The best novels for when something queer’s afoot

Who am I?

It’s great for me, personally, that queer means both strange and gay, in some way, because I’m both. I love writing stories that are zany, bizarre, and supernatural, but still grounded in the real world; giving detail to the strangeness makes it feel more real, like something that could have happened to a friend of a friend. I’m particularly moved by stories that work on both the literal and metaphorical level – being a werewolf is a metaphor for being queer and chronically ill, but my werewolf, Brigid, is also a chronically ill lesbian. Here are five of my favorite books that capture both definitions of the word queer. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses

What is my book about?

When Priya’s Lyme diagnosis forces her to move back home from college on medical leave, she finds a kindred spirit in Brigid, a friend she’s only spoken to online. The two of them join a chronic illness Discord server together, but Brigid won’t talk much about her own illness. When Brigid goes offline, Priya does something uncharacteristically impulsive – she drives from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to check on her. She doesn’t expect to find a creature in the basement of Brigid’s house. 

Priya puzzles together an impossible but obvious truth: the creature is a werewolf—and the werewolf is Brigid. As Brigid's condition worsens, their friendship is deepened and challenged, forcing them to reckon with their own ideas of what it means to be normal.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Kristen O'Neal Why did I love this book?

Natasha Pulley’s grounded historical novel marries detailed research of late-19th-century England and Japan with something stranger and more fantastical – but these elements together heighten the narrative. Clerk Thaniel Steepleton’s relationship with clockwork-maker Keita Mori centers the story – they change one another in ways that even fate can’t completely anticipate. There’s a lot of tenderness between them, and it captures the way that falling in love can feel like meeting someone again, instead of for the first time. Also, there’s a pet clockwork octopus. That’s vital. 

By Natasha Pulley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUTHORS' CLUB BEST FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2016 SHORTLISTED FOR THE BETTY TRASK PRIZE 2016 FINALIST FOR THE LOCUS FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2016 An International Bestseller - A Guardian Summer Read - An Amazon Best Book of the Month - A Goodreads Best Book of the Month - A Buzzfeed Summer Read - A Foyles Book of the Month - AHuffington Post Summer Read - A Yorkshire Post Book of the Week In 1883, Thaniel Steepleton returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. But he has worse fears than generous burglars; he…


Book cover of The Mirror Season

Kristen O'Neal Why did I love this book?

The Mirror Season is a difficult and beautiful novel about trauma – sexual assault, specifically – and it’s handled so compassionately, kindly, and brightly. Its central metaphor losing your magic after something unthinkable happens to you, left only with broken shards, works on many levels (as all good metaphors do). Ciela and Lock are brought together after one horrible night at a party, and their relationship is rendered realistically – they struggle separately and together. The something queer is pan: enchanted pan dulce, and a pansexual protagonist. 

By Anna-Marie McLemore,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mirror Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An unforgettable story of trauma and healing, told in achingly beautiful prose with great tenderness and care." ―#1 New York Times-bestselling author Karen M. McManus

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore's The Mirror Season...

Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight,…


Book cover of Carmilla

Kristen O'Neal Why did I love this book?

Short and strange and seductive and sweet, Carmilla is one of the very first works of vampire fiction – called oupires for most of the novella – written almost 30 years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When a beautiful young woman crashes her carriage outside Laura’s family house, Carmilla becomes her companion, and their relationship becomes intense fast. Carmilla targets young women, exclusively, but she wants something deeper with Laura. Laura describes being both fascinated and afraid of Carmilla; these feelings are, ostensibly, because Carmilla is a vampire, but the way she describes her feelings is so reminiscent of being a woman attracted to another woman for the first time. 

By J. Sheridan Le Fanu,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In an isolated castle deep in the Austrian forest, Laura leads a solitary life with only her ailing father for company. Until one moonlit night, a horse-drawn carriage crashes into view, carrying an unexpected guest - the beautiful Carmilla.

So begins a feverish friendship between Laura and her mysterious, entrancing companion. But as Carmilla becomes increasingly strange and volatile, prone to eerie nocturnal wanderings, Laura finds herself tormented by nightmares and growing weaker by the day...

Pre-dating Dracula by twenty-six years, Carmilla is the original vampire story, steeped in sexual tension and gothic romance.


Book cover of Meddling Kids

Kristen O'Neal Why did I love this book?

The premise of Meddling Kids feels like it was concocted especially for me and everyone else who grew up on 70s cartoons and old-fashioned horror; it’s an eldritch twist on Scooby-Doo, where the remaining members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club revisit the scene of their childhood case, realizing there was more to the mystery than originally met the eye. Edgar Cantero’s writing style is an absolute delight – it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. His humor in each metaphor and personification of so many inanimate objects allow you to really feel every scene, not just witness it. Andy, the tough girl of the group, admits to the smart and beautiful Kerri, with her long, sighing hair, that she’s been in love with her since they were kids. 

By Edgar Cantero,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Meddling Kids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A nostalgic and subversive trip rife with sly nods to H. P. Lovecraft and pop culture, in the vein of It and Stranger Things.

An exuberant and wickedly entertaining celebration of horror, love, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn. SUMMER 1977. The Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in Oregon's Zoinx River Valley) solved their final mystery and unmasked the elusive Sleepy Lake monster-another low-life fortune hunter trying to get his dirty hands on the legendary riches hidden in Deboen Mansion. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those…


Book cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea

Kristen O'Neal Why did I love this book?

Whimsical and funny in a way that makes the book feel like a classic, The House in the Cerulean Sea is a romp that focuses on a somewhat-grounded facet of a fantasy world. Linus Baker is a caseworker sent on special assignment to review an orphanage for children with magical powers, run by Arthur Parnassus. It’s a book about a very lonely man finding an entire family, and it taps into discussions of generational and systemic abuse. Almost nothing hits like two queer characters who find each other when they’re a bit older, especially when both of them have been told they’re off-putting, in one way or another. What a delight when they find in each other everything they’ve always been looking for. 

By TJ Klune,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The House in the Cerulean Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not…


You might also like...

Hayley and the Hot Flashes

By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer,

Book cover of Hayley and the Hot Flashes

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer Author Of Hayley and the Hot Flashes

New book alert!

Who am I?

I grew up in a small town, with wonderful librarians who introduced me to books I remember fondly to this day. The Flicka, Ricka, Dicka series, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and, of course, Little Women shaped my love for stories about relationships and the simple pleasures of daily life. Whether it’s a mystery or a memoir, I want interesting interactions between the main characters, meaty descriptions of daily activities and affairs, and, of course, a happy ending. As I’ve gotten older, I like books with older protagonists; those are hard to come by—one reason I wrote a novel about the adventures of five middle-aged girlfriends!

Jayne's book list on entertaining stories about relationships

What is my book about?

Country music diva Hayley Swift has fallen off the charts and into a funk. Desperate to regain her place in the limelight, she agrees to a low-budget tour of Southern venues, starting with her 35th high school reunion.

There, in an unexpected but fortuitous reconnection, The Girls Next Door —who sang together in their teens--become Hayley and the Hot Flashes as they embark on a road trip that will forever change their lives. You'll laugh out loud as the ladies deal with stage fright, stalkers, attitudes, egos, harmonies, hormones, and more. Middle age has never been moodier—or more melodic!

Hayley and the Hot Flashes

By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer,

What is this book about?

When five middle-aged girlfriends trade in carpools and casseroles for microphones and music halls, look out!

Hayley Swift, a country music diva who has slipped out of the limelight, gets more attention when she's mistaken for Taylor Swift's mom than for her former glory days. When she's invited to perform at her 35th high school reunion, a bus accident puts her back-up singers in a hospital, Hayley begs her long-gone-domestic quartet from high school to join her onstage for the gig. They're such a hit that she invites the women to fill in on a low-budget tour for a couple…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in immigrants, orphanages, and the Me Too movement?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about immigrants, orphanages, and the Me Too movement.

Immigrants Explore 159 books about immigrants
Orphanages Explore 26 books about orphanages
The Me Too Movement Explore 5 books about the Me Too movement