Whether you’re building a New Year’s resolution reading list or hoping to renew your faith in #CanLit, we at Room are here to help.
This list of some of our most beloved fiction, poetry, and non-fiction books by queer Canadian writers, compiled by fourteen members of the Room collective, is a great place to start.
If you’re a writer who identifies on the LGBTTQIA+ spectrum, please consider submitting to our queer issue. The deadline is January 31.
The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel
The Mystics of Mile End captivates with its deep-reaching take on themes of mysticism, tradition, queer identity, death, and recovery. Wonderfully ambitious and deftly crafted, Samuel's novel holds all these themes together to reveal the interconnected journeys of each character. This book is a must-read for anyone who loves Montreal. Available in English and French. –A.D.
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
Teacher and town hero George Woodbury has been accused of inappropriate contact with underage female students. Zoe Whittall's captivating and unnerving fourth novel follows George's family’s attempts to process and cope with his arrest and trial. —S.S.G.
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Reading this book in the late 90s meant several things to young, queer readers like me: sci-fi fantasy writing could be feminist, communal, spiritual, and rooted in contemporary (prescient!) struggles against capitalism and power. The story’s heroine, Ti-Jeanne, lives in the lawless, poor, perilous, innovative inner city—a dystopic, economically collapsed Toronto imbued with Afro-Caribbean culture, rituals, and language—where her grandmother helps her use magic and mysticism to battle evil. –R.T.
Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki
Tamaki’s second novel tells the story of Montgomery Sole, a high school student who spends most of her free time researching and talking to her two best friends about all things strange and paranormal. When she buys a $5.99 crystal amulet called “the Eye of Know” online, bad things started happening to people she detests—the popular kids who have been ridiculing her for having two moms. Saving Montgomery Sole is an understated and perceptive story about family, religion, and the strangeness of growing up. –K.W.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Emily Carroll is a comics writer from London, Ontario, who brings the fairy-tale into the digital age. While getting her start in comics by posting her work online, she published a gorgeous book called Through the Woods in 2014 (Margaret K McElderry Books). This book is the perfect blend of haunting, fresh, spooky, and sinister. It’s a great read from start to finish. See some of her work on her website [http://emcarroll.com/]. –T.H.
Oracle Bone by Lydia Kwa
Fantasy, magic, realism, and history all rolled in one fantastic novel. Epically crafted, Oracle Bone transports the reader on a never-ending voyage through mythical seventh-century China. The story holds you close and keeps your finger on the pulse as the journey unfolds. Combining multiple genres, Oracle Bone is a fantastic read. –N.N.
What We All Long For by Dionne Brand
The stories of four young second-generation Torontonians intersect in Brand's vibrant fourth novel. Tuyen, Carla, Jamal, and Oku try to find their place in the city while contending with the complex legacies of their parents' migrations to Canada. What We All Long For is a quintessential Toronto read that captures the unique rhythms of the city and the struggle to belong. –A.M.
The Kappa Child by Hiromi Goto
In Goto's second novel for adults, a Japanese Canadian family on the Alberta prairies find their lives transformed by a kappa—a mischievous river imp of Japanese folklore. The unnamed protagonist navigates friendship, loneliness, and familial abuse, all while dealing with a seemingly immaculate pregnancy. Goto's signature blend of frank humour and magical realism animate this story of queer desire and self-actualization. –A.M.
Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Ann-Marie MacDonald’s first novel chronicles multiple generations of the Piper family from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to New York City. Among MacDonald’s gifts is the ability provoke humour and empathy amid great tragedy. This is a rich, complex and devastating novel. –L.G.
Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang
Mei, a mixed-race trans woman of Chinese heritage, isolates herself in her aunt’s empty home in rural Ontario after her cousin Sandy unexpectedly passes away. During this period of solitude, Mei begins to connect with her ancestors and unravel family secrets. In gentle, spare prose, jia qing wilson-yang has created a remarkable CanLit debut. –L.G.
10 Things I Can See from Here by Carrie Mac
Carrie Mac's latest young adult novel is a quirky, funny, and complex story about a queer teenager with severe anxiety who moves to Vancouver to live with her dad and stepmom and falls in love with a carefree (at least on the surface) busker named Salix. Mac's depiction of anxiety is startlingly accurate; 10 Things avoids or subverts common mental illness love-story tropes (such as the love-interest-as-saviour), while tackling difficult subjects such as addiction and divorce (and other difficult topics I won't mention here to avoid spoiling major plot points). –M.B.
Room by Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue's seventh novel became an international bestseller when it was published in 2010, and was recently turned into a critically-acclaimed film. Room tackles trauma, grief, and healing through the eyes of five-year-old Jack, the son (by her rapist) of a woman who has been held captive for seven years. The novel’s horrors are both distorted and sharpened by the innocent point of view; this difficult read is also impossible to put down. At its heart, Room is a powerful story about the unconditional love between a mother and a son under unimaginable circumstances. –M.B.
Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn
Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa is magic on so many levels. In this quick-paced story about a teenage girl who falls deep into an underground prostitution ring, readers are taken on a ride through the dark and back. Dawn’s ability to build worlds that feel so familiar yet mystical is what makes this book brilliant, gutsy, and fierce. A book about survival, family, and friendship, written in a way no one else could. –C.K.
One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks
As her heroine trudges out of another broken relationship and navigates the sodden streets of Vancouver, Brooks tracks the sad and cautious movements that take us away from someone, and the ways we cling to and make sense of that which we take with us. The memories and the water trickle in and fill this poignant novel, which forecasts that our navigation of the world at large ultimately depends on how we weather our own. –T.R.
Pool Hopping and Other Stories by Anne Fleming
Anne Fleming brings you so close to her characters in Pool Hopping and Other Stories, you’ll feel like you’re gawking. Her Governor General’s Award-nominated collection shifts moods and tempos while keeping true to its smart, big-hearted core. From the quiet “atmospherics” of a group of twenty-something lesbians at a snowed-in cabin in Northern Ontario to the brash urban banter of the story “Conkers,” these stories will make you nostalgic for eras and places you may never have known. –S.S.
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
Kai Cheng Thom’s debut poetry collection spins race, trans feminism, and community place-making with lore and magic. This entire collection has a captivating oral-storytelling quality that shows her long history of performing her work on stages from coast to coast. You can almost hear Thom’s well-honed lyrical talents when reading her poetry on the page. –A.D.
Passage by Gwen Benaway
Gwen Benaway knows how to remember time and place like no other. And she does more than remember. She allows temporal memory to witness her in return. With reverence and with reciprocity, she shows how the land has shaped her body, spirit and identity. These poems are a conversation between the poet and lake, sky, trees, and earth; a call and response between memory and future healing, future possibility. These poems are a remarkably-crafted communication that invites the reader into an immersive knowledge. –A.D.
The Size of a Bird by Clementine Morrigan
“Can poetry hold / the anxious thoughts of lovers?” This is only one of the many complex and gorgeous inquiries in The Size of a Bird. Morrigan’s own poetry decidedly holds anxious thoughts, yes, but also desire, and trauma and healing, uncertainty and wanting, undoing and becoming. Her debut poetry collection holds all of these and more. –A.D.
Liquidities by Daphne Marlatt
In this poetry collection (Talon Books, 2014), Daphne Marlatt looks at Vancouver then and now by revisiting her collection, Vancouver Poems (first published in 1972), with the reflection of more than 40 years. The latter half of the book includes new work that looks at the region she has lived in for many years. It’s a beautiful collection that ends on an apt note for Vancouver: “still / it rains.” –T.H.
For Your Safety Please Hold On by Kayla Czaga
For Your Safety Please Hold On is a playful, gorgeous, and often heartbreaking debut collection from Vancouver-based poet Kayla Czaga. This is a coming-of-age collection, featuring poems about family, grief, youth, and identity—with rare wisdom and wit. Czaga writes poems that you want to read out loud to yourself again and again. I couldn't put this collection down. –M.B.
Our Bodies and Other Fine Machines by Natalie Wee
Natalie Wee’s writing is indicative of a wordsmith-master using all her tools with precision. Wee says the words we think, and then reshapes them, out loud, into beautiful origami-like gifts that hit you like “stray bullets splinter technicolour lovers.” From her well-thought-out use of white space, enjambments, and form, Our Bodies and Other Fine Machines tells tales of hurt, pain, lust, love and all that lurks between, leaving the “unsayable hung in our mouths.” –C.K.
Twoism by Ali Blythe
Blythe’s poetry deftly mingles humour and hardship to capture the beauty and tragedy of the everyday. Throughout the book, Blythe’s playful love of words is clear, coming through in the form of crossword puzzles, vocabulary definitions, and song lyrics. Twoism deals with illness, gender, romance, and pop culture in an effortless manner that makes you feel like you are reading lines from an old friend. –R.M.
If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You by Adèle Barclay
When I bought this book, I read it cover-to-cover twice in one weekend. If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You is Barclay’s first book, but it feels like reading an old master whose place in Canadian literature has already been carved out and ensured. There is deep literary resonance here. Barclay’s poems are synesthetic with an alchemical mixing of ancient ritual with day-to-day modern realities, producing something that is dreamy and magical but intensely personal. –R.M.
Even this Page is White by Vivek Shraya
Timely and timeless, Even this Page is White is a tapestry that weaves and folds concepts of race, otherness, privilege, and self. Shraya's collection of poetry is aware of both the internal and the external narratives that flow through each topic, often tying them together in beautifully woven words while playing with the page to create vivid imagery. –N.N.
For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick
Never has a poetry collection kept me so enraptured as Horlick's. From start to finish, Horlick's sensuous and vivid verses were a string tugging my heart through the painful but necessary journey from trauma to recovery. –A.S.
Dirty River by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Dominant culture dresses survivors in a thin costume of pitiful heroism, often reducing intersectional identities and diversity of healing strategies. But Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha knows the multifarious textures of survivor skins. Her truth teems with rich, tangible details of time and place. Her desire penetrates far deeper than reductive “happy endings.” And her memoir will surely become a lasting body of wisdom for anyone who yearns to holistically embrace our own survivor stories. –A.D.
Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement, ed. Jennifer Petterson
…shame, silence, isolation, shame, silence, isolation… Again and again, this ternion of cyclical coercers hinders us from sharing our survivor wisdom and evolving a sustainable collective healing movement. A resource like Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Sexual Violence Movement is timely and necessary. This remarkable anthology reminds us that both speaking up and hearing each other are acts of resistance; they are how we break shame, silence, and isolation. This anthology is also a multi-voiced mentor with over thirty contributors [some of whom are Canadian]; themes of healing from individual and systemic trauma evolve with every chapter. –A.D.
Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote
No one can tell a story like Ivan Coyote, and the Vancouver author's 10th book, a memoir about growing up outside the gender binary, showcases Coyote at their best. Reading Tomboy Survival Guide, I felt like Coyote was reaching through time to give my younger self a pat on the shoulder, as if to say, "It's going to be tough, but you're tougher." –A.S.
This is Happy by Camilla Gibb
The memoir This is Happy begins with the author ten weeks pregnant and stunned by the dissolution of her marriage; her partner has fallen for a mutual friend. Unexpectedly, Gibb begins to build her own chosen family while also reconnecting with her estranged brother. Gibb’s memoir is raw, honest and, ultimately, hopeful. –L.G.
The Remedy, edited by Zena Sharman
In The Remedy, editor Zena Sharman collected vital real-life narratives from trans and queer patients, clients, health care providers, and activists in order to confront the many challenges LGBTQ+ people face in seeking health care. This anthology at once serves as critical reading for health care providers and provides solace and solidarity for queer and trans folks who have struggled within the system. –L.G.