Over the past year, I’ve become extremely passionate about diversity in books. To the point that I did both a presentation and an essay on the topic last semester. Voluntarily. In the same timeframe. For two different classes. If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is.
Luckily, this long-term temper tantrum of mine lines up pretty well with a renaissance of diversity in young adult books. So if the Renaissance featured more teens taking down governments/discovering magic/having sassy banter-y conversations – and fewer really good paintings of fruit and Jesus and stuff.
I define diversity as representations of sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, mental illnesses, disabilities, and body types that are marginalized or not typically represented in popular culture.
That being said, here are some of my favorite reads from this diversity quest!
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Representation: homosexuality, Latinx
This book follows Noah and Jude, who are ~twins~. It flashes back and forth between Noah’s perspective a few years back, and Jude’s perspective in the present. It is beautiful (in terms of the cover) and beautiful (in terms of the story) and beautiful (in terms of the characters) and and beautiful (in terms of the writing). Noah’s perspective largely follows his experience coming out. I’m a pretty big fan.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Representation: Asian, biracial
The Lunar Chronicles are a crazy, wild, fairytale retelling IN THE FUTURE. I’m talking moon residence, wolf-people, cyborgs, and futuristic spacecraft things. Plus Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. The on-earth setting is a future China, so a lot of Asian representation. The Snow White character, who is the most beautiful person in the galaxy (because this series takes place PARTIALLY IN SPACE), is half-black.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Representation: asexuality, transgender, nonbinary, mental health, POC
This is magical realism in which Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Narnia series are canon. Basically, children are falling through portals into fairytale worlds a lot. It boils down to magical boarding school + murder mystery, which would be amazing even if this weren’t diverse as all get out. The protagonist is asexual, one of the main characters is trans, and most everyone is of color and/or gender non-conforming and/or queer. There is also so much mental health rep. What I’m saying is this book puts every other book to shame.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Representation: physical disability, POC, bisexuality, ADHD, homosexuality, dyslexia, body type
I am a person who enjoys entertainment, and therefore I’m a fan of heist plotlines. Even better than your Ocean’s Eleven is a high-fantasy heist planned by a gang of teen antiheroes with a super diverse lineup. The ragtag group of pals includes: a ringleader with a physical disability; a woman of color so sneaky she’s known as the Wraith; a sharpshooting bisexual man of color with ADHD; a gay man with dyslexia; and a curvy girl who can STOP PEOPLE’S HEARTS WITH MAGIC. I mean. Come on.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
This is essentially Harry Potter but if Drarry were canon. Thus, there are two types of reactions to this book: “this is literally Harry Potter and I’m mad about it” and “this is literally Harry Potter but not overwhelmingly straight and I’m big into it.” Choose your path and then read this book. Basically, in Rainbow Rowell’s contemporary Fangirl, main character Cath writes fan fiction for a series called Simon Snow. This is that fan fiction.
Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Representation: bisexuality, physical disability, asexuality, demiromantic, homosexuality
Considering I’ve never been big on circuses in my real actual life, it’s pretty surprising that I am the biggest fan of a circus setting on this entire planet. This book is dark high fantasy, a genre which is not for everyone (and sometimes not for me), but: circus. Bisexual protagonist with a physical disability. Asexual demiromantic love interest. Lesbian side character. And did I mention: circus.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Representation: heterosexuality, POC
A classic read-this-book-before-the-movie-comes-out scenario. (The movie is called Love, Simon, it looks really good, and it comes out March 16. You don’t want to be the person who saw the movie without reading the book!) This follows Simon, a closeted gay teenager, as he anonymously falls in love with a mystery kid from his school over email. It’s the book equivalent of a warm cookie.
Standalone with spinoff(s)
From this newfound passion for YA diversity, I have one major takeaway: Diverse books are better. The characters are richer, the world is more full and realistic, and exploring other cultures and identities is fascinating no matter what the genre. Non-young adult books should take a hint from diverse YA.
And all the overwhelmingly white/straight/cisgender/traditionally abled young adult lit should, too. That’s why I’m planning to send all the books on this list to JK Rowling as soon as possible.