Books with Queer Desi (South Asian) Characters

The past couple of years have been monumental when it comes to queer rep in books. There’s still a long way to go but seeing more and more diverse queer stories come out brings me a lot of joy. Here’s a list of books with queer desi characters (some of these haven’t been published yet but will be later this year). Let me know if I missed any!

**Please note that I haven’t read a lot of these so I cannot speak for quality or how good the representation is.

YOUNG ADULT / NEW ADULT

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Recipient of a Stonewall Honor and longlisted for the National Book Award, McLemore delivers a second stunning and utterly romantic novel, again tinged with magic.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

(Note: Since it isn’t clear in the description, Sam is Pakistani and trans)

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The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.

Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?

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Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

Judy Blume meets RuPaul’s Drag Race in this funny, feel-good debut novel about a queer teen who navigates questions of identity and self-acceptance while discovering the magical world of drag.

Perpetually awkward Nima Kumara-Clark is bored with her insular community of Bridgeton, in love with her straight girlfriend, and trying to move past her mother’s unexpected departure. After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town.

Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be—one that can confidently express and accept love. But she’ll have to learn to accept lost love to get there.

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Bruised by Tanya Boteju

To Daya Wijesinghe, a bruise is a mixture of comfort and control. Since her parents died in an accident she survived, bruises have become a way to keep her pain on the surface of her skin so she doesn’t need to deal with the ache deep in her heart.

So when chance and circumstances bring her to a roller derby bout, Daya is hooked. Yes, the rules are confusing and the sport seems to require the kind of teamwork and human interaction Daya generally avoids. But the opportunities to bruise are countless, and Daya realizes that if she’s going to keep her emotional pain at bay, she’ll need all the opportunities she can get.

The deeper Daya immerses herself into the world of roller derby, though, the more she realizes it’s not the simple physical pain-fest she was hoping for. Her rough-and-tumble teammates and their fans push her limits in ways she never imagined, bringing Daya to big truths about love, loss, strength, and healing.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She’s the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.

Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who’s obsesssed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she’s casting her senior film project, she knows she’s found the perfect lead – Sana.

There’s only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.

Told in alternative viewpoints and inspired by classic romantic comedies, this engaging and edgy YA novel follows two strongwilled young women falling for each other despite themselves.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia

Nandan’s got a plan to make his junior year perfect. He’s going to make sure all the parties are chill, he’s going to smooth things over with his ex, and he’s going to help his friend Dave get into the popular crowd—whether Dave wants to or not. The high school social scene might be complicated, but Nandan is sure he’s cracked the code.

Then, one night after a party, Dave and Nandan hook up, which was not part of the plan—especially because Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Dave’s cool, and Nandan’s willing to give it a shot, even if that means everyone starts to see him differently.

But while Dave takes to their new relationship with ease, Nandan’s completely out of his depth. And the more his anxiety grows about what his sexuality means for himself, his friends, and his social life, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back. But is breaking up with the only person who’s ever really gotten him worth feeling “normal” again?

From Rahul Kanakia comes a raw and deeply felt story about rejecting labels, seeking connection, and finding yourself.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan

Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.

Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.

But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.

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When Tara Met Farah by Tara Pammi

Sunshine Girl needs math lessons…

Nineteen-year-old Tara Muvvala didn’t mean to lead a double life. But her bone-deep aversion to math + a soul-deep desire to please her mother = her failing math grade + exploding food vlog ‘this masala life’.

Enter her mother’s research intern and resident math genius Farah Ahmed. Tara makes a deal with Farah – help her pass the math course and she’ll welcome Farah into the local Bollywood Drama & Dance Society.

Grumpy girl gets life lessons…

After losing her mom to a heart attack, dumping her small-minded boyfriend (she’s
bisexual, not confused) and reluctantly moving to the US to be near her dad – all in the span of eighteen months, twenty-three-year-old Farah has hit the full quota on LIFE. Two things keep her going – her internship with a brilliant statistics professor and the possibility of meeting her dancing idol through the Bollywood Drama & Dance Society. That is, if her new hot-mess housemate will let her.

Soon Tara and Farah are bonding over chicken biryani, dancing to Bollywood Beats at midnight and kissing… against all the odds. And maybe beginning to realize that while life’s even more complicated than math, love is the one variable that changes everything!

Will they realize that together they have the recipe for a Happily Ever After?

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ADULT

Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J Sindu

Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families, while each dates on the side. It’s not ideal, but for Lucky, it seems to be working. She goes out dancing, she
drinks a bit, she makes ends meet by doing digital art on commission. But when Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding with a man she’s never met.

As the connection between the two women is rekindled, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie. But does Nisha really want to be saved? And after a decade’s worth of lying, can Lucky break free of her own circumstances and build a new life? Is she willing to walk away from all that she values about her parents and community to live in a new truth? As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, Marriage of a Thousand Lies offers a vivid exploration of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality. The result is a profoundly American debut novel shot through with humor and loss, a story of love, family, and the truths that define us all.

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The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya

Everyone talks about falling in love, but falling in friendship can be just as captivating. When Neela Devaki’s song is covered by internet-famous artist Rukmini, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins. But as Rukmini’s star rises and Neela’s stagnates, jealousy and self-doubt creep in. With a single tweet, their friendship implodes, one career is destroyed, and the two women find themselves at the center of an internet firestorm.

Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a stirring examination of making art in the modern era, a love letter to brown women, an authentic glimpse into the music industry, and a nuanced exploration of the promise and peril of being seen.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


The Jasmine Throne (Burning Kingdoms #1) by Tasha Suri

Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

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Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar

Cobalt Blue is a tale of rapturous love and fierce heartbreak told with tenderness and unsparing clarity. Brother and sister Tanay and Anuja both fall in love with the same man, an artist lodging in their family home in Pune, in western India. He seems like the perfect tenant, ready with the rent and happy to listen to their mother’s musings on the imminent collapse of Indian culture. But he’s also a man of mystery. He has no last name. He has no family, no friends, no history, and no plans for the future. When he runs away with Anuja, he overturns the family’s lives.

Translated from Marathi by acclaimed novelist and critic Jerry Pinto, Sachin Kundalkar’s elegantly wrought and exquisitely spare novel explores the disruption of a traditional family by a free-spirited stranger to examine a generation in transition. Intimate, moving, sensual, and wry in its portrait of young love, Cobalt Blue is a frank and lyrical exploration of gay life in India that recalls the work of Edmund White and Alan Hollinghurst―of people living in emotional isolation, attempting to find long-term intimacy in relationships that until recently were barely conceivable to them.

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The Paths of Marriage by Mala Kumar

Lakshmi, a bright student who grew up in poverty, marries and immigrates to the United States from India to provide a better life for herself and her family. Clinging to her cultural realities, she forces her American daughter, Pooja, into an arranged marriage, creating a rift of resentment. Pooja’s daughter, Deepa, is an out lesbian to everyone but her family. The woman Deepa loves presents an ultimatum—come out to Pooja or break up—and Deepa is forced to confront her greatest fear.
 
Three generations of Indian and Indian-American women navigate the harsh slums of Chennai to the bustle of New York City, struggling through a cathartic generational collision to try to come together as a family.

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No Other World by Rahul Mehta

From the author of the prize-winning collection Quarantine, an insightful, compelling debut novel set in rural America and India in the 1980s and `90s, part coming-of-age story about a gay Indian American boy, part family saga about an immigrant family’s struggles each to find a sense of belonging, identity, and hope

In a rural community in Western New York, twelve-year-old Kiran Shah, the American-born son of Indian immigrants, longingly observes his prototypically American neighbors, the Bells. He attends school with Kelly Bell, but he’s powerfully drawn—in a way he does not yet understand—to her charismatic father, Chris.

Kiran’s yearnings echo his parents’ bewilderment as they try to adjust to a new world. His father, Nishit Shah, a successful doctor, is haunted by thoughts of the brother he left behind. His mother, Shanti, struggles to accept a life with a man she did not choose—her marriage to Nishit was arranged—and her growing attachment to an American man. Kiran is close to his older sister, Preeti—until an unexpected threat and an unfathomable betrayal drive a wedge between them that will reverberate through their lives.

As he leaves childhood behind, Kiran finds himself perpetually on the outside—as an Indian-American torn between two cultures, and as a gay man in a homophobic society. In the wake of an emotional breakdown, he travels to India, where he forms an intense bond with a teenage hijra, a member of India’s ancient transgender community. With her help, Kiran begins to pull together the pieces of his broken past.

Sweeping and emotionally complex, No Other World is a haunting meditation on love, belonging, and forgiveness that explores the line between our responsibilities to our families and to ourselves, the difficult choices we make, and the painful cost of claiming our true selves.

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A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian

Heaven is a thirty-year-old slum hidden between brand-new, high-rise apartment buildings and technology incubators in contemporary Bangalore. In this tight-knit community, five girls on the cusp of womanhood-a politically driven graffiti artist; a transgender Christian convert; a blind girl who loves to dance; and the queer daughter of a hijabi union leader-forge an unbreakable bond.

When the local government threatens to demolish their tin shacks in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever.

Elegant, poetic, and vibrant, A People’s History of Heaven takes a clear-eyed look at adversity and geography and dazzles in its depiction of love and female friendship.

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Bright Lines by Nandini Tanwi Islam

A vibrant debut novel, set in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, Bright Lines follows three young women and one family struggling to make peace with secrets and their past.

For as long as she can remember, Ella has longed to feel at home. Orphaned as a child after her parents’ murder, and afflicted with hallucinations at dusk, she’s always felt more at ease in nature than with people. She traveled from Bangladesh to Brooklyn to live with the Saleems: her uncle Anwar, aunt Hashi, and their beautiful daughter, Charu, her complete opposite. One summer, when Ella returns home from college, she discovers Charu’s friend Maya—an Islamic cleric’s runaway daughter—asleep in her bedroom. 

As the girls have a summer of clandestine adventure and sexual awakenings, Anwar—owner of a popular botanical apothecary—has his own secrets, threatening his thirty-year marriage. But when tragedy strikes, the Saleems find themselves blamed. To keep his family from unraveling, Anwar takes them on a fated trip to Bangladesh, to reckon with the past, their extended family, and each other.

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The Devourers by Indra Das

On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.

From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent.

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GRAPHIC NOVELS

Kari by Amruta Patil

They were inseparable – until the day they jumped. Ruth, saved by safety nets, leaves the city. Kari, saved by a sewer, crawls back into the fray of the living. She writes ad copy for hair products and ill-fitting lingerie, falls for cats and roadside urchins, and the occasional adventuress in a restaurant. As Danger Chhori, her PVC-suit-clad alter ego, she unclogs sewers and observes the secret lives of people and fruit. And with Angel, Lazarus, and the girls of Crystal Palace forming the chorus to her song, she explores the dark heart of Smog City – loneliness, sewers, sleeper success, death – and the memory of her absentee Other.

Sensuously illustrated and livened by wry commentaries on life and love, Kari gives a new voice to graphic fiction in India.

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Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som

By turns fantastical and familiar, this graphic short story collection is immersed in questions of gender, the body, and existential conformity.

The eight delightfully eerie stories in Apsara Engine are a subtle intervention into everyday reality. A woman drowns herself in a past affair, a tourist chases another guest into an unforeseen past, and a nonbinary academic researches postcolonial cartography. Imagining diverse futures and rewriting old mythologies, these comics delve into strange architectures, fetishism, and heartbreak.

Painted in rich, sepia-toned watercolors, Apsara Engine is Bishakh Som’s highly anticipated debut work of fiction. Showcasing a series of fraught, darkly humorous, and seemingly alien worlds—which ring all too familiar—Som captures the weight of twenty-first-century life as we hurl ourselves forward into the unknown.

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Honorary Mentions

Afterworlds (Afterworld #1) by Scott Westerfield

BELIEVING IS DANGEROUS…

Darcy Patel is afraid to believe all the hype. But it’s really happening – her teen novel is getting published. Instead of heading to college, she’s living in New York City, where she’s welcomed into the dazzling world of YA publishing. That means book tours, parties with her favorite authors, and finding a place to live that won’t leave her penniless. It means sleepless nights rewriting her first draft and struggling to find the perfect ending… all while dealing with the intoxicating, terrifying experience of falling in love – with another writer.

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, the thrilling story of Lizzie, who wills her way into the afterworld to survive a deadly terrorist attack. With survival comes the responsibility to guide the restless spirits that walk our world, including one ghost with whom she shares a surprising personal connection. But Lizzie’s not alone in her new calling – she has counsel from a fellow spirit guide, a very desirable one, who is torn between wanting Lizzie and warning her that…

BELIEVING IS DANGEROUS.

In a brilliant high-wire act of weaving two epic narratives – and two unforgettable heroines – into one novel, Scott Westerfeld’s latest work is a triumph of storytelling.

**Note: Darcy is Sapphic and has a girlfriend but she’s 18 while her gf is 23 and I had a slight problem with that whole set up.

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

**Note: adding this because one of the major side characters is queer and desi and an absolute badass

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

Little Ayesha is all excited for her favorite cousin Ritu’s wedding. She can’t wait to dance in the baraat ceremony! But not everyone is happy that Ritu is marrying her girlfriend Chandni. Some have even vowed to stop the celebrations. Will Ayesha be able to save her cousin’s big day?

This vibrant book sets the story of a same-sex couple struggling to gain acceptance against the colorful backdrop of an Indian wedding.

**Note: this is a children’s book and looks adorable! Putting it here since it didn’t fit the other categories

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

All of these books can also be found in (on?) my Goodreads shelf here.

Did I miss any? Let me know!

2 thoughts on “Books with Queer Desi (South Asian) Characters

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