The best books about gritty queers figuring their lives out

Who am I?

As a contemporary fiction author, I dig down into and expose the dirty underbelly of my characters’ lives and experiences. As a reader and television viewer, I am drawn to stories that do the same. My fascination with reading and writing gritty stories about queer characters figuring their lives out stems from my own confused upbringing. I have written four full-length contemporary fiction novels that all put the main character’s experiences and choices under a microscope. Additionally, while I didn’t set out to try to destigmatize therapy and friends talking openly about their struggles, reviewers have pointed out that those are themes in my books.


I wrote...

Canopy

By Liz Faraim,

Book cover of Canopy

What is my book about?

Vivian Chastain is an adrenaline-addicted veteran, transitioning to civilian life in Sacramento, California. She settles into a new routine while she finishes up college and works as a bartender, covering up her intense anxiety with fake bravado and swagger. All Vivian wants is peace and quiet, but her whole trajectory changes when she stumbles upon a heinous crime in progress and has to fight for her life to get away.

While recovering from the fight, she falls in love with someone tall in stature but short on emotional intelligence. Given Vivian’s insecurities and traumatic past, she clings to the relationship even while it destroys her. She turns to her best friend for support, only to be left alone until she finds care from the last person she would have thought.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Valencia

Liz Faraim Why did I love this book?

Michelle writes in an authentic voice that draws the reader into her tumultuous, down and dirty story. I love Valencia because as I read the book, it feels like she is sitting next to me on a dirty curb, late at night, regaling me with stories about her youthful adventures (and misadventures) in San Francisco. Valencia was a touchstone for me as a young author; it taught me that it’s okay to write about gritty, real-life things because, surprise, they are relatable. Valencia also helped me overcome my self-doubt about writing and getting my own unique voice out into the world.

By Michelle Tea,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Valencia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Valencia is the fast-paced account of one girl's search for love and high times in the drama-filled dyke world of San Francisco's Mission District. Michelle Tea records a year lived in a world of girls: there's knife-wielding Marta, who introduces Michelle to a new world of radical sex Willa, Michelle's tormented poet-girlfriend Iris, the beautiful boy-dyke who ran away from the South in a dust cloud of drama and Iris's ex, Magdalena Squalor, to whom Michelle turns when Iris breaks her heart.


Book cover of Stone Butch Blues

Liz Faraim Why did I love this book?

I read Stone Butch Blues in my 20s, while just a young pup of a butch myself. The story was a shock to the system, which both ripped my heart out and emboldened me. I love Feinberg’s brutally honest view of a truly revolutionary time in US History. While a work of fiction, Stone Butch Blues holds a mirror up to the US’s despicable underbelly. Some readers refuse to believe that the history shared in Stone Butch Blues ever happened, while others read it and think “Oh, look how far we have come,” without recognizing how far we still have to go.

By Leslie Feinberg,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Stone Butch Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence.

Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue--collar town in the 1950’s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess…


Book cover of The Color Purple

Liz Faraim Why did I love this book?

Somehow, I made it to the age of 43 before reading The Color Purple for the first time. I was surprised that it had not been required reading in any of my college-level English/Lit courses. I specifically sought The Color Purple out because it has a history of being banned at schools across the US, and decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I found that The Color Purple is an important piece of American literature that boldly discusses not only inequities and abuse, but also resilience. The Color Purple will make you uncomfortable, and that’s the point. 

By Alice Walker,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Color Purple as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker's iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug…


Book cover of Milk Fed

Liz Faraim Why did I love this book?

I stumbled upon Milk Fed by accident, and boy am I glad I did. A protagonist after my own heart, Rachel has control issues, which for her manifest in disordered eating, over-exercising, seeking approval and acceptance in the wrong places, and yearning. Ohhh, so much gloriously unhealthy, obsessive yearning. Broder includes a level of grit and physical descriptors that some reviewers deemed “gross,” but to me those details added to the story and made me love it even more. Milk Fed made me laugh, cringe, gasp, and groan.

By Melissa Broder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Milk Fed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A scathingly funny, wildly erotic and fiercely imaginative story about food, sex and god from the Women's Prize longlisted author of The Pisces

A STYLIST, INDEPENDENT, THE WEEK AND RED HIGHLIGHT FOR 2021

'Sexy and fun and a little weird ... This riot of carnal pleasure will make you laugh as well as gasp' The Times

'A revelation ... Melissa Broder has produced one of the strangest and sexiest novels of the new year ... Exhilarating' Entertainment Weekly

'A luscious, heartbreaking story of self-discovery through the relentless pursuit of desire. I couldn't get enough of this devastating and extremely sexy…


Book cover of Running with Scissors: A Memoir

Liz Faraim Why did I love this book?

While stuck on a layover in Georgia, my travelling companion kept chuckling at the book he was reading, which turned out to be Running with Scissors. Having six more hours of our layover, I picked up a copy at the airport bookshop and hunkered down with it. What I found was a “memoire” that burned bridges, exposed alleged atrocities, and explored Burroughs’ extremely unconventional upbringing. It took me a few weeks to digest Running with Scissors after I had finished it. But don’t let that turn you off from it. I say this in the best way possible, if you like dumpster fire, unsettling, off-the-wall books, this one is for you.

By Augusten Burroughs,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Running with Scissors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times Bestseller

An Entertainment Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year

Now a Major Motion Picture

This is the true story of a boy who wanted to grow up with the Brady Bunch, but ended up living with the Addams Family. Augusten Burroughs's mother gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. The doctor's bizarre family, a few patients and a sinister man living in the garden shed completed the tableau. The perfect squalor of their dilapidated Victorian house, there were no…


You might also like...

Oaky With a Hint of Murder

By Dawn Brotherton,

Book cover of Oaky With a Hint of Murder

Dawn Brotherton

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Aury and Scott travel to the Finger Lakes in New York’s wine country to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings at the Songscape Winery. Disturbed furniture and curious noises are one thing, but when a customer winds up dead, it’s time to dig into the details and see what ferments.

Is there any truth to the Native American legends that cluster near Seneca Lake? Is the warrior’s disapproval of wineries growing legs? Aury will need to pour over the clues to unearth the mystery before the winery’s reputation is crushed. With the annual wine festival just around the corner, Aury harvests more than she bargained for when the killer tries to bottle her up for good.

Oaky With a Hint of Murder

By Dawn Brotherton,

What is this book about?

Aury and Scott travel to the Finger Lakes in New York's wine country to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings at the Songscape Winery. Disturbed furniture and curious noises are one thing, but when a customer winds up dead, it's time to dig into the details and see what ferments.


Is there any truth to the Native American legends that cluster near Seneca Lake? Is the warrior's disapproval of wineries growing legs?


Aury will need to pour over the clues to unearth the mystery before the winery's reputation is crushed. With the annual wine festival just around the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the patriarchy, coming of age, and bildungsroman?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the patriarchy, coming of age, and bildungsroman.

The Patriarchy Explore 76 books about the patriarchy
Coming Of Age Explore 1,177 books about coming of age
Bildungsroman Explore 284 books about bildungsroman