11 Literally Perfect Sapphic Novels

11 Literally Perfect Sapphic Novels

I don’t give out five stars on Goodreads very easily. Basically, the only times I do
are either when I can’t think of any way it could have been improved, or when they
are life-changing books for me, even if they are flawed in some way. (It’s hard for straight lit to make the cut, because I always think “Would it have been better if it were queer?” And I think you can guess my answer there.)

There are a few books, though, that I think are absolute perfection. They are thought-provoking, emotional, and told skillfully. For this post, I’ve stuck with novels and short story collections, all of which I’ve rated 5 stars on Goodreads. This was originally a video, so scroll down if you’d like to see that.

The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzieThe Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

This book feels like the moment before a summer thunderstorm: that feeling where the air is charged, and it’s claustrophobic and humid and tense. It’s about a family that’s haunted by its past. The story alternates between the present and the family’s history, and there is some sort of trauma, an unnamed tragedy that happens in between. In the present, you’re dealing with the fallout. I loved the main character, Ava. When you see her as a child, she is this vibrant, passionate, unrestrained kid who is so alive. As an adult, she is very closed off, as if she’s been dulled over time. Part of the journey of the book is her finding her way back to her childhood self.

The queer storyline takes place in the present, when Ava finds herself surprisingly, suddenly attracted to this woman who comes to visit and stay with them. She finds herself kissing this woman the first day that she arrives, and is trying to figure out what that means, because she is married to a guy. This also has an element of fabulism, which I loved.

Check out my full review here.

Hero Worship by Rebekah MatthewsHero Worship by Rebekah Matthews

This feels like a painfully personal book for me. It’s about Valerie, who is twenty-something, and she is writing letters to her ex-girlfriend about how she still hasn’t gotten over her–even though she’s not really sure if her ex- girlfriend ever really liked her that much? Valerie has this desperation for love and attention which was uncomfortably relatable. I felt like I was flinching sympathetically every other page, but it was so realistic to that aimless twenty-something period of life. This felt like someone exposing a part of my personality that I would much rather keep hidden, but it’s so beautifully done. I really wish that I could hear more people talking about this, because it made such an impact on me.

Check out my full review here.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah WatersTipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my favourite book of all time. This is another personal book for me, partly because of when I read it. It was after I had a very tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship that lasted the whole four years of high school. After high school, I was trying to get over it, but was thinking that nothing was ever gonna be so intense again. Reading Tipping the Velvet helped me realize that A) that intensity is maybe not the best or most romantic thing, and B) that you can have incredible, beautiful, meaningful relationships that aren’t your first love, that aren’t incredibly dramatic, and that come from mutual support and a slow build of intimacy and trust. In fact, those relationships are infinitely more valuable and more useful to you. That is a very small part of this book, but it is what imprinted so dramatically on me. I’ve since reread it, and I still love it. Sarah Waters described this as a “lesbo-Victorian romp.” There’s a lot that happens, it does get pretty dark at parts, there’s a whole socialism and activism element, it gets pretty sexy, gets a little bit weird–it’s just a very enjoyable book to read, and it’s one that means a lot to me.

Fingersmith by Sarah WatersFingersmith by Sarah Waters

It’s not surprising to me that two books by Sarah Waters made this list, because she is my favorite author. I would say that Tipping the Velvet is my favourite book, but I think of Fingersmith as the best book that I’ve read: it is so intricately plotted. If you haven’t heard of it before, it is another lesbian historical fiction set in Victorian times. It is about a “fingersmith,” who is basically a thief, who is part of a con. She is going to play the role of a lady’s maid in order to convince this woman to marry a friend of hers, and then they’re going to split her inheritance. But after she pretends to be the lady’s maid, she falls in love with her. It is incredible, and so fascinating, but Fingersmith also dark. It talks about insane asylums in the Victorian era, which is horrifying, and there is abuse and sexual abuse and, of course, gaslighting–but that plot just completely blew me away. I’ve never read anything like it before or since.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Monique is a journalist in a fashion magazine, and she previously wrote for something like BuzzFeed, so she is shocked to be picked by Evelyn Hugo, an aging Hollywood starlet, to write her biography. The story alternates between their meetings, where Monique trying to figure out why she’s been tapped for this role, and Evelyn talking about her past. The title refers to the fact that Evelyn Hugo was married seven times in her life. This is kind of part of her mystique, and the question at the heart of her biography is: which one of those was your grand love, the love of your life? Spoiler: the love of her life was a woman, and so much of the story is her being closeted as bisexual in old Hollywood (as well as passing as white), and the things that she had to do to keep herself safe, to keep her relationship safe, and to keep her career. It is beautifully written. Evelyn Hugo is a fascinating character, because she is really complicated: she does a lot of morally questionable things, but I couldn’t help but be on her side most of the time. She does what she thinks she has to do to protect herself and her family. Even if that Hollywood glamour story doesn’t immediately appeal to you, I would still recommend picking this up, because it is just so impeccably written.

Check out my full review here.

The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is a classic for a reason. It is dark: it starts off with the main character getting raped as a child and later having her children taken away from her. It is brutal. But it is also hopeful. It’s about a group of women who come together and support each other. I was under the impression that had some lesbian subtext, but that’s not true: it is very openly queer. The main character is in love with a woman named Shug. They have a romantic and sexual relationship–it’s not subtext.

It closely looks at some of the greatest horrors in the world, the worst of misogyny and racism and specifically anti-black racism, and still somehow manages to have the sense of community, of hope, of belonging. It says that yes, those things are true, and they are terrible, but there are also things that are beautiful and that make life worth living. Those are the books that I find to be the most nurturing. If you can truly acknowledge the worst parts of the world and still find a way to live through it, and to have a fulfilling life, that is incredibly powerful.

Check out my full review here.

The Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley MacleodThe Collection edited by Tom Leger and Riley Macleod

The Collection is a trans short story collection–it isn’t all sapphic stories, but almost a third of them are. Usually in an anthology like this, there’s some big ups and downs, and there are some stories that I’m not as interested in, but all of the stories in The Collection are really well-written. They are also are well-paced. Instead of feeling like excerpts from a novel, they are complete narratives in themselves, with a huge range of subject matter and protagonists. A lot of the stories in this collection do deal directly with prejudice, with microaggressions, and they can be pretty uncomfortable to read, but they are really well done.

Check out my full review here.

Lizzy & Annie by Casey PlettLizzy & Annie by Casey Plett

Lizzy & Annie by Casey Plett is actually a short story that is included in Plett’s A Safe Girl To Love, but I originally read this story in a kind of a zine-style illustrated format. It’s about two trans women in a relationship, and the way that they talk to each other and what they talk about just feels so familiar and true to life. Annie Mok’s illustrations are a beautiful addition that add a lot of depth to the story.

A Safe Girl To Love is well worth reading in its entirety, but if you can get your hands on the illustrated version of this story, I think it stands well on its own. It deals with racism, sexism, and transmisogyny. It shows the different ways that people can be supportive or oppressive: from outright harassment, to supportive, to theoretically supportive but clueless, to fetishizing. It’s a glimpse into these two characters everyday lives, and it’s one that makes me hungry for more stories like this in all media.

Check out my full review here.

Missed Her by Ivan CoyoteMissed Her by Ivan Coyote

This title stands in for basically anything by Ivan Coyote: I had a bunch of their books in my 5-star collection. I love Coyote’s writing style. When I first started reading their stories, they identified as a butch lesbian, and while they still ID as butch, they have come out as non-binary and goes by they/them pronouns.

Missed Her is my favorite of their short story collections, but honestly anything by them is amazing. I really love their kitchen table storytelling style: it really feels like you’re there with them, and they’re spinning you a yarn. They often have a rural perspective to their stories, which is really nice to see, because most queer stories come from a big city perspective, and don’t seem to acknowledge the possibility of having a happy queer life in a small town or in a rural environment. They tell the most beautiful, broken, enduring love stories. While I find their stories comforting, they also push me to be better. I can’t recommend their books highly enough.

Check out my full review here.

Falling in Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson coverFalling In Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

This is a short story collection, and only the novella has sapphic content, but the entire book is amazing. In the introduction, Nalo Hopkinson talks about having a fractured relationship with other human beings, and trying to come back to this idea of falling in love with humanity as a whole–which I empathize with, especially right now. It’s mostly fantasy stories, and stories that just include just a bit of magic or the fantastical. Their novella is set on the Borderlands, and it is this thought-provoking look at queer communities and what happens there, and what we can accept and forgive, and what we shouldn’t. But I loved all of the stories in this collection: there’s one that’s about this gay couple who are in a BDSM relationship, but the story is just about them trying to track down their missing chicken. It’s perfection.

Check out my full review here.

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Kissing the Witch is one of the best books with the worst covers that I’ve ever seen, which is why I am respectfully leaving the cover off of this post. It’s a collection of feminist retellings of fairy tales, most of which are also queer. They are beautifully written, and each fairy tale ties into the next one: a character from the previous fairy tale is telling the next story. I always love fairy tale retellings, especially if they are feminist or queer or both, so obviously I adored this one. Ignore the cover and pick it up anyway.

Those are my favorite sapphic novels and short story collections! Let me know in the comments which bi and lesbian novels or short story collections you think are perfection!

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One Reply to “11 Literally Perfect Sapphic Novels”

  1. Nenagh

    Kissing the Witch is one of my all-time favourites!
    On Goodreads, I see that Kissing the Witch has multiple cover editions. SO I was wondering which one you were referring to? I own the one that’s mostly black and white, with a small blurry photograph of a woman in the middle.

    Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet will always have a special place in my heart too, as I read them shortly after I had my first relationship with a girl. Fingersmith is a bit long-winded in my opinion (I do love the plot twist!), but Tipping the Velvet is absolutely wonderful.

    Reply

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