The best thing about queer romance books is they’re not stereotypical. There’s always a fascinating narrative, or much deeper challenges than, say, arguing over who gets to move in with whom, which makes these protagonists more believable and easier to root for. It might be that straight romance has simply had its time and is now a little obsolete. Or it might be that we need more representation in literature. But regardless of the cause, straight fictional couples almost always make me roll my eyes at least once throughout the book.
I’ve always enjoyed the power dynamics in queer romance novels too, much more than in straight romances. Everything feels much safer and more balanced, and often none of the partners feels undermined by the other. There are challenges, which keep the tension of the story going, but those challenges have nothing to do with one of the partners overpowering the other, which is always refreshing and much more enjoyable to read.
Many excellent queer romances have been released in recent years, some of them dropping the most absurdly romantic tropes that warm your heart and make you believe there are still good love stories to tell. All the queer couples I’ve ever read about deserve a mention in this piece, but we’d be reading an entire novel if I were to list them all. So I chose some more underrated stories whose couples are unbreakable in the most realistic ways, who struggle and fight together, who seem like nothing can stand in their way, although sometimes, everything does.
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Benji and Calliel: ‘Into This River I Drown’, by TJ Klune
The unlikeliness of this couple is apparent from the blurb, given that Calliel has, supposedly, fallen from the sky, but somehow the two of them make a powerful pair. Into This River I Drown made me sob in anticipation, cry with profound grief, and every time all forces of nature stood between Benji and Calliel, my heart squeezed thinking they might not make it.
TJ Klune does an excellent job at creating a story of recovery and learning to live again, placing the two protagonists’ love as the core of Benji’s getting over his father’s tragic death. The fantastical element of the book did not stand in the way of it being a believable, heart-breaking story of faith, bereavement, love, and acceptance, as both Benji and Calliel learn to live under unusual circumstances. Every time the book raises your hopes, you can’t help but expect a disaster to come crashing down and the allusion of a sad ending looms at every stage.
Yet, through masterful storytelling, Klune still manages not to make you lose all faith in his two protagonists until the very end.
Tara and Darcy: ‘Heartstopper’, by Alice Oseman
Tara and Darcy are not the protagonists of Oseman’s acclaimed webcomic and graphic novel series Heartstopper. But for the purposes of this piece, they had to take centre-stage. Although there is not much detail around Tara and Darcy’s relationship, as the books focus on the gay-bi main couple, Charlie and Nick, the two girls are wonderful supporting characters, particularly when it comes to Nick’s confusion around his sexuality and the challenges of coming out.
All we know about Tara and Darcy is that it took Darcy’s confidence to make Tara comfortable in a lesbian relationship and accept herself, while Tara is always there to support her girlfriend, who often deals with homophobia in her immediate family. Their relationship is strong, despite their young age (they’re both in high school), which makes you want to know more about how they fell in love and what they get up to as a couple on a daily basis. All I know is, I’m holding my fingers tightly crossed for them to go to university together.
Luc and Oliver: ‘Boyfriend Material’, by Alexis Hall
Maybe the most complex couple on this list, Luc O’Donnell and Oliver Blackwood are the sweetest, most messed-up in a relatable way, protagonists, who find a lot of solace in each other. Boyfriend Material explores the fake-dating trope which I normally avoid, but for the sake of these two incredible men, I found it worked well in the story.
The contrasting dynamics of this couple make their story very engaging, as you never know where Luc’s chaotic life will perfectly fit Oliver’s methodically controlled routine next. The two men’s chemistry is addicting, as you watch them defeat disaster after impending disaster in an attempt to stick together, first out of interest, and later out of love. I could relate a lot to Oliver, who seems to have everything figured out yet is still struggling to keep anyone close, and someone as hurricane-like as Luc is the last person you’d think might stick around.
The love story is refreshing in a very realistic way, exposing the most fragile, most difficult aspects of a relationship between two polar opposites who still fight for each other.
These exceptional relationships make for great reads when you feel fed up with stereotypical tropes and overused narratives. Each of these characters is lively, complicated, and outstanding in their own ways, which shine through even more in rapport with their partners.