The best books for shattering the image that first comes to mind upon hearing the word: “lesbian”

S.W. Leicher Author Of Acts of Assumption
By S.W. Leicher

Who am I?

My family is a marvelously mixed bunch: lesbian, gay, and straight relatives; Jewish and Latin relatives; relatives along a spectrum of economic situations, abilities, and political views.  The policy work that I do connects me with social justice advocates from across NYC’s multiple ethnic, racial, religious, and LGBTQ communities. The wildly disparate voices that surround me illuminate both the power of communal ties and the dangers of narrow identity labeling.  A central quest behind my work, my reading, and my writing has thus always been to balance and respect everything at once: the cultural structures that sustain us; the individual quirks that challenge and complicate those structures; and the universalities that cross all cultural borders.

I wrote...

Acts of Assumption

By S.W. Leicher,

Book cover of Acts of Assumption

What is my book about?

Serach Gottesman—soft-spoken rebel daughter of a fervently Orthodox Jewish home and Paloma Rodriguez—ambitious, impulsive daughter of a South Bronx Latina family, sacrifice everything they were raised to cherish for the sake of their forbidden union. Ten years into their carefully constructed, satisfyingly cosmopolitan partnership, a series of crises bring their pasts roaring back.

Acts of Atonement asks us to ponder what happens when faith, loyalty, and love are irreconcilably at odds—and to question the deceptive ease with which society pigeonholes Jews, Latinas, and LGBTQI individuals.

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

The books I picked & why


By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Fingersmith

Why did I love this book?

Those in the know (i.e., those who have read other Sarah Waters novels) will undoubtedly anticipate the lesbian themes that slowly surface in this subtle, suspenseful Victorian (practically Dickensian) exploration of identity, class, exploitation, and betrayal. But prior knowledge of Waters’ signature focus will not detract from the pleasure of the plot’s breath-taking twists and turns. Filled with deliciously provocative details about the squalid conditions prevailing both within and beyond the walls of a late nineteenth-century English manor—as well as memorable examples of the rewards of resourcefulness and pluck — Fingersmith presents the ingeniously intertwined story of two young women who faithfully stick to their assigned roles… until they don’t. 

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Oliver Twist with a twist…Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”—The New York Times Book Review

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man,…

White Houses

By Amy Bloom,

Book cover of White Houses

Why did I love this book?

In this slender, fictionalized account of the “hidden in plain sight” romance between sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued reporter Lorena Hickok and larger-than-life First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, we get a gloriously slanted insiders’ view of a pivotal period in American history. This is emphatically a “lesbian love story”—explicit in its depictions of both the pleasures of female sensuality and the tolls of enforced secrecy. It is also—bluntly and forthrightly—a “middle-aged love story,” with all the attendant sea changes, accommodations, and regrets. Most of all, it’s the story of the two wittiest, savviest, best-positioned women anyone could ever encounter. “As Churchill said (to me),” the fictional Lorena begins one of her marvelous anecdotes. And the thing is, he probably did.   

By Amy Bloom,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For readers of The Paris Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue comes a “sensuous, captivating account of a forbidden affair between two women” (People)—Eleanor Roosevelt and “first friend” Lorena Hickok.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Financial Times • San Francisco Chronicle • New York Public Library • Refinery29 • Real Simple

Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, “Hick,” as she’s known to her friends and…

Book cover of It's Not Like I Knew Her

Why did I love this book?

Spears’ compelling tale of Jodie Taylor—a lesbian coming of age in the American South of the 1950s and 1960s—smoothly draws readers into that overall time and place through details of setting (a “Pepto-Bismol pink trailer raised on cinder blocks”), behavior (a girl gleefully pouring salted peanuts into an RC Cola) and history (the Birmingham Church bombing) before plunging us into the far-less-familiar inner world of mid-century Southern lesbians. We gain privileged entrée into wildly rollicking bars and snugly welcoming kitchens; witness acts of treachery and acts of fierce loyalty; come to know women of tough skins and tender hearts. “It takes living queer to understand who we are,” one character confidently asserts. But through this adeptly crafted book, Spears opens up that understanding to us all.    

By Pat Spears,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It's Not Like I Knew Her as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jodie Taylor's childhood is filled with loss, abuse, chronic disappointment, and an instinctive awareness that her desire for women will forever make her an outcast. At 18, she flees her home town in rural north Florida and arrives in racially charged Selma, Alabama in 1956 as a penniless fugitive.She finds work in a cafÃ?© that is frequented by racist nightriders and, with an eye on the door, she hunkers down behind a wall of lies and half-truths. Her self-imposed silence with the family she left behind is broken when a crisis sets Jodie on a backward journey. As she struggles…

Book cover of Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

Why did I love this book?

Alison Bechdel (best known for Fun Home, a graphic memoir about her bisexual teacher-cum-funeral-parlor-owner father) also wrote this graphic memoir about her actor-writer-teacher mother. It largely takes place in the 1990s, when being boldly “out” was just becoming possible—and Bechdel joyfully and graphically reveals herself as such to her readers. With her mother, however… maybe not so much. When told that Alison is publishing a book of lesbian cartoons, the mother asks: “Isn’t that rather a narrow scope?” before landing the zinger: “You’re not going to use your own name, are you?” Still, the book’s power derives from showing that sexual identity is only a small part of what divides, enrages, and ultimately re-connects this vivid mother-daughter duo. There’s also fierce creative competitiveness. Deeply shared sorrow. And love.           

By Alison Bechdel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expansive, moving and captivating graphic memoir from the author of Fun Home.

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home was a literary phenomenon. While Fun Home explored Bechdel's relationship with her father, a closeted homosexual, this memoir is about her mother - a voracious reader, a music lover, a passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel's childhood... and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter goodnight, for ever, when she was seven.

Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf.

'As absorbing as…

You're Next

By Kylie Schachte,

Book cover of You're Next

Why did I love this book?

Flora Calhoun—sixteen-year-old, self-appointed sleuth—is hot on the trail of a series of brutal attacks on young women. Ostracized by the in-crowd at her school for her unruly tongue (and for the secrets she uncovers about everyone)—reprimanded by those who love her for putting herself (and them) in constant danger—she ploughs determinedly ahead into increasingly dark and perilous territory. You’re Next is a quintessential YA book—full of the angst, the parental problems, and the acute social commentary of its snarky young protagonist. But does it dwell on the fact that Flora is bisexual? Not for a moment. It seems that in the world of contemporary YA literature we have finally reached the point at which that aspect of Flora’s life is no biggie. Amen.

By Kylie Schachte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You're Next as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a girl with a troubled history of finding dead bodies investigates the murder of her ex, she uncovers a plot to put herself---and everyone she loves---on the list of who's next.

Flora Calhoun has a reputation for sticking her nose where it doesn't belong. After stumbling upon a classmate's body years ago, the trauma of that discovery and the police's failure to find the killer has haunted her ever since. One night, she gets a midnight text from Ava McQueen, the beautiful girl who had ignited Flora's heart last summer, then never spoke to her again.

Just in time…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in lesbian topics and characters, comics, and Eleanor Roosevelt?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about lesbian topics and characters, comics, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Lesbian Topics And Characters Explore 108 books about lesbian topics and characters
Comics Explore 117 books about comics
Eleanor Roosevelt Explore 20 books about Eleanor Roosevelt

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like American Daughter, The Glimpse, and Small Animals if you like this list.