Welcome back to our book list series! We get many asks on tumblr for books with a certain identity/genre/etc, and we’ve started posting our replies on the blog as well as on tumblr. If you are looking for a certain kind of LGBTQIA+ book, send us an ask on tumblr! Here is the ask we got this week:
Anonymous said: Sorry for the very specific ask but if you ever have time, could you possibly list s few books that has queer Asians (particularly females) as protagonists? If that’s too specific im sorry!
Please don’t apologize! It’s a joy to put these lists together, and we absolutely love getting asks like this. We were able to put together a list of 27 titles with LGBTQIA+ Asian characters in YA. Thank you so much to our followers on Twitter who provided so many fantastic recommendations!
Disclaimer: We have not read many of these books and therefore cannot speak to the quality of writing or representation. Please take this list as “everything we could find” rather than “what we recommend.” (That said, if you’ve read one of these books and believe it to be problematic or offensive, please leave a comment or email me at email@example.com)
Flipping For Him by Jeff Adams
Kevin McCollum is a high school junior with the usual things on his mind: getting good grades, having fun, and finding a boyfriend. The last one was eluding him until he noticed the “parkour guy.” After several days of pretending to study while watching the attractive teen jump on rocks, run up trees, and do flips, Shin finally comes over to introduce himself. As they start dating, Kevin should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy.
Shin’s parents only want their son to date Japanese boys. When cultures clash and pressures mount, Kevin has no idea how to subvert traditions and Shin’s parents to keep the boy he cares about.
Kevin will need to clear some tricky obstacles to make his modern love story a reality.
Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls … opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—on everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.
Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved … and the person she never imagined she could.
Vanished by E.E. Cooper
Then Beth vanishes. She skips town on her eighteenth birthday, leaving behind a flurry of rumors and a string of broken hearts. Not even Beth’s best friend, Britney, knows where she went. Beth didn’t even tell Kalah good-bye.
One of the rumors links Beth to Britney’s boyfriend, and Kalah doesn’t want to believe the betrayal. But Brit clearly believes it—and before Kalah can sort out the truth, Britney is dead.
When Beth finally reaches out to Kalah in the wake of Brit’s suicide, Kalah wants to trust what Beth tells her. But she’s swiftly realizing that nothing here is as it seems. Kalah’s caught in the middle of a deadly psychological game, and only she can untangle the deceptions and lies to reveal the unthinkable truth.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.
So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.
Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual.
Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
Bright Lines by Nandwi Tandini Islam
For as long as she can remember, Ella has longed to feel at home. Orphaned as a child after her parents’ murder, and afflicted with hallucinations at dusk, she’s always felt more at ease in nature than with people. She traveled from Bangladesh to Brooklyn to live with the Saleems: her uncle Anwar, aunt Hashi, and their beautiful daughter, Charu, her complete opposite. One summer, when Ella returns home from college, she discovers Charu’s friend Maya—an Islamic cleric’s runaway daughter—asleep in her bedroom.
As the girls have a summer of clandestine adventure and sexual awakenings, Anwar—owner of a popular botanical apothecary—has his own secrets, threatening his thirty-year marriage. But when tragedy strikes, the Saleems find themselves blamed. To keep his family from unraveling, Anwar takes them on a fated trip to Bangladesh, to reckon with the past, their extended family, and each other.
Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
The lives of three teens—Claire, Jasper, and Peter—are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.
Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.
David Levithan has written a novel of loss and grief, but also one of hope and redemption as his characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever.
Ball Caps and Khakis by Jo Ramsey
Man-Shik “Manny” Park, grandson of strict Korean immigrants, is trying to protect his friend Jim Frankel from bullies who don’t think Jim should be allowed to live in Ludington, Michigan, let alone have any friends. Manny is determined to stand by Jim, even if Jim isn’t willing to defend himself.
But Jim’s problems aren’t the only ones facing Manny. Against his parents’ wishes, Manny yearns to be an artist. He’s also more attracted to guys than girls, and he’s asexual. Only Jim knows these secrets, and Manny knows a few of Jim’s too.
Bonded by their shared confidences, Manny supports Jim after he’s accused of sending explicit Facebook messages to middle school girls, including Manny’s sister. While Manny sets out to prove Jim’s innocence, things go from bad to worse. Soon after the incident, Manny and Jim receive intimidating messages, and Jim is put in danger. To help his friend, Manny risks everything to try to learn who’s behind the threats and why they want to destroy Jim’s life.
The Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr
As a star basketball player in her last year of high school, Nancy Takahiro’s life is about to change forever. Faced with the college recruitment process and unsure of where her skill will take her, Nancy is not prepared for meeting Raina Webber, an All-State shooting guard whose passion for basketball is matched only by her talent.
When Nancy’s father and Raina’s mother move in together, the girls are faced with the challenge of negotiating their already intense friendship and rivalry. As Nancy’s love for Raina grows and both prepare to leave inner city neighborhood that has nurtured them, they find themselves looking toward a future that is no longer easily defined.
Set against a backdrop of racial tension between the Asian American and African American communities of Los Angeles and infused with tenderness and passion. The Necessary Hungerexplores not only the intricacies of the game of basketball, but also the very nature of the relationships young women create in the face of the odds that are stacked against them.
Boyfriends With Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez
Lance has always known he was gay, but he’s never had a real boyfriend. Sergio is bisexual, but his only real relationship was with a girl. When the two of them meet, they have an instant connection — but will it be enough to overcome their differences?
Allie’s been in a relationship with a guy for the last two years — but when she meets Kimiko, she can’t get her out of her mind. Does this mean she’s gay? Does it mean she’s bi? Kimiko, falling hard for Allie, and finding it impossible to believe that a gorgeous girl like Allie would be into her, is willing to stick around and help Allie figure it out.
Boyfriends with Girlfriends is Alex Sanchez at his best, writing with a sensitive hand to portray four very real teens striving to find their places in the world — and with each other.
Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar
What would you do if you didn’t fit in?
Muskaan is in hospital, fighting for her life.
Three classmates—her former best friend Aaliya, the hottie Prateek, and the class topper Subhojoy—talk about Muskaan, and themselves. About school, home and the larger world, the school bus and the basketball court; about secrets that become burdens. And through their stories are revealed the twists and turns that drove Muskaan to try to kill herself.
Funny and tragic by turns, Talking of Muskaan is a warm, moving novel about life and death and the young people caught in between.
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy.Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.
Shyam Selvadurai’s brilliant novels, Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens,have garnered him international acclaim. In this, his first young adult novel, he explores first love with clarity, humor, and compassion.
Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
“Skim” is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth who goes to a private girls’ school. When Skim’s classmate Katie Matthews is dumped by her boyfriend, who then kills himself, the entire school goes into mourning overdrive. As concerned guidance counselors provide lectures on the “cycle of grief,” and the popular clique starts a new club (Girls Celebrate Life!) to bolster school spirit, Skim sinks into an ever-deepening depression.
And falling in love only makes things worse…
Suicide, depression, love, being gay or not, crushes, cliques, and finding a way to be your own fully human self–are all explored in this brilliant collaboration by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. An edgy, keenly observed and poignant glimpse into the heartache of being young.
(You) Set Me On Fire by Mariko Tamaki
Allison Lee is seventeen and off to college in the fall. So far, she’s been in love once (total catastrophe) and on fire twice (also pretty bad). Both love and fire have left their scars.
Looking a little more burnt chicken and a little less radiant phoenix, Allison takes up residence in Dylan Hall (a.k.a. Dyke Hall) at St. Joseph’s College, where she discovers the true gift of freshman year: the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Miles away from the high school she’s happy to leave behind, her all-female dorm is a strange new world, home to new social circles and challenges. Allison still feels like the odd girl out…until Shar appears. Beautiful and blinding, Shar quickly becomes the sun at the centre of Allison’s universe, drawing her in with dangerous allure.
Will Allison get burned again? And, if she does, what kind of scars will she earn this time?
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…
Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.
Money Boy by Paul Yee
Ray Liu knows he should be happy. He lives in a big suburban house with all the latest electronic gadgets, and even finds plenty of time to indulge in his love of gaming. He needs the escape. It’s tough getting grades that will please his army veteran father, when speaking English is still a struggle. And he can’t quite connect with his gang at high school — immigrants like himself but who seem to have adjusted to North American life more easily. Then comes his father accesses Ray’s internet account, and discovers Ray has been cruising gay websites. Before Ray knows what has hit him, his belongings have been thrown on the front lawn, and he has been kicked out. Angry, defiant, Ray heads to downtown Toronto. In short order he is robbed, beaten up and seduced, and he learns the hard realities of life on the street. Could he really sell himself for sex? Lots of people use their bodies to make money — athletes, actors, models, pop singers. If no one gets hurt, why should anyone care?
To Stand in the Light by Kayla Bashe
Answering a distress call in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, teenage half-demon Shadow finds a scene of carnage where their superheroine foster parents once lived. Only one thing holds them back from seeking death: the unexpected discovery of a small, scruffy girl. Bean, an acid-green-haired high school dropout, is feral and whimsical by turns. As they travel home, she slowly grows to trust Shadow, and wriggles into their closed-off heart.
Dangerous secrets and painful memories drive Shadow away from New York again and again, but their friendship with Bean only grows. When they return home, though, it’s to a grown-up Bean who finds herself falling for her former mentor- and tumbling headlong into much bigger trouble than anyone suspects…
A Hero at the End of the World by Erin Claiborne
Sixteen year-old Ewan Mao knows one thing for certain: according to prophecy, it’s his destiny to kill the evil tyrant whose dark reign has terrorized Britain. Although he’s just a normal boy, deep down Ewan is confident that he has exactly what it takes to be a hero. But when Ewan’s big moment comes, he freezes. His best friend, the clever and talented Oliver Abrams, defeats the villain for him, and Ewan’s bright future crumbles before his eyes.
Five years later, Oliver has a job as an Unusual in the government’s Serious Magical Crimes Agency, the life he and Ewan always dreamed of. But a routine investigation leads him and his partner, Sophie Stuart, to uncover a dangerous and powerful cult… one that seems to have drawn his former best friend into a plot to end the world.
A deftly plotted, hysterically funny take on Chosen One narratives, A Hero at the End of the World expertly walks the fine line between satire and sincerity. Its sensitive depiction of a broken friendship and wry take-down of unfairly great expectations will appeal to all readers of modern fantasy.
The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare
Fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices can get to know warlock Magnus Bane like never before in this collection of New York Times bestselling tales, in print for the first time with an exclusive new story and illustrated material.
This collection of eleven short stories illuminates the life of the enigmatic Magnus Bane, whose alluring personality, flamboyant style, and sharp wit populate the pages of the #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether. (Expected publication: September 8th 2016 by Duet Books)
Seven Tears At High Tide by C.B. Lee
The sea holds many secrets …
Kevin Luong walks to the ocean’s edge with a broken heart. Remembering a legend his mother told him, he lets seven tears fall into the sea. “I just want one summer—one summer to be happy and in love.”
Instead, he finds himself saving a mysterious boy from the Pacific—a boy who later shows up on his doorstep professing his love. What he doesn’t know is that Morgan is a selkie, drawn to answer Kevin’s wish.
As they grow close, Morgan is caught between the dangers of the human world and his legacy in the selkie community to which he must return at summer’s end.
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.
But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.
Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace
Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how.
Nor can she explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch, or why her heartbeat comes and goes. She doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past.
Haunted by happy memories from her life, Breezy sets out to find answers in the gritty, threatening world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she discovers is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.
Valley of the Silk Sky by Dylan Edwards
Valley of the Silk Sky is a queer YA science fiction webcomic, written and drawn by Dylan Edwards. VoSS chronicles the adventures of a crew of queer scientists as they search for new medicinals and try to avoid being eaten in the often-dangerous Pocalo Valley.
The comic updates on Wednesdays, with informational world-building posts in between each chapter.
Witchy Comic by Ariel Ries
In the witch kingdom Hyalin, the strength of your magic is determined by the length of your hair. Those that are strong enough are conscripted by the Witch Guard, who enforce the law in peacetime and protect the land during war. However, those with hair judged too long are pronounced enemies of the kingdom, and annihilated. This is called a witch burning.
Witchy is the story of a young witch named Nyneve. Terrified of the Guard, and of being enlisted, she hides her long hair from everyone but her mother.
Witchy updates every Monday (or Tuesday, depending where you live).
Some Did Rest by Niki Smith
“In the aftermath, the government declared that parents who had lost their only child would receive free treatment to reverse vasectomies and tubal ligations conducted by family planning authorities.”
Born under a strict one-child policy, a generation of children grow up in the shadow of siblings they never knew, and with whom they can never hope to compete.
This comic was originally inspired by the thousands of students killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. China’s “one child policy” is most well known, but more than a few countries have imposed population control and compulsory sterilization on their citizens. Some Did Rest explores the lasting impact of a natural disaster in such a society.
SOME DID REST updates every Monday.
Moon Cakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Long-lost childhood crushes Nova Huang and Tam Lang have reunited for the first time in ten years. They have a lot more to deal with this time than just being the only two Asian kids in school (who also happen to both have magical abilities). The comic focuses on their relationship as they struggle through bills, family, and weird horse demons in ways that only a witch and a werewolf can.
Do you know of another YA book or graphic novel with a major LGBTQIA+ Asian character? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!
by Janine A. Southard
My editor gently reminded me that not all my teen characters can be ace. And she’s right.
As someone on the asexual spectrum, it doesn’t occur to me to put sexual tension (or interest) between strangers into my books during the drafting phase. That’s the drafting phase, though. In editing, I can’t assume all the characters will be just like me. Sure, some characters may never have romance plot lines, but many will have sexual thoughts.
For instance, I once wrote a novel where my teenage protagonists find themselves in a brothel. (Hive & Heist) On the third draft, my editor gently mentioned that at least one of my characters would consider the wares on display. Part of me was happy to add that bit of verisimilitude, and part of me felt like a sell-out. But, really, I had plenty of characters left who had better things to do (e.g., learn knife fighting), so it wasn’t all of them.
And that’s the crux of writing while ace or demi (or bi or homo or trans), we can be sure to add characters just like us. But we don’t get to assume the mainstream doesn’t exist in the same way it can forget we do. I mean, we can but it reduces verisimilitude.
I like to think, though, that by adding characters who are ace-spectrum, more readers will see that as a normal state that coexists with the mainstream. I once had a reader tell me that he’d never heard the term “ace” for asexual before reading one of my books. (This one isn’t YA, but does have an explicitly asexual character: Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story.)
That’s a tiny foothold on the path to mainstream acceptance.
Janine A. Southard is the IPPY award-winning author of Queen & Commander (and other books in The Hive Queen Saga). She lives in Seattle, WA, where she writes speculative fiction novels, novellas, and short stories… and reads them aloud to her cat. You can hang out with Janine online, usually on Twitter and periodically on her website with free fiction and novel inspirations.
Welcome to our new series of book lists! We get many asks on tumblr for books with a certain identity/genre/etc, and starting now we will be posting our replies on the blog as well as on tumblr. If you are looking for a certain kind of LGBTQIA+ book, send us an ask on tumblr!
Anonymous asked: Do you know of any books with bi male main characters? Six of Crows is the only one I know of and so far that part has been a pretty small section of the book.
Disclaimer: We have not read all of these books, and therefore cannot be sure of the quality of the representation. If you believe one of these books is problematic, let us know in a comment or an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Bi-Normal by M.G. Higgins
Brett Miller is one of the kings of Elkhead High. Everyone knows the kings rule the school. Football stars. Pretty girls. The in-crowd. Brett and his buddies are the tormentors; nobody messes with them. Then Brett meets Zach …”It’s a crush. I’m crushing on a friggin’ guy. That’s sick. And I don’t know what to do about it. … I want these feelings to go away. At the same time, I don’t want them to go away.” And his life is turned inside out. Everything he knows about himself is wrong. And he doesn’t have anywhere to turn for answers. He’s heard the word “bi” before; it has nothing to do with him. But in his gut he knows. And he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it.
Collide by J.R. Lenk
Being bisexual is cool now—unless you’re a boy. Or so it seems to invisible fifteen-year-old Hazard James. But when he falls in with bad apple Jesse Wesley, Hazard is suddenly shoved into the spotlight. Jesse and his friends introduce him to the underworld of teenage life: house parties, hangovers, the advantages of empty homes, and reputation by association. So what if his old friends don’t get it? So what if some people love to hate him? Screw gossip and high school’s secret rules. There’s just something about walking into a room and having all eyes on him when just last year nobody noticed him at all.
For a while Hazard basks in the attention, and before he realizes the depth of the waters he’s wading, he and Jesse strike up a “friends with benefits” routine. It could be something more, but what self-respecting teenage boy would admit it? Not Jesse—and so not Hazard, either. Not until it’s too late. Hazard and Jesse have collided, and Hazard’s life will never be the same.
Lucky by Eddie de Oliveira
A clever debut about love, sex, and everything in between, for anyone who’s ever fallen for a friend (come on, admit it)
Sam is a teen boy who’s attracted to both boys and girls. He doesn’t know what to call himself or where he fits in. Then he meets Toby, another boy who likes both boys and girls. Are they destined to be just friends, more than friends, or less than friends? And what would happen if they were attracted to the same girl?
Love comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes all at once. In his brilliant, funny, and heartfelt debut, Eddie de Oliveira shows us there’s more to life than being a wallflower or being knocked out by nunga-nungas.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
This Printz Honor Book is a “tender, honest exploration of identity” (Publishers Weekly) that distills lyrical truths about family and friendship.
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
NOTE: Neither Ari or Dante identify as bi in the book, but Ari talks about being attracted to girls, and reads as bisexual to many readers (including me!).
Boyfriends With Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez
Lance has always known he was gay, but he’s never had a real boyfriend. Sergio is bisexual, but his only real relationship was with a girl. When the two of them meet, they have an instant connection–but will it be enough to overcome their differences?
Allie’s been in a relationship with a guy for the last two years–but when she meets Kimiko, she can’t get her out of her mind. Does this mean she’s gay? Does it mean she’s bi? Kimiko, falling hard for Allie, and finding it impossible to believe that a gorgeous girl like Allie would be into her, is willing to stick around and help Allie figure it out.
Boyfriends with Girlfriends is Alex Sanchez at his best, writing with a sensitive hand to portray four very real teens striving to find their places in the world–and with each other.
Rainbow High Trilogy by Alex Sanchez
Jason Carrillo is a jock with a steady girlfriend, but he can’t stop dreaming about sex…with other guys.
Kyle Meeks doesn’t look gay, but he is. And he hopes he never has to tell anyone — especially his parents.
Nelson Glassman is “out” to the entire world, but he can’t tell the boy he loves that he wants to be more than just friends.
Three teenage boys, coming of age and out of the closet. In a revealing debut novel that percolates with passion and wit, Alex Sanchez follows these very different high-school seniors as their struggles with sexuality and intolerance draw them into a triangle of love, betrayal, and ultimately, friendship.
Teenage Rewrite by Brandon Williams
Every year millions of teenagers graduate from high school, embrace adulthood, and go on to lead happy, productive lives. That’s great and all, but Justin Davis thinks this is a complete load.
Withdrawn and perpetually anxious, Justin begins senior year completely overwhelmed by thoughts of life after high school. Up until now he’s been able to coast through life without any complications. He’s managed to pass all his classes, he has just enough friends to not eat alone at lunch and, quite frankly, he’s come to accept things just as they are: dismal. But after seventeen years of coasting, Justin meets two guys determined to ruin everything.
With constant meddling from his nosy new friend Travis, Justin finally has to learn to own his bisexuality, connect with friends he didn’t know he had, and even get closer to his crush, Evan—a shy yet equally meddlesome junior.
In this YA, coming-of-age novel, follow one boy’s struggle to embrace life’s complications and realize that ignoring life is much more difficult than living it. Especially when best friends don’t leave you any other choice.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.
The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.
Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.
Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Read GayYA’s review of The Summer Prince!
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
Unbeknownst to mortals, a power struggle is unfolding in a world of shadows and danger. After centuries of stability, the balance among the Faery Courts has altered, and Irial, ruler of the Dark Court, is battling to hold his rebellious and newly vulnerable fey together. If he fails, bloodshed and brutality will follow.
Seventeen-year-old Leslie knows nothing of faeries or their intrigues. When she is attracted to an eerily beautiful tattoo of eyes and wings, all she knows is that she has to have it, convinced it is a tangible symbol of changes she desperately craves for her own life.
The tattoo does bring changes—not the kind Leslie has dreamed of, but sinister, compelling changes that are more than symbolic. Those changes will bind Leslie and Irial together, drawing Leslie deeper and deeper into the faery world, unable to resist its allures, and helpless to withstand its perils. . . .
Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
Be careful what you believe in.
Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.
Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.
To make matters worse, Austin’s hormones are totally oblivious; they don’t care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He’s stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it’s up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.
Coda by Emma Trevayne
Ever since he was a young boy, music has coursed through the veins of eighteen-year-old Anthem—the Corp has certainly seen to that. By encoding music with addictive and mind-altering elements, the Corp holds control over all citizens, particularly conduits like Anthem, whose life energy feeds the main power in the Grid.
Anthem finds hope and comfort in the twin siblings he cares for, even as he watches the life drain slowly and painfully from his father. Escape is found in his underground rock band, where music sounds free, clear, and unencoded deep in an abandoned basement. But when a band member dies suspiciously from a tracking overdose, Anthem knows that his time has suddenly become limited. Revolution all but sings in the air, and Anthem cannot help but answer the call with the chords of choice and free will. But will the girl he loves help or hinder him?
Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen
Legacy isn’t a dirty word…but it’s an irrelevant one. It’s not important what our parents did. It matters what WE do. Someone has to save the world. You’re someone. Do the math. The critically acclaimed team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie reinvent the teen super hero comic for the 21st century, uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop with Kid Loki, Marvel Boy and Ms. America. No pressure, right? As a figure from Loki’s past emerges, Wiccan makes a horrible mistake that comes back to bite everyone on their communal posteriors. Fight scenes! Fake IDs! And plentiful feels! (aka “meaningful emotional character beats” for people who aren’t on tumblr.) Young Avengers is as NOW! as the air in your lungs, and twice as vital. Hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!
NOTE: The bisexual guy does not appear until the second volume, Alternative Culture. There are, however, lesbian & gay characters in volume one.
Do you know of another YA book or graphic novel with a major bisexual guy? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 8 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love – Being Surrounded by Something You’ve Never Quite Understood – On Writing Aromantic Characters in YA – Discovering Aromanticism – Broken, Villains, or Punishment – On Aromantic Visibility in YA
by Ren Oliveira
If you asked me to summarize what it felt like growing up as an aromantic person, a single memory would come to my mind immediately: my friends talking about boys and crushes and romance while I sat at the edge of our group in complete silence.
This memory would come with an acute feeling of awkwardness, of hey, maybe I should be interested in this followed by a but what should I say? I would steal glances at them, trying to think of something, anything, that would keep the conversation going only to give up seconds later, sighing, and turn my attention to whatever book was in my lap. It happened often.
Back then it felt like everyone was reading the same script, but mine was somehow wrong, with words out of order and phrases that didn’t make much sense. It was still possible to understand it, of course, but it required effort and concentration, and at the end of the day it still confused me. Something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was.
Growing up reading YA felt more or less the same.
At first, I didn’t even know that YA books existed. Here in Brazil they exploded thanks to Twilight when I was 13 or 14, so adult books were all I had for years (I started reading a lot pretty early) and my favorite genre has always been fantasy. In comparison, YA books were much more welcoming, with tons of girls as the protagonists back when I still thought I was girl. I didn’t feel like a complete intruder anymore.
But that awkward feeling was still there, nagging at me as I read about people falling in love over and over again, about how romantic love was so very important. The girls I had started to identify with after years of reading only books about boys and men always distanced themselves from me in end, and I couldn’t see myself in them anymore. I had to squint and to concentrate to understand the script. It left me tired and dissatisfied.
I wasn’t as welcome as I thought I was, in the end.
I can’t remember the first time I heard that teens are really intense, full of hormones, or that teens fall in love all the time and are extremely dramatic about it, but by the time I was a teen myself, that message had already wormed its way into my mind. And it was never true for me; being asexual as well as aromantic, my teenager years were… calm. Quiet. There were no crushes on classmates or teachers, no love triangles (or love interests), and almost no drama. And, somehow, I felt like I was wasting every single moment of them.
I wasn’t enjoying my teenager years (and, you guys, they don’t come back!). I wasn’t living my life. I would regret it later, people told me, because I wasn’t being a real teen. I had no idea of what to do – how does one even become a real teen, anyway? –, and so I waited and hoped something would change. Needless to say, it never did.
Nowadays, though, I see a similar message coming from some people on the YA community when YA is criticized for (supposedly) having too much romance. Teens are like that, they say, love triangles or just falling in love is what it means to be a teenager. And sure, for some it is, but I was a teen too. I turn 20 this month. It wasn’t that long ago. I can still remember it very well and there wasn’t any romance or any crushes. This lack of romantic feelings didn’t make any less of a teen.
And teens like me are everywhere. Some of us will never fall in love, others will do so only under specific circumstances, but every aromantic person’s experiences are different from what is usually seen in mainstream media. I, for one, still love romance. I still have lots of ships and I still read tons of fanfiction, but there is a dissonance. I can’t and won’t ever understand crushes or love at first sight, but give me a demiromantic character falling in love or aromantic character in a queerplatonic relationship and I’ll be the happiest person on the planet. Others dislike romance and don’t want to have anything to do with it, and it’s okay. Our experiences are valid, and they matter.
Sometimes I wonder how different my teen years would have been if I had found a single aromantic character in the books I read. What it would be like to read about a teen who felt just like me, and still saved the world. Maybe I would’ve stopped waiting and hoping something would change. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared when people told me, it will change when you get into high school, and then when I got into high school, it will change when you get into college, as if there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was or how I felt.
Now that I’m in college they kind of don’t know what to do with me or what to tell me, but that’s fine. I know now what was missing. It was just a word, but some words are powerful. Some words change how you see yourself and how you see the world. Some make everything right, or just right enough that the script doesn’t seem as confusing anymore.
Aromantic was one of these words for me. It wasn’t an ending, something that solved all of my problems, but it was a beginning. And, sometimes, just a beginning is enough.
Ren Oliveira is a nonbinary Brazilian aspiring writer of fantasy who is currently majoring in Psychology. Ze is aromantic and asexual, and a fan of elves, angels and dragons. You can find zir on Twitter at @_renoliveira.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 7 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love – Being Surrounded by Something You’ve Never Quite Understood – On Writing Aromantic Characters in YA – Discovering Aromanticism – Broken, Villains, or Punishment
It seems these days that almost every single YA book needs to have a romantic subplot, and it’s rather exhausting. Especially when so many of them are straight/white/cis. I’m not saying romance in fiction is bad – portrayals of all kinds of romantic relationships and experiences are definitely important – I just wish it wasn’t seen as necessary in every single narrative. When it makes sense in the story, romance can be a great addition, but so many stories would be just as good without it. There are so many other things that can happen in people’s lives that create conflict and character development! But ‘happily ever after’ seems to mean ‘happily in a romantic relationship’.
It’s not just representation of aro characters that is important, it’s also showing that romantic love itself isn’t more valuable than any other kind of love. Books that focus on platonic relationships, showing that romantic love isn’t needed for everyone, is so important for all readers, not just those on the aromantic spectrum. Little things like saying ‘oh no, we’re just friends’ (as if friendship is a lesser kind of relationship than romance), equating love with humanity (sure, it might be referring to all kinds of love, but usually that’s not specified), or having every single character ‘end up with someone’ at the end of a book are all things that a lot of people don’t even notice – but to an aromantic (and many asexuals), these things stand out. Including aromantic characters in your writing is great (and desperately, desperately needed) but that’s only one step – it’s just as important to be aware of the amatonormativity in other aspects of storytelling. A great example of being aware of this is in Kayla Bashe’s To Stand in the Light:
She had to make them realize that even though she was small and funny, she was truly grown up. That she had a woman’s feelings- and a woman’s desires. Well, the type of feelings and desire that happened to an allosexual, alloromantic woman, at least.
Obviously adding that kind of thing isn’t going to work every time, but it’s so much nicer to read than if it had been lacking that third sentence.
Another example of a book that doesn’t have an (explicitly stated) aromantic character, but still has some relevant discussion of amatonormativity (and heteronormativity) is Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. This is a Cinderella storytelling, and although there is some romance between her and the prince, she ultimately realises they would be better as friends, and that the love she had from other characters was just as (if not more) important.
All the things I’d learned from novels, from Faerie tales […] had taught me that the love I’d thought I’d found in Fin was the best kind to be had. That the reason behind all of life and all of love in the first place was to find someone, love him, and let that love become the foundation for the rest if your life. […] But what was I without that ending? No less me, no less myself. No less loved than I had ever been, not really.
But of course, representation of actual aromantic characters is a much more direct contribution to aromantic visibility. Aromantic characters are almost unheard of in YA (or any) fiction. The few that exist are almost all either done unintentionally, or it’s as a part of asexuality. Neither of these are necessarily bad, but the word ‘aromantic’ and explicit discussion of aromanticism are almost unheard of in fiction.
Some books, such as Clariel or The Fire’s Stone, have aromantic characters that seem to be unintentional – as if the author thought ‘it suits this character’s story to have them not interested in romance’ rather than them actually knowing about aromanticism (and asexuality)*. I do love both these books, but their aromanticism does read as a little too tied to other character traits. Because there’s so little other representation, this could be misleading. Other characters are explicitly asexual, but their aromanticism is implied. Again, this can be a case of the authors not being educated enough, or just wanting to keep it simple, but it can imply they’re the same thing. Which they’re not.
The problem is that there’s almost no intentional aromantic representation in YA – or any books at all. In fact, the only aromantic spectrum characters I can think of written by an aromantic author are Isis and Alex from the Shape Shifter Chronicles by Lauren Jankowski. The only one I know using the word aromantic is Make Much of Me by Kayla Bashe. There are so many characters who are almost aromantic-spectrum. Characters who seem aro but then they find ‘the one’ (which could mean they’re demiromantic or grey-a, but it usually just reads like it was inevitable, and therefore is for all aromantics), characters who just don’t have any romantic subplot or mention of it around them, and of course the robots/aliens/demons who are ‘aromantic’ because of their species (which is not always bad, but in many cases implies – or outright states – that romantic love = humanity). With just a little bit of discussion of the aromantic spectrum in-text, so many of these characters could count as proper aromantic representation! But because there isn’t, we’re only left with ‘almost’s and ‘maybe’s. Saying ‘we need more aromantic characters like x’ is almost pointless, because we need representation of pretty much every kind – as long as it’s not harmful.
There’s been more and more representation of asexuality in YA recently – I hope aromantic representation follows suit.
Some aromantic characters in YA (and NA):
Aromantic: Niavin from The Fae Feast series, Kevin from Guardian of the Dead, Eshvat, Gershom and Stella from the Mangoverse series, Jo from Make Much of Me, Clariel.
Demiromantic: Regan from Chameleon Moon (Wren and Lisette are also aro), Darcy from Afterworlds.
Could be read as aro-spectrum: Katsa from Graceling, Mia from The Change series, Lirael, Liraz from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Katniss from the Hunger Games.
*I don’t actually know if these authors know much about aromanticism and asexuality, this is just the way it seems. Apologies if I’m wrong.
Laya is an aro-ace spectrum artist from New Zealand. She loves reading – especially LGBTQIAP+ speculative fiction – tv shows (of the same genre) and drawing fanart of those things. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Design. You can find her on Twitter and Tumblr (art blog | book blog). Her aroace book (and webcomic) rec list is here.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 6 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love – Being Surrounded by Something You’ve Never Quite Understood – On Writing Aromantic Characters in YA – Discovering Aromanticism
by Fox Salazar
I remember being a young teen and a voracious reader. I read almost anything. Old classics like Lovecraft, modern realistic fiction authors like Julie Anne Peters, and too many books with dragons to name. But I hated the romance genre.
In fact, I didn’t really like reading romances in other genres. I read coming-out-stories to help myself come out and to make sense of a world that wasn’t really kind to trans (later nonbinary) or bi/pansexuals. I was glad that there were queer teens finding romantic love, getting boyfriends or girlfriends that could share queer experiences with them, but those relationships never fully resonated with me.
In most books, most media really, not finding romantic love is seen as a death sentence. Worse than death, even! If you don’t fall in love by the end of the story, you’re unloveable. There was something wrong with you that kept people away. You were too bitter, too snarky, too guarded, and it’s. all. your. fault.
If you aren’t in a romantic relationship by the end of the story, or you haven’t sacrificed yourself in the name of romantic love, you end up the villain.
Because villains can’t love.
That’s kind of an insidious trope in YA especially. One that maybe isn’t obvious unless you’re really looking. Think about it. In a typical young adult book you have the protagonist who crushes on somebody (or even somebodies), and the relationship grows throughout the story. Juxtaposed is the antagonist who’s usually depicted as stone cold, calculated, and never has a romantic partner. Or in realistic fiction, the people who bullied and harassed our protagonist ends up alone. Maybe they get rejected or dumped in direct response to how they treat others. Not being in a relationship is treated as punishment.
It can all be very disheartening when you yourself don’t really see the appeal of a datemate.
It’s very rare to find a YA book or series where romance doesn’t play a role of some sort, especially in regards to books published in the last decade. From dystopian novels like “The Hunger Games” to almost every coming of age story ever written. Now, that’s not to say that these books aren’t good, or are doing something wrong by including romance. But for the vast majority of books to include romance and be treated as the be-all-end-all experience for a person is a bit daunting.
It’s important, of course, especially in gay-as-an-umbrella-term books to show healthy relationships. But to make it seem like a relationship is all there is to a young queer experience is damaging to everyone. And to make it seem like if you’re not in or looking for a relationship there’s something wrong going on with you is sending an incredibly harmful message.
It would be nice to see more YA books focusing on friendships and how those can shape us just as much or even more so than whoever we’re dating. And of course it’d be great to see aro-spectrum characters! Old AND young. After all, it could do some real good for young aro or aro questioning teens to see an older character that was like them, to show that it’s not just something they’ll grow out of once they find “The One”. Or if they do find “The One”, have it clearly explained it’s because they’re demiromantic and not because everyone only has one person they can ever truly love or that true love changed them.
At this point it would be nice if there was even one aromantic character in mainstream YA fiction.
Fox Salazar is a bi/pansexual genderfluid who became a lot happier when they learned the word “aromantic.” They are a book reviewer and hopeful writer. You can find them on Tumblr; Twitter; and YouTube as Masked Fox Creations.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 5 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love – Being Surrounded by Something You’ve Never Quite Understood – On Writing Aromantic Characters in YA
Hi! I saw GayYA’s post on Tumblr about people from the arospec sharing our stories and I thought: “Hey, Alison, you’re aromantic. You might as well.” So, yeah. Here I am.
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Alison; I’m a 15 year old cisgendered female. I live in Yorkshire, England, and I’ve found a label to suit me. That is Aromantic.
Aromanticism is a big part of my life; I’ve only recently made the discovery that it genuinely exists.
When I was younger (and I mean 8 or 9 ish), I’d think that there was something wrong with me. I’d imagine that if I would only develop romantic feelings for a person, then I’d know I’m okay. I would think that maybe I’m waiting for that “one special person” and then I would fall in love and so on.
I didn’t know this was happening until I was about 11 years old. I knew then that this wouldn’t happen. So, I jumped to the conclusion that there was something wrong. That it would be a mental illness or something. It was hard to accept that this was the only way for me and my future. This lead to self-harm and self-esteem issues that I’m slowly taming but are still apparent. I’ve been having issues with self-harm for 4 years now. I know that it’s probably selfish of me and there are real problems in the world, but it hit close to home. All I’ve been fed my entire life, along with most people, is that even if things are bad right now, you’ll meet that one special person and everything will be okay.
I discovered the existence of aromanticism from Tumblr, actually. There was an awareness post that had sneaked its way between the crevices of crap and hordes of fandoms. It boasted its diversity for including other terms. I read into the topic of being aromantic more and realised that, while feeling sexual attraction is a thing for me, romantic wasn’t. It was such an amazing experience, discovering that not only people can feel the same as I do, that there is a term for what I am feeling. It was elating to know that I’m still valid, despite not feeling romantically attracted to anyone. All I’ve seen is the importance of romantic love and the effects it can have on your life, but never an appreciation of how much platonic love or friendships actually help you grow and be as a person.
Find Alison on Tumblr at alisonone.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 4 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love – Being Surrounded by Something You’ve Never Quite Understood
by Denali Leone
Describing my fictional characters to people is often like coming out again.
While discussing my manuscript with a coworker, I mentioned my main character is on the aromantic spectrum. After explaining that aromantic individuals experience little or no romantic attraction, my coworker frowned and said, “I don’t give a damn. Readers want romance.”
I struggled with how to respond to that, wondering how much truth there was to my coworker’s statement. I agonized over how to make readers “give a damn” about my character’s identity, when I couldn’t even get people to respect me and my identity. I fall on the aromantic spectrum, and my coworker’s dismissal of my character felt like a dismissal of me.
So, where does this idea that romance is a requirement come from? It’s not difficult to figure out. Advertisements for everything from cars to perfume revolve around the concept of making yourself more romantically and/or sexually appealing. Countless films, TV shows, and books perpetuate the notion that life’s end-all goal is a romantic relationship with marriage and kids. And the thing is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that type of happily ever after. The problem arises when that’s the only sort of happily ever after to which people are exposed, particularly children and teenagers.
If I’d had books that contained aro characters when I was a teenager, it would’ve saved me a great deal of trouble. YA is written for teens and about teens, so it’s vital here, of all places, to give aromantic individuals the proper representation. It shouldn’t be so laborious for me to find books with aro main characters, aro side characters, and aro authors.
So, what do I want to see from YA novels with aromantic characters?
Recognition that aromantic people are not a monolith:
The aromantic spectrum is wide, and it includes grayromantic people, demiromantic people, and more. Some occasionally feel romantic attraction, and some don’t. Some want relationships, including marriage, and some don’t. Some might develop romantic feelings only under specific circumstances.
Like sexuality and gender, romantic attraction can be fluid. Over the years, the frequency with which I experience romantic attraction has gone from sporadically to rarely to virtually never. And that’s okay. People change, as do the labels we use. Moreover, if an aromantic person does experience romantic attraction, the intensity might be anywhere from “Head over heels” to “Don’t even think about buying me flowers.”
Acknowledgement that romantic attraction and sexual attraction are different things:
An aromantic (aro) person might also consider themselves to be asexual (ace). The former refers to feeling little or no romantic attraction, whereas the latter refers to feeling little or no sexual attraction. (The definitions are more nuanced than that and can vary between individuals, but that’s the basic idea.)
I describe myself as aromantic and pansexual, so my relationships probably won’t resemble those of someone who identifies as aromantic and asexual. Just because two people are aromantic doesn’t necessarily mean their sexual preferences are similar.
Characters stated on the page as being aromantic:
I’ve heard arguments from people who prefer ambiguity, and they raise some good points. But from Charlie Weasley to Katniss Everdeen, it’s safe to say we currently have far more ambiguity than we do specificity.
A quick change from “You’ll find The One” to “You might be aromantic” can make an enormous difference to a teen. The words we read and write matter, and the print bleeds through the pages to punctuate our lives.
Happy/hopeful endings for aromantic characters:
What does a happy ending look like for an aromantic person? The possibilities are endless, so I suggest speaking to various individuals who self-identify as being on the aromantic spectrum.
It might mean being in a relationship that’s more about friendship and/or sex than romance. It might mean not being in a relationship at all. Perhaps it’s being content to focus on school, or a job, or family.
Books about coming out and books that have nothing to do with coming out:
This is an ongoing discussion in literary circles, and I’ve witnessed heavy debates surrounding the topic. It merits its own blog post, and plenty of well-written ones are already online. (T.S. Ferguson has an excellent one here.) So I won’t do any expounding, but to summarize my opinion:
We need both, end of story.
Characters who are marginalized in more than one way:
Explore intersectionality, a term that refers to the interconnectivity of oppressive institutions, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and more.
For example, I don’t plan to have kids, and the reasons for that stem from both the aromantic part of me and my nonbinary gender (among other things). When someone denounces me for being childfree, they are also—whether intentionally or not—criticizing me for being aromantic and nonbinary.
Think about those things when writing marginalized characters. Intersectionality is a fact of existence, and books need to reflect that. Consider aromantic characters who aren’t white/straight/cisgender/able-bodied/neurotypical.
Novels that are #ownvoices qualified, in which aromantic authors are writing aromantic characters:
Elevate the voices of authors who identify the same way as their characters. This goes for any marginalized identity. Give #ownvoices authors space on book lists, discussion panels, and more. Recognize when to pass the mic and listen.
I want to read about aromantic characters who go on adventures, aromantic people of color, aromantic friends and girlfriends and parents and siblings and everyone in between. I also strive to write those characters, despite constantly having to justify their existence and my own. I suspect I’ll hear “Readers want romance” again. But next time, I know how I’ll respond:
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Denali Leone is a queer writer from Alaska. She can be found on Twitter (@DenaliLeone), usually in the middle of the night when no one else is awake.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 3 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone” – Actual Love
by Julia W.
Looking back on the earlier elementary years, I was incredibly aromantic. I mean, I remember picking a boy to crush on because I thought it was a choice, and I remember thinking specifically “I just want to be his friend.” I remember finding common interests with a boy and not understanding why the other girls would tease me about it. I remember others talking about boys in hushed voices while I just wanted to talk about horses or something.
Finding the label didn’t automatically tether it to me. At first I was certain I was straight because being LGBTQIA+ was a big thing that certainly couldn’t apply to me. It took me a while to see that it was normal and common, and at that point I eased myself into identifying on the aromantic spectrum.
Now, in high school, I’m aware of the incredulous amatonormativity and heteronormativity present everywhere. It’s hard, because something that you really can’t bring yourself to understand, no matter how hard you try, is always there. It’s always reminding you that you’re different.
You can’t escape the media either. All movie plot lines have at least some romance. There’s always that girl who ‘doesn’t believe in love’ who then meets the guy and they fall in love “despite the odds” and yadayadayada. Hello heteronormativity.
One of the hardest things about being aromantic is the difficulty explaining it. I mean, you probably barely understand what you’re trying to explain. How do you explain how you don’t feel something when you don’t know what it feels like to actually feel it?
It’s even harder when your deep affection for friends isn’t reciprocated at the same level. Sure, they may mutually like you, but you know that friendship runs deep in you, and for them romantic relationships are the highest level. Hello amatonormativity.
Relationships become difficult if you’re an aromantic that likes to date. Avoiding all evidence of romance is difficult if you’re romance repulsed. Sometimes, even though you’re romance-neutral, it all gets a bit tiring.
There aren’t many of us but our community screams with silent pride. Spreading the word about us aromantics is important. You never know who might over hear and you never know who you’re going to help.
From one (proud) aromantic to another, to an ally or to another queer/questioning LGBTQIA+ member, I hope you have a great awareness week and a great life with a void of heteronormativity. Let’s be honest, we all deserve it.
Julia W. is a high school student and an aspirational writer looking to open eyes and minds to the aromantic spectrum. She hopes to help by increasing awareness and representation among the community and in everyday life. Find her on Twitter.
Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series: Day 2 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week Series – The Excitement and Frustration of Being “Alone”
by Ashley D. Wallis
I thought I was broken.
These are words I’ve heard time and time again in my inbox or on posts explaining aromanticism. For over a decade, I thought the same thing.
Two years ago, I was twenty-nine years old and scrolling through tumblr when I came across a post describing aro people. I’d seen many posts about asexuality, and often thought that the description was how I felt – except for me it was not about a lack of desire for sex, but about a lack of desire for being in love. As I read about absence of romantic attraction, everything clicked. With every example of what an aromantic experiences or doesn’t, I felt more and more understood.
For years, I had worried that my personality disorder was to blame for this in some way. I was confused when people in the borderline community were at a loss when I asked if anyone else felt pained watching romantic movies because they couldn’t feel that way. The automatic response anytime I brought up my troubles with these films to others was that’s just how it is in the movies, but even so, I still had no frame of reference for romantic love and didn’t know why I was so upset by not feeling what the characters I saw in movies or read about in books felt. I thought that surely I was supposed to want that feeling, because all my life I was reading about people sick with love and seeing people on screen falling hard and fast.
Being introduced to aromanticism was like a long overdue hug. It was as if I could feel myself becoming whole; the pieces of me that had felt increasingly fractured the longer I was married and felt as if I couldn’t love my husband the way a wife was supposed to were starting to come together. It was a life-changing realization. I wasn’t broken. It’s just the way I am. After realizing I was aromantic, I looked back to see if there had been any clues when I was a teenager, and I didn’t have to think too hard. I never wanted to date. The one boyfriend I had was because my mother was worried that I wasn’t interested in relationships, so I gave it a try. When he said he was in love with me, I panicked and broke it off. When other friends said they were in love with me, I sat them down and assured them they weren’t in love with me, and explained why it was impossible that they were. I was so uncomfortable with relationships or the concept that someone could be in love with me that I didn’t even date the guy I wound up marrying. While living in different countries, at nineteen years old I married a friend I’d known since I was eleven without having been on a single date.
It suddenly felt so obvious. Realizing that being aromantic was an actual thing, something else became clear – the novel I’d written two years before was about an aromantic’s struggle. The story centers around my main character as she tries to figure out what she can and cannot sacrifice of herself to fit someone else’s ideal of love. When people asked what my book was about, I’d told them it was an anti-romance. A girl in her late teens is physically attracted to a friend, but finds herself inexplicably yet strongly resistant toward his desire for them to get married and have children. Shortly after recognizing I was aromantic, I pulled my book as only a few people had read it at that point, promising others who had shelved it on goodreads that I would revise it and release it again on my author page.
In addition to an aromantic who enjoys sex, in my novel there is a character that is aromantic and asexual. I now know how important it is to be clear in the intention I had for these characters, and thought it was my duty as a writer to take them down and rework some of the story to better reflect these underrepresented orientations. I didn’t know that I was aromantic when I wrote that novel, but now I see it’s a clear reflection of my own hesitations going into relationships. Answering questions about aromanticism on my blogs has made me understand the importance of casually viewing a fictional character as aromantic, and showing that romantic love isn’t the only kind of love; people can love deeply and not desire anything above friendship. Platonic love is still love.
Representation is immensely important, especially for young people who are struggling with identity. Seeing yourself reflected in a novel or on screen does so much for your sense of self and self-worth, no matter what age. As a writer, I hope to bring more of that to the page, because I wish that I had known at sixteen that not experiencing romantic attraction was not only okay, but completely normal. Not only including aro and aro/ace characters in literature, but writing stories about aromantic characters from their perspectives validates readers’ orientations and might make a reader who is lost in their identity feel less alone. It’s important to me that people understand that you can be aromantic and never want to be in a relationship. You can be aromantic and want to be in a platonic relationship. You may even want to get married and have kids despite not having romantic feelings toward your partner or would be fine with it even though it was never on your radar as an important life goal. Any of those scenarios are normal and should be presented in healthy, positive ways. Reaching out to young readers who are constantly presented with romantic ideals and giving them the option to read stories about platonic love and love for friends and family tells them that their worth is not measured by their ability or desire to experience romance. Real, honest, actual love doesn’t exist in only one form.
You’re not broken.
Ashley D. Wallis is a writer of fiction and non-fiction living in Denver. A Veteran, mother of two boys, and a jack of all trades (moderately adequate at most), Ashley has approximately five hundred eighty-two interests and talents of varying significance, none of which are completely useless.