1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Clarissa Dalloway is planning a party and we’re all welcome. Her story weaves in and out of the modern world between her high-society life as a wife and mother, all the way back to her charmed youth and falling in love with Sally Seton.
Lesson: Our minds often travel back to our happiest moments, and our happiest moments are usually the ones we spent being authentic.
2. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Therese and Carol come into each other’s lives when both are desperately in need of love and understanding. Unfortunately, being together may mean making the choice between the family they know and love, and the family of two they’ve become.
Lesson: There are more than just happy or sad endings. Some endings are about hope, or at the very least, forgiveness.
3. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
In this poetry collection, Natalie Diaz writes us into her world and invites us into the lives of her family, community, and even her ancestors. While the book is indeed about her brother, he serves as more of a frame for the stories that arise around him.
Lesson: Your sexuality is only one part of your identity, and it’s OK if it’s not the most important part.
4. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
After the death of Cameron’s parents, her conservative family members are charged with raising her — as she’s just discovering her sexuality when she’s outed, and sent to Camp Promise for conversion therapy.
Lesson: There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with anyone who’s threatened by your sexuality.
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
In a time when poor black women are worth only as much as their looks and ability to conceive, Celie is a woman with neither to offer. After being separated from her sister, she thinks herself unworthy of affection or kind words until she falls under the spell of juke joint singer Shug Avery.
Lesson: There is always someone willing to love you past your pain whether it be family, friend, or lover. One way or another, we find our sisters.
6. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s father was a funeral director, perfectionist, and closeted gay man. While driving to his funeral, she wonders if coming out to him was the last straw that lead to his death.
Lesson: You can’t live your life in service to others’ perceptions of you. Being who you are is always the right move.
7. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Two teen girls, Liza and Annie, come from different backgrounds but have one very important thing in common: love. Struggling with high school and fear of what happens after, the girls are comforted by promising forever to one another, but things don’t always work out the way we plan.
Lesson: Don’t give up on the girl you love.
8. Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
When Idgie falls in love with Ruth, a series of events closely follow: a rescue, the opening of a café, and a murder. In small-town Birmingham, two women protect and provide for people in need, all while building a life of their own.
Lesson: You get more than one shot at building a family. Sometimes, the best families are the ones we piece together.
9. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
The narrator (who isn’t named), is a bit of a mess when it comes to love. She leaves her current partner for a woman named Louise, eventually having to make the choice between loving her or saving her life.
Lesson: Don’t make decisions for people you love without including them in the conversation. It never ends well.
10. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
A collection of essays unflinching in lyricism, critical reasoning, and keeping it real. Required reading for feminists, women of color, and you.
Lesson: There’s a big, bad patriarchy out there. You’ll need to know who you’re fighting before you throw a punch.
11. Inferno by Eileen Myles
The story of a young writer discovering her sexuality against the backdrop of New York City’s punk scene. Eileen Myles is the voice of the underground and she’s dragging you down with her.
Lesson: We all go through phases of bad behavior. It’s important to remember that a phase is a phase because it has an end.
12. Aimee & Jaguar by Erica Fischer
In 1943 Berling, Lilly’s husband is a philandering Nazi officer, and her new lover is a Jewish lesbian. Thus begins the story of two women in love living on borrowed time.
Lesson: Love does not conquer all, and it may not save you. But it’s worth the risk.
13. The Gilda Stories by Jewell Gomez
Gilda is a black, bisexual vampire whose story spans from 1850 to 2050. Jewelle Gomez has written one of the most unlikely characters of modern literature, and she’s written her journey beautifully.
Lesson: Everyone can be insecure in moments. You are not the only person who doesn’t have it all figured out.
14. Rent Girl by Michelle Tea
Recounting her years as a prostitute, Michelle Tea allows the book’s readers to dive into a world they’re mostly unfamiliar with and infinitely curious about. How does a lesbian woman love herself and her body in the wake of so many men? Read and find out.
Lesson: There’s no right way to be a lesbian.
15. After Delores by Sarah Schulman
Delores left the narrator, and the narrator is pissed. She bought a gun, she’s usually wasted, and like some bumbling private eye, she’s on the hunt for justice for all the women like her: hurt and invisible.
Lesson: The world can be hard on a woman who loves women. You get to be angry about that. Just don’t let the anger destroy you.