Dyke fiction has been a thing since at least 1928, when “The Well of Loneliness” was published. That scandalous book led to two obscenity trials. Today we have queer YA, mainstream lesbian fiction, and even dyke erotica to choose from. There are so many books you can get easily overwhelmed. So here are 14 you absolutely need if you want to call yourself a well-read lesbian. All have the potential to seriously change your world. Throw a few of these babes into your beach bag, download some on your Kindle, or fire up that dusty library card and enjoy.
1. “Crush” by Jane Futcher
“Crush” occupies an interesting middle space between YA and adult fiction. It starts out slow but then revs up with an emotional tension that will have you turning pages. It’s overflowing with great characterization, and damn, it just hurts so good – you really feel like you’re experiencing the brutal treatment our heroine gets firsthand. In this novel, two girls, Lexie and Jinx, become friends when they meet at school, and what should be the start of a beautiful love story turns into an epic disaster.
2. “Hey, Dollface” by Deborah Hautzig
“Just how far do the bounds of friendship go?” the cover of this YA asks. Pretty damn far, as it turns out. Predating the legendary lesbian YA “Annie on My Mind” by four years, this novel is about two girls who are questioning their sexuality. Val and Chloe’s friendship is irresistible – you’ll wish you had one like it if you don’t already. They bond over quirky activities like thrift store shopping and cutting up pictures of beautiful women from magazines and creating a collage out of them (if only they’d had Instagram!). This is a friendship that sparkles with truth, love and both girls’ own inner beauty.
3. “The Bermudez Triangle” by Maureen Johnson
Twitter goddess Maureen Johnson has published many books in her long career, most recently, the mystery “Truly Devious” and the anthology “How I Resist.” “The Bermudez Triangle” is one of her earlier ones, and it has a plot that I have not seen in any other book before or since. Two friends (Avery and Melanie) kiss each other for the first time while the third (Nina) is away, and then there is hella awkwardness when Nina returns. Can the friendship survive?
4. “Rose of No Man’s Land” by Michelle Tea
Am I the only one who remembers this novel? It sure feels like it. This was a quality YA that should have garnered more notice than it did when it was published in 2006. The entire novel takes place over one of the craziest days the protagonist, Trisha Driscoll, has ever had, and is funny in that way only dark comedies can be. Tea has such an amazing, authentic voice – her Trisha kind of reminds me of Daria but queer. (Then again, maybe Daria was queer. She certainly checks so many of the boxes.)
5. “Shy Girl” by Elizabeth Stark
Do you remember that girl – the one you loved who got away? If so, this book is for you. It’s about a butch girl named Alta Corral who once had a romance with Sasha Shy Mallon (hence the title). Shy comes back after the death of her mother. A lot has changed in the years since Shy and Alta were together. She is pregnant, for one. The relationship between these two women is emotionally fulfilling and the book is messy in the best ways.
7. “My Sweet Untraceable You” by Sandra Scoppettone
I’m not a big fan of mysteries, but you really don’t have to be to love unforgettable dyke detective Lauren Laurano. Lauren is tough, but also funny and tender, and lives in a wonderfully pre-gentrified Greenwich Village. (The book was published in 1994.) This is part of a series of books with the same detective. In this one, she’s hired by a shady character named Boston Blackie to learn the fate of his mother. While so many books written about queer life make it a big deal, this one treats the lesbian relationship like any other relationship.
8. “grl2grl” by Julie Anne Peters
Julie Anne Peters is the lesbian Judy Blume of the modern age, thanks to novels like “Keeping You a Secret.” This one is a very entertaining mix of short stories focused on queer teens, and it deals with some pretty intense subjects. It includes one especially brutal story about a young trans boy (“Boi”) that was years ahead of its time, and another written almost entirely as a series of instant messages (“TIAD”). At 150 pages, it’s a fast but powerful read, especially for young queer teens just starting to find themselves.
9. “The Girls in 3-B” by Valerie Taylor
“The Girls in 3-B” is a positive, non-exploitive look at lesbian life in an era when lesbians were not supposed to have positive, non-exploitive existences. Valerie Taylor created a story about a group of young women who have moved to Chicago. One of them, Barby, is a lesbian who falls in love with someone on the job. I can only imagine how lesbians reacted to a novel like this back in the day, with an actual love scene between two women, in a time before that was the norm. “How can anybody want a man, when there’s this?” Barby asks, right before falling asleep in her boss’ arms. (We don’t know either, Barby.)
10. “Annie on My Mind” by Nancy Garden
“Annie on My Mind” will certainly stay on yours. This was one of the first big lesbian young adult novels, so we basically have the late Nancy Garden to thank for creating an entire genre. Two girls meet at the Metropolitan Museum and a love affair is born. They get in trouble when they’re discovered together at the house of two teachers who also happen to be lesbians. This is one of those books that shows you how far we have come.
11. “Chicken” by Paula Martinac
Lesbian publishing really started to flourish once we had presses to call our own, like Bella, Bywater, and Alyson, which originally published “Chicken” by Paula Martinac. This one is about a writer named Lynn who is coming out of a long-term relationship and coming into a whole heap of dyke drama. To get a sense of what you’re getting into, here’s the question posed on the back cover: “Is there any chance Lynn can keep her sanity while dealing with one ex, two demanding new lovers, and three hours of sleep a night?”
12. “Curious Wine” by Katherine V. Forrest
You can’t judge a book by its cover and is that ever true with this one. You might be expecting the most boring book in the world with those plain trees on the cover, and my God, would you be wrong. (Then again, this makes it a great book to take on subways when you want to read lesbian erotica but don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.) Writer Anna Meadows said this was her first queer book, and it makes a wonderful first book for any lesbian, a great introduction to how beautiful love and sex can be between two women.
13. “Choices” by Nancy Toder
This is a similar novel to “Crush,” in that it takes place in the 60s, and is about two women who should be together but aren’t, partly because of the pressures of the era. “Choices” is a great novel, but also the kind of novel that makes you want to throw it across the room in frustration because the two main characters – Sandy and Jenny – are so right for each other, but wind up living separate lives because of the choices one of them makes.
14. “Bait” by Loren Stone
Liking “Bait” feels like being in a special, secret club. Bait is about the conflicts that can occur between religion and being a lesbian. It asks: What are we willing to sacrifice to gain love, whether that’s the love of the family or the love of another woman? Jax Madigan gets herself into a world of trouble when she has the bad luck to fall for her brother’s woman, Jenn. The book is brilliant in the way it keeps us guessing about what Jenn’s motives really are.
15. “Women’s Studies” by Julia Watts
“Women’s Studies” takes place in 1990 and is about three women named Elizabeth, all of whom like women and all taking the same Women in Literature course at William Blount University. (It sounds like it could be a gimmicky plot, but trust me, it isn’t.) I loved this entire book, but really related to the story of Beth, a closeted woman who fakes a relationship with a gay guy so nobody will find out who she really is. (Plus, there’s an amazing scene where she has sex with a woman dressed like the Phantom from “Phantom of the Opera!”) Mhm.