Reviewed by an actual lesbian
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash
Lesbian fiction can be hit or miss, something I learned quickly while running a lesbian book club in 2017. We slogged through many books full of stilted dialogue, heavy-handed metaphors, and boring plots. We also found a few books that took our breath away.
It?s hard to know which lesbian fiction is good lesbian fiction. I thought I would share which books our book club thoroughly enjoyed.
Here are the 5 lesbian novels we recommend reading.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
This is one of my all time favorite books. It was also the first book our group ever read together (a choice I made hoping a genuinely good book would encourage returning members). The group unanimously rated this book a near-perfect read.
More coming-of-age than coming out, Danforth captures the struggle of growing up gay in small-town America without damning the town in which it takes place. Her love of Miles City, Montana (Danforth?s hometown) is apparent throughout and lends to a finely painted depiction of life in the West.
Set in the 1990s, the story centers around Cameron Post. Orphaned at 12, Cameron navigates grief, puberty, and her attraction to women while living with her conservative, but well-meaning, aunt. When falling for the new girl in town takes a bad turn, Cameron finds herself sent off to a ?de-gaying? camp.
Danforth navigates grief, heartbreak, and falling in love with a practiced hand. Notable details about this work include many references to movies, natural dialogue, beautiful descriptions, and a fantastic character development. Cameron reads like a real teenager, full of optimism, hope, self-doubt, conflict, and her own lively personality. I?ve never read another book that captures the uncertain certainty of teenage lesbianism in a conservative environment.
A Thin Bright Line by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
Set during the Cold War, this book follows Lucybelle Bledsoe in her quest to find love and carve out a name for herself in the male-dominated field of science editing. After her relationship goes south, Lucybelle moves from New York to Chicago to take a job as the head of the editorial department for a government lab studying ice crystals. While in Chicago, Lucybelle struggles to make friends with the other women in the office, navigates the difficulties of a working as woman in the 1950s, and falls in love with a black photographer named Stella.
Bledsoe takes on a lot in a relatively short book. She depicts lesbian culture in the 1950s-1960s, touches on racism, and captures the frustrations of working in the sciences as a woman. On top of all that, this book is about Lucy Jane Bledsoe?s own aunt who passed away in 1966. Mostly fiction, Bledsoe pieced together her aunt?s life as best as she could in this stunning tribute. Plus, this is not a coming out book!
A little precious at times, the book is a quick read. I can tell that the book is well-researched, and learning about what it was like to be a lesbian during the Cold War certainly grabbed my attention. If you like historical fiction, don?t pass this one up.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Set in Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War, this novel manages to focus our attention on what it was like to be a child in a war-torn country rather than the violence itself. Ijeoma is only 11 when she is sent away to live in safety with family friends. There, she falls in love for the first time with her caretakers? ward, Amina. This book follows Ijeoma through boarding school, work, marriage, and motherhood.
I do not know much about African culture and thoroughly enjoyed reading a book about a lesbian from a non-Western society. It does a great job highlighting Nigerian culture and what growing up during a civil war looked like to a child. Okparanta also uses her book to show the violence, prejudice, and hatred queer people still face in Nigeria.
The book club liked this book overall, but was torn on the style. Not quite linear, this book is a collection of scenes with dream sequences and flashbacks mixed in.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Finally, a teen romance that isn?t about coming out! Emi Price is an 18-year-old just out of high school. She ended things with her on-again-off-again girlfriend, maybe for good, and is living with her best friend in an adorable LA apartment. Movie buff and set designer extraordinaire, Emi discovers a mysterious letter at the estate sale from a leading man of old Western Movies. It leads her to Ava, his estranged granddaughter and budding actress. They both get jobs on an indie film, Emi as the set designer and Ava as the lead. Will their romance bloom amongst the mystery of Ava?s deceased mother and the pressures of working on a movie in LA?
Fluffy on the surface, LaCour gives you something deeper to dig into. Ava is angry with her mother?s passing and her adopted mother?s homophobia. Emi is caught up in the movie of her own life, just beginning to learn that life is not fiction. Sprinkle that with mystery and lesbian drama, and you have a very fun read.
We loved how LaCour draws us into the world of set design. Who knew someone actually had to create those rooms we see in movies?
The Abysss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Another book that isn?t about coming out! If you like dystopian science fiction, this is a great choice for you. Plus, it features space pirates and genetically engineered sea monsters. Honestly, this book had me at space pirates and was an incredibly fun read.
Cassandra Leung is the 17-year-old daughter of genetic scientists. Her family creates and rears Reckoners, genetically engineered monsters that protect ships traversing the pirate-infested seas of the NeoPacific. When her first mission goes wrong, Cassandra finds herself the captive of notorious pirate captain Santa Elena (who is super hot if a bad girl in power is your thing). Santa Elena requires Cassandra to train a stolen Reckoner pup to be used as a weapon. Oh, and Cassandra has to work with another pirate, Swift. Swift and Cassandra have plenty of belligerent sexual tension.
We liked the fast moving plot. Skrutskie does a great job of weaving interesting scenes together, making this quite a page turner. You?ll flip between pirate fights, floating cities, monster training, romantic moments, and even a pirate fight club. The romance subplot moves well, too. There is plenty of will-they-won?t-they moments that will remind you of your first crush.
It?s not a perfect score because there could be more world building, better setting descriptions, and a touch less of the heavy handed exposition. However, it really gets rolling after the first 20 pages or so. Plus, there is a sequel!
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
I threw this in the bonus section because this book was very polarizing. About half the book club loved the book. The other half? not so much.
Maria is a trans lesbian living in New York. She works at a bookstore, has brunch with her girlfriend, drinks a lot, and fakes orgasms. When she finds out her girlfriend cheated on her, Maria decides she needs a change. She borrows (steals) her girlfriend?s car and decides to drive to California. Along the way she meets James, someone she?s pretty sure is also transgender but doesn?t realize it.
Those of us liked it because Maria feels like a very real character. Binnie gives us complete access to Maria?s thoughts. She sometimes monologues, she has shitty motivations for her behaviors, she makes mistakes, she?s sometimes profound. Maria is relatable and funny as much as she is troubled. We also liked the more modern writing style. The book felt fresh to us.
Those of us who did not like it thought the book was too dark. Maria struggles with alcoholism and other substances. She makes a lot of bad choices. She can be whiny. She does the bare minimum. We also were not totally sold on the writing style, it can be a bit confusing.
If you want to read a book about a trans woman written by a trans woman, this is a great option for those who don?t mind stream-of-consciousness and drug use.
Rating: 3/10 or 8/10
via RipTide Publishing
Bend by Nancy Hedin
This book was not officially read by our book club. It was written by a member of our book club and read by me, so I think it deserves a mention. Plus, it?s about young women without focusing on coming out, which is refreshing.
Lorraine Tyler lives in small-town Bend, Minnesota with her twin sister, devoutly Christian mother, and laidback father. Lorraine longs to escape the small town by winning a scholarship from the church, but she?s pretty sure she blew it by kissing the pastor?s daughter. Lorraine is sure she?ll be the only lesbian stuck in Bend ? until Charity rolls into town.
When Lorraine?s sister disappears, she must navigate the pitfalls family tragedy, struggles of young love, and plans for her future. It all gets more complicated when Lorraine uncovers an old family secret. Will she ever find freedom and love?
I enjoyed this book because Hedin tackles a lot. Much like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Bend depicts small-town life with affection. Hedin takes inspiration from her own childhood in Central Minnesota to create a lively town full of relatable characters. The writing style is sharp and full of midwest personality. Plus, Lorraine knows she is queer from the start of the book, and seems to have known for a while. I was pleased to read about a small town lesbian who was comfortable with her sexuality, while dealing with small-town homophobia and conservative Christian parents. On top of that, Hedin tackles mental health. Hedin is a mental health crisis worker, which shows in the way she handles mental health problems that appear in the novel.
My only complaint with the book is I wish it was longer. Hedin tackles so much that some of the plot gets lost in everything that is going on. While certainly a page-turner, some scenes are abrupt, even jarring. Lorraine is a well-developed character, but I wish the reader got to know everyone as well as her.
Definitely worth checking out. Nancy Hedin is a new author. Bend is a solid addition to lesbian fiction. Plus, there is a sequel in the works!
What is your favorite lesbian novel? Tell me in the comments!