaust, and forced prostitution. But even though it had a dark feel (sometimes in fun, campy old horror movie way and sometimes in a very real way), it didn’t make me feel dark. Karen is a little baby dyke, which I somehow didn’t know going into this book? For that reason and many more, she is very lovable. It’s a powerful story of a kid dealing with a lot of grown-up stuff that even the grown-ups in her life aren’t equipped to deal with. This includes: her Holocaust survivor neighbour’s dark story in Europe and mysterious death in Chicago, her brother’s sexual and emotional intimacy issues, and what happens in the US when you’re poor and terminally ill. Also, she thinks of herself—and draws herself—as a monster. A really incredible work of visual art and storytelling. I can’t wait to read volume 2.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

What a motherfucking duology of books. Everything I hoped they would be, and I had VERY high expectations. The books feature an incredible, nuanced cast of broken and criminal young people who are nevertheless not without hope and redemption. I loved the characters and their complicated relationships with each other while wanting sometimes to smack them on the side of the head. Bardugo’s world-building and plotting (high stakes heists and cons on the best con artists themselves) are equally impressive. I loved the world Bardugo has created, this complex, sophisticated dark fantasy world. This duology was by turns thrilling, funny, romantic, clever, heart wrenching, healing, dark, and ultimately unputdownable. I CRIED TEARS OF HEARTBREAK BUT ALSO JOY. Both were one of those books that reminded me of how joyful but also painful reading a truly great book is. I may never forgive Leigh Bardugo for some of the things she put me through in the second book. But I really did love how she dealt realistically with trauma and recovery, especially in Kaz and Inej’s stories. And intensely adorable romantic bantering between Nina and Matthias, one of my all time favourite couples. Fantastic representation of bisexual (boy), gay, and disabled characters.

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

What a beautiful, sad, funny book. It’s the most poignant reminder I’ve had in a while about how powerful and effecting a first person narrative can be. Jonny, the Two-Spirit main character, carries the book with his raw, hilarious, and insightful voice. The story meanders through his memories, mostly of his kokum, mom, and his great first love Tias, while in the present Jonny prepares to go back to the rez for his mom’s boyfriend’s funeral. A lot of the novel focuses on the women in Jonny’s life and the impact they’ve had on him. This was one of those books where I underlined so many passages because they just got me right in the feels—of the sad and funny variety. Jonny says: “Humility is just a humiliation you loved so much it transformed.”; he says: “I texted him back with a simple ‘No.’ I made an emphasis to punctuate my text. In the digital universe, a punctuated sentence is as powerful a slap as slamming down the landline.”; and he says: “Funny how an NDN ‘love you’ sounds more like ‘I’m in pain with you.’” Full review on my blog!

What were your favourite queer reads of 2018? Let me know in the comments!

Want more of the best of the best queer books? Check out my last year’s post The Best (Mostly Queer) Books I read in 2017.

About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle, Book Riot and Inside Vancouver. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Asian, Bisexual, Canadian, Casey Plett, Coming-of-age, disability, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Graphic, Indigenous, Lesbian, list, mystery, Non-Canadian, Poetry, Queer, Sex Work, Toronto, Trans, Trans Feminine, Transgender, Young Adult. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The 10 Best Queer Books of 2018 (that I read, at least)

  1. I OFTTEN WONDER IF IT IS ONLY US WHO ARE NORMAL CASEY, CHINA

  2. ich lese says:

    My Favorite Thing is Monsters and the Six of Crow duology are three of my favorite books of 2018! Great list!

  3. Ahhh your book suggestions are always the best!! I loved the messiest of Little Fish, too.

  4. Pingback: My 2018 Year in Reading: Favourite Books of the Year, Most Memorable Character, Best Cover, and More! | Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

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