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17 novels any lesbian and bi woman should read before turning 30

17 novels any lesbian and bi woman should read before turning 30

A person wearing a pink gown reading a book.

Coming of age and coming out are two painstakingly difficult processes for anyone out there. Worse yet, they might occur at the same time, leaving an even longer wake of confusion behind them.

When self-doubt comes in, some good representation can help. LGBTI literature can be crucial in providing young readers with the role models they desperately need or with some insights into a different life they’ll never be able to experience first hand.

Coming-of-age novels, however, can mean a lot to older readers as well. Reading of the angst and joys of entering adulthood as an LGBTI person is, in fact, an even more emotional journey in hindsight.

We need feminist, queer storytelling

Moreover, girls may learn to face gender inequality and heteronormative stereotypes the hard way when growing up. They might also feel their own queerness or experiences aren’t valid unless filtered through a male gaze. That is why there is a need for feminist, queer narratives girls can own.

Gay Star News has put together a list of novels every bi and lesbian woman should have read before turning 30. No worries if you’re well in your 30s or beyond – there’s always time to catch up on a good book.

Here’s a non-comprehensive list of 17 books not only women but also guys and those identifying as non-binary will appreciate.

1 Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

cover of oranges are not the only fruit

A semi-autobiographical book by British author Jeanette Winterson, this 1985 novel follows young Jeanette growing up in a small town in Lancashire, England.

Brought up by her adoptive religious parents, Jeanette finds herself struggling with her same-sex attraction and her strict mother.

If you think the prominent religious element might put you off, note Winterson’s style is hilarious and relatable even when she’s talking about Christian missions and exorcisms.

2 The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith

This 1952 romance thriller – whose adaptation is the award-winning movie Carol – is also semi-autobiographical.

Author Patricia Highsmith said she was inspired by an elegant woman wearing a mink fur she spotted at Bloomingdale’s.

The novelist collated her former lovers in the love story between beautiful Carol Aird, stuck in a loveless straight marriage, and aspiring set designer Therese Belivet, still in the process of figuring herself out.

Therese and her coming out are the focus of the novel, with the young woman being Highsmith’s alter ego.

3 Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

This 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from the author of The Virgin Suicides is an epic tale of its own, pullulating with Greek mythology references.

It tells the story of three generations of a Greek family pursuing the American Dream all the way to Detroit.

The novel is a retelling through Cal’s eyes, who was born with some female traits due to a mutated gene. Raised as Calliope and experiencing attraction to girls, Cal finds out he’s an intersex man and flees home to live his truth.

A majestic work on gender identity, Middlesex displays Eugenides’s signature flowery style at its finest.

4 Blue Is The Warmest Colour – Julie Maroh

Forget the movie, the graphic novel by lesbian French author Julie Maroh is what the hype is really about.

This blue-prevalent, beautifully illustrated tragic love story sets off with Clémentine’s untimely death.

Blue-haired Emma goes home to Clémentine’s hostile parents to honor her memory. While there, she reads Clém’s diary, retelling their whole complicated, messy, beautiful love story.

5 The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post lives with her conservative aunt and her grandmother following her parents’ death in a tragic car crash.

When her family finds out about her relationship with schoolmate Coley, they sent Cameron to a conversion therapy camp.

As the novel unfolds, the reader shares Cameron’s hopes and fears at the camp and rejoices for her reluctance to be re-educated.

In 2018, the novel was adapted into a movie directed by bisexual filmmaker Desiree Akhavan. The film stars Chloe Grace Moretz in the titular role.

6 Orlando: A Biography – Virginia Woolf

An absolute feminist classic among queer novels, Orlando was inspired by Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West.

The protagonist embarks on an adventurous journey to meet the most prominent English authors and bending all gender norms in the process.

Orlando is a fierce, humorous work about playing with one’s gender identity while challenging societal norms. And Woolf wrote it in 1928 nonetheless!

7 Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown

Feminist author Rita Mae Brown published her debut novel in 1973.

Molly Bolt is the adoptive daughter of a poor family and has to deal with her homosexuality from an early age. The novel follows her into several phases of her life, marked by different partners and a progressively sourer relationship with her mother.

The novel boasts love scenes and explicit sexual references – starting with the title, an allusion to female genitals.

8 Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta

Set in 1968 in Nigeria, one year into the Biafran conflict, Under the Udala Trees chronicles the friendship between Ijeoma, a Christian Igbo, and Amina, a Muslim Hausa.

The two young women’s bond quickly turns into romance in a country where being LGBTI is not only frowned upon but openly and cruelly condemned.

9 Nevada – Imogen Binnie

A novel about trans women written for trans women, Nevada is the story of trans girl Maria Griffiths.

Upon discovering her girlfriend cheated on her, Maria steals her car and sets off on a road trip. Along the way, she meets James, whom Maria thinks might be trans without having realized yet.

Imogen Binnie conveys Maria’s inner monologues with long, convoluted streams of consciousness reflecting on gender identity and feminism.

10 My Education – Susan Choi

In this campus novel, bisexual grad student Regina falls for her professor’s gorgeous, angry, pregnant wife.

Thanks to Martha, Regina leaves the land of ‘idolatrous attraction to beautiful women’ to enter the ‘pragmatic realm of appetite’.

Between a few vivid sex scenes and the torments of adult first love, the protagonist is ready to go to great lengths for this fragile yet passionate relationship.

11 Everything Leads to You – Nina LaCour

This YA book is the story of 18-year-old Emi trying to make it big as a set designer.

After leaving high school, Emi starts a new internship on set in LA. That’s when she and her bestie Charlotte find a long-lost letter by a recently deceased movie icon that leads them to his granddaughter, actress Ava. Will she be able to mend Emi’s broken heart?

12 Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

This feminist novel features three bright girls fighting to get the right to vote in early 20th century England.

Evelyn, May, and Nell come from different walks of life but they all join the Suffragettes. May and Nell will also fall in love in a harsh reality of hunger strikes, force-feeding and police brutality just before World War I breaks out.

13 Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith

Girl Meets Boy is a modern-day retelling of Ovid’s myth of Iphis. In the original version, a girl raised as a boy ends up falling for another girl.

The novel concerns sisters Anthea and Imogen working together in the marketing department of an unscrupulous company producing bottled water in Inverness, Scotland.

Anthea falls in love with Robin, a gender non-conforming eco-activist. The story also focuses on Imogen struggling with her crippling low self-esteem in a sexist work environment.

14 Annie On My Mind – Nancy Garden

Lesbian author Nancy Garden wrote this New York same-sex romance in 1982.

Liza befriends Annie after meeting her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a rainy day. As their friendship quickly turns into love, the two girls learn to overcome their differences and deal with homophobia.

15 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

This Pulitzer-winning novel by bi author Alice Walker is set in 1930s Georgia and is all about black queerness.

After experiencing horrific child abuse from both her father and her husband, Celie is on a resilient journey to become her own person. Particularly, her relationship with her husband’s longtime mistress Shug becomes a catalyst for her personal growth.

Steven Spielberg directed a movie adaptation in 1985 which earned 11 Oscars nods. Nonetheless, it was criticized for watering down the beautifully written sex scenes.

16 Vow of Celibacy – Erin Judge

Funny, body-positive and heartwarming Vow of Celibacy follows bisexual Natalie taking a break from relationships and reflecting on her heartaches.

Get ready for a bumpy ride starting in ninth grade and culminating in Natalie’s giving it a go as a plus-size model.

17 The One Hundred Nights of Hero – Isabel Greenberg

This graphic novel by Isabel Greenberg is an LGBTI take on popular Middle Eastern tale One Thousand and One Nights.

Cherry and her maid Hero are in love. Their secret, tender relationship, however, is under attack when Cherry’s husband leaves and one of his friends is determined to seduce (read: rape) her.

A modern Scheherazade, Hero tricks the villain by telling one engaging fable after the other. She also gives the reader a chance of analyzing the misogyny of all classic fairytales.

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