Looking to travel this summer, but you’re on a budget? Immerse yourself in a story! Head over to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of “Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. This retelling of the Trojan War follows the story of the well-known hero Achilles, told from the perspective of his sworn companion Patroclus. It is a tender whirlwind that one is swept into with the first lines. Miller’s ability to transport her readers and immerse them in the world of ancient Greece is what really makes this book stand out, due in part to the poetic style she uses. Take this short passage: “Our mouths opened under each other, and the warmth of his sweetened throat poured into mine. I could not think, could not do anything but drink him in, each breath as it came, the soft movement of his lips. It was a miracle … I was trembling, afraid to put him into flight. I did not know what to do, what he would like. I kissed his neck, the span of his chest, and tasted the salt. He seemed to swell beneath my touch, to ripen. He smelled like almonds and the earth. He pressed against me, crushing my lips to wine.”
When many of us start a book, we are conditioned to assume that the characters we’re reading are straight or cis unless it is explicitly stated that they’re queer. And while mainstream queer representation has been on the rise over the past few years, we need to constantly push for more inclusivity. After all, representation really does matter. It wasn’t until I was able to see more characters like me in the media I consumed that I began to feel comfortable in my sexuality as a young queer person, and from there I began to seek out more queer content on my own.
Growing up I was an avid reader. I read everywhere and anywhere I could. I’m talking about “winning a medal for the read-a-thon in seventh grade for reading over 15,000 pages” kind of reading. And yet, I can’t recall reading any books with queer characters or queer storylines. This doesn’t mean they didn’t exist at the time; they just weren’t as integrated into mainstream pop culture as they are now. Even with lists of the “top 100 books of 2021” or the “top books of the summer,” we can’t ignore the role that TikTok has played within the book community (aka BookTok). The app allows us to follow our favorite creators, but with the help of the algorithm, we’re now able to reach wider audiences, discover new authors, and connect with others about our niche interests. Technology has allowed us to communicate with our peers about books like never before.
A favorite author of mine, Donna Tartt, has a wonderful quote about books and the power of language: “When we read a great book, we do internalize it, it becomes part of us; when we read a great book we put it down and we’re different people.”
It is imperative that we not overlook the importance of young queer people seeing themselves represented in ways that show healthy queer relationships. Relationships filled with hope and beauty; ones that don’t have to end in tragedy as previously mainstream scripted queer stories often do. This retelling of a classic story is courageous and intimate. To feel seen, to have your heart and soul held by a novel is truly a wondrous experience.