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Queer books without romance are especially important (and wonderful) because so often queer characters in books are defined by their sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, I love weird romances! But a queer character is still queer if he doesn’t have a partner. A queer character is always queer if he’s not interested in romance. We deserve stories that celebrate all facets of queer life – not just who we fall in love with.
I’m not going to lie: it can be hard to find queer books without romances. Novels without romance of any kind are actually much rarer than you might think, despite the fact that romance is only one of many human experiences reflected in the books. Some of these books have romantic subplots, but none of them have central novels. In order to qualify for this list, I made sure that every book that contained a little romance passed this simple test: I imagined the story without the romantic subplot. If that still made sense – if removing the romance didn’t change the plot – the book is passed.
So you might meet a few encounters in these novels. Some of these characters have partners. Some of them fall in love. But these romantic entanglements are secondary, often superficial. These books are not about romance. They are about family, friendship, career and more. And they come in all genres: action-packed space operas and meditative coming-of-age stories and silly fantasy adventures.
Realistic Fiction Queer Books Without Romances
Everyone In This Room Will One Day Be Dead By Emily Austin
Gilda is a lesbian in her twenties suffering from anxiety and depression. On a whim, she decides to work as a receptionist in a Catholic church, where she hides her sexuality from her employers. His observations of the world are often dark and funny, although the book itself is an intense and at times painful story about mental health, family, loneliness, and the mess of understanding each other.
The wrong end of Rabih Alameddine’s telescope
This beautiful novel follows Mina, a Lebanese American trans doctor who, at the request of a friend, spends a week volunteering in a refugee camp in Lesbos. There, she meets her brother for the first time in years, becomes close to a Syrian woman, and befriends a gay Palestinian nurse. It’s a calm, character-driven book about cultural identity, what it means to offer help and so much more. It’s especially refreshing to read a book like this – full of queer characters but not focused on specific queer experiences.
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
While there is dating, sex, and romance in this novel, that’s not the point at all. Jonny is a two-spirit native trying to save enough money to return downstairs for his stepfather’s funeral. Over the course of the book, over the course of his life, he remembers his childhood, his beloved grandmother and his past relationships. It’s a funny, sad, and moving story about being young, queer, and indigenous in the 21st century.
All the water that I have seen flows by Elias Rodriques
This book begins with several scenes of Daniel, the main character, at home with his boyfriend in New York. So I thought it would be a book with romance, and I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be about friendship, memory, and attraction to specific places. When his high school girlfriend, Aubrey, suddenly dies, Daniel decides to return home to Florida for the funeral. There, he faces all the mess he left behind – not just his relationship with Aubrey, but his family’s history in Jamaica and the United States, and his own past.
How Many Of These Hills Are Gold By C. Pam Zhang
This historical novel follows two Chinese-American siblings who set out on a quest to bury their father in the post-Gold Rush American West. Alone in the world, they look to each other for support and comfort, even as they move further and further apart. It is a beautifully written book with striking characters.
Margaret and the mystery of Megan Milks’ missing body
This surprising and unique book is almost impossible to categorize or describe. This is Margaret, who sets up a college detective club with her three best friends. When the club collapses in high school, Margaret develops an eating disorder and much of the story takes place in the treatment center she was sent to. But these are only rudimentary facts. Wise and funny, deliciously weird and painfully true, brimming with queer and trans joy, heartache and knowledge, this book is unlike any other YA I have read in recent years.
Queer sci-fi, fantasy and speculation books without romance
Uncommon Starlight by Ryka Aoki
This light-hearted sci-fi novel features a trans violinist who just ran away from her abusive family, a famous violin teacher who made a pact with the devil, and a family of refugee aliens who, fleeing the galactic war, have come together. settled on earth, where they run a donut shop. Does that sound weird to you? Absolutely! It’s funny and whimsical, but not always easy to read – the main character, Katrina, has to deal with a lot of transphobia. Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the book is partly an ode to the family founded, partly a celebration of music, and partly hilarious donut content.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
In these weird and beautiful stories, the trans characters defy expectations, living their lives outside of tight binaries and stuffy boxes. In one story, a trans man gives birth to a cocoon. Another story concerns a character who is a swarm of insects. One person turns into a mountain and a group of nuns turns into men for half the year. Each story is surprising and delicious; they talk about the possibilities of transformation, the constant changes of bodies, the blurred lines between the beginnings and the ends.
Finna by Nino Cipri
If a book begins with a breakup, does that count as a love story? I say no, because although this is a book about exes, there is no central romance: it is about friendship and other types of platonic love. It takes place in a huge furniture store, modeled on IKEA, except this one is full of wormholes to other universes. When one of those wormholes opens up and swallows a client, Ava and her ex-partner Jules are sent to save her. What follows is a hilarious adventure through a series of bizarre worlds and a surprisingly loving story about the longevity of queer relationships outside of romantic love.
A Psalm for the Savage – Built by Becky Chambers
This little book balm is pure happiness. Dex is a garden monk who suddenly finds himself miserable and dissatisfied, despite having a good and fulfilling life in the city. So they change everything and become a tea monk, traveling from village to village offering tea and comfort. When this new career path doesn’t quell their desire for something else, they head out into the wilderness, where they meet Mosscap, the first robot a human has seen in centuries. Mosscap and Dex start talking – and they don’t stop. It’s charming and upbeat and funny and thoughtful.
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Anne Xu
This graphic novel is hilarious and action-packed, but it’s the absolutely wonderful main character that makes it something special. Kumiko is a cranky, funny, and very stubborn 70-year-old bisexual badass. Her adult daughters convinced her to move to an assisted living facility, but she hates it, so she has a blast, finds a nice apartment downtown, and continues to live her own life happily. That is, until Death comes to call him. Kumiko isn’t interested in joining him, so she fights him with a void, then appeals to her community to help her finish the job.
Looking for more queer books without romance? Discover the recommendations of tailor-made books! Your personal bibliologist (aka professional book nerd) can help you find your next perfect read – whether it’s a queer book with no romance or a hidden gem of that niche subgenre that interests you but who has always been too intimidated to try.