Lesbian literature has come a long way since the days when the poetry of Sappho and underground novels like Radclyffe Hall’s
The Well of Loneliness were among the few widely available options. Still, anyone on the hunt for the best LGBTQIA+ audiobooks knows that it can still be a challenge to find stories centered on lesbian characters and experiences. So we’ve compiled some of our favorites with a series of lists detailing some of the best stories from the queer community, from LGBTQIA+ listens to bisexual and trans stories.
Here, we’ve come up with some of the best lesbian listens across fiction and nonfiction and in a range of genres and age categories, but with one common factor: All of these selections are stories focused on lesbian characters, written by authors from the LGBTQIA+ community. Here we go!
0 Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
T Kira Madden narrates her memoir in essays about growing up as the biracial daughter and only child of a Chinese-Hawaiian mother and a white father who left his wife and other family to be with them...but never quite fully. As she comes of age, she must deal with issues of race and class while also figuring out her own identity as a queer woman. While Madden seemingly led a life of privilege, her home life was very unstable. Through these contradictions and tensions, Madden explores the meaning of family, love, and finding the people who understand you.
In this incredible novel, Patsy is overjoyed when she’s finally granted a visa to the United States. It means that she can finally leave her small Jamaican town and join her old friend, and first love, Cicely. But it also means leaving behind her overbearing mother and her young daughter, Tru. And when Patsy arrives in New York, it’s not the new life she was expecting—she must survive as an undocumented immigrant working minimum-wage jobs. Meanwhile, Tru reconnects with her father in Jamaica and struggles with identity questions of her own. Sharon Gordon narrates this critically acclaimed novel.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
A remarkably honest and witty memoir, Jeannette Winterson’s
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a story of self-discovery and the courage to act on that very discovery. While listening to this author-narrated tale, it’s easy to understand exactly why Winterson is so revered as a major literary figure. While her work spans memoir, fiction, and even hot takes on Shakespearean plays (looking at you, The Gap of Time), all of her writing is united by its raw and truthful ways of telling on the human condition. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Set in the early 1990s, this novel takes place in Montana and follows the adolescence of Cameron Post, a girl who is orphaned suddenly and must live with her religious Aunt Ruth. As she navigates the baffling worlds of grief and high school, she falls for her new best friend. But the excitement of first love comes crashing down when the girls’ relationship is discovered, and Cameron is sent to God’s Promise, a conversion camp for gay teens, where she learns the extent of adult hypocrisy. This brilliant novel, narrated by Beth Laufer, was a finalist for the YALSA Morris Award and is the basis of the award-winning indie film starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
In the Dream House
This stunning memoir about love, identity, and domestic abuse is an absolute must-listen. Experimental in structure, Carmen Marie Machado’s short chapters and various literary devices tell the story of her two years in graduate school, when she fell for a beguiling woman who turned abusive. She reveals the emotional abuse and manipulation she endured while also analyzing why instances of domestic abuse between queer couples are rarely revealed or explored in literature. Machado narrates this mesmerizing work, which is an important addition to the canon of queer memoirs.
Under the Rainbow
The debut novel of queer author Celia Laskey, this poigant story set in Big Burr, Kansas, unpacks what it means to be queer in a society that refuses you. Narrated by a full cast, each voice brings the individual and intertwining vingettes to life. Told with warmth and cutting wit,
Under the Rainbow is a hopeful articulation of our complicated humanity and the ways we can learn to live with each other and ourselves. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
Joanna has been out for years, and is largely supported by her preacher father. But when her dad remarries and they have to relocate from Atlanta to small-town Georgia, he asks Joanna to not be quite so out and proud in their new town—essentially, to head back into the closet. Joanna isn’t pleased, but she agrees, only to immediately regret it when she meets Mary Carlson, the golden girl of her new high school. But a promise is a promise, and Jo tries to suppress her feelings and her own identity, all in the name of fitting in while also grappling with what it means to be a young, queer person of faith. This is an excellent novel that sensitively portrays the difficulties of balancing religion and sexuality, narrated by Amanda Dolan.
Sarah Waters's groundbreaking and best-selling novel,
Fingersmith focuses on Sue, a young woman who was rescued as an orphan and brought up in an unconventional, crowded household of petty thieves. A con artist by the name of Gentleman proposes that Sue get a job and ingratiate herself to the rich but sickly Maud Lilly, a gentlewoman who is naive to the streets that Sue grew up on. Sue is eager to help at first—she wants to repay her adoptive family by duping Maud out of her fortune—but the more she gets to know Maud, the harder she finds it to go through with their plan. Juanita McMahon narrates this story, which has inspired a film adaptation titled The Handmaiden. Mostly Dead Things
Jessi Vilinksy narrates this weird and memorable novel about Jessa-Lynn Morton, a 20-something lesbian who is trying to hold her family together the best she can after her father’s death by suicide. She’s running his taxidermy shop and trying to take care of her mother, who keeps rearranging the animals in lewd tableaus. She also worries about her brother and his kids, who run as wild as she did when she was their age. But most of all, she mourns the sudden disappearance of the only woman she’s ever truly loved—who happened to marry her brother before taking off. But it's only when Jessa stops trying to control everything that she finds what she truly needs.
Ash is Malinda Lo’s groundbreaking debut novel, a YA fantasy reimagining of Cinderella. The author narrates her story about an orphan named Ash, who dreams of escaping her terrible life with a cruel stepmother to live with the faeries in her tales. Then Ash meets Sidhean, a faerie who is willing to grant Ash’s wish— for a price. Along the way, Ash also encounters Kaisa, the king’s huntress, who treats her with unexpected kindness. Just as Ash realizes she’s falling for Kaisa, her promises to Sidhean complicate her feelings, and Ash is left with a terrible choice: live out her dreams or stay with a newfound but uncertain love. Landing
While perhaps best known for her novel
Room, Emma Donoghue has been making a name for herself in lesbian fiction for many years. Landing is just one of her many novels, a lighter story about a sophisticated Irish woman and a sheltered Canadian woman who find unexpected love and connection. Sile is a well-traveled flight attendant; Jude is an archivist and stubborn homebody. When their paths cross at Heathrow, their spark is immediate...but what follows is a tumultuous year of romancing, missed connections, and exploration as they try to figure out: Do they have what it takes to make it as a couple? Laura Hicks narrates the audiobook, deftly handling the multiple accents. Under the Udala Trees
Performed by Hall of Fame narrator Robin Miles, this is the powerful story of a young Nigerian woman, Ijeoma, who comes of age with her homeland in the late 1960s and is sent away as civil war breaks out. While displaced, she meets another young woman who becomes her friend, and then they fall in love. Not only does her love’s gender make their relationship impossible, but she’s also from a different ethnic community. Ijeoma must hide the part of herself that loves this woman if they’re to survive, but at what cost? Inspired by Nigerian folk tales and realities,
Under the Udala Tree is a deeply affecting novel about culture, love, gender, and war. Winner of the Lambda Literary Award, it was also nominated for an NAACP Imagine Award. Annie On My Mind
Annie On My Mind is considered a classic in lesbian literature because it’s one of the first YA novels where the lesbian characters get a happy, uplifting ending. It is about Liza, who meets a girl named Annie while visiting the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The two become fast friends, and it’s not long before they start falling for each other. But when their relationship is exposed, Liza and Annie must decide if love is worth risking everything for. Originally published in 1982, this wonderful novel is now available as an audiobook narrated by Rebecca Lowman. High School
The iconic pop duo (and twin sisters) Tegan and Sara Quin coauthored their debut memoir about their lives in high school in Calgary, when they were first exploring their queer identities and began to shape the music that would go on to make them famous. Taking turns in alternating chapters, Tegan and Sara each reveal their high school experiences in the 1990s, from parental divorce to academic pressures to big questions about life and love. This audiobook is narrated by the authors and also includes exclusive interviews as well as recordings from cassette tapes that Tegan and Sara found while researching their memoir. It’s a fascinating listen for any Tegan and Sara fan, and a great memoir of queer youth.
Carol - The Price of Salt
Written by the author of
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt has endured as a classic, even though it was first published as a lesbian pulp fiction novel under a pseudonym. It’s the story of Therese, a sales clerk making a small living in New York City at a fancy department store, and Carol, a housewife with wealth and status who is secretly divorcing her husband and engaged in a bitter custody battle for their young daughter. When the two meet, they’re immediately attracted to each other, but their romance has dire consequences. Part of what makes this novel such a milestone is the fact that it’s the first lesbian novel without a tragic ending from its time period. It’s also the basis of the movie Carol, starring Cate Blanchett. The audiobook is narrated by Cassandra Campbell. One Last Stop
Hilarious, heartwarming, and sexy as hell, this coming-of-age story turned sci-fi adventure is required listening for basically any queer, but especially a New York City queer person who understands the particular type of longing only a subway crush can have on the psyche. Follow along as new-to-the-city August waits tables, moves in with too many roommates, and just might fall in love with her train crush (who might not be exactly what they seem). Author Casey McQuiston is known for their incredible romance writing, most notably their best-selling YA novel
Red, White, and Royal Blue, which details the son of America’s first woman president falling for the prince of England. Yes, we love how McQuiston’s mind works too. Everything Leads to You
Narrated by Jorjeana Marie, this YA novel tells the romantic story of Emi, who is entrusted with her brother’s downtown LA apartment the summer after graduating from high school with one instruction: to do something epic. She isn’t quite sure what that looks like, but when her internship with a set designer turns into a real gig as a set designer for an indie film, it leads her to a Hollywood mystery and to Ava, an unknown actress with a mysterious history. Emi is drawn to Ava in ways she can’t explain, and as they spend the summer working together, they might just discover that something epic is right there in front of them.
Standup comedian Cameron Esposito gets funny and frank with this memoir about her youth, growing up Catholic, and coming out—at a Catholic college, no less. In her own voice and with trademark wit, she recalls being an awkward kid with a dubious sense of style, coming of age, figuring out what it means to be queer, joining the circus, making a life and a living in comedy, and falling in love.
Save Yourself is a super honest and painfully real account of growing up queer, and Cameron narrates each word with humor, heart, and reassurance. Tirzah Price is a writer and contributing editor at Book Riot.