Today I thought I would do a discussion post talking about representation on YA books today. Before we get started though, I do just want to put in a disclaimer to say that I cannot fully speak on all of these issues because they do not directly affect me and that everything I say is merely my own opinion and I am not trying to offend anyone. I also wanted to give you a little background information on myself, so that you know what I can and cannot talk about from personal experience. I am a white girl and I have lived in England all my life. I suffer with depression and Anxiety and I also have a kind of Tic (small spasm of the muscles). I am Autistic, Aromantic and I do not follow any religion although I was Christened at birth. Now that you know a little bit more about me and where I stand in this discussion let’s get into what I think about representation in YA books at the moment.
I thought I would start with the things I can speak personally on for the representation, so I am going to start with the representation of mental health. Generally speaking, I think mental health is quite widely and accurately represented in YA literature. I can name a fair few book that I have read that I felt I could personally connect to for their representation of anxiety and/or depression (Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan) as well as a lot that I have heard have excellent representation for that specific mental health condition even though I don’t suffer it myself (Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne (OCD), Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan (ADHD and Dyslexia)). I know for a fact that there are many, many more books out there covering a much wider range of mental health conditions that my bookish friends have read and told me about. If you want some recommendations for books that cover mental health, then I highly recommend you check out Emmmabooks channel on YouTube because mental health related books is kind of her specialty.
The next thing I wanted to talk about was sexuality. I think there is a lot more representation now for the LGBTQ+ community and we have come a long way, but I also think we still have quite a long way to go. There are books like ‘Simon vs the Homosapien’s Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli and ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ by John Green and David Levithan that feature a gay romance between two boys. There are a lot of books that I can think of that feature lesbian couples and I can think of quite a few that feature bisexual main characters (Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli). I can even think of a few with Asexual and Transgender main characters, but after that the representation sort of stops (or at least it does as far as I am aware, bare in mind that I have not read every single YA book). I myself am Aromantic and find it very difficult to find representation for that and there is also little representation for anyone who is anywhere else on the spectrum. I have seen one example of a Gender Fluid character and that is Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase trilogy. I think representation for the LGBTQ+ community is improving every year, but we aren’t quite there yet and a lot of people are still quite underrepresented, especially in genres that aren’t contemporary.
Now moving onto the last topic that I can personally speak on from experience: disability. As I mentioned at the start, I am Autistic and being Autistic is a big part of my life just like a lot of disabilities are. It does not define me, but it does hold me back in some places and I face some very different problems to my neurotypical peers because the world was simply not designed for me. I personally really struggle to find representation for this part of my identity. I have heard of a few books that have autistic characters in them but they are usually either male (males and females with Autism are drastically different, so it doesn’t really count as representation for me when the character is male) or, if they are female, they are simply a side character. I hope to write my own contemporary novel one day with an Autistic, female main character, but it is frustrating in the meantime not seeing that part of myself represented. As far as other disabilities go, I personally think they are rather lacking. I have heard of several books with deaf main characters (e.g. Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase trilogy) and a grand total of 2 books that have characters with physical disabilities such as a lost limb or a partially-functioning limb (e.g. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo), but that is it really. If you have read any good books with main characters with disabilities, then feel free to comment them below because I would love to check them out, but I personally think that the YA world of books and the book world in general is lacking representation for people with disabilities. It is beginning to improve, but we still have an awfully long way to go.
I thought I would talk about Race and Religion in the same paragraph because these are the two subjects I can’t speak on personally as a white, British, atheist, but still wanted to mention. From the books I have read, I would say that both of these topics need to be improved on and incorporated into books more. There are some more well known examples of books with a more diverse cast of characters racially speaking such as ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas and ‘Simon vs the Homosapien’s Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli as well as the ‘Six of Crows’ duology by Leigh Bardugo (which is amazing because it is a fantasy novel and all of these subjects tend to be lacking in fantasy compared to contemporary). I personally find books with a more diverse cast of characters way more interesting to read because it helps me create a more solid image of the character in my head when they all have distinct physical features instead of them all being white, blond males with the occasional white, blonde, badass female. Moving over to religion now, I really think that this area is one that needs a lot of attention. I have read a few books with people with different religions in them (Magnus Chase – Muslim, Simon vs the Homosapien’s Agenda – Jewish, The Mortal Instruments – Jewish), but they are really quite few and far between. Religion is a big part of everyone’s lives because even if you don’t follow a religion like me, many other people do and that will effect you at some point whether that be because someone isn’t free on a day you wanted to do something because of a religious holiday or because you get stuck in the middle of a conflict that started because of religion, it will effect you at some point. The is still so much conflict that is caused by people arguing over religion and I think that should really be addressed in literature as well as just including more characters with different religions so that people can see themselves represented more.
Okay, so those are my thoughts on the representation in YA literature today and where I think it could improve. We have come a long way with diversifying literature over the last 5-10 years alone, but that doesn’t mean we should stop here. I just want to re-iterate, that I am aware that I am not in a position to speak on some of these subjects, but I merely wanted to share my opinion and I am not trying to offend anyone. If you have anything to add to this discussion then feel free to add something in the comments section below and if you have any book recommendations that feature any of the above things I have mentioned then please leave a comment, so that I can check them out!
Goodbye for now!
Over and Out