The best novels for when something queer’s afoot

Kristen O'Neal Author Of Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses
By Kristen O'Neal

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...

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses

By Kristen O'Neal,

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.

The books I picked & why

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

By Natasha Pulley,

Book cover of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Why 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. 


The Mirror Season

By Anna-Marie McLemore,

Book cover of The Mirror Season

Why 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. 


Carmilla

By J. Sheridan Le Fanu,

Book cover of Carmilla

Why 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. 


Meddling Kids

By Edgar Cantero,

Book cover of Meddling Kids

Why 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. 


The House in the Cerulean Sea

By TJ Klune,

Book cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea

Why 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. 


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