Another day, another rant about representation! But hey, it’s important, and this time I’m talking about YA novels. I’ve ranted before about how hard it is to find or hear about a YA book that isn’t about cute, straight white people falling in love with each other. Like, okay, that’s nice and all but isn’t that exactly like, I don’t know, just about every other story we’ve been fed since we were little? Whether the universe is dystopic, fantasy or the exceedingly normal one you and I experience every day, the same trope is played out over and over again. Ugh, give me a break!
I love the coming-of-age element that YA novels bring, but we should be exposed to ones with more diverse characters who aren’t just in the background. Luckily, tons of people agree with me, which is why the #DiversityInYA hashtag was so popular earlier this year. But that’s not enough; while there was an uptick in diverse YA in 2013, it hasn’t improved at all in 2014.
But in the meantime, if you’re interested in reading books about queer kids, awesome women of color and other not-so-white-and-straight people, check out this roundup of 15 YA books that you’re going to want to recommend to anybody with ears.
'Noughts And Crosses' By Malorie BlackmanYou know those books that absolutely haunt you days--weeks--after you finish them? Yeah, Noughts And Crosses is that book. It's set in an alternative universe in which black people are superior and white people are inferior. A wealthy black girl named Sephy and a white boy named Callum have been best friends for their entire lives. But once political tensions mount, the tension in their friendship does, too. If you want to read a head-spinning book with doomed romance and some seriously thought provoking social commentary, please read this book. Oh, also read if you want to experience some non-stop crying.
'The Miseducation Of Cameron Post' By Emily M DanforthAfter the death of her parents, Cameron is forced to live with her uber conservative aunt and grandmother in Montana. This is especially challenging for Cameron because she likes girls. It's a hard truth to hide, especially when she befriends an ultra gorgeous, prototypical cowgirl who--you guessed it--has a boyfriend. Things get even more complicated when Cameron's aunt decides that she needs to be "fixed." For those of you who have to eep your sexuality hidden from your conservative community and your crush, this is definitely right up your alley.
'Akata Witch' By Nnedi OkoraforThere aren't many stories with Albino main characters, but this is one of them. Born in America but living in Nigeria, Akata has a hard time fitting in but soon discovers that she has some pretty badass magical powers...and she's not the only one. If you want some magical mystery with a twist and a woman of color running the show, this is definitely a cute book to check out
'Born Confused' By Tanuja Desai HidierAn American-born Indian teen is seriously torn between cultures: The American one she calls home but isn't always welcome in and her Indian background that she always resists. I remember seeing this book in the bookstore all the time when I was a teenager and its content still resonates with some Indian, South Asian and Desi teens. Not all of it will, of course, but there are similar themes that many first generation western kids experience.
'Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe' By Benjamin Alire SaenzSo many people reccomended this book that I would probably be throttled if I didn't include it in this roundup. It tells the story about two unlikely friends, Aristotle--an angst ridden teen with a brother in jail--and Dante--that kid who knows everything about everything and has a weird way of looking at the world. This is pretty much an opposites attract, gay coming of age novel that everyone is crazy about so do yourself a favor and check it out.
'Ash' By Malinda LoAsh tells the story of a girl who has to deal with her evil stepmother after her father's death. Sound familiar? Well, it's a darker retelling of Cinderella, but this time our "Cinderella" is a lesbian. Bummed to find out that she's not after her Prince Charming? Deal with it. Also, side note but Malinda Lo is an awesome Chinese-American author who is super invested in making YA more diverse so that should be another incentive to support her!
'Does My Head Look Big In This?' By Randa Abdel FattahAmal is a totally average 16-year-old girl who crushes on dudes and has to deal with school. It's just, well, she does all of that while wearing a hijab. After deciding to wear the hijab full-time, Amal has to deal with some serious backlash, even from her friends and family. This novel intends to show how complex and varied Muslim communities--hey, even Muslim families--can be. Reception among Muslim girls and women who wear the hijab appears to be super mixed, which might be an even bigger reason to check it out for yourself and see what all the controversy is about.
'Grasshopper Jungle' by Andrew SmithThis book was described to me as "the best and weirdest" YA book around. After reading the description I understand where the weirdest part comes from: This is a book about a Polish kid who lives in a small town USA and his friend. They somehow unleash a strand of fungi that turns everyone into grasshoppers and prompts the end of the world. And among all that there is a lot of sexual confusion and queerness. If this sounds totally crazy to you then you're not alone, but it has absolutely rave reviews so...must be something to it, right?
'Openly Straight' By Bill KonigsbergIt's rare to find books about gay teens who are already out and accepted, which is why it's fascinating that while that reflected the life of this book's main character, he decided to start a clean not-so-out-of-the-closet slate at a boarding school. He keeps his sexuality a secret in hopes of just being treated like one of the guys, but he realizes that that's a lot easier said than done.
'The Skin I'm In' By Sharon FlakeIf any of you have ever been mocked for having dark skin, The Skin I'm In might be up your alley. It's about a teen girl who experiences constant harassment about her skin color, clothing and just about everything else under the sun. This is definitely not the happiest read, but it's an important one.
'She's My Ride Home' By Jackie BushoreOur main character Charlotte has been told her whole life that girls aren't supposed to like girls. That's cool and all, until...she starts liking a girl who totally turns her world upside down.
'Something Like Summer' By Jay BellIf this book could be summed up in one word it would be this: Drama. It spans over the course of a decade and focuses on two dudes who are sometimes just friends, sometimes straight up lovers and sometimes sworn enemies. If you're already reaching for the popcorn, then you need to reach for this novel.
'If You Could Be Mine' By Sara FarizanIt's hard enough to be a lesbian, but it's especially hard when you're a lesbian in Iran, a country in which being gay is punishable by death. This is the story of two girls in Iran who are in love and seriously playing with fire.
'The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian' By Sherman AlexieA Native-American teen by the name of Junior decides to leave his troubled school on the reservation and starts attending an all-white school in a farm town. He's the only Native American there...well, except for the school's mascot. This is a great coming-of-age story from a perspective that isn't really explored enough. Definitely check this out.
'The House You Pass On The Way' By Jacqueline WoodsonA book about angst, isolation, the struggles of being a mixed-race kid and a queer love story thrown into the mix, too? That's what you're going to get with this book and you'll probably like it...a lot.
What other books about queer teens or young adults of color would you rec? Any you were disappointed by? Any that made you cry for days without an end in sight? Tell us in the comments!