9 Diverse Novels Starring Bisexual+ Main Characters
Contemporary literary fiction about identity and sexuality
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Within the confines of a few hundred pages, it can be difficult for a character to be read as bisexual unless explicitly mentioned. Too often, if a character is dating someone of the same sex they are seen as gay, and if not, they are assumed to be straight. These quick judgments further the erasure and harassment bi+ people face on an everyday basis.
In recent years, a growing number of books have openly celebrated the complexities of bi identities. This is in part because of an increasingly queer population and more frequent spaces for LGBTQ writers, but also because bisexuality is finally becoming visible. (GLAAD estimates that over half of all LGBTQ people and up to a third of all people under 35 identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer.)
While young adult, new adult, and genre books have embraced queer characters with open arms, literary books geared towards adults featuring bisexuality can slip through the cracks. The following novels discuss fluidity, love, and connection from the Gold Rush era to present-day New Zealand.
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
A stolen newspaper begins a lifelong love of journalism for Ivoe Williams, the Black Muslim main character of Barnett’s debut novel. Ivoe wants to change the world with her writing, and so she becomes the first member of her family to go to college. In college, she falls in love with a man, but the relationship falters when he grows jealous of Ivoe’s connection with her journalism professor, a woman named Ona. Together, Ivoe and Ona flee the Jim Crow South and found the first female-run Black newspaper. Set against the tensions of Jim Crow and the Red Summer, this novel explores the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.
She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
This illustrated novel follows the intersecting storylines of a young man in 1990s Canada exploring his sexuality, and the stories of Hindu gods. As the main character comes of age and tries to understand his gender and sexuality, he is rebuffed by both the straight and gay communities, especially as he begins a relationship with a woman who calls herself She. She of the Mountain is an experimental and nuanced fable about the complexities of identity.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Ava is working as an English teacher in Hong Kong when she meets Julian, an English banker from a posh background. She falls in with Julian and his elitist friends, and soon begins an undefined relationship with him that culminates in Ava moving into his spare bedroom. When Julian has to return to London for several months on business, Ava stays in his apartment, but falls in love with a lawyer named Edith. As Ava’s relationship with Edith deepens, she must decide if she’s going to stay with the dynamic, exciting Edith, or return to the quiet comfort of Julian.
My Education by Susan Choi
When Regina Gottlieb first arrives at grad school, she already knows the rumors about a handsome professor on campus, Nicholas Brodeu. He’s known for sleeping with his students. Curious, Regina enrolls in one of his classes, and when she’s offered a TA position, she’s suddenly immersed in the lives of Nicholas and his pregnant wife, Martha. Although it was Nicholas who first caught her eye, Regina becomes obsessed with Martha from the moment she sees her, and begins an affair that turns both women’s lives upside-down. This steamy campus novel offers readers an education on sexuality and power.
Big Familia by Tomas Moniz
After a regular at Juan Gutiérrez’s favorite bar dies, it’s his final straw in a stressful year. His college-bound daughter has been increasingly defiant, his boyfriend, Jared, craves more commitment, and the bar is closing. That’s all without mentioning gentrification, the challenges of navigating his sexuality post-divorce, and his relationship with his incarcerated father. A unique tale of late-bloomer queerness, single-parenthood, and latine identity, Big Familia cherishes the families we are born with and the ones we find.
Attraction by Ruby Porter
Three women road trip across New Zealand’s North Island for a beach vacation. The narrator is not-quite-dating, not-quite-not-dating Ilana, however, she worries that Ilana is harboring a crush on their third guest, Ashi. As the three women navigate their unique dynamic, the narrator also grapples with her recent break up with an abusive ex-boyfriend. Porter paints a complete picture of not only female friendship and sexuality, but also of modern New Zealander culture and post-colonial guilt.
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
Rachel is a mid-20s, Jewish, bisexual woman who hates her job in the talent industry. The highlight of her day is sneaking away at lunch for a small cup of frozen yogurt, the only “cheat” in her rigid diet. But after her therapist advises she cuts off contact with her mother, and the cute Orthodox woman working the froyo counter asks her to dinner, her life gets flipped upside down. Full of second-hand embarrassment, steamy sex, and golems, Milk Fed is dedicated to sapphics who love the TikTok audio, “Mommy? Sorry, Mommy?”
Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
When Mina is stopped at the George Washington Bridge by the police, she can’t convince them she wasn’t actually going to jump. Her husband, Oscar, decides that it’s best for them to leave New York behind for his hometown of London. Across the Atlantic, Mina decides that diving into her background in Classics might uncover a new answer for her mental health. But even mythology can’t solve her growing distance from her husband and her intensifying friendship with his childhood friend, Phoebe.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
Lucy and Sam are Chinese American siblings living at the end of the California Gold Rush. After the death of their father, they must carry his body until they can find a burial spot. But at twelve and eleven, they also need to survive in a hostile landscape not built for working-class children of color. Zhang masterfully retraces their upbringing, while honoring their heritage and Sam’s queerness and androgyny.