When Madison Eisen was growing up in Fall River in the 1990s, finding a local community as a young trans person was a challenge.

“If I ever wanted to meet other people who are openly LGBTQ, I had to go into Providence or Boston,” Eisen said.

It’s part of the reason why they opened Lavender Lit, a used bookstore and lending library in Attleboro that specializes in titles written by members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.

Eisen said the response over the first few months of operation has been “beyond [their] wildest dreams.”

Two large book shelves, filled with books and stickers.
Shelves at Lavender Lit in Attleboro.
Rachel Armany GBH News

“I have had interactions with people who have come from several hours away, from the whole other side of the state or from down in Connecticut to come and check us out,” they said.

Nationwide, a study by Circana found that LGBTQ+ fiction sales went up by 7% in 2023, compared to 2022. During that same time period, overall fiction sales went down by 3%.

Philomena Polefrone, the advocacy associate manager of the American Booksellers Association, credits some of the new interest to Gen Z.

“The younger generation has this instinctual desire to sort of expose themselves to as many perspectives as possible,” she said. “So it doesn’t surprise me to see that a lot of younger people, even if they do not identify as queer themselves or as trans themselves, want to read books about queer people and trans people.”

She added that the spike in LGBTQ+ readership also comes in the midst of record-high challenges to books by LGBTQ+ authors in public schools and libraries.

A reportfrom the American Library Association found that Massachusetts schools and public libraries reported 37 book ban attempts in 2023, involving 63 separate titles. The number of challenges in the state is down from 45 in 2022, but the number of titles involved is up.

Polefrone said small and indie bookstores have used their free enterprise to serve as a haven for the queer community in the U.S. for decades, even if they did not identify that way publicly.

“It can be hard to get exact figures on that to describe the trend because a lot of people have had to be, if not in hiding, then at least not totally open about who they are in every aspect of their business,” she said. “But there are a lot of amazing people in the LGBTQ+ community who have been doing this work in the book world for a really long time.”

Local residents have also stepped up to preserve and fund LGBTQ-owned bookstores over the last year. All She Wrote Books in Somerville recently raised over $60,000 to move to a new location in the city, after getting priced out of Assembly Row.

A woman stands behind the counter of a book store, holding a corgi.
Christina Pascucci-Ciampa of All She Wrote Books in Somerville.
Rachel Armany GBH News

Owner Christina Pascucci-Ciampa said the community’s outpouring of support is a testament to how important these curated spaces are to the LGBTQ+ community and allies.

“Stores like our store, [and] like Lavender Lit, have a chance to really kind of change that narrative and change that perspective of like, ‘no, there’s more than just this to read,’” she said. “There’s so much more to read.”

A storefront with a sign reading All She Wrote books in script over the door.
All She Wrote Books in Somerville.
Rachel Armany GBH News

It comes as the store recently celebrated its five-year anniversary of being in operation.

“You’re not going to necessarily find your Stephen King or your New York Times bestseller stuff here,” she said. “But you’re going to find other types of books that maybe you didn’t know were out there.”

And that theme is mirrored at Lavender Lit, where Eisen said books are also thoughtfully curated.

“I think that [books] are truly the best tools we have to build empathy for people different than us, and to build understanding of ourselves,” Eisen said.