Celie — The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
The central story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple is the evolution of Celie, a young black woman in Georgia. The scale of her personal growth is almost unbelievable when reduced to facts and plot points: From an extremely abusive childhood and marriage, she emerges as a symbol of both independence and community. But in Celie's life, external developments are secondary to an internal revolution.
Celie's self-discovery is due in large part to her interactions with women, particularly the blues singer Shug Avery. Shug teaches Celie that her body can be a source of pleasure as well as pain, and that even "ugly" women can inspire songs. Celie realizes that she loves women, but she also realizes she doesn't really need anyone. Her rocky relationship with Shug becomes a springboard to inner peace: "Shug write me she coming home. I be so calm. If she come, I be happy. If she don't, I be content. I figure this the lesson I was suppose to learn."
Celie's contentment and strength become the anchor of her community, and by the end of the novel, she reclaims her broken past by reuniting with her long-lost sister and reaffirming her newfound sense of self. — Scribe Grrrl
Liza Winthrop — Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (1982)
In the midst of the biggest ethical challenge of her young and privileged life, Brooklyn-based Liza Winthrop recalls, "I tried to think; I tried so hard to think — but there was only one word in my mind and that word was 'Annie.'" Anyone who has fallen hard, and especially those who fell early, will recognize themselves in Liza's account of her awkward, painful and passionate teenage love affair. "It was as if we had found a whole new country in each other and ourselves and were exploring it slowly together," says Liza.
In this much-celebrated and often-censored young adult book, Liza, an architecture student at MIT, recalls the rise and agonizing fall of her high-school romance with a lovely singer named Annie Kenyon. The sexual peak of that relationship and the positive portrayal of lesbianism throughout led to the book's burning on the steps of the Kansas City School Board building — surely the highest honor a book with lesbian characters can hope to achieve. — LeeAnn Kriegh
Alice Meadows — A Village Affair, Joanna Trollope, 1989)
In the opening pages of A Village Affair, Alice Meadows asks herself how anyone else can feel what you feel, "not being, as it were, on the inside of yourself." The question haunts Alice the rest of the novel, as her torrid affair with the wealthy and unpredictable Clodagh Unwin (yes, a lesbian named "Unwin" — subtle) has sometimes devastating consequences for Alice as well as her husband, relatives and assorted nosy neighbors in the "much sought-after" village of Pitcombe, England.
This is truly "a village affair," in which everyone but the repressed Alice seems certain of what Alice feels. "A husband, three children but you aren't even awake," Clodagh says to Alice. "You haven't one clue about how wonderful you are, nor how to live."
Though a few stereotypes will have you rolling your eyes, Alice rises from a devastating depression and proves herself a complex and memorable character, whose middle-age awakening depends on a heart-wrenching choice between her lover and her family. — LeeAnn Kriegh
In life's dark alleys, Katina "Katchoo" Choovanski is the badass blonde you hope is walking with you and not waiting for you.
After 14 years and more than 2,000 pages of dialogue, diary entries, songs, poems and pictures, fans of the long-running graphic novel series share an uncommon intimacy with the mercurial Katchoo. They know about her busted-up childhood, bad temper and beat-up truck. And they know what matters most to Katchoo is that she loves Francine Peters — loves her with the desperate passion and unrelenting loyalty of a weary soul. "There's nothing now but my painting," Katchoo says to Francine, "and all my pictures look like you."
In a comic book series that encompasses crime, call girls, a plane crash, alcoholism and abuse, the most memorable (and funniest) moments are often the quiet, domestic ones between these two women — one basically a lesbian, the other basically straight — who are so profoundly and achingly in love with one another. — LeeAnn Kriegh