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.

The books I picked & why

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Fingersmith

By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Fingersmith

Why 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. 


White Houses

By Amy Bloom,

Book cover of White Houses

Why 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.   


It's Not Like I Knew Her

By Pat Spears,

Book cover of It's Not Like I Knew Her

Why 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.    


Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

By Alison Bechdel,

Book cover of Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

Why 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.           


You're Next

By Kylie Schachte,

Book cover of You're Next

Why 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.


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