The best novels with international queer heroes

Why am I passionate about this?

When I first wrote The Sea Elephants, my protagonist (Shagun) and I were both asexual. My writing professor read the novel and said it’s dying to be a gay love story. Eventually, when I came out and rewrote the book from my newfound identity of queerness, I searched for queer stories that, like mine, were set outside the US or had non-American leads. And I realized that this is a significant gap that needs to be bridged. I felt a tremendous sense of solidarity with the books I did find. They made me feel less alone. Later, as an assistant professor of English, I’ve taught all of these books.

I wrote...

The Sea Elephants

By Shastri Akella,

Book cover of The Sea Elephants

What is my book about?

Shagun Mathur is sixteen when he joins a traveling street theater troupe to flee a homophobic father, conversion therapy, high school bullies, and his own guilt about the death of his sisters. Shagun thrives amidst his fellow storytellers, performing mortals and gods, men and women. When he meets Marc Singer, a Jewish-American migrant, he also finds love. But when Shagun’s troubled past begins to engulf him again, he must decide if he is strong enough to face his fears and claim his happiness. Set in 1990s India, The Sea Elephants is an ode to the healing powers of found family and queer pride.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Young Mungo

Shastri Akella Why did I love this book?

Set in 1990s working-class Glasgow, Young Mungo depicts a queer love story blossoming against the rising tensions of religious clashes, gang wars, and class struggles.

Tenderly written and brilliantly paced, the novel also depicts one of the most beautiful sibling relationships. Watch for: the two gangs (one protestant and the other catholic) facing off on a historic bridge in Glasgow and the scene where Mungo meets James in, wait for it, a dovecote.

By Douglas Stuart,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Young Mungo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A story of queer love and working-class families, Young Mungo is the brilliant second novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain

Douglas Stuart's first novel Shuggie Bain, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, is one of the most successful literary debuts of the century so far. Published or forthcoming in forty territories, it has sold more than one million copies worldwide. Now Stuart returns with Young Mungo, his extraordinary second novel. Both a page-turner and literary tour de force, it is a vivid portrayal of working-class life and a deeply moving and highly suspenseful story of the dangerous…

Book cover of Querelle of Roberval

Shastri Akella Why did I love this book?

Originally written in French, and translated by Donald Winkler, Querelle of Roberval is set in working-class Quebec, it has as its hero a young gay man, Querelle, who moves into the lumber town of Roberval.

The social dynamic of the town is upended as men both out and closeted are drawn to his Adonis-like beauty—so well-described that I fell in love with him. Meanwhile, as a mill strike causes the interclass tensions to rise. Winner of the Marquis de Sade Prize, this gem is an ode to Jean Genet, male beauty, and the literary form of the tragedy.

By Kevin Lambert, Donald Winkler (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize

Homage to Jean Genet's antihero and a brilliant reimagining of the ancient form of tragedy, Querelle of Roberval, winner of the Marquis de Sade Prize, is a wildly imaginative story of justice, passion, and murderous revenge.

As a millworkers' strike in the northern lumber town of Roberval drags on, tensions start to escalate between the workers-but when a lockout renews their solidarity, they rally around the mysterious and magnetic influence of Querelle, a dashing newcomer from Montreal. Strapping and unabashed, likeable but callow, by day he walks the picket lines and…

Book cover of Swimming in the Dark

Shastri Akella Why did I love this book?

Oprah Magazine describes the novel as Call Me By Your Name set in Communist Poland and I cannot think of a more fitting description!

The romance between the leads, Ludwik and Janus begins in an idyllic summer in a rural setting. When the novel moves to Warsaw and Janus gets a prestigious, highly-coveted government job, politics enters their lives like an unwelcome but impossible-to-get-rid-of third party and their relationship pays the price. How could it not? It is, after all, the age of the iron curtain in a highly-religious Poland.

To read whether our heroes recover from this blow and find each other again, read the book!

By Tomasz Jedrowski,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Swimming in the Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Guardian Book of the Year

'The highest talent at work' Sebastian Barry

'Beautiful ... A masterpiece' Attitude

Poland, 1980. Shy, anxious Ludwik has been sent along with the rest of his university class to an agricultural camp. Here he meets Janusz - and together they spend a dreamlike summer falling in love.

But with summer over, the two are sent back to Warsaw. Confronted by the scrutiny, intolerance and corruption of life under the Party, Ludwik and Janusz must decide how they will survive; and in their different choices, find themselves torn apart.…

Book cover of Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion

Shastri Akella Why did I love this book?

The rare South Asian diasporic novel with a queer lead, Bushra Rehman’s novel is set in the 1980s New York and follows Razia, a second generation Pakistani-American girl living in Queens as she finds strong female friendship with Taslima and eventually falls in love with Angela. But being Pakistani-American means, for Razia, making a difficult choice: home or love.

This novel will resonate deeply with anyone who loves New York or has found themselves on the fringes of their families because of who they are.

By Bushra Rehman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Razia Mirza grows up amid the wild grape vines and backyard sunflowers of Corona, Queens, with her best friend, Saima, by her side. When a family rift drives the girls apart, Razia's heart is broken. She finds solace in Taslima, a new girl in her close knit Pakistani-American community. They embark on a series of small rebellions: listening to scandalous music, wearing mini skirts, and cutting school to explore the city.

When Razia is accepted to Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, the gulf between the person she is and the daughter her parents want her to be, widens.…

Book cover of What Belongs to You

Shastri Akella Why did I love this book?

There are very few books that capture the particular suffering of loving someone and not being loved back.

Greenwell’s powerful debut novel is one of them. Set in the capital city of Bulgaria, the novel begins with an encounter that the narrator, an American teacher working abroad, has with Mitko, a sex worker. It is written in prose whose beauty, beat by beat, is as achingly beautiful as the unrequited love the narrator has for Mitko. This is one to savor slowly.

My copy is heavily underlined. Garth, a trained opera singer, reads like a dream. Accompany your reading with his readings from the work (they’re on YouTube). 

By Garth Greenwell,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked What Belongs to You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Startlingly erotic and immensely powerful, Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You tells an unforgettable story about the ways our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

Winner of the Debut of the Year Award at the British Book Awards.
Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize.

'A searching and compassionate meditation on the slipperiness of desire . . . as beautiful and vivid as poetry' - Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life

On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia's National Palace…

You might also like...

Melody and the Pier to Forever: Parts Five and Six

By Shawn Michel De Montaigne,

Book cover of Melody and the Pier to Forever: Parts Five and Six

Shawn Michel De Montaigne

New book alert!

What is my book about?

A young adult and epic fantasy novel that begins an entire series, as yet unfinished, about a young girl named Melody who discovers that the pier she lives near goes on forever—a pier that was destroyed by a hurricane that appeared out of blue skies in mere moments in 1983.

Melody doesn't know it, but a king has been searching for her for more than twenty years—longer than she's been alive. His kingdom is readying for the day when they may return to the world found beyond the end of that very pier, a world cast into darkness by an…

Melody and the Pier to Forever: Parts Five and Six

By Shawn Michel De Montaigne,

What is this book about?

Melody Singleton is a bright 13-year-old girl who loves math, classical music, her mom, her best friend Yaeko, and her dog. To her classmates that makes her a nerd, and they cruelly treat her as such. After being expelled from the advanced algebra class for not paying attention, she meets her new teacher, Mr. Conor, who gives her a very strange homework assignment. You see, she got kicked out because she was distracted by a symbol that the rest of us can't see, a beautiful sigil that, incredibly, Mr. Conor can see too, because it's on the assignment he gave…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gay men, New York State, and anti heros?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gay men, New York State, and anti heros.

Gay Men Explore 125 books about gay men
New York State Explore 522 books about New York State
Anti Heros Explore 81 books about anti heros