Written by Jessica Lynn Nichols
Strong bi protagonists from across all genres
“Leah on the Offbeat” by Becky Albertalli is the sequel to “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” the novel that inspired the film “Love, Simon.” The film and first novel focus on Simon Spier, a closeted high school student, and his story of falling in love and coming out. The sequel is set a few months after the end of “Simon,” and is told from the perspective of Simon’s best friend, Leah Burke. This novel explores Leah’s bisexuality with the same thoughtfulness and humor readers have come to expect from Albertalli’s work. The story addresses Leah’s experience of biphobia, including instances of bi erasure and the fetishization of bi women—both realities that aren’t addressed often enough in LGBTQ+ literature. But even while discussing serious issues, the novel takes a lighthearted approach. The central relationships are all healthy, and the LGBTQ+ characters all get happy endings. This is a great book for readers seeking a romantic comedy with a familiar cast of characters.
“The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee is an adventure romance set in 18 th - century Europe. Many authors have a habit of citing so-called “historical accuracy” as justification for excluding women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people from prominent roles in their narratives. One of Lee’s great strengths as a writer is that she never uses that excuse, and “Gentleman’s Guide” is an incredible testament to that. Just some of the topics explored include bisexuality, biracial identity, and the experiences of people with disabilities. At first glance, critical readers might fear that Monty, the protagonist, falls into the stereotype of the bisexual hedonist, or the chronically indecisive bi person. But even with all his drinking and affairs, Monty soon emerges as a well-developed character who is devoted to his friends and family. The historical setting does come with the institutions of homophobia, racism, ableism, and misogyny, but while these are present in the characters’ lives, they do not overpower the narrative or condemn the characters to constant suffering. Readers who have struggled to reconcile the need for literary diversity with the appeal of thoroughly researched period pieces can finally satisfy both requirements in this book. The sequel, “The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy,” focuses on Monty’s sister, Felicity, whose aromantic/asexual identity and dream of being a physician continue to feature strongly in her narrative.
“The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza” by Shaun David Hutchinson is a contemporary science fiction comedy. As in many of his novels, Hutchinson pairs a wild sci-fi concept with a lovable, reluctant hero. Elena Mendoza is a child of parthenogenesis, a scientifically possible virgin birth. Far less scientifically possible, though, are Elena’s emerging healing powers, along with the inanimate objects which talk to her and no one else. Soon enough, Elena is told that she is the only person with the power to save the world. Throughout its intriguing plot of the impending apocalypse and what can be done to stop it, the novel establishes Elena as a well-developed character with whom the reader can empathize. Elena’s experience as a bi Latina is presented in a matter-of-fact way: not the center of the plot, but still a nonnegotiable part of who she is. Another strength of the novel is Elena’s relationship with her mother. Coming-of-age novels often focus on the conflict between LGBTQ+ teens and their older, more traditional parents, especially in families of color, but Hutchinson avoids that trope. Not only is Elena’s mother accepting of her daughter’s sexuality, but she realizes it before Elena ever does. The two maintain open communication and a loving family dynamic throughout the novel. Also compelling is the commentary regarding humanity’s impact on the environment and the ability of a younger generation to make social change, both of which Hutchinson often explores as primary themes in his books. Readers seeking diverse
and funny science fiction with a deep emotional core will enjoy “Apocalypse” as well as Hutchinson’s many other novels.
“In Other Lands” by Sarah Rees Brennan is a coming-of-age high fantasy from the perspective of a modern-day teenager. It begins when Elliott Schafer, at thirteen years old, is given the opportunity to cross over the wall between the UK and the Borderlands, a fantasy setting full of cultures and armies straight out of Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons. Elliott is skeptical at first, but he agrees—and immediately questions his life choices. The novel follows Elliott throughout his teenage years and his experience of self-discovery in both worlds. It’s full of all the hilarious narration and dialogue that would be expected from a sarcastic pacifist dropped into a pseudo-medieval military school, but the juxtaposition of Elliott’s progressive values against the Borderlands culture is also thought-provoking social commentary. Of particular interest is Brennan’s satire of gender roles in her interpretation of elvish society, in which the girls are trained as warriors and the boys are sent to finishing school. The themes get more personal, too, as Elliott learns to define his identity as a young, bisexual, Jewish man. As Elliott’s peers in the Borderlands don’t really have a concept of Judaism or bisexuality, the narrative offers an interesting opportunity for Elliott to explain what those identities can mean to a person. This novel is equal parts entertaining and moving, and it can’t be recommended enough for readers who love to see fantasy tropes with a twist.
“Song of the Dead” by Sarah Glenn Marsh is the sequel to “Reign of the Fallen,” Marsh’s high fantasy adventure. It begins immediately after the ending of “Reign,” and is told from the perspective of the original protagonist, Odessa, who is a necromancer. After the events of the last novel, the position of necromancers in Karthia, and the countries surrounding it, has become more tenuous. While avoiding spoilers for “Reign,” it can be safely said that diplomacy and political intrigue feature even more strongly in this sequel. Another aspect of the story that is developed further are the LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. Odessa is one of two bi+ characters, both of whom are people of color. Besides the bi representation, the intricate plot, and the rich, emotive writing style, one of the best elements of this book is the inclusion of a wedding ceremony between two gay supporting characters. Even in high fantasy with representation, it is often assumed that the setting does not include full legal rights for LGBTQ+ people because of its time period, but that is not the case in Marsh’s Karthia. The wedding is an important plot point, one of many ways that the LGBTQ+ characters are inseparable from this narrative. Readers interested in more serious, complex fantasy that is still full of heartwarming moments should seek out both books in the duology.