As the 50thanniversary of the Stonewall Riots draws closer, Pride Month 2019 is in full swing.  Rainbow flags abound, companies are gearing their brands towards the LGBTQ+ community, and parades are marching through city streets.  With summer settling in, June is coming up cheery, colorful, and super queer.

There are plenty of ways to celebrate Pride, and one of them is by enjoying a good book.  Changing times and trends have made LGBTQ+ books more marketable, and readers can choose from a wide variety of genres featuring queer stories and characters.

One genre I find particularly impressive is that of graphic novels.  These books are so easy to consume quickly, but require long, arduous work to bring to the page, even when the illustrations appear simplistic.  The three books I’m going to recommend for your Pride Reading List feature gorgeous artwork and complex characters living out thoughtful, emotional stories.

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  1. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (5/5)

This graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson – currently helming the Netflix series She-Ra – features Nimona, a pugnacious shape-shifter who becomes the sidekick of the nefarious Lord Ballister Blackheart.  As Nimona and Blackheart clash with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement, Nimona must also contend with her troubled past and mistrust for anyone who tries to get close to her.

If you’ve watched She-Ra, you’ll know Stevenson’s work is packed with as much emotion as it is action and adventure.  (If you haven’t watched She-Ra, go do it.  Now.)  Nimona focuses on the titular character’s escapades with Blackheart as well as the concepts of good and evil and whether you are inherently one or the other, unable to change in spite of your best efforts.  The story’s subplot centers around Blackheart and his enmity with Goldenloin, rooted in an old betrayal and veering between love and hate.

The art in Nimona is simple but effective, conveying atmosphere and emotions with great use of dialogue and scenes.

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With important lessons about good and evil and a side dish of gay romance, Nimona is a thoughtful, powerful story.

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  1. Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau (4/5)

Set in a sleepy seaside town, Bloom is the story of Ari, a band keyboard player working in his parents’ struggling bakery.  Ari’s dreams of moving to the big city are derailed when his parents hire Hector, an easygoing Samoan guy with a love for baking. As Ari and Hector settle into their summer work, acquaintanceship deepens into friendship and, eventually, blooms into love.  But Ari is discontented with his dull life and Hector is wary of romance.  When catastrophe strikes, their differences threaten to divide them for good.

Bloom, despite having a bit of drama, is a very soothing book to read.  Cast in cool shades of blue and scattered with flower motifs, this graphic novel draws on calming imagery and takes time to linger on scenes with broad, limited-dialogue shots – the hubbub of a wedding party, Ari hanging out with friends at an arcade, Hector baking from his grandmother’s cookbook.  The relationship between Hector and Ari takes its time, making it a natural and satisfying progression.  This deliberation is also used for each character’s arc, creating a perfect sense of pacing within the story.

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If you’re looking for a sweet, dreamy romance with bonus playlists and Samoan cooking recipes, check out Bloom. 

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  1. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (5/5)

The Prince and the Dressmaker is the story of Frances, a passionate seamstress and budding designer, and the Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium.  When Frances’s avant-garde designs cause a stir at a Parisian ball, Sebastian recruits her – but not to make men’s clothes.  With Frances’s dresses, Sebastian becomes Lady Crystallia, the hottest fashion icon in Paris.  But the cost of keeping Sebastian’s secret identity a secret threatens to ruin Frances’s career and the reputation of the Belgian monarchy.

Of the three books recommended here, I personally think The Prince and the Dressmaker has the prettiest artwork.  Filled with bold, colorful, intricately-designed dresses, this graphic novel is almost worth buying just to gaze at the clothes. Author and artist Jen Wang is an illustrator based in Los Angeles, but if she were a clothing designer, I would totally buy her work (as it is, I’ll just have to peruse the gorgeous illustrations on her website).  The dresses Frances crafts for Sebastian are both beautiful and imaginative.  In addition to the clothes, buildings, scenery, color scheme, and characters are all rendered with care.  The characters are cartoonish but distinct, ranging from Frances and Sebastian’s round-faced youth to the King of Belgium’s square-jawed angularity and broad proportions.

The Prince and the Dressmaker not only features lush artwork, but also tells an important story of being true to yourself. Sebastian must hide his identity as Lady Crystallia, afraid of backlash from his family and the public. Meanwhile, his parents parade eligible women before him, eager to find him a wife.  As all this plays out, Frances must choose between her passion for her work and her loyalty to Sebastian.  Lastly, a light romance challenges the norms of gender and how they play a role in attraction and love.

Seriously, just check out the artwork:

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If fashion, queer romance, and heartwarming self-discovery float your boat, look no further than The Prince and the Dressmaker. 

Happy reading, and Happy Pride Month!

Note:  The book covers and pictures are the copyright property of their respective publishers.

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