Valentine’s Day, alongside a reminder of your tragic love life, means rom-coms. The narrative surrounding the day, and this genre, can be extremely heteronormative, so here are some LGBTQ+ love stories I’d recommend!
Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
Victorian. Fraud. Love.
Whenever I’m asked for book recommendations, this always makes the cut. I’d give anything to read it again for the first time: the twists blindside you in the best way, yet are utterly convincing in their unravelling. It makes becoming immersed and invested easy.
Without spoiling much, Sue and Maud’s relationship takes centre stage, integral to the success of the fraud. The pair’s development of romantic feelings is heartwarming, but simultaneously heartbreaking (since one Mr Rivers is determined to marry Maud). What stands out about this representation of a queer relationship is its existence within a wider plot – it isn’t the entire story. Neither girl is solely defined by their sexuality. The deep exploration of character prevents them being reduced to only that. There’s a palpable tension between love and freedom, creating a complication that builds a compelling story.
There’s also been a fantastic 2016 Korean adaptation titled The Handmaiden!
Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
Does Love, Simon ring any bells? The film that exploded in 2018, receiving massive praise, was based on this book!
Sixteen-year-old Simon Spier is at risk of being outed as gay when an email is seen by the wrong person. His struggles with coming out have resonated with many LGBTQ+ readers who feel like this is what they’ve been waiting to read, including my friend who “just felt 100% represented” by this narrative. The vulnerability when coming out is wonderful (I might have cried…), and the romance is the cherry on top. My friend said: “if there were more stories like this, a lot more people would be comfortable in themselves”, and that’s what’s exciting about positive stories like Simon gaining visibility.
Carry On – Rainbow Rowell
Following the success of Fangirl, Rowell decided to write the story that its protagonist was so obsessed with… So we could all become obsessed too.
A very self-aware book, Carry On enters a conversation with tropes within a Harry Potter-esque world. It subverts the trope of two guys having an intense relationship but not being gay, usually involving a lot of queerbaiting (looking at you Supernatural...). Simon and Baz actually get to explore their relationship, receiving the same treatment a heterosexual couple would. They get together because they have chemistry, not just because they’re the only gay characters in a one-mile radius. Again, it’s not a coming out story, rather something that happens within a wider narrative. Simon coming to terms with his sexuality is relatable: it’s simply something he never realised and doesn’t feel the need to label. It’s not his main focus, and this depiction feels very true to our generation.
They also have a healthy relationship! While Baz has issues being a vampire, and Simon goes to therapy to work through his own stuff, as a couple they’re good. A breath of fresh air, given the usual treatment of LGBTQ+ relationships.
The sequel, Wayward Son, is set for 2019 release!
A Love Story For Bewildered Girls – Emma Morgan
Pitched as the ‘bisexual rom-com we’ve been waiting for’, Morgan’s debut novel just hit the shelves in early February 2019. Following the lives of three women (Grace, Annie, and Violet), it’s intriguing to see how they all interlink, particularly in the relationships of differing sexualities (Grace is a lesbian, Annie is straight, and Violet is bisexual).
With Grace being a therapist, discussions surrounding sexuality and depression are enabled in an interesting and understanding way. It’s not preachy and it doesn’t focus on the ‘why?’, instead centring on the ways to help a friend suffering with depression. The women’s experiences feel natural in our society, and it (partially) strays from the typical ‘anti-LGBTQ+ family’ that queer fiction so often sees, with Grace’s queerness normalised in her supportive family environment.
It’s a cute read that touches on the strength of female friendship, and I love that the relationships are the heart of the book, rather than struggles with sexuality which are the focus all too often.