I want to start off here with a definition of the word “sapphic”, for those who might not know! “Sapphic” comes from the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who wrote poetry about her love for women (she was from the island of Lesbos, which is where the word “lesbian originates from!). The term refers to any woman or non-binary person who loves women. This can include lesbians, bisexual women, and pansexual women as well. When I reference sapphic literature in this article, I simply mean that the characters in the books I describe below are most often women who are attracted to and fall in love with other women.
It is wild to me how much LGBTQ+ literature has boomed over the last decade. Where there once was the “token white gay best friend” character trope, there is now a vast array of diverse queer characters in science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and in so many other places. I frequent online reading circles like BookTok, where (usually) younger adults and older teenagers speak on the books they love, much of that including LGBTQ+ books. With the rise of BookTok, sales for certain books soared, even getting their own BookTok display at Barnes & Noble or other big booksellers. Right now, BookTok is “the place to be” for authors. All the “cool” books get featured on BookTok. It’s like sitting at the popular kids’ table in the high school cafeteria.
But one thing that a few queer creators on BookTok, and thus in other online reading circles, have noticed is that the queer books that really make it big on BookTok overwhelmingly feature white, cisgender, gay characters. Books like Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and the Heartstopper series of graphic novels by Alice Oseman are practically household titles in the BookTok world, their popularity bleeding heavily into the mainstream world of popular reading. I can’t say the same for books like Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar or A Clash of Steel by C. B. Lee. Have people heard of these books? Sure! They’re not completely unknown to the world. But have they gained the same level of popularity as Heartstopper or Red, White, and Royal Blue? Personally, I haven’t seen it.
There’s also the question of how much TikTok’s algorithm might suppress queer POC creators who make videos trying to highlight diverse sapphic books, but that’s not really the point here. I’m not saying you need to forgo reading books like Heartstopper completely, the series is quite sweet and wholesome (and would have been tremendously beneficial for my high school age, closeted self to read). It’s important to ask ourselves why we’re reading the things we choose to read and what work we are doing to diversify our reading. Because the truth is, especially if you’re white and cisgender like I am, it does take putting in some work to diversify your perspective and reading tastes. Below, I highlight some of my favorite sapphic books across multiple different genres. Be sure to check them out, and don’t be afraid to stop into the store and ask for more recommendations! :)
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Romance | Science Fiction | Fantasy | Classics | Young Adult
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Fans of McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue will certainly enjoy One Last Stop. 23-year-old August has just moved to New York City, into a small apartment with strange yet loveable roommates. August feels like she’s given up on romance in her life and feels content going through her life alone until she meets Jane on her subway commute to work. Jane is mysterious and charming, and soon the subway ride to work becomes the best part of August’s day. But when August learns that Jane is actually displaced in time from the 1970’s, stuck in the subway in an endless loop, August becomes committed to helping Jane find her way home.
D’Vaughn and Kris Plan A Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins
D’Vaughn Miller and Kris Zavala have decided to enter a reality TV series called “Instant I Do”, where they must plan a wedding in six weeks and convince their families that their relationship is real. If their families realize at any point that they are faking it, they lose the competition (and the $100,000 prize that comes with it). As the weeks pass, there are new challenges to be faced, both in the competition and in D’Vaughn and Kris’s relationship. Described by readers on Goodreads as a “fun, quick, and enjoyable read”, D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding is perfect for readers looking for simple and easy to read romance.
Other sapphic romance recs:
Sapphic Science Fiction
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
World-famous violinist Shizuka Satomi has made a deal with the devil: to train seven violin prodigies and convince them to sign away their souls in exchange for immortality. Shizuka has already delivered six of the seven souls. Katrina Nguyen is a young transgender runaway with a very old violin and a natural talent for playing it, having no prior instruction. Shizuka is convinced that this is her seventh and final soul and takes Katrina under her wing, housing her and caring for her while providing her with the best of the best when it comes to violin training. Meanwhile, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, the owner of a donut shop, mother of four, and an interstellar refugee. As much as she tries to focus on saving her soul, Shizuka can’t avoid her growing feelings for Lan. A funky, heartwarming science fiction novel that I feel will be enjoyed especially by fans of T. J. Klune’s works.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
I reread this book twice, both for its heaviness and because I enjoyed it so much. This is How You Lose the Time War is written in a series of playful love letters between Red and Blue, two agents from rival warring factions. T he letters and the love that grows between the agents are littered between threads of time and transcend space and time as we know it. The discovery of their love means their deaths, because there’s still a war on, and someone has to win.
Other sapphic science fiction recs:
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
This has got to be one of my favorite fantasy books of all time. Don’t let its staggering 848 pages stop you from enjoying this beautifully-written high fantasy. Told from multiple perspectives, Priory follows Ead, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Sabran who is secretly loyal to a hidden society of mages; Tane, a trained dragonrider who is faced with an impossible choice that could change her life forever, and Queen Sabran the Ninth, who must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from total destruction, even as assassin’s seek to end her bloodline. This is one sapphic fantasy that I tirelessly recommend to anyone and everyone. Keep an eye out for the prequel to Priory, A Day of Fallen Night, out at the end of February this year!
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
The Eastwood Sisters, James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna, have been separated from each other for some time now. In 1893 New Salem, there are no such thing as witches. But when the sisters reunite for the first time in several years to join the New Salem suffragist movement, they relearn how to control their magical abilities in order to assist the movement and train new witches. As suspicions of witchcraft grow and rebellion heightens, the sisters must harness the oldest forms of magic and create new alliances to survive.
Other sapphic fantasy recs:
Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
The book that is said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Carmilla is a Gothic novella that takes place in Styria, Austria, in the late 1800’s. Laura, the teenage narrator, lives in a castle with her widowed father. When a carriage accident takes place outside their home, Laura and her father take in one of the passengers, a girl around Laura’s age named Carmilla, while she recovers from her injuries in the accident. Carmilla and Laura form a fast friendship, but strange things begin to happen in the nearby town and with Carmilla herself, leading Laura to wonder who this strange girl really is and what she’s really doing in Styria.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Written in 1952 and later developed into the 2015 film Carol, The Price of Salt is a romance novel about Therese Belivet, a young woman who is bored with her life as a retail clerk in a department store, and bored with her relationship with a man named Richard. One day around Christmas season, a beautiful and mysterious woman named Carol comes up to her counter to inquire about a toy for her young daughter. The two develop a strong attachment to each other and decide to set across the United States together. When a private investigator confronts them, Carol must make the choice between her relationship with Therese and her daughter.
Other sapphic classic recs:
Young Adult Sapphic Fiction
A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee
This Treasure Island retelling is part of the “Remixed Classics” series, in which classic books are retold by a diverse group of authors through their own cultural lens. A Clash of Steel is set in 1826 in the South China Sea, where Xiang is desperately trying to prove to her strict mother, a protective businesswoman, that she is able to stand on her own. When one of Xiang’s dearest possessions is stolen by a mysterious pirate girl named Anh, Xiang begins to learn more about the legendary Dragon Fleet of pirates and a massive treasure yet to be found. Xiang seizes the opportunity to join Anh on the sea to find the treasure and prove her independence to her mother. But soon, the girls find out that the sea is far more dangerous than they could have ever known.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
In San Francisco’s Chinatown, at the height of the Red Scare, seventeen-year-old Lily Hu is the epitome of what it means to be a “good Chinese girl”. One day, she finds an advertisement in a magazine for Tommy Andrews, a drag king at the Telegraph Club. When she meets Kathleen Miller, who also knows about the Telegraph Club, the two are enveloped into the 1950’s lesbian scene. Lily grapples with her own identity and her feelings towards Kath, and begins to realize just how dangerous her involvement with the Telegraph Club is for herself and for her family, including her father’s citizenship status. Last Night at the Telegraph Club and Lo’s newest YA novel, A Scatter of Light, are some of my favorite sapphic YA coming-of-age novels. I am endlessly recommending them for Lo’s beautifully authentic and heart-wrenching portrayal of what it’s like to come to terms with your sexuality and the inner turmoil that it can cause.
Other YA sapphic recs: