We’ve had the star-crossed lovers of District 12; Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games. We’ve had the tragic love story of two cancer-stricken teens; Augustus and Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars. We’ve even had the tension-filled confused romance of Hermione and Ron from The Harry Potter series.
But all of these stories revolve around straight romances causing many queer readers to feel underrepresented in their favourite books (I, Asareel, would have given my right arm and a cheese toastie to read Harry and Draco snogging in the loo – Drarry was real and no one can tell me otherwise).
Nevertheless, LGBTQ+ characters in books have been emerging more recently. Below is a beautiful compilation of queer love to remind us of how utterly alone we are this Valentine’s Day!
1. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
“‘If only you could talk to girls in equations.’”
“There was a long silence, and then, eyes trained on the notch they’d created in the link, Wylan said, ‘Just girls?’”
“Jesper restrained a grin. ‘No. Not just girls.’”
This story had a realistic outlook on gay love with its innocence, hope and desire. Redheaded and pink-faced Wylan, a runaway merchant’s son, joined the Crows as a demolition’s wizard for an upcoming heist. Dark, tall, boldly-dressed Jesper is a sharpshooter with a notorious penchant for gambling. In a flashback later in the series, we see that Jesper was sent by Kaz Brekker, the group’s formidable teenage leader, to recruit Wylan to join their crew. Jesper first saw Wylan in the tannery where Wylan was working after running away from his home. Wylan’s attention was diverted to Jesper’s “perfectly shaped lips” while Jesper felt an inexplicable urge to kiss Wylan upon their initial contact
They were both disappointed upon learning that they did not, in fact, share many common interests and it seemed that this OTP (one true pair) might have died off. Obviously, I was bitterly disappointed too as I had an inkling that Jesper fancied the little merchant boy from his shameless and outright flirting and his remarkable ability to come up with a host of names for Wylan (Merchling, Brilliant, Wy, Twelve Kinds of Trouble – and my personal favourite – Wylan Van Sunshine).
The beautiful thing about this relationship was it wasn’t filled with the usual dramatic, fancy declarations of love. Instead, you can hear their love from the way they look out for and listen to each other. Perhaps one of my favourite Wesper moments was when Wylan had his face magically altered to resemble someone else. Jesper was kept in the dark about this and became angry upon finding out that Wylan might not be able to change his face back, telling him “Maybe I liked your stupid face!” when Wylan questioned him. Later when Wylan’s face was being tailored back, Jesper stood by and gave his suggestions; “his lashes are longer, his brow is slightly narrower”. These suggestions reveal the acute observations Jesper had about Wylan; little things that Wylan may not have realised about himself. I believe Jesper in the series is seen as an impulsive, fidgety character and I adore the fact that Wylan’s presence had the power to calm him down. On the other hand, Wylan had severe dyslexia and was barely able to read. Jesper looked past this, choosing to pay attention to Wylan’s ingenuity, creativity and bravery instead, and points this out to him during his most vulnerable moments.
We can’t pretend love is all about fairy tales, glass slippers and chiselled-jawed Prince Charmings. Love is about embracing flaws and stupid addictions.. Jesper and Wylan were good for each other because they learned each other’s weaknesses and they stayed, instead of abandoning one another when things got difficult. Hats off to Leigh Bardugo (the author) for creating the most magical gay romance I have ever read, yet simultaneously giving me unhealthy expectations on relationships.
2. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
“‘Never met a boy who wanted to be a butterfly,’ said Tedros softly. Filip looked up. The two boys gazed into each other’s eyes, legs touching on the ledge.”
The School for Good and Evil, written by gay author Soman Chainani, pays tribute to two of my favourite genre’s; gay books and fairy tales. I only had one thought reading this series; what in the holy disregard of normal fairy tale tropes?
Now, as this series is catered towards middle-school children, the author doesn’t explicitly coin any LGBTQ terms in the book, but he implies it through his use of “showing not telling” as a means of allowing the younger audience to be more accustomed to queer characters. For starters, Sophie was brought back to life by her True Love’s Kiss which was delivered- not by Prince Tedros- but by her best friend, Agatha. Throughout the story, we see Agatha truly looking out for Sophie while Sophie’s relationship, as a girl, with Prince Tedros was rather superficial because the only reason she wanted him to be her Prince Charming was to fulfil her dazzling illusion of a Happily Ever After fairy tale. This challenges the True Love’s Kiss trope where it is always between a girl and a boy.
Perhaps the author wished to present the idea that soulmates don’t necessarily have to be lovers, but best friends. After all, a soulmate is someone who knows you better than anyone else, someone who lets you drop your guard, someone who matches your energy, someone who makes you feel alive. Agatha was all these things whereas Tedros was merely a potential husband.
Furthermore, after bringing Sophie back from death, Agatha was supposed to stay with Tedros whilst Sophie was supposed to be sent back to her village, alone. That was the ending, that was their Happily Ever After. Instead, at the very last moment, Agatha takes Sophie’s hand, choosing Sophie, and they’re both transported back to their original village which results in the second book: A World Without Princes.
Apart from that, Tristan, a rather minor character in the books, is subtly portrayed as being a trans girl. In the second book, when The School for Good and Evil is transformed to The School for Boys and Girls, Tristan takes a potion that enables him to transform into a girl and join the School for Girls as a transfer student. She was also tormented by Aric, a vile classmate, for her feminine characteristics which was partly why she transitioned. In my opinion, the author uses magical terms (such as potions = hormones) as metaphors to explain this queer character. In the end, Tristan just wanted to be happy. That happiness for him was wearing dresses and makeup instead of conforming to society’s expectations that Princes have to be dashing, with an exquisite set of abs and a bootylicious Princess on his arm.
Interestingly enough, there was hardly any chemistry between Sophie and Tedros when she was a girl but oh ho! It was quite a different (and much, much more interesting) story when she transformed herself into a boy. Taking the same potion as Tristan, Sophie morphed into the male version of herself, in order to steal a coveted object, and joined The School for Boys as Filip. Here she befriended Tedros and, curiously enough, the two began to understand each other on levels higher than when Sophie was a girl. Tedros was able to actually talk to someone and be vulnerable without feeling the constant need to impress a girl, which was why Tedros and Filip’s relationship worked on god-tier levels. Then finally, finally, Tedros kissed Filip, flourishing his bisexuality, and the world exploded into a million shimmering rainbows and stars (no it did not, but that was how their kiss made me feel).
3. The Mortal Instruments/The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare
“If Jace was gold, catching the light and attention, Alec was silver: so used to everyone else looking at Jace that there was where he looked too. And silver, though few people knew it, was a rarer metal than gold.”
There comes a time when you stumble across a quote from a book or movie, and it clicks. The words reverberate within you and its beauty seems unforgettable. This is that quote for me.
Flamboyant, fashion forward and bisexual icon, Magnus Bane, had quite a slew of lovers including, but not limited to, men, women, faeries, warlocks, vampires and djinns. Magnus had a particular fondness for a combination of black hair and blue eyes, a trait shared by some of his male lovers. However, the downside to falling head over heels in love with humans was the inescapable fact that Magnus, as a warlock, was cursed (or blessed?) to live for eternity.
Meanwhile, his human lovers would grow old, wither and die, leaving Magnus alone with the burden and pain of his memories. That, I suppose, is the price one must pay for defying death and remaining forever young. While Magnus had wandered through the centuries with his many lovers, Alec was his last, the one he wanted to give up eternity for, the one he saw himself growing old with. The other lovers may have been part of the journey but Magnus eventually realised that Alec had always been the destination. If Magnus Bane was a wanderer, then Alexander Lightwood was home.
This was the very first book I read, growing up, that had queer characters which was perhaps the reason why I have remained faithful to this series for the longest time. I commend Cassandra Clare, the author, for not including a queer character as an afterthought, for diversity’s sake (I’m looking at you, Sarah J. Maas). Looking back, I’ve realised how monumental this series, with its many queer characters, has been to young LGBTQ readers everywhere.
4. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Love, Simon delivered cinema’s most charming coming out and coming-of-age queer romance, based on Becky Albertalli’s hit novel. However, it is not so much the romance that earns this book a spot on our list. Simon’s coming out receives a great amount of care from the author — it’s a beautiful mess.
For Simon, his internal struggle is far more cumbersome than the acceptance of those around him. It’s realistic and relatable, though not a universal experience. Simon had it easier than a lot of queer people out there, but that’s the point. His coming out might not have had him disowned or thrown into a conversion centre, but it was just as important and valid as anyone else’s.
I still recall watching the film thrice on the same flight, mustering the courage to come out. I cried each time for the same scene, and then again when I read the book as an openly gay teen. In the scene, Simon comes out to his mother and she describes his internal battle as “holding his breath”. Her response could not have been more moving or heartwarming.
“You get to exhale now, Simon,” she said, at the brink of tears. “You get to be more you than you’ve been in … in a very long time. You deserve everything you want.”
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hones in on the relationship changes that queer people undergo upon coming out — Simon’s falling out with his pal Nick, the unrequited feelings of his best friend Leah, his parents’ acceptance, and his blooming romance with firstname.lastname@example.org. In the end, Simon discovers that his beloved pen pal is none other than Bram, and their kiss upon the ferris wheel serves as the perfect ending.
5. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive a call from Death-Cast a little after midnight on September 5th, learning of a bitter truth — both of them would die later that day. Mateo and Rufus are strangers, but for different reasons, are both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. Mateo and Rufus resort to an app called the Last Friend, and through it, the pair meet up for one last great adventure — a quest to live a lifetime in a single day.
It’s obvious from the title, this tale is a tragic one. Nonetheless, this novel captures love in a queer romance like no other, painting the loss of a loved one like a death in and of itself. Mateo and Rufus felt so much love for one another despite their brief encounter. Adam Silvera, the author, made this novel excruciating to read for a reason. For LGBTQ+ individuals, love is more than a game of chance. It’s a gamble. It can be fleeting or everlasting — both are just as precious.
I’d hate to spoil this one, so here are some quotes from the book that don’t reveal the entire plot.
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that’s all.” — Oscar Wilde
“Two dudes met. They fell in love. They lived. That’s our story.”
6. What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Meet the lovechild of the aforementioned authors, Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I have read countless romance novels, and no other had me rooting for the couple as much as I did for Arthur Seuss and Ben Alejo. What If It’s Us (2019) is about falling in love for the first time. It’s not the HEA (Happily Ever After) one expects from a queer romance novel. In fact, it’s so much more.
It follows Arthur and Ben through an adventurous summer in New York, letting them explore themselves and their love for each other. It does not conform to the fairytale-like standard of most romance novels with LGBTQ+ lead characters. Instead, this book navigates their passionate but problematic love affair, each author telling a different side to the story.
However, there is still hope for Arthur and Ben to get the HEA they so desperately deserve in the book’s sequel, Here’s To Us (2021). I recommend this book to all my queer friends. It’s the perfect balance of real and magical.
“I guess that’s any relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end up with everything.” — Becky Albertalli
“I just think you’re meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path.”
By Asareel and Karran