Sunday, August 14, 2022

From romance to fantasy: 5 LGBTQ+ reads to finish out your Pride Month

June 30, 2022
The youth attending the Lansing pride rally stand on the stairs of the capitol on June 26, 2022.
The youth attending the Lansing pride rally stand on the stairs of the capitol on June 26, 2022. —
Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

For many readers, books are a haven.

Through an author’s words, readers can escape to new realities. Sometimes, it’s a world with fairies, cyborgs, or parallel universes. Other times, it’s a world where someone's identity is accepted, celebrated and wonderfully ordinary.

There are some amazing books where a character’s sexuality IS the plot of the story, and while those books are vital, it can be the best form of escape to read about characters that get their own adventures beyond coming out. Their sexuality is still important, but there’s more to the story, as there always is.

This list of books is just that. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo 

This hit novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid has gone absolutely viral on Tik Tok. The story centers on Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood star who’s strayed away from the limelight for the last decades of her life. In a seemingly random decision, Evelyn decides to tell her life story to reporter Monique Grant.

While Monique sits with Evelyn in her apartment, Evelyn tells Monique an engrossing tale of love, fame and tragedy. Evelyn has had seven husbands, as the title suggests, and each one served a purpose in her life. 

However, Evelyn’s one true love is someone unexpected. 

“Don’t ignore half of me so that you can put me into a box,” Evelyn says to Monique.

Through utterly thoughtful and riveting writing, Reid creates a book that’s impossible to put down. 

The Shadowhunters Series 

Cassandra Clare built a whole world around her demon-slaying Shadowhunters, unconditional friendship, magic and runes and some of the richest romance one can find in YA fantasy.

Clare has several series in this universe, the main ones including the Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices, The Dark Artifices and The Last Hours. 

The four series span the late 1800s to the 2010s, following the stories of several Shadowhunter families. There are vampires, werewolves and warlocks, and as Clare says in every series, “All the stories are true.”

For Clare, inclusion in her stories is a celebration of the diversity of love. There’s Alec Lightwood, in love with his straight best friend, and Magnus, a sexy, bisexual warlock with a big heart. 

Anna Lightwood, in the 1890s, a dashing lesbian always dressed in the height of men’s fashion, and her cousin Matthew, a bi blonde enamored with Oscar Wilde and his best friend’s fiancee. 

Thomas Lightwood and Alastair Carstairs discover love together in the 1890s, and in the 2010s, Kit Herondale and Ty Blackthorn stumble upon it together at 15. 

Marc, Christina and Kieran find that their hearts are big enough to love each other together, in a rare and wonderful example of polyamory in YA. 

Clare’s writing validates the identities of her LGBTQ+ characters and readers, honoring them by giving them adventure, heartbreak and humanity beyond their sexuality. In a bit of her own magic, Clare’s stories show that love is love and that there is nothing nobler, no matter whom one gives their heart. 

Percy Jackson: Heroes of Olympus, Trials of Apollo and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard

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Rick Riordan might’ve written the Percy Jackson series for kids, but his books are so entirely fun that they make for perfect summer reading for anyone.

Many members of Gen Z grew up reading the original series, but haven’t picked up his newer series, the Trials of Apollo and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. 

The first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is pretty low on romance, considering the characters are pretty young for most of the series. However, the second series, Heroes of Olympus, has Nico Di Angelo, a son of Hades who grapples with his sexuality while fighting all sorts of other monsters and gods.

Born in 1932, frozen in time at the Lotus Casino for decades, and now 15 in the 2010s Nico is learning to be comfortable with his sexuality in an era where it’s accepted. Beyond that, Nico basically has his own death army, so he’s pretty badass. 

In Trials of Apollo, Nico gets his love story, and it’s one of Riordan’s best romance plots. So cute.

“I lost some readers on that,” Riordan said in an interview. “But some of them came back and told me they’d had a conversation with, say, a brother who they later found out was gay. Nico was the way that we found to communicate with each other, and for me to learn a bit more and to become more accepting.”

In Magnus Chase and The Gods of Asgard, there’s Alex Fierro, a gender-fluid character who uses she/her or he/him pronouns. Fierro is a child of Loki, as Riordan expands his universe to the Norse pantheon. Alex is angry, loyal and kinda goofy, with shapeshifting powers and a killer sense of style. 

Riordan’s inclusion expands throughout his series, and lets a younger audience experience acceptance and explore sexuality, all while reading Riordan’s quips, excellent fighting scenes, and about the best of friendships. 

Red, White and Royal Blue

Written by Casey McQuiston, Red, White and Royal Blue is romance, royalty and political intrigue with a swoon-worthy enemies-to-lovers plot line. 

Wall Street Journal calls it a blend between Veep, Parks and Recreation, and a queer 10 Things I Hate About You—a perfect LGBTQ+ beach accessory. Imagine laying on the beach, sand in your toes, sun on your back, reading about the romance between the United States President and the Prince of England. Another Tik-Tok favorite, this book is being adapted for movie screens. 

It all starts out when Alex Claremont-Diaz has to attend Prince Henry’s older brother’s wedding. Alex and Henry have hated each other since they were kids, and end up committing an international faux pas.

To repair the two countries’ relations in the media, Alex and Henry are forced to spend time together publicly, and their feelings of animosity soon turn into something much more passionate. Through the story, they navigate their relationship and its political implications, and readers are treated to a wonderfully enjoyable and sweet story. 

Song of Achilles 

Madeline Miller is an author that knows how to break her reader’s heart with words. Her retelling of the Iliad is poetic but direct and describes love in such a refreshing way. In the Song of Achilles, Patroclus tells the story of his best friend and lover, the hero Achilles. 

Patroclus, a former prince, has just been exiled when he meets Achilles. Over the course of several years, Patroclus and Achilles grow up together and grow to love each other with a love that ends up defying death itself.

Achilles is a golden boy, a demigod, and in search of fame and happiness. Patroclus is a humble healer. Miller does an excellent job of portraying the humanity of her characters. They aren’t perfect, sometimes they’re terrible, but more often, they’re wonderful and complex and they change, too. 

Achilles and Patroclus join the Trojan War, and as the Iliad goes, there’s a tragic ending. Miller, however, ends her story on a hopeful note, and readers won’t be disappointed. Since the original Iliad was written, it was rumored that perhaps Achilles and Patroclus were more than just friends. 

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way, his breaths came and his feet struck the earth,” Patroclus said. “I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

Miller creates a world where those rumors were believed and validates the experience of LGBTQ+ people who did exist and love and die in the Classical Era. LGBTQ+ readers deserve to read about their own stories in history, and Madeline Miller delivered them eloquently, heart-wrenchingly and gloriously.

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