The queer beach read you've been waiting for. Image: Thinkstock.
Sometimes you just want to read about LGBTQ characters without busting out a box of tissues.
Content notice: mentions of ED and suicide.
If you’ve ever tried to find books that deal with sexuality in any meaningful way — or even if you’ve simply looked for a book featuring LGBTQ characters in the first place — you’ve probably noticed a trend:
Most LGBTQ media is depressing as fuck.
The lack of happy endings for queer characters is such a common trope that it actually has its own name (“Bury Your Gays”). Of course, considering how long the LGBTQ community has been stigmatized and condemned by mainstream society, it’s no surprise that many older works focus on the hardships of being queer (or whatever term floats your not-so-heterosexual boat), and dozens of authors have dealt with tragedy in truly beautiful ways.
On the other hand, works like Giovanni’s Room and Brokeback Mountain are… well, total bummers. Seriously, anyone who can read either of those books without finding themselves sobbing in the shower by the end should get their Feels Boxes checked out, because their levels are clearly off.
As groundbreaking as such novels are, they can also be emotionally exhausting, and sometimes you just want to read about LGBTQ characters without busting out a box of tissues.
In that vein, let’s take a look at six books featuring LGBTQ characters that aren’t destined to end in doom, gloom, and dying alone of cholera on an Italian island (looking at you, Thomas Mann):
1. The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy by Robert Leleux
The most straightforwardly comical book on this list, The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy is a hilariously acerbic account of the author’s adolescence in East Texas. Although the titular character’s sexuality is an integral part of the book, it’s not the center of the story. The focus is largely on his relationship with his mother, with whom he shares tastes in movies, fashion, and a flair for the theatrical. (In one memorable chapter, Leleux's mother tricks him into giving her a ride to plastic surgery by claiming she was hemorrhaging from her vagina.)
Beautiful Boy can come across as a little too theatrical at times, but moments of sweetness are distributed often enough to remind the reader of the family’s humanity.
2. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Adopted by a poor couple in rural Pennsylvania, Molly Bolt is intimately aware of the differences between herself and her peers, but she is far from ashamed of them. Throughout the novel, which follows Bolt from her childhood in Pennsylvania to adulthood in New York City, the spirited protagonist remains steadfastly herself in a world that tells her to be whiter, straighter, and richer.
When it was published in 1973, Rubyfruit Jungle was considered groundbreaking for its explicit portrayal of homosexuality, and it’s just as witty and powerful 40 years later.
3. Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
If you’re looking for complexity in your literature, Not Otherwise Specified is a dream come true. Etta is a teen girl of color who feels like she can’t fit into the boxes expected of her: She’s bisexual, but her former friends bully her for not being gay enough. She’s a dancer, but she’s told she doesn’t have the “right body” for ballet. She has an eating disorder, but she’s not thin enough to meet the criteria for anorexia.
The latter is why she attends an eating disorder support group where she befriends Bianca, who’s auditioning for the same New York City-based performing arts school as Etta. Whether or not you share any of Etta’s intersecting identities, Not Otherwise Specified is guaranteed to resonate with anyone who’s ever felt on the fringe of things.
4. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
You may know her as the originator of the famed Bechdel Test for women in media (Do two named women talk to each other about something other than a man?), but Bechdel is also an accomplished cartoonist and author of the long-running comic strip (and origin of the aforementioned test), “Dykes to Watch Out For.”
Her graphic memoir Fun Home deals with difficult subjects — most notably, her complex relationship with her closeted father, who may have committed suicide — through deft humor and plenty of literary allusions.
It’s not exactly lighthearted beach material, but it turns out well in the end: In 2014, Bechdel was the recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award, and Fun Home was recently turned into a critically-acclaimed musical.
5. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Published in 1952 under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, The Price of Salt chronicles a love affair between Therese, a lonely young shop clerk, and Carol, a bitter older housewife in the midst of a divorce.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the novel’s most revolutionary aspect is a happy ending, which was near unheard-of for LGBTQ characters at the time.
The Price of Salt is still a lovely read today; it was even adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 2015.
6. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is one of those books readers return to again and again — not because of a particularly intricate plot, but because the colorful cast of characters are so well-drawn and lively, it’s hard to remember they’re fictional.
The charmingly nostalgic book focuses on the residents of Whistle Stop, Alabama, from the 1920s until 1986, when an elderly woman recounts their adventures to the middle-aged narrator.
Idgie and Ruth’s relationship is central to the plot, and it is guaranteed to make even the coldest, most wizened heart (in other words, mine) grow a few sizes. The novel also deals with feminism and racism, and ends with a series of recipes used at the Whistle Stop Café.
What more could anyone want?