Baldwin admitted that his publisher first told him to "burn" the book because the theme of homosexuality would alienate him from his readership among black people. However, upon publication critics tended not to be so harsh thanks to Baldwin's standing as a writer. Giovanni's Room was ranked number 2 on a list of the best 100 gay and lesbian novels compiled by The Publishing Triangle in 1999.
Ian Young points out that the novel portrays homosexuality and bisexuality as uncomfortable and uncertain ways of living, respectively. Young also points out that despite the novel's "tenderness and positive qualities" it still ends with a murder.
Though often considered a gay novel, recent scholarship has focused on the more precise designation of bisexuality within the novel. Several scholars have claimed that the characters can be more accurately seen as bisexual, namely David and Giovanni. As Maiken Solli claims, though most people read the characters as gay/homosexual, ". . . a bisexual perspective could be just as valuable and enlightening in understanding the book, as well as exposing the bisexual experience."