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A Midwestern LGBTQIA+ Book a Day for Pride Month

We are shaped by our homes: how we fit in and how we don’t, how we grow or shrink to fill spaces, and how we move our bodies across field grass and city concrete. And we are shaped by the stories we read about our homes. Who’s telling them? Who’s claiming them? How can we re-learn, re-write, and re-tell our stories of home when the ones we’ve been given—or the ones the world has embraced—are not nearly enough?

This Pride, we want to celebrate queer Midwestern writers and the many stories they are bringing to the world this year. This list is far from exhaustive; it’s simply a start, and was generated through my own research and recommendations from fellow readers. Some of the below works are about the Midwest and some are not. Some of them are about being LGBTQIA+, and others aren’t. But just as our homes shape us, we shape the worlds of our stories, so in these beautiful, diverse pages written by queer Midwesterners, we suspect you’ll find a little bit of home.

Below please find five featured books—and a book for every day of Pride Month.

Sweeter Voices Still: An LGBTQ Anthology From Middle America
Edited by Ryan Schuessler and Kevin Whiteneir, Jr. 
Belt Publishing
January 12, 2021

This bright, comforting cover only hints at the expansive brilliance within its pages. The table of contents boasts a stunning variety of 73 queer Midwestern writers from Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, and more. “If you’re seeking fully realized stories about the nuanced, joyous complexity of queer identity in the Midwest, Sweeter Voices Still is the book for you.” The titles jump off the page: Kemi Alab’s “crusty midwest demi femme, mapped” (Chicago, IL), Joss Barton’s “pink_sissy” (St. Louis, MO), and Jackie Hedeman’s “Fickle Inexplicable” (Lawrence, KS) beg to be read. To be loved. To be lived in. 

Black Boy Out of Time
By Hari Ziyad (Ohio)
Little a 
March 1, 2021 

Lambda Literary Fellow, screenwriter, and journalist Hari Ziyad’s memoir is about growing up in a blended family in Cleveland, Ohio. While their mother was Hindu Hare Krsna, their father Muslim, and with their eighteen siblings at their side, Ziyad sought answers within their family and beyond it. They explore race and gender with both head and heart; their writing is vulnerable and personal, but always ties back to the bigger societal landscape with striking observations and nuanced insights. Ziyad touches on difficult, painful experiences of abuse and trauma, but ultimately offers hope for “the outcast, the unheard, the unborn, and the dead.” 

The Chosen and the Beautiful
By Nghi Vo (Illinois, Wisconsin)
Tordotcom
June 1, 2021

Readers may know Vo from her novellas, 2020’s When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, or the 2021 Hugo Award finalist, The Empress of Salt and Fortune, and her debut novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful promises to add to her collection of transformative stories. You already know the main character of this novel, or at least you think you do: she’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jordan Baker. But this is not Fitzgerald’s Baker, it’s Vo’s, and as such, she’s so much more: canonically queer, Asian, adopted, and dazzling. She can see ghosts. She can devastate on the golf course. She can also make paper come to life. Readers describe this novel as “intoxicating,” “magic,” and “spellbinding.” Vo’s style of storytelling will grip you, and help you escape a ceaseless, beating past.

Transmutation: Stories
By Alex DiFrancesco (Ohio)
Seven Stories Press
June 22, 2021 Ohio

Alex DiFrancesco’s 2019 apocalyptic novel, All City, is a sharply-written story about devastation, desperation, and chosen family. Their new collection, Transmutation, explores similar themes through contemporary stories that center trans characters and their shifting, expanding lives. DiFrancesco’s work exists outside of rigid genre expectations, and evolves throughout the pages of this book. Not one to shy away from violent, horrific realities of our world, their stories are likely to both break and move you. But it will be because the characters feel real and loved, and because you want to believe in their survival in a bleak and unforgiving world.

Rise to the Sun
By Leah Johnson (Indiana)

Scholastic Press
July 6, 2021

Autostraddle recently described Leah Johnson as the Toni Morrison of queer YA. If that doesn’t compel you to check out her newest novel, Rise to the Sun, I’m not sure what else to say, but I can add yet another voice to the choir of praise for Leah’s gorgeous, heartfelt writing and her joyful, Black, sapphic stories. In Johnson’s sophomore novel, two girls set their sights on the Farmland Music and Arts Festival. Olivia is a hopeless romantic, recently wrecked by a fresh breakup. Toni is unmoored in the weeks before college, and trying to piece together the story of who her family will become. The festival serves as the backdrop as the girls (spoiler!) fall for each other. If you’re looking for a novel that makes the world feel big, loud, and open after a year of isolation and so much despair, make this one your summer jam.

And more:

Please note: Publisher’s blurbs below have been edited for length and clarity. 

Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters
Aimee Ogden (Michigan, Wisconsin)
Tordotcom
February 23, 2021

“Gene-edited human clans have scattered throughout the galaxy, adapting themselves to environments as severe as the desert and the sea. Atuale, the daughter of a Sea-Clan lord, sparked a war by choosing her land-dwelling love and rejecting her place among her people. Now her husband and his clan are dying of a virulent plague, and Atuale’s sole hope for finding a cure is to travel off-planet. The one person she can turn to for help is the black-market mercenary known as the World Witch—and Atuale’s former lover. Time, politics, bureaucracy, and her own conflicted desires stand between Atuale and the hope for her adopted clan.”

Honey Girl
Morgan Rogers (Illinois) (ish)

Park Row
February 23, 2021 

“With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight-A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that. Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.”

Table For Two
Kate Gavin
Bella Books
March 16, 2021

“Trying to take a few brief moments away from a stressful situation, Reagan Murphy snags the last table at a bustling downtown lunch spot. When another woman walks into the crowded restaurant seeking a table, Reagan offers to share hers. Jillian Jacobs just wanted a quick bite before she’d have to focus on an unreasonable deadline. Irritated by her empty stomach and by the prospect of waiting, Jillian resentfully accepts a seat at a stranger’s table. The two are thrown back together when Jill becomes a catering client of Reagan’s. Soon, navigating a professional relationship becomes complicated as their attraction begins to smolder. Will it get in the way and cause even bigger problems? Or will this be the start of something they’ve both been looking for all along?”

Girlhood
Melissa Febos
Bloomsbury Publishing 
March 30, 2021 

“In her powerful new book, critically acclaimed author Melissa Febos examines the narratives women are told about what it means to be female and what it takes to free oneself from them. Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny. Written with Febos’ characteristic precision, lyricism, and insight, Girlhood is a philosophical treatise, an anthem for women, and a searing study of the transitions into and away from girlhood, toward a chosen self.”

The Sky Blues 
Robbie Couch (Michigan)
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
April 6, 2021

“Sky Baker may be openly gay, but in his small, insular town, making sure he was invisible has always been easier than being himself. Determined not to let anything ruin his senior year, Sky decides to make a splash at his high school’s annual beach bum party by asking his crush, Ali, to prom. What better way to start living loud and proud than by pulling off the gayest promposal Rock Ledge, Michigan, has ever seen? After Sky’s plans are leaked by an anonymous hacker in a deeply homophobic e-blast that quickly goes viral, he’s fully prepared to drop out and skip town altogether—until his classmates give him a reason to fight back. Will Sky get to keep his hard-won visibility? Or will his small-town blues stop him from being his true self?”

evening primroses
Gabby Loomis-Amrhein (Ohio)
Recenter Press 
April 9, 2021 

“Gabby Loomis-Amrhein’s debut collection seeks to address trans struggle and liberation in the crepuscularity and in-betweenness of rural being. Showing the country itself as queer, “evening primroses” serves as a sort of field guide for growth and change in that space, marking the passage of time between woodcock dance and trillium bloom, a record of having been, becoming, coming out.”

Defekt
Nino Cipri (Kansas, Illinois) 
Tordotcom
April 20, 2021

“Derek is LitenVärld’s most loyal employee. He lives and breathes the job, from the moment he wakes up in a converted shipping container at the edge of the parking lot to the second he clocks out of work 18 hours later. But after taking his first ever sick day, his manager calls that loyalty into question. An excellent employee like Derek, an employee made to work at LitenVärld, shouldn’t need time off. To test his commitment to the job, Derek is assigned to a special inventory shift, hunting through the store to find defective products. Toy chests with pincers and eye stalks, ambulatory sleeper sofas, killer mutant toilets, that kind of thing. Helping him is the inventory team—four strangers who look and sound almost exactly like him. Are five Dereks better than one?”

An Open Secret: The Family Story of Robert and John Gregg Allerton
Nicholas Syrette (Kansas)
University of Chicago Press
April 30, 2021

“In 1922 Robert Allerton—described by the Chicago Tribune as the “richest bachelor in Chicago”—met a twenty-two-year-old University of Illinois architecture student named John Gregg, who was twenty-six years his junior. Virtually inseparable from then on, they began publicly referring to one another as father and son within a couple years of meeting. An Open Secret tells the striking story of these two iconoclasts, locating them among their queer contemporaries and exploring why becoming father and son made a surprising kind of sense for a twentieth-century couple who had every monetary advantage but one glaring problem: they wanted to be together publicly in a society that did not tolerate their love.”

The Renunciations
Donika Kelly (Iowa)
Graywold Press
May 4, 2021

“The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of “the oracle”—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility.”

Prize Money
Celeste Castro (Illinois)
Interlude Press
May 11, 2021 

“Eva is saved from impending disaster by a tall, dark, and handsome bullfighter—a woman. Toma Rozene is an equestrian stuntwoman fresh off the set of a blockbuster film when a family emergency calls her home to help run the family business: rescuing fallen rodeo riders before blustering bulls and bucking broncos trample their dreams. Eva and Toma’s shared passions and competitive spirits make friendship easy, but, as their feelings deepen, they must decide if the divergent futures they seek will stand in the way of love.”

Punch Me Up to the Gods
Brian Broome
May 18, 2021 
Houghton Mifflin

“Punch Me Up to the Gods introduces a powerful new talent in Brian Broome, whose early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys propel forward this gorgeous, aching, and unforgettable debut. Brian’s recounting of his experiences—in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory—reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in. Indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use help to soothe his hurt, young psyche, usually to uproarious and devastating effect. A no-nonsense mother and broken father play crucial roles in our misfit’s origin story. But it is Brian’s voice in the retelling that shows the true depth of vulnerability for young Black boys that is often quietly near to bursting at the seams.”

Queer Stories from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Writers
Edited by Anne Shade, Victoria Villasenor
Bold Strokes Books 
June 1, 2021 

“In Our Words: Queer Stories from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Writers is a thoughtfully curated collection of short stories at the intersection of racial and queer identity. Comprising both the renowned and emerging voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color authors, across multiple countries, and diverse in style, perspective, and theme, In Our Words reflects the complexity and diversity of human experience.”

Somebody’s Daughter
Ashley C. Ford (Indiana)
Flat Iron Books
June 1, 2021 

“Through poverty, adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley Ford wishes she could turn to her father for hope and encouragement. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there. Somebody’s Daughter steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana with a family fragmented by incarceration, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. As Ashley battles her body and her environment, she embarks on a powerful journey to find the threads between who she is and what she was born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.”

Darling
K Ancrum (Illinois)
Imprint
June 22, 2021

“On Wendy Darling’s first night in Chicago, a boy called Peter appears at her window. He’s dizzying, captivating, beautiful—so she agrees to join him for a night on the town. Wendy thinks they’re heading to a party, but instead they’re soon running in the city’s underground. She makes friends—a punk girl named Tinkerbelle and the lost boys Peter watches over. And she makes enemies—the terrifying Detective Hook, and maybe Peter himself, as his sinister secrets start coming to light. Can Wendy find the courage to survive this night—and make sure everyone else does, too?”

I Have Always Been Me
Precious Brady-Davis (Nebraska, Illinois)
Topple Books & Little a
July 1, 2021

“A powerful memoir of independence, releasing the past, and living the dream by award-winning trans advocate Precious Brady-Davis. Born into traumatic circumstances, Davis was brought up in the Omaha foster care system and the Pentecostal faith. As a biracial, gender-nonconforming kid, she felt displaced. Yet she realized by coming into her identity that she had a purpose all along. In I Have Always Been Me, Brady-Davis reflects on a childhood of neglect, instability, and abandonment. She speaks to anyone who has ever tried to find their place in this world and imparts the wisdom that comes with surmounting odds and celebrating on the other side.”

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart
Courtney LeBlanc (North Dakota)
Riot In Your Throat
July 1, 2021

See Also

“In her latest collection, Courtney LeBlanc bravely and fiercely examines the burdens women carry, the societal pressures, the cultural expectations: “the heavy world / digging into our shoulders and slumping our backs.” In many of her poems, she takes back agency—that others tried to take away—and never lets us forget the pluck that endures: “ready to bite” and “guns ablaze” and “I’m read / to burn” and “This body / is a weapon.” This collection is one that never flinches from hard truths, always insists on strength by revealing vulnerability, and even in its exploration of our human darkness, offers flames of hope.”

Fresh
Margot Wood (Ohio)
August 3, 2021
Amulet Books 

“Some students enter their freshman year of college knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives. Elliot McHugh is not one of those people. But picking a major is the last thing on Elliot’s mind when she’s too busy experiencing all that college has to offer—from dancing all night at off-campus parties, to testing her RA Rose’s patience, to making new friends, to having the best sex one can have on a twin-sized dorm room bed. But she may not be ready for the fallout when reality hits. When the sex she’s having isn’t that great. When finals creep up and smack her right in the face. Elliot may make epic mistakes, but if she’s honest with herself (and with you, dear reader), she may just find the person she wants to be. And maybe even fall in love in the process…Well, maybe.”

For the Love of April French
Penny Aimes (Indiana)
Carina Adores
August 31, 2021 

“April French doesn’t do relationships and she never asks for more. A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie’s, she’s kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only. Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie’s, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night. When their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she will dare to want.”

The Scratch Daughters
Hannah Abigail Clark (Illinois)
Erewhon
September 14, 2021 

“In the second book in the Scapegracers trilogy, a formerly outcast lesbian witch struggles to keep her coven as the loss of her magical soul drives her to desperation.”

A Dark and Starless Forest 
Sarah Hollowell (Indiana)
Houghton Mifflin
September 14, 2021

“Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest that isn’t safe for people with magic. Derry feels safe—most of the time. Until the night her eldest sister disappears. As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful…and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all.”

Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much
Jen Winston
October 5, 2021
Atria Books 

“If Jen Winston knows one thing for sure, it’s that she’s bisexual. Or wait—maybe she isn’t? Actually, she definitely is. Unless…she’s not? Greedy follows Jen’s attempts to make sense of herself as she explores the role of the male gaze, what it means to be “queer enough,” and how to overcome bi stereotypes when you’re the posterchild for all of them: greedy, slutty, and constantly confused. Greedy shows us that being bisexual is about so much more than who you’re sleeping with—it’s about finding stability in a state of flux and defining yourself on your own terms.”

This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us
Edited by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
October 19, 2021

“From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aisa Salazar, and AJ Sass.”

Trashlands
Alison Stine (Ohio) 
Mira Books
October 26, 2021 

“A few generations from now, the coastlines of the continent have been redrawn by floods and tides. Global powers have agreed to not produce any new plastics, and what is left has become valuable: garbage is currency. In the region-wide junkyard that Appalachia has become, Coral is a “plucker,” pulling plastic from the rivers and woods. She works desperately to save up enough to rescue her child from the recycling factories, where he is forced to work. Told in shifting perspectives, Trashlands is a beautifully drawn and wildly imaginative tale of a parent’s journey, a story of community and humanity in a changed world.”

Unexpected Goals
Kelly Farmer (Illinois)
Carina Press
November 2, 2021

“Canadian goalie Maisy Goode is wary of American Jen Donato and her dirty playing. She’s been on the receiving end of Jen’s aggressive style and doesn’t like it one bit. Now that they’re on the same women’s pro team, keeping her eyes off Jen is a struggle. Jen signed up to win it all with the Boston Ice. Her very public clashes with their hot goalie aren’t going to derail her championship plans. Jen’s a professional. But there’s just something about Maisy that gets under her skin. The closer they get to the playoffs, the more pressure weighs on the team—and the couple. Maisy needs Jen’s support. Jen needs to know Maisy’s all in. And it all needs to get sorted out before the season—and their relationship—closes out.”

The Year I Stopped Trying
Katie Heaney (Minnesota)
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
November 16, 2021 

“Mary is having an existential crisis. She’s a good student, she never gets in trouble, and she is searching for the meaning of life. She always thought she’d find it in a perfect score on the SATs. But by junior year, Mary isn’t so sure anymore. The first time, it’s an accident. She forgets to do a history assignment. She even crosses history essay off in her pristine planner. And then: Nothing happens. She doesn’t burst into flames, the world doesn’t end, the teacher doesn’t even pull her aside after class. So she asks herself: Why am I trying so hard? What if I stop? Katie Heaney delivers a stunning YA novel that sprints full-force into the big questions our teen years beg—and adeptly unravels their web.”

I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat: Stories
Christopher Gonzalez (Ohio)
Santa Fe’s Writer’s Project 
December 1, 2021 

“Long nights, empty stomachs, and impulsive cravings haunt these stories. A college grad reunites with a high school crush when invited to his bachelor party, a lonely cat-sitter wreaks havoc on his friends’ apartment, happy hour french fries leave more than grease on lips and fingers, and, squeezed into a diner booth, one man eats past his limit for the sake of friendship. Exploring the lives of bisexual and gay Puerto Rican men, these fifteen stories show a vulnerable, intimate world of yearning and desire. The stars of these narratives linger between living their truest selves and remaining in the wings, embarking on a journey of self-discovery to satisfy their hunger for companionship and belonging.”

The Bright Side
Lucy Bexley
Independent 
Date TBD, 2021 

“Darby lives her life on the bright side. All she wants is to decorate houses and cheer for the people around her. Astrid West is restless. She’s curated a life that ties her to nothing and no one. She works a series of part-time jobs and owns exactly 8 shirts, all of them black. She moves cities on a whim, always looking for that perfect location where everything will fall into place. Astrid is working the door at Revel, a Denver lesbian bar, when she meets Darby. Darby, who wears mittens and pink heart sunglasses and offers to help her, a total stranger, move apartments on New Year’s Day. Can Darby convince Astrid that people make a place a home? Or will Astrid leave Denver in search of greener grass before she gets the chance?”