If you’ve been on the internet recently, the literary world has ignited with discussions concerning inclusion and diversity. You probably saw lists upon lists of book recommendations about or by people in minority groups.
At WritersDomain, we also wanted to expand our horizons and diversify our reading. We believe that when you open your mind and heart to many different perspectives, you can have a greater capacity to empathize with others and generally understand what it means to be a “good” human.
Also, we’re all readers here, so what a great excuse to buy and read more books!
So, we asked members of the WritersDomain team to gush about their recent reads that specifically highlight experiences that are important to the LGBTQIA+ community. Here’s a look at a few of our reading recommendations.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Buckle up if you’re a fan of pirates, witches, and fairy tales. Flora takes on the identity of Florian to pass as a male pirate on the ship Dove. She and her brother faced a life of scrapping for food and safety. Dove poses as a friendly transport ship and then the crew robs their rich guests and sells them to slavers. Flora seems to grin and bear this life until Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a daughter of rich Imperial parents, is expected to travel aboard Dove to be married to a man she doesn’t know. It’s then that the two determine to not only escape but rescue a mermaid meant to be drained of its blood.
This book does an amazing job of describing one’s journey with discovering and accepting their gender identity and sexual attraction. For example, Flora/Florian grapples with gender identity and who they really are versus who they pretend to be. Evelyn grapples with understanding true love and what a person must do to really show that love, since she certainly didn’t learn that from her opportunistic parents.
As someone who regularly writes and reads fantasy, I don’t come across a lot of stories about the magic of coming out—to yourself and to others. The writing here is so beautiful, and I love the way the author chose this genre to showcase how these complicated and multi-dimensional characters meditate on their own identities. Even as a straight, cis woman, those parts were so beautiful and empowering.
This book shows that authors can explore gender and culture norms in any genre, even in fantasy or fairy tales.
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
The kingdom of Rabu is divided—there are the dominant Automae, human-like beings that were once designed to be pets but now rule over the world with an iron fist, and the humans who serve them. Ayla is one of these humans, quietly fighting in the shadows to overthrow the Automae and get revenge for her murdered family. But when she is appointed the handmaid of Lady Crier, who will one day be Sovereign, she has to tread carefully in the palace as the rebellion grows, all while dealing with her feelings as she realizes that Lady Crier is more than she appears.
This young adult novel is an own-voices WLW and a compulsive read. Crier’s War was engaging from start to finish. The most compelling aspect of this book is the characters; Ayla’s wants and needs conflict with and complement Crier’s perfectly, making their interactions entertaining and thrilling at every turn. The romance is made more compelling by the social and political threats they face and by their own differing allegiances. If you enjoy YA fantasy, you’ll love this book. The sequel is set to be released this fall.
Docile by K.M. Szpara
In a near future that looks similar to our world, regular citizens are forced to take on the debts of previous generations. With no way to pay off millions incurred by his parents and grandparents just to run his family’s farm, Elisha decides to offer himself up as a Docile—an indentured servant who serves the wealthy and privileged and takes Dociline, a drug that suppresses your will but also removes your memories of your period as a Docile. His own mother never recovered from the drug when she was a Docile herself, so Elisha intends to pay off his debt without using it. But his contract is bought by Alex Bishop, the grandson of the inventor of Dociline. Alex intends to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile, with or without the drug, but what happens between them has ramifications that affect the entire society built upon the servitude of desperate debtors.
This adult speculative novel’s tagline is “There is no consent under capitalism.” It explores the difficulties that arise when the framework of society works against the poor and leaves them with only one horrific choice—and asks the question, “Is this really freedom?” Docile is a smart, difficult book that asks hard questions and delivers a story that’s heartbreaking but also hopeful. The book treats the relationship between Elisha and Alex with intelligence and doesn’t flinch away from the difficult aspects of this world that so clearly reflect our own. Content warnings for sexual content, references and uses of drugs, and sexual violence.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles is the love story of Patroclus and Achilles, as told by Patroclus. While most of the book retells the story of the Trojan War, we start earlier and get more backstory of these two main characters: how they met, how they grew up and trained together, and how their relationship grew. While the story stays true to The Iliad, it gives these two characters depth and humanity.
Madeline Miller is a classics teacher by profession, and she knows her stuff. If you like Greek mythology, you’ll appreciate the depth of her knowledge and research. However, as with any good retelling, she gives us nuance and unexpected complexity while never straying far from the original.
Additionally, Miller happens to be an astonishingly gifted writer, and this book is luminously beautiful—and heartbreaking. Be prepared for tragedy and to cry even though you already know how it ends.
Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
If the cover of Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan doesn’t absolutely sell you on the premise of this novel, allow me to explain: Lou’s just a girl. In a hot dog costume. Working at an amusement park—and trying to figure out every messy detail of her summer.
Lou doesn’t show up thinking that a summer of work at Magic Castle Playland will be perfect. Some of the costumes are notoriously uncomfortable, and the heat only makes things worse. But Lou does have some expectations for her summer that are quickly shattered. This might be the beloved park’s last year if she can’t figure out how to save it. If that’s not bad enough, she’s not sure how her love life is going to play out. (There’s a boy. And a girl. And Lou’s not sure that either of them even likes her.)
Hot Dog Girl is fun, and reading it is the kind of effortless joy you want from a summer romance. None of Lou’s relationships—with the park, with her crush, or with herself—end up where I expected them to when I read the first page. But they’re every bit as rewarding as I would have hoped, and the journey to get there certainly made me smile.