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Why reading LGBTQ+ romances can be healing, according to a psychologist

From a romp with "Love Actually" vibes to a wholesome whodunit, these queer romances will give you hope (and butterflies).

If you're looking to a book to read during Pride Month, you may turn to the many histories of queer resistance and queer resilience out there. But don't write off the lighthearted, love-filled ones that may seem like guilty pleasures on the surface. It turns out that LGBTQ+ romance does a lot more heavy lifting that it gets credit for. A psychologist explains why queer romance novels aren’t just entertainment.

“In romance novels, the relationship is the story,” Aimee Daramus, a psychotherapist in Chicago points out. That may seem obvious, but think about it. In other genres, relationships may play a role in the story, but they aren’t the center around which the book revolves. In romance, the plot generally revolves around the personal development of a few characters, two of whom inevitably fall in love. That intimacy gives readers a chance to immerse themselves in identifying with the characters.

That identification with romantic characters is crucial for queer people because it can give them hope, Daramus explains. “In romance novels, as much fun as they are, the characters tend to be pretty messed up,“ says Daramus. That’s part of what makes the genre so endearing: Imperfect people finding their way to romance (just like they do in real life). “A big part of the plot is individuals getting themselves sorted out and learning to sort out their relationships.That aspect gives romance novels a level of hope. There's promise.”

Daramus explains that reading queer romance may also give LGBTQ+ people a sense of redemption. “Not in the sense there's anything wrong with being queer, but in the sense of being represented as normal people being represented as normal human beings. You see hope when you read about messed up relationships that get fixed.” In other words, according to Daramus, queer romance novels help us believe that no matter how broken we feel, we can heal and find redemption in the arms of a loving partner.

Here are a few queer romances to check out next.

If you love superheroes and want to keep it PG

"The Extraordinaries" by TJ Klune

T.J. Klune is one of the most popular queer authors of this moment. His poignant speculative fiction novel, “Under the Whispering Door” won oodles of awards and, honestly, you could pick up any one of Klune’s books and expect excellence. But his YA series, “The Extraordinaries,” which starts with a book of the same title, is a great place to start if you’re new to queer romance, love Marvel movies or want to read something that isn’t overtly sexy. The series centers around the life of a teen boy, Nick Bell, who is coming of age and into both his queerness and — maybe — his role as a superhero boyfriend. “The Extraordinaries” is fun, funny and totally safe for work.

If you love wholesome whodunits

"I Kissed Shara Wheeler" by Casey McQuinston

I Kissed Shara Wheeler” was one of the most anticipated queer releases of 2022 — and for good reason. The author, Casey McQuiston, consistently delivers smart, relatable stories that simultaneously capture specific aspects of the queer experience and are also relatable to almost everyone. “I Kissed Shara Wheeler” is a fast-paced, quick-witted romp into the world of queer romance set against the backdrop of small town melodrama. Chloe Green, the lead, is competing against prom queen Shara Wheeler for valedictorian, but her real prize turns out to be an exploration into identity and romance. Along the way, Chloe has to unravel a charmingly concocted mystery that will keep you guessing.

If you loved “Love, Actually"

"Boyfriend Material" by Alexis Hall

Boyfriend Material” by Alexis Hall takes the classic rom-com trope of fake dating and makes it a whole lot gayer. Luc O’Donnell is the prototypical son of a British rock star — think rehab and scandal. He's going to have to clean up his bad boy image if he’s ever going to be taken seriously. Enter Oliver Blackwood, a staid barrister, who agrees to help Luc by fake-dating him. Hijinks, drama and chemistry ensue. Will this be a story of opposites attracting or just another bad romance?

If you're craving something cozy

"Kiss Her Once for Me" by Alison Cochrun

Kiss Her Once for Me” by Alison Cochrun is technically a holiday rom-com, but sometimes you need that kind of cozy all year round. Ellie Oliver has been dreaming of a woman she fell in love with over the course of a single date for exactly a year when the owner of the bookstore where she works, Andrew, proposes. Only the marriage is a business proposition, not a romantic one, and Andrew turns out to be the brother of Ellie’s long lost love. In traditional rom-com fashion, Ellie is forced to choose between two things she really wants. “Kiss Her Once For Me” may tow the line when it comes to tropes, but it delivers queer romance with an unexpectedly sweet kick.

If you love historical fiction and fantasy

"A Restless Truth" by Freya Marske

A Restless Truth” is not, technically speaking, a romance novel. It’s a queer historical fantasy novel and it’s also the second book in Freya Marske’s Last Binging trilogy. That being said, it totally stands on its own. The story centers around Maud Blythe, a young woman serving as the companion to an elderly woman on a transatlantic steamship voyage. When her elder charge is murdered, Maud has to solve the mystery, which turns out to be full of magic. She’s forced to team up with Violet, a disreputable actress. The two women hold each other’s lives in their hands in what turns out to be a dangerous adventure. “A Restless Truth” may not be romance, but it has some of the steamiest sapphic sex scenes in popular fiction.

If you loved '"The Great Gatsby"

"The Chosen and the Beautiful" by Nghi Vo

Sometimes it’s hard to get excited about remakes of the beloved classics. But Nghi Vo’s “The Chosen and the Beautiful” isn’t just “The Great Gatsby” in jeans, it’s a work of art in its own right. This queer romance has everything: Intrigue, betrayal and magic. Vo manages to tackle big ideas about race and inclusion and to keep it all sensual and erotic without exoticizing Asian women. “The Chosen and the Beautiful” is a masterfully wrought update on an American classic.

If you want a modern day bodice ripper

“Once Ghosted, Twice Shy” by Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole made waves with her 2020 horror novel, “When No One is Watching” and a lot of people aren’t aware that she’s one of the hottest voices in romance. “Once Ghosted, Twice Shy” centers around Likotsi, a workaholic who basically runs the life of the prince she works for. On one of her rare days off, Likotsi has a subway encounter with her dapper ex, Fabiola. But Fab and Likotsi aren’t together for a reason — so should they really be together? Finding out the truth behind what happened between them is half the fun of the novel. The other half is the extremely erotic connection between Fab and Likotsi. By the end of the book, it’s hard not to fall for both of them.