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Read with “Pride,” Part I: Lambda Literary Awards 2023 Fiction Finalists

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Read with “Pride,” Part I: Lambda Literary Awards 2023 Fiction Finalists

2023 lambda fiction finalists

Lambda Literary Awards, also known as the “Lammys”, are awarded yearly by Lambda Literary Foundation to recognize the crucial role LGBTQ writers play in shaping the world, and to celebrate the very best in LGBTQ literature.

Instituted In 1989, the Lammys have maintained a proud tradition of celebrating vibrant, dynamic LGBTQ storytelling for over 30 years. Today, the awards celebrate more than 150 LGBTQ writers across 25 categories, and include several cash prizes for writers at all stages in their careers. 

The finalists for this year’s 35th Annual Lambda Literary Awards were selected by a panel of over 65 literary professionals from more than 1,350 book submissions. These selections represent the best of LGBTQ literature this year.

What better way to celebrate Pride Month than by checking out some of the finalist titles in the fiction categories listed below, that will help you explore some new stories, viewpoints, and voices? (Check back next week when we’ll spotlight the finalists in the nonfiction categories.)

Lesbian Fiction

big girl

Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Sullivan’s debut novel is an engrossing coming-of-age story starring Malaya, a young teenager facing the world in a body that is constantly scrutinized, commented on, and judged. Growing up in 1990s Harlem, Malaya thinks about little else besides when, where, and what she is going to eat. She sits through Weight Watchers meetings with her mother, who also struggles with her weight, knowing that she will be rewarded with french fries. She sneaks second dinners, indulges in the treats her friend Shaniece brings for the bus ride to school, and shares forbidden bodega sandwiches and Chinese food with her father. As she continues to put on weight, her mother urges a variety of solutions while her grandmother tries to scare her with threats, such as no man will want a woman that big. All the while, Malaya wonders what it even means to be a woman, and what it means to become one in a fat, Black body like hers.

Gods Of Want: Stories by K-Ming Chang

Startling stories center the bodies, memories, myths, and relationships of Asian American women.  With each tale, Chang gives us her own take on a surrealism that mixes myth and migration, corporeality and ghostliness, queerness and the quotidian. Stunningly told in her feminist fabulist style, these are uncanny stories peeling back greater questions of power and memory.

Jawbone by Monica Ojeda

Fernanda and Annelise are so close they are practically sisters: a double image, inseparable. So how does Fernanda end up bound on the floor of a deserted cabin, held hostage by one of her teachers and estranged from Annelise? When Fernanda, Annelise, and their friends from the Delta Bilingual Academy convene after school, Annelise leads them in thrilling but increasingly dangerous rituals to a rhinestoned, Dior-scented, drag-queen god of her own invention. Even more perilous is the secret Annelise and Fernanda share, rooted in a dare in which violence meets love. Meanwhile, their literature teacher Miss Clara, who is obsessed with imitating her dead mother, struggles to preserve her deteriorating sanity. Each day she edges nearer to a total break with reality. Interweaving pop culture references and horror concepts drawn from Herman Melville, H. P. Lovecraft, and anonymous “creepypastas,” this is an ominous, multivocal novel that explores the terror inherent in the pure potentiality of adolescence and the fine line between desire and fear.

Gay Fiction

call me cassandra

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala

A darkly magical tale of a haunted young dreamer, born in the wrong body and time, and believing himself to be a doomed prophetess from ancient Greek mythology.

The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan

Hussam and Wassim are teenage boys living in Syria during America’s invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s. When a surprise discovery results in tragedy, their lives, and those of their families, are shattered. Wassim promises Hussam his protection, but ten years into the future, he has failed to keep his promise. Wassim is on the streets, seeking shelter from both the city and the civil war storming his country. Meanwhile Hussam, now on the other side of the world, remains haunted by his own ghosts, doing his utmost to drown them out with every vice imaginable.   As Hussam and Wassim come to terms with the past, they begin to realize the secret that haunts them is not the only secret that formed them.

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things : Stories by Arinze Ifeakandu

These nine exhilarating stories of queer love in contemporary Nigeria, announce the arrival of a daring new voice in fiction. A man revisits the university campus where he lost his first love, aware now of what he couldn’t understand then. A young musician rises to fame at the price of pieces of himself, and the man who loves him. Arinze Ifeakandu explores with tenderness and grace the fundamental question of the heart: can deep love and hope be sustained in spite of the dominant expectations of society, and great adversity?

Hugs And Cuddles by Joao Gilberto Noll

A narrator’s journey to discover his true self and the outermost reaches of sexual and artistic expression.

 My Government Means To Kill Me by Rasheed Newson

A fierce and riveting queer coming-of-age story, following the personal and political awakening of a young gay Black man in 1980s NYC, from the television drama writer and producer of The Chi, Narcos, and Bel-Air Born into a wealthy Black Indianapolis family, Earl ‘Trey’ Singleton III leaves his overbearing parents and their expectations behind by running away to New York City with only a few dollars in his pocket. In the City, Trey meets up with a cast of characters that change his life forever–from civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who he meets in a Harlem bathhouse, to his landlord, Fred Trump, who he clashes with and outfoxes. He volunteers at a renegade home hospice for AIDS patients, and after being put to the test by gay rights activist Larry Kramer and civil rights leader Dorothy Cotton, becomes a founding member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Along the way Trey attempts to navigate past traumas and searches for ways to maintain familial relationships–all while seeking the meaning of life in the midst of so much death.

Bisexual Fiction

meet us by the roaring sea

Meet Us By The Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy

Alternating between the protagonist’s present life and passages of a manuscript in translation, this is a genre-bending exploration of memory, war, technology, friendship, love, consciousness, and the challenges of caring for others in an age where we are so often lost in our own minds.

Mother Ocean Father Nation : A Novel by Nishant Batsha

On a small Pacific island, a brother and sister tune in to a breaking news radio bulletin. It is 1985, and an Indian grocer has just been attacked by nativists aligned with the recent military coup. Now, fear and shock are rippling through the island’s deeply-rooted Indian community as racial tensions rise to the brink. Bhumi hears this news from her locked-down dorm room in the capital city. She is the ambitious, intellectual standout of the family, the one destined for success. But when her friendship with the daughter of a prominent government official becomes a liability, she must flee her unstable home for California. Jaipal feels like the unnoticed, unremarkable sibling, always left to fend for himself. He is stuck working in the family store, avoiding their father’s wrath, with nothing but his hidden desires to distract him. Desperate for money and connection, he seizes a sudden opportunity to take his life into his own hands for the first time. But his decision leaves him at the mercy of an increasingly volatile country.

Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste

A historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

Roses, In The Mouth Of A Lion by Bushra Rehman

Razia Mirza is a Pakistani American growing up in 1980s Corona, a conservative, immigrant Muslim community in Queens surrounding the first Sunni mosque built in New York. In the close confines of their urban village, Razia and her friends are raised as strictly observant Muslims with traditional cultural mores, food, language, clothing, and social interactions. Razia’s mother rules with an iron hand, and Razia is dutiful, complying to household rules and the expectations of her community. The beauty of this story is watching Razia become stronger, independent, even rebellious. When she leaves Queens to attend high school in Manhattan, she finds herself involved in a relationship with another girl that jeopardizes her place in her family and community. But no matter the consequences, she wants to be true to herself. Having grown up as a Muslim in Corona, Rehman intimately understands the pervasive and persuasive influence that this enclave exerts on Razia. Rehman’s masterful prose, peppered with Urdu phrases, evokes rich emotional and social nuances regarding a particularly sensitive divide between generations in a community of immigrants trying to hold on to their culture even as they make new lives for themselves in a new country.

Stories No One Hopes Are About Them by A J Bermudez

 In a series of 20 short fictions, this book takes the reader to the ends of the earth, from the ocean floor to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, from an 18th-century German “house of the dead” to death row at Sing Sing to a party at the local zoo. We’re guided by cocktail servers, serial killers, and theme park princesses. Many of these characters–like us–should probably be elsewhere. At once playfully dark and slyly hopeful, these stories explore convergences of power, privilege, and place. Characters who are ni de aquí, ni de allá–neither from here nor there–straddle competing worlds, disrupt paradigms, and transition from objects of other people’s stories to active subjects and protagonists of their own. Narratives of humanity and environment entwine, with nuanced themes of colonization, queerness, and evolution at the forefront. 

Transgender Fiction

didnt nobody give a shit

Didn’t Nobody Give A Shit What Happened To Carlotta by James Hannaham

After more than twenty years in prison, a trans woman newly released on parole spends a whirlwind Fourth of July weekend in Brooklyn trying to reconcile with the son she left behind and to reunite with a family reluctant to accept her true identity. Carlotta Mercedes has been misunderstood her entire life. When she was pulled into a robbery gone wrong, she still went by the name she’d grown up with in Fort Greene, Brooklyn – before it gentrified. But not long after her conviction, she took the name Carlotta and began to live as a woman, an embrace of selfhood that prison authorities rejected, keeping Carlotta trapped in an all-male cell block, abused by both inmates and guards, and often placed in solitary. But in her fifth appearance before the parole board, Carlotta is at last granted conditional freedom and given a bus ticket back to a New York City that has changed as much in the intervening decades as she herself has changed to those who knew her before she was sent away. Can she reconcile with the son she left behind and reunite with a family reluctant to accept her as Carlotta, all while complying with near-impossible parole restrictions and doing everything in her power to stay out of jail?

Manywhere : Stories by Morgan Thomas

Nine stories about queer, genderqueer, and trans characters seeking insight and actualization. The characters in Thomas’ debut story collection, as different and sui generis as they are, are all seekers, whether sifting through archives for any echoes of themselves in the historical record or reinventing themselves by way of elaborate, sometimes convoluted forms of self-mythologizing.  TheY feel fully alive and reveal their rich and endlessly vibrant interiors through indefatigable exploration and textured thoughts.

Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane

A retelling of the Iliad featuring an Achilles who’s a trans woman. Finding an elasticity in the story of the Iliad, Deane pits Achilles against Helen of Troy in the Trojan War. The book begins with Achilles hiding in Skyros with the princess Deidamia. Under Deidamia’s tutelage, and using special herbs, Achilles is transitioning from a male body to her true female self. Athena intervenes and transforms Achilles completely into her ideal female body so she can feel fulfilled in her real identity. Athena also grants Achilles’ greatest desire—to have a child—by forging a womb in her center. The book holds close to the story of the Iliad in broad strokes but attempts to deliver a parallel journey for Achilles as she transitions and then explores the world of war while questioning what it means to be a woman and a man. 

LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

book eaters

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries. Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairy tales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong

A mixed-species fugitive, Jes tries to blend in on a pleasure moon, but instead catches the attention of a crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job and is forced to bend to the mobster’s will until he decides to take the big boss down.

Into The Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be. Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story-beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel-bears more than one face.

The Paradox Hotel: A Novel by Rob Hart

January Cole’s job just got a whole lot harder. Not that running security at the Paradox was ever really easy. Nothing’s simple at a hotel where the ultra-wealthy tourists arrive costumed for a dozen different time periods, all eagerly waiting to catch their “flights” to the past. Or where proximity to the timeport makes the clocks run backward on occasion–and, rumor has it, allows ghosts to stroll the halls. None of that compares to the corpse in room 526. The one that seems to be both there and not there. The one that somehow only January can see. On top of that, some very important new guests have just checked in. Because the U.S. government is about to privatize time-travel technology–and the world’s most powerful people are on hand to stake their claims. January is sure the timing isn’t a coincidence. Neither are those “accidents” that start stalking their bidders. There’s a reason January can glimpse what others can’t. A reason why she’s the only one who can catch a killer who’s operating invisibly and in plain sight, all at once. But her ability is also destroying her grip on reality–and as her past, present, and future collide, she finds herself confronting not just the hotel’s dark secrets but her own.

LGBTQ Mystery

and there he kept her

And There He Kept Her by Joshua Moehling

This is a thrilling page-turner that introduces readers to a complicated new hero and forces us to consider the true nature of evil.  When two teenagers break into a house on a remote lake in search of prescription drugs, what starts as a simple burglary turns into a nightmare for all involved. Emmett Burr has secrets he’s been keeping in his basement for more than two decades, and he’ll do anything to keep his past from being revealed. As he gets the upper hand on his tormentors, the lines blur between victim, abuser, and protector. Personal tragedy has sent former police officer Ben Packard back to the small Minnesota town of Sandy Lake in search of a fresh start. Now a sheriff’s deputy, Packard is leading the investigation into the missing teens, motivated by a family connection. As clues dry up and time runs out to save them, Packard is forced to reveal his own secrets and dig deep to uncover the dark past of the place he now calls home.

Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret–but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in. Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept–his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand. Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy–and Irene’s death is only the beginning. When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.

LGBTQ+ Comics (Fiction)

mamo

Mamo by Sas Milledge

Orla O’Reilly, the youngest in a long line of hedge witches, is compelled to return home after the death of her grandmother, Mamo. In the wake of her Mamo’s passing, seas are impossible to fish, crops have soured, even Jo Manalo’s attic is taken over by a poltergeist! And to make matters worse it appears that the cause is Mamo, or her mislaid bones that is. Can Orla shoulder the responsibility of quieting her Mamo’s spirit, saving her hometown, and will she have to step up as the new witch of Haresden like Mamo always wanted?

Other Ever Afters : Stories by Melanie Gillman

In this new feminist, queer fairy tale collection, the princesses, mermaids, barmaids, children, and wise old women who have been forced to sit on the sidelines in classic stories take center stage to fulfill their own dreams and find the love, power, and happiness they deserve.

LGBTQ+ Romance and Erotica

kiss her once for me

Kiss Her Once For Me: A Novel by Alison Cochrun

One year ago, recent Portland transplant Ellie Oliver had her dream job in animation and a Christmas Eve meet-cute with a woman at a bookstore that led her to fall in love over the course of a single night. But after a betrayal the next morning and the loss of her job soon after, she finds herself adrift, alone, and desperate for money. Finding work at a local coffee shop, she’s just getting through the days, until Andrew, the shop’s landlord, proposes a shocking, drunken plan: a marriage of convenience that will give him his recent inheritance and alleviate Ellie’s financial woes and isolation. They make a plan to spend the holidays together at his family cabin to keep up the ruse. But when Andrew introduces his new fiancée to his sister, Ellie is shocked to discover it’s Jack, the mysterious woman she fell for over the course of one magical Christmas Eve the year before. Now, Ellie must choose between the safety of a fake relationship and the risk of something real.

The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett

A fiery restaurant owner falls for her enigmatic head chef in this charming, emotional romance Amy Chambers: restaurant owner, micromanager, control freak. Amy will do anything to revive her ailing restaurant, including hiring a former reality-show finalist with good connections and a lot to prove. But her hopes that Sophie’s skills and celebrity status would bring her restaurant back from the brink of failure are beginning to wane… Sophie Brunet: grump in the kitchen/sunshine in the streets, took thirty years to figure out she was queer. Sophie just wants to cook. She doesn’t want to constantly post on social media for her dead-in-the-water reality TV career, she doesn’t want to deal with Amy’s take-charge personality and she doesn’t want to think about what her attraction to her boss might mean… Then, an opportunity: a new foodie TV show might provide the exposure they need. An uneasy truce is fine for starters, but making their dreams come true means making some personal and painful sacrifices and soon, there’s more than just the restaurant at stake.

LGBTQ+ Children’s Books

kapaemahu

Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu

Four individuals of dual male and female spirit bring their healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii, where they are beloved for their gentle ways and miraculous cures and where they imbue four giant boulders with their powers.

Mama And Mommy And Me In The Middle by Nina LaCour

When her mother goes on a business trip, a little girl, who loves to sit between Mama and Mommy at the table, misses her a lot and feels empty until Mommy finally comes home, filling the void with love.

LGBTQ + Middle Grade

answers in the pages

Answers In The Pages by David Levithan

When Donovan left his copy of The Adventurers on the kitchen counter, he didn’t think his mom would read it—much less have a problem with it. It’s just an adventure novel about two characters trying to stop an evil genius…right? But soon the entire town is freaking out about whether the book’s main characters are gay, Donovan’s mom is trying to get the book removed from the school curriculum, and Donovan is caught in the middle. Donovan doesn’t really know if the two boys fall in love at the end or not—but he does know this: even if they do, it shouldn’t matter. The book should not be banned from school. Interweaving three connected storylines, David Levithan delivers a bold, fun, and timely story about taking action (whether it’s against book censors or deadly alligators…), being brave, and standing up for what’s right. 

The Civil War Of Amos Abernathy by Michael Leali

Amos Abernathy lives for history. Literally. He’s been a historical reenactor nearly all his life. But when a cute new volunteer arrives at his Living History Park, Amos finds himself wondering if there’s something missing from history: someone like the two of them. Amos is sure there must have been LGBTQ+ people in nineteenth-century Illinois. His search turns up Albert D. J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier who might have identified as a trans man if he’d lived today. Soon Amos starts confiding in his newfound friend by writing letters in his journal–and hatches a plan to share Albert’s story with his divided twenty-first century town. It may be an uphill battle, but it’s one that Amos is ready to fight.

Different Kinds Of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff

When Annabelle learns that her father shares something big–and surprising–in common with her new nonbinary friend, she begins to see herself, and her family, in a whole new light.

Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne

Seventh grader Hazel Hill is too busy for friends. No, really. She needs to focus on winning the school-wide speech competition and beating her nemesis, the popular and smart Ella Quinn, after last year’s embarrassing hyperbole/hyperbowl mishap that cost her first place. But when Hazel discovers Ella is being harassed by golden boy Tyler Harris, she has to choose between winning and doing the right thing. No one would believe that a nice boy like Tyler would harass and intimidate a nice girl like Ella, but Hazel knows the truth, and she’s determined to prove it, even if it means risking everything.

Nikhil Out Loud by Maulik Pancholy

Indian American cartoon voice actor Nikhil’s eighth-grade year is not going as planned. He’s living in Ohio with his mom and her parents, far away from his best friend, and he’s stuck doing the school musical even though he can’t sing. Staring down puberty, local homophobes, and generational differences, Nikhil has got to find his voice. This upper-middle-grade novel combines a relatable school story with the draw of a famous protagonist who’s still down to earth.

LGBTQ + Young Adult

lesbianas guide to catholic school

The Lesbiana’s Guide To Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

Sixteen-year-old Mexican American Yami Flores starts Catholic school, determined to keep her brother out of trouble and keep herself closeted, but her priorities shift when Yami discovers that her openly gay classmate Bo is also annoyingly cute.

The Summer Of Bitter And Sweet by Jen Ferguson

In this complex and emotionally resonant novel about a Métis girl living on the Canadian prairies, debut author Jen Ferguson serves up a powerful story about rage, secrets, and all the spectrums that make up a person—and the sweetness that can still live alongside the bitterest truth. Lou has enough confusion in front of her this summer. She’ll be working in her family’s ice-cream shack with her newly ex-boyfriend—whose kisses never made her feel desire, only discomfort—and her former best friend, King, who is back in their Canadian prairie town after disappearing three years ago without a word. But when she gets a letter from her biological father—a man she hoped would stay behind bars for the rest of his life—Lou immediately knows that she cannot meet him, no matter how much he insists. While King’s friendship makes Lou feel safer and warmer than she would have thought possible, when her family’s business comes under threat, she soon realizes that she can’t ignore her father forever. 

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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