Yes, while Valentine’s Day is most definitely a consumerist invention to sell the world the idea of a perfect ever-lasting romance which can conveniently be celebrated through Hallmark cards and expensive bottles of red wine. However, while there is an emphasis on the possibility of the realization of such a picture-perfect fantasy for heterosexual individuals – not only in sonnets and songs, but also in novels and movies – queer folk rarely end up happy and in love in such narratives. While it is important to give a realistic representation of the struggles of being queer in stories, the idea that queerhood must equal being miserable and heartbroken at the end of a story is replicated so much in books. Way too much. It often seems like the writers are subtly trying to condition you to stop believing in the possibility of queer love having not only a healthy arc based in mutual growth, but also a happy ending. While queer trauma and heartbreak seem to be everyone’s favourite topic to exploit under the garb of queer representation, some narratives actually do break the mould and give us that beautiful moment of two queer people in love, walking into the sunset. So, if you’re looking to read heartwarming books that go beyond the ordinary and give you a chance to read queer happy endings this month, here’s a list to get you started:
The Henna Wars
Written by Adiba Jaigirdar, The Henna Wars tackles issues like cultural appropriation, coming out to one’s family, and the constant fight that people who are at the intersection of queerhood and brownness face because of the homophobia inside the home, and the racism outside it. Set in Dublin, the story’s main action takes place during a business competition in a Catholic, all-girls school. If you like an ‘enemies to lovers’ arc, this book definitely gives you a spark of that through the competition between Nishat and Flavia. More importantly, it allows space for multi-layered characters who have both likeable and unlikeable traits. Also incredibly wholesome is Nishat’s relationship with her sister, Priti. While there is good-natured leg pulling and the occasional argument, there really seems to be a convincingly beautiful bond between them. If you are still not convinced, read it for the beauty with which Jaigirdar illustrates that no part of Nishat’s fight is against her culture – in fact, she embraces it with open arms and even appreciates its existence in her life – but against the ‘cultural explanations’ for homophobia that are nothing but prejudices in disguise. By the time you reach the last chapter, you are sure to feel warm in your heart because this story has a happy ending in more ways than one.
The Price of Salt
Patricia Highsmith’s novel is an absolute classic amongst queer women, not only for it’s eventual happy ending, but for the beauty with which it captures the longing between the characters. Renamed ‘Carol’ in later editions as a nod to one of the main characters, it is a coming-of-age novel, a character study, and a celebration of the kind of love that goes beyond the mundane all in one. The book is so beautiful in some moments and so heartbreaking in others that it is sure to take you through the motions of love in one sitting. It is also distinctively of the 1950s, so if dated romance is your thing, this is the perfect book to go for. Having been made into a British radio adaptation in 2014 and a major motion picture in 2015, the story has gone beyond the page and can literally be experienced through your favourite medium. However, there is a beauty and rawness to the original that remains untouched, and if you love being transported into a world of charisma, desire, and love, then make it your February read in a heartbeat.
Red, White, and Royal Blue
No matter how much I praise Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue, I am convinced that you won’t understand just how beautiful and fun it is till you experience it on your own. The first thing that the author does is give our actual, real world a happy ending by not only giving the USA a female President, but also giving the British royal family the charming fictional prince Henry – a prince who conveniently ends up in a ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ situation with POTUS’s son, Alex. Do not, however, think of this book only as a regency romance because it is so much more than that. If you want to read something that will make you laugh and fill your heart at the same time, then this is the absolute perfect pick for you because of the sheer transparency with which the author captures the awkwardness and charisma of the characters. My personal favourite part is the email exchange between Alex and Henry where they quote great love letters to each other. If you too are a hopeless romantic at heart, this is the one for you.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
This book by Benjamin Alire Saenz became an instant hit when it came out, and it’s incredibly easy to see why. The strength of the book lies not in an overarching plot, but in the beautiful poetic prose with which the author writes. There is a lyrical element to even the private thoughts of the main characters, who are both coming of age and understanding themselves through understanding each other. While the book takes the leaps of heart required to explore poetry, questions of desire and existence, and philosophical musings, it also stays incredibly grounded and real through its addressal of parental issues, loneliness, and learning why we are who we are. Also gratifying is the way that the author makes the two characters three-dimensional enough for the reader to be able to find something to relate to in both of their personalities. By the time the happy ending comes along, you start wishing for the book to be longer, because it never was about getting from point A to B, but instead about the journey of the interactions and conversations between Aristotle and Dante. This book is the equivalent of lying with someone on your roof and looking at the stars while talking about everything under the sun. If that is the kind of depth and understanding that you want to experience, this one’s for you.
Let’s be honest: all of us Jane Austen fans are well aware that the only thing that could have made Pride and Prejudice even more perfect is the main characters being queer. Susan Mesler-Evans, the author of Most Ardently, not only agreed with this feeling but went forward and made it a reality. A beautiful adaptation of the timeless story, the strength of the narrative lies in the convincing way in which the author updates the temporal landscape of the love story. There is still the exploration of family dynamics and conversational exchange between the characters, but Eliza Benitez and Darcy Fitzgerald have a mind of their own for sure. Also intact is the sarcasm, wit, and banter – however, interestingly, Mesler-Evans expands the awkwardness of the original Mr.Darcy to make her heroine one of the most seemingly aloof, queer female characters. One of the major changes is the plotline of Elizabeth’s sister’s reputation being ‘ruined’ being replaced by an event of sexual violence, so please treat this as a trigger warning going in. However, just like the original book, the happy ending is sure to not only leave a smile on your face but a longing in your heart, making it the perfect love story to read.