Pride month is here, and the selection of LGBTQ+ books has never been better. With so many great stories to fit into one month, it can be hard for readers to know where to start. Our advice: start from the beginning, of course!

This June, we’ve chosen 8 historical fiction books that dig into sexuality and gender identity throughout the ages. From a voyage on the Aegean Sea more than 3,000 years ago to the plight of a small Nigerian village in the 1960s, these books combine history and heart to tell powerful stories of love, identity and community on a global scale.

The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BCE

A sweeping story of Bronze Age gods and heroes, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is a triumphant tale fit for Mount Olympus. The book follows the lives of Achilles and Patroclus, two legendary heroes from The Iliad. But rather than simply retelling Homer’s epic, Miller reimagines the story from the very beginning by revealing the origins of a love story so powerful it would alter the course of the Trojan War.

As she retraces the steps of their childhoods, Miller reveals how these two met and grew to earn such a powerful reputation. But the stakes are high in war, even for its heroes — and in a world of gods and grim prophecies, fate isn’t so easily avoided.

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The Mercies
By Kiran Millwood Hargrave
1617 Norway

1617 is a tragic year for the people of Vardø, Norway. It’s the year that all the men die.

When a sudden storm drowns the 40 fishermen of this tiny Arctic town, the women are left to fend for themselves. Isolated from the mainland, they learn to rely on each other and work hard to survive on the desolate landscape.

But three years after the storm, a new danger comes to their shore. A witch hunter arrives, sent to restore order to the island, on pain of death. He’s accompanied by his wife Ursa — but instead of the demonic witchcraft she was told to expect, Ursa sees an incredible world of women independent from men. At the center of that world stands Maren, a woman from Vardø who has everything to lose if the witch hunter casts his gaze on her, and who is irresistibly drawn to the alluring Ursa.

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Confessions of the Fox
By Jordy Rosenberg
1700s London

Described by the New York Times Editors’ Choice as “a mind-bending romp through a gender-fluid, eighteenth-century London,” Confessions of the Fox is all that and a bag of crisps. 

Author Jordy Rosenberg introduces us to Dr. Voth, a scholar who has just unearthed a long-lost manuscript — a vital clue in a mystery that has plagued London for 300 years. Who were the legendary thieves Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess? Their dastardly deeds are infamous throughout all of England, but a confession was never found, nor any clues about their origins. 

That is, until now. Dr. Voth has discovered an old manuscript outlining the lives of these two outlaws, and it seems that these two thieves were more than just partners in crime. This new insight on their relationships shatters all the past theories on two criminals, along with the previous notions of gender and sexuality in 1700s London. But Dr. Voth has to wonder — is this a real autobiography, or is it all an elaborate hoax?

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Orlando: A Biography
Virginia Woolf
1588–1928 England

First published in 1928, Virginia Woolf’s book Orlando: A Biography is anything but the average biography. The story tells of Orlando, assigned male at birth in the age of Elizabeth I and serving as the queen’s page boy in the royal court. After the queen’s death, Orlando seeks out other career options, and ends up colliding with the supernatural. Orlando awakes to learn that she’s transitioned to become Lady Orlando, a metamorphosis that she’s surprised by but welcomes gladly. With that transformation comes another, as Orlando discovers that she can live through centuries of English history, all without aging a day.

As Orlando hops from one historic moment to the next, Woolf tackles the complicated topic of gender identity with a sophisticated and playful ease. Partially inspired by Woolf’s friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, the character of Orlando is a truly groundbreaking character in English literature and  is unbothered by things like gender, sexuality, or even the passage of time itself.

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Flowers by Night
By Lucy May Lennox
1825 Edo, Japan

As a samurai, Uchida Tomonosuke is bound by the expectations of his rank. He trains, engages in duels and provides for his wife, thereby fulfilling his obligations as a member of the samurai caste. But all that changes when he meets Ichi, a blind masseur who refuses to be contained in such limiting roles.

Lucy May Lennox’s new release Flowers by Night is an enchanting tale that immerses the reader into 19th century Japan. Her carefully researched book outlines how at this time, it would be perfectly acceptable for Tomonosuke to take a male lover and was quite common among samurai. However, there’s still a barrier between the two men. As a blind man, Ichi is considered below the rank of human, far too low for any self-respecting samurai. But as he and Ichi grow closer, Tomonosuke begins to doubt the societal obligations he’s spent his whole life upholding.

Lennox takes Tomonosuke and Ichi, along with Tomonosuke’s wife Okyo and her maid Rin, and combines their four lives into a whirlwind story of love, duty and the courage to stand against tradition.

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At Swim, Two Boys
by Jamie O’Neill
1915-1916 Ireland

Jamie O’Neill’s book At Swim, Two Boys is a story as lush and atmospheric as its setting. On the rocky coast of County Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1915, two boys make a pact; Doyler Doyle will teach Jim Mack how to swim, and in a year, the two of them will swim to Muglins Rock and plant the flag of Ireland there. But unbeknownst to the two of them, the anniversary year of their pact falls on the 1916 Easter Uprising. The year between their promise and their swim will bring everything into question, from their families to their religion and even their country itself. But Doyler and Jim made a promise to each other and are determined to see it through. At Swim, Two Boys follows a path from the innocence of childhood to the complexities of first love during violent and uncertain times.

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Last Night at the Telegraph Club
By Malinda Lo
1954 Chinatown, San Francisco

Lily Hu is a model daughter, student and Chinese-American citizen. At 17 years old, she’s so close to pursuing her dream in rocket science, and getting out of the stifling atmosphere of high school. But when she comes across an ad for a place called the Telegraph Club, Lily starts to ask some questions. Questions about identity, sexuality — questions could get her in serious trouble. 

Things only get more complicated when she finally goes to the Telegraph Club, along with her classmate Kathleen Miller. The two are suddenly swept up in the San Francisco lesbian scene, and Lily has never felt more alive. But in the age of McCarthyism paranoia, Lily’s own sense of freedom could bring danger to her family. The threat of deportation looms over her father, and Lily will have to fight for her right to love on her own terms, in the place she calls home.

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Under the Udala Trees
by Chinelo Okparanta
1960s Nigeria

Chinelo Okparanta’s groundbreaking novel Under the Udala Trees tells a story of Ijeoma, a girl growing up during the time of the Nigerian Civil War. When the war first breaks out, 11-year-old Ijeoma is sent away from the warzone, where she meets another refugee. The two quickly begin to fall in love, despite the many cards stacked against them. They are of different ethnic communities, going against Nigeria’s societal expectations, but even more importantly, they’re also both girls.

As the war rages on and Ijeoma grows older, she learns that this part of herself — her attraction to women — is something she has to hide if she wants to remain safe. But when war is on your doorstep, just how safe can you truly be? The reader follows Ijeoma’s journey in growing up, from the all-girls school she attends to the lesbian nightclubs she lets loose at. All the while, Okparanta brings home just how personal a fight a war for independence can be; its impact goes far beyond politics, and encroaches into every aspect of life.

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