I think most queer people will tell you that the process of figuring out and publicly labelling their sexual or gender identity is not a one-and-done epiphany followed by a single big emotional reveal. Lots of us take a while to work out which label, if any, fits us – and for some of us what might have been true (or we might have thought to be true) at one point in our lives will not remain so forever (for example, I ID’d, with varying levels of conviction, as bi for a long time before realising I was gay). Once we do figure it out, the coming out process literally lasts a lifetime: for every new acquaintance, new job started, new club joined, we must do the same calculation – is it safe to do this, is it sensible, what effect might sharing this information have on me and my life?
So while coming out stories are undoubtably important – and I’d argue no closer to being redundant than they ever have been – stories about queer people just living their lives are just as essential, if not more. There’s something immensely powerful in seeing ourselves, our identities, our realities, reflected in stories about people whose queerness isn’t unimportant as such (the whole “they just happen to be gay” thing is a whole other discussion beyond the scope of this post!) – but also isn’t the entire story or even necessarily the main focus of the plot. Our lives are about so much more than that, and we deserve stories that are too.
BLACKOUT, my first novel, came out last week, and it was the first book I ever wrote that starred a queer girl and featured an f/f romance. I wanted to write a story where a queer girl got to save the world, ideally while also being irritable and abrasive and a total pain in the arse, and also fell in love with another girl along the way. I wrote it – and continue to write f/f – in the hope that some queer girl will read it and think: this is a story about a person like me. I am not alone. And I believe that the more of us there are out there doing this, the brighter the world will be.
So, in celebration, here’s a list of f/f books I’ve loved that transcend coming out narratives. I really hope you enjoy them!
THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US by Emily Skrutskie
Sea monsters! Pirates! Moral greyness freaking EVERYWHERE! Totally badass single mother antagonist! Enemies to lovers (ish)! And Cas Leung, who, as the protagonist, manages to be both tough and vulnerable, always fiercely determined and always utterly compelling – and totally into girls. I am pretty sure I would follow Cas anywhere, and I went out and bought the sequel the SECOND I finished the first book. Cas’ sexuality is established early on in a delightfully casual way; it’s totally normalised, as is the sexuality of the (totally hot) antagonist-slash-love interest. Cas is also a woman of colour in a genre that still has a long way to go in terms of intersectionality. There are so many things to love about this book.
ASH by Malinda Lo
I’m pretty sure every queer girl and woman remotely into YA knows this book; it was a trailblazer, after all – at a time when finding ANY f/f YA was like looking for unicorn poo, Lo wrote and published a Cinderella retelling in which the titular Ash falls in love with the King’s huntress. It was published at a time when the industry was still going, “Okay, fine, if you must be gay, but please don’t flaunt it” – consequently, some people *cough*me*cough* may have taken a while to cotton onto the fact that this was an f/f love story. It was the first f/f YA I ever read, and it will always hold a special place in my heart because of that.
GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard
This book is both incredibly important and pretty unique in that the protagonist is a butch lesbian. I often think about how invisible butch women and girls are in f/f rep, and things seem to be moving at a fairly glacial pace in that respect. While I don’t ID as butch so I can’t speak to the representation from that angle, I did feel very much that GIRL MANS UP gave me an insight into an experience I’ve never found anywhere else. Throughout the book, Pen is clear about her sexual and gender identity – it’s getting the people around her to understand who she is that’s the issue, including her strict Portuguese family and particularly a mum who’s very hung up on traditional gender roles. Girard does an amazing job of capturing that tension between Pen being true to who she is, while not wanting to disappoint her family and the hurt that they won’t just accept her the way she is, as well as the pain of navigating changing and disintegrating friendships. It’s a true coming of age story that manages to be both universal and unique.
THE QUEEN OF IEFLARIA by Effie Calvin
This is a straight-up fantasy perfect for a bit of escapism, starring Princess Esofi, whose marriage to Prince Albion of Ieflaria has been arranged since they were both small children. Esofi leaves her home kingdom and her family and travels to Ieflaria to discover that Albion has died and she is now to marry Albion’s sister, Princess Adale. Something that’s especially lovely about this book is the fact that everyone is pansexual; gender simply isn’t an issue here. Also, there are dragons.
SKYLARKS by Karen Gregory
This just came out a couple of weeks ago and is a really interesting look at the class divide in modern Britain, the issues facing those living on the poverty line, and how two teenage girls from totally different worlds navigate that divide. Joni, the protagonist, is an out lesbian and her sexuality is introduced super casually and completely accepted by her family and friends. SKYLARKS addresses some really important, relevant social issues in a sensitive and engaging way. In the hands of a less skilled writer, some of the tropes would risk straying into clichéd territory (Joni’s family can barely make ends meet but they’re rich in love; Annabelle seems to have everything she could ever want but all she really wants is her parents’ love and approval) – but thanks to Joni’s engaging voice and the care with which Gregory creates her characters, the end result is genuinely emotive and thought-provoking.
THE GRACEKEEPERS by Kirsty Logan
The sea has covered the land, and the tiny amount remaining is the preserve of the ultra-rich. North and her beloved bear travel with a floating circus; Callanish is a Gracekeeper and lives alone in the middle of the ocean, performing death rituals for those who die at sea, as penance for a terrible mistake. A chance meeting draws the two together.
At this point, I have basically bought copies of this book for everyone I know. THE GRACEKEEPERS is adult literary speculative fiction and is hands down one of the best books I have ever read – startlingly original, lyrical, gorgeous and devastating. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
OUT OF THE BLUE by Sophie Cameron
Another recent release, OUT OF THE BLUE is a YA contemporary fantasy that’s closer to contemporary than fantasy. Winged Beings have started falling from the sky and protagonist Jaya’s father, obsessed with finding one alive, has uprooted Jaya and her sister from their home and dragged them to Edinburgh – where the first Being to land on Earth still alive falls right at Jaya’s feet. As well as having some great diverse rep (Jaya is a lesbian and is biracial (Sri Lankan/Scottish); her love interest (who is not the Being, FYI!) is bi and has cystic fibrosis) this is a beautifully written, moving story concerned with the way Jaya deals with her grief over the recent death of her mother and the fallout for the rest of her family. It’s completely wonderful.
Kit is a YA author who lives in Devon, UK. She writes speculative fiction about underdogs, kickass girls who like to kiss other girls, and mental health. Her first novel, Blackout, was shortlisted for the 2016 Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition and longlisted for the 2016 Bath Children’s Novel Award. She was almost certainly a mermaid in a former life.
And various links –
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07C9ZPJHJ
Apple, Kobo, B&N, Nook: https://www.books2read.com/u/3GY0Xa