October is the month for scary tales; as the nights grow longer, the sense that the dead are just around the corner grows stronger. Ghost stories have been told across cultures and generations, and in recent years, a number of spooky LGBTQ+ tales have made their way onto bookshelves. While there are plenty of chills and thrills in these stories, others are more focused on humor, romance, or introspection.
What does it mean to be haunted, and what is the significance of the ghost that follows you? Check out this list of LGBTQ+ ghost stories, perfect for the Halloween season.
Lee Mandelo’s debut novel Summer Sons, which came out in time for Halloween in 2021, is a twist on a spooky Southern Gothic with some Dark Academia flair, all mixed in with a hungry ghost. Eddie, Andrew’s best friend, dies from an apparent suicide six months after starting grad school at Vanderbilt. Andrew, lost and alone in the face of Eddie’s death, sets out to solve the mystery—all while loomed over by a phantom with bleeding wrists. In addition to its ghost story flavor, Summer Sons is a musing on grief, and it confronts the systemic racism of upper academia.
Mandelo, a Kentucky native currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky, brings all the Southern vibes and creepiness of cut-throat academia into the story. There are also street races, drugs, dark family secrets, and the oppressive atmosphere of menace that hangs over older Gothic tales.
This just-out literary novel explores being haunted by lost chances and paths untaken—as well as literal, historical ghosts encountered by the main character through a hypnotic trip using the Egyptian Book of the Dead as a guide. Sam Saadoun, a gay Jewish Egyptian who grew up in New York, doesn’t think he can ever go back to Egypt. He left Cairo in a rush after a troubled stint as a journalist, never getting the chance to travel to his family’s home in Alexandria. Instead of spending his last night in Brighton Beach connecting with an attractive food blogger, he ends up on the couch of a hypnotherapist and then travels to 1930s Alexandra to encounter now-dead family members he had considered lost.
Hayoun, like Sam, is a Jewish Egyptian journalist. This is his second novel in the “Ghorba Ghost Story” series, both of which use ghost stories as a tool to explore politics and identity. Shifting from first person to third person (and shifting genders from male to female within the hypnotic time travel), the book weaves around Sam’s experiences and understanding of what it means to be Jewish-Arab.
Ukrainian-American poet RB Lemberg has been writing in their secondary fantasy world, the “Birdverse,” since 2011. The Unbalancing is their first full novel in the setting, and it features an ancestral ghost attempting to push poet Erígra Lilún into becoming the starkeeper of their island. Beneath the waters, a star sleeps fitfully, and the current starkeeper, Ranra Kekeri, tries to fix the problems on her own. When the two meet, they’re instantly attracted to each other, but their growing connection might not be enough to save their homeland.
This one isn’t as spooky a ghost story as some of the other choices on this list, because it’s more firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. But with a central ghost and a strong exploration of queer and trans identity, this newly released novel is one to watch out for.
This 2020 YA debut is the first of several creepy horror novels author Erica Waters has released. Inspired by the Appalachian folk tune “Shady Grove” and featuring everything from a ghost-summoning fiddle to an LGBTQ love triangle and a murder mystery, the story follows a high schooler who has the same name as the song’s title. When Shady’s brother is accused of murder, she decides to use her father’s fiddle, which allowed him to channel spirits, to find out who was really behind the death.
Like Summer Sons, Ghost Wood Song leans into its Southern Gothic setting, but centers its tale around a bisexual teenage girl dealing with grief over the death of her father. It’s also ultimately a story of hope, with writing as lyrical as the music that inspired it.
In this 2021 YA debut set on the other side of the country (but with no less Gothic vibes), Logan Ortiz-Woodley is the daughter of two television ghost hunters. When the family travels to Snakebite, Oregon, where Logan’s dads are originally from, the town accuses them of the strange goings-on, including the disappearances (and deaths) of local teens. But local girl Ashley Barton, who is being haunted by her boyfriend (one of the first to die), decides that in order to get to the bottom of things, she’ll have to team up with Logan. The pair of teens start to develop feelings for each other as they go down the rabbit hole of the town’s dark secrets.
There are plenty of ghosts in The Dead and the Dark, but they’re not necessarily the villains. Instead, the story is about how hatred and fear go hand in hand.
No queer ghost story list would be complete without Aidan Thomas’s 2020 debut novel, Cemetery Boys. In it, transgender teen Yadriel is called to be a brujo, but he’s worried that because he’s trans, the magic won’t recognize him. It’s a relief when the ceremony works—but when he tries to summon a ghost, attempting to solve the mystery of his own cousin’s murder, he ends up with Julian Diaz, his high school’s troublemaker. Julian doesn’t want to move on, and Yads is stuck with the accidental summoning (who he’s also becoming inconveniently attracted to) until they can figure out what went wrong.
Cemetery Boys is heavy on the fun and romance, but the mystery and mythology angles definitely come into play. There’s a lot less spooky and a lot more feel-good by the end, with plenty of ghosts and graveyards along the way. (Fans rejoice: the boys will be back with a second novel in 2024.)
Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose multiple choice novels, including Choice of the Pirate duck Blackstone Academy for Magical Beginners, are published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels, several short stories, and many role-playing game supplements. She also edits fantasy anthologies for Outland Entertainment, including Bridge to Elsewhere duck Never Too Old to Save the World. You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.