Book Recs: Gay books matching the feeling of Siken poetry

My credentials to write this post are as follows: I have read War of the Foxes 6 times, and Crush 27 times. When I say I’m obssessed with Siken’s poetry…

I asked people on twitter to share their favourite quotes by Siken with me. And granted, that happened a few months ago, but time flows differently in 2020. So here I am today, with gay and sapphic novels that somehow match the feelings evoked by said Siken quotes. Some of them will make you cry, as they should, but some of them are just beautifully hopeful.

but the princess looks into her mirror and only sees the princess,
while I’m out here, slogging through the mud, breathing fire,
and getting stabbed to death.
Okay, so I’m the dragon. Big deal.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Melissa Bashardoust
Rep: Persian cast & settings, bi mc, sapphic li

How Is it Similar?

This was one of the most obvious choices, specifically because of this quote: “[Soraya] had read enough stories to know that the princess and the monster were never the same. She had been alone long enough to know which ones she was.”

And yes, Soraya is a monster, in some ways (not all of them bad). But this is not a Siken poem, which means there’s a happy ending for the monstrous princesses.

He could build a city. Has a certain capacity. There’s a niche in his chest
where a heart would fit perfectly

A City Inside
Tillie Walden
Rep: sapphic mc, sapphic East Asian li

How Is it Similar?

This is a very literal rec, but also this exact quote was the only thing I could think of when I was reading A City Inside. It’s a gorgeous graphic novel, very subtle, and frankly feels a lot like poetry itself. This here, though, doesn’t evoke the later part of the quote, it ends of a happy note.

Imagine a story, not of good against evil, but of need against need against need, where everyone is at cross-purposes and everyone is to blame.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Ocean Vuong
Rep: Vietnamese-American gay mc, Vietnamese characters, gay characters
TW: on page death, child abuse, drugs, war descriptions, homophobia, graphic animal violence

How Is it Similar?

Is it cheating if I’m recommending a novel by a gay poet? Well, tough. Vuong’s novel captures the essence of this quote, and not only because there actually is no conflict between good and evil here, just stories of people making mistakes and making good choices, and questioning themselves, and- We’re only briefly on this world and all of us are trying to make the best of it, with what we’ve got.

Wanna make a monster? Take the parts of yourself that make you uncomfortable—your weaknesses, bad thoughts, vanities, and hungers—and pretend they’re across the room.

The Monster of Elendhaven
Jennifer Giesbrecht
Rep: mlm mcs, poc side character
TW: gore, blood, murder, violence, rape

How Is it Similar?

Oh, I think I’m funny for choosing this one, but listen: this is literally the whole plot of this novella. Here you don’t have to pretend that the ugly, vicious parts of you are across the room – you know they are and they’re talking to you and doing your bidding. And you’re glad for it.

I swear, I end up feeling empty, like you’ve taken something out of me and I have to search my body for scars.

Lie With Me
Philippe Besson
Rep: gay mc

How Is it Similar?

I hope no one is here thinking that for this particular quote I can recommend anything short of absolutely heartbreaking and devastating. And the novel itself won’t give you any false hope, either. It’s very clear from the start how this story is gonna end, but that doesn’t take away any of the pain or beauty of it. And yes, at this end, you might search your heart for scars.

The enormity of my desire disgusts me.

The Cranberry Hush
Ben Monopoli
Rep: bi mc, gay side character

How Is it Similar?

This isn’t an obvious choice and frankly it’s kind of hard to put my reasoning into words. But it works, believe me. Not in a devastating way of Siken’s poetry, more in a simple way of men who yearn for people they know they shouldn’t. It’s quiet, unlike the quote, and it’s complicated & full of question marks and contradictions, exactly like the quote.

Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means we’re inconsolable.

The Clothesline Swing
Danny Ramadan
Rep: Syrian gay mc with seasonal depression, Syrian gay li, Syrian lesbian side character
TW: homophobic language, homophobic violence, domestic abuse, suicide of side characters, antisemitic violence, rape, torture

How Is it Similar?

You know those novels that just remind you of reading poetry? This is one of them. And like it usually is with poetry, it’s almost impossible to say why it feels similar to something else. Because it’s not about the plot, it’s about the feeling it evokes in you while you’re reading. And if you felt some kind of ache, some kind of love when reading this particular Siken quote, you should read this book.

He wants to be tender and merciful.
That sounds overly valorous.
Sounds like penance.

By Any Means Necessary
Candice Montgomery
Rep: Black gay mc, Afro-Latino bi li, almost all Black side characters

How Is it Similar?

This quote comes from one of the two poems I very strongly associate with Harry James Potter, but frankly, it works maybe even better for Torrey. He’s one of those boys who are very determined, even when they’re slightly lost; who wants good things to happen to good people, who wants to keep a legacy alive, even when it hurts him in the process.

a gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it.

King and the Dragonflies
Kacen Callender
Rep: Black gay mc, gay side character, Black side characters
TW: child abuse of side character, discussions of homophobia and racism

How Is it Similar?

There are many types of violence and just as many ways to be tender and gentle. And King and the Dragonflies does basically a perfect job of capturing that truth. It balances out the bad things, the tragedies with love and friendship, and support. It’s visible in the plot, it’s visible in the main character himself. And after finishing the book, you’re left with this overwhelming feeling of love.

You’re in a car with a beautiful boy,
and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to
choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you
don’t even have a name for.

Patrick Ness
Rep: gay mc, sapphic Korean side character

How Is it Similar?

Once again, I have a whole book quote to explain my reasoning and I think I can just leave you with that:

“I want to take you back to the party, Linus,” he said, low, like he was asking for a permission he was terrified of not getting. “I want to kiss you in front of everyone there. I want everyone to know.” Raising his eyes to look directly into Linus’s face was maybe the scariest thing he’d had to do all day long, but it was only the free-falling terror that always accompanied hope.

“I want to love you,” Adam said. “If you’ll let me.”


What’s your favourite Siken quote?

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7 Replies to “Book Recs: Gay books matching the feeling of Siken poetry”

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