Five young adult fantasy novels with diverse representation

These fantasy novels written by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors portray the fantastical characters often underrepresented in young adult books

For a lot of young people, a certain boy wizard named Harry Potter held a special place in their childhood and adolescence. For some, it made reading fun. And for others, it provided a community of fellow nerds.

But in the years following the final movie, J.K. Rowling has spoiled the love fans held for the series with gross retcons and grosser transphobic comments (and book). 

Readers have since pointed out that Rowling’s writing is also problematic in terms of diversity and representation, particularly in the racial tokenization of Cho Chang and in the queer-baiting case of Dumbledore.

However, there are also many young adult fantasy novels with that level of representation and more written by authors of color and LGBTQ+ authors.

'Children of Blood and Bone'

"Children of Blood and Bone" by Tomi Adeyemi is the first book in her Legacy of Orïsha series. Adeyemi drew inspiration from her Nigerian heritage to tell the story of Zélie Adebola. The world of Orïsha is filled with magic and magic users, maji, like Burners and Tiders who control fire and water, as well as Reapers who summon souls like Zélie’s mother. 

The plot begins with a king killing the maji and Zélie fighting against the monarchy with the help of a rogue princess to restore magic to the land. The book received a number or rave reviews and awards, such as the New York Times' notable children’s books of 2018 and NPR’s Book Concierge 2018 Great Reads List. 

In an interview with Teen Vogue following the announcement of her movie deal, Adeyemi said she was inspired to write her book after the racist backlash to the first "Hunger Games" movie over the casting of two Black characters — readers' issue being that they had trouble identifying with those characters because they hadn't imagined them being Black. Adeyemi said she wanted to write a book with a cast of unmistakably Black characters.

'Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky'

"Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky" by Kwame Mbalia, revolves around Tristan Strong, a Black American teenager who deals with post-traumatic stress disorder after the death of a friend. The story connects Black American folklore, with legends like John Henry and Brer Rabbit and west African mythology. Mbalia is a Black American and received a number of awards for the first Strong book, like the Coretta Scott King Honor Award.

In the interview with Rick Riordan, Mbalia talks about what he thinks the book symbolizes. 

"When I think of this story, I think of it as the personification of the Middle Passage," Mbalia said, referring to the stage in the Atlantic slave trade when millions of enslaved people were shipped across the ocean in packed ships. He said the monsters in the story represent the horrors of that experience for enslaved people. 

Mbalia described how he drew on the stories he was told when growing up that exposed him to Black American and west African folktales and how he wants to continue that legacy.

'The Storm Runner'

Another example from the Rick Riordan Presents series is "The Storm Runner" by J. C. Cervantes, a part of a series based on Mayan mythology. The main character, Zane Obispo, uses a cane, but that doesn’t keep him from battling with demons and dealing with gods. There are now three books in the series, including "The Fire Keeper" and "The Shadow Crosser." 

In an interview with Latinxs in Kid Lit, Cervantes described how she began her writing with the stories of Mayan mythology her grandmother had taught her, then compared that to what she found in her research, which proved difficult thanks to colonization.

"One of the great challenges with learning more about the Maya and their pantheon is that most of their ancient written records were destroyed by the Spanish," Cervantes said.

In terms of Latinx representation, Cervantes advised writers, "Don't let anyone tell you that your experience doesn't matter or ... doesn't align with the 'norm.'"

'Dreadnought'

"Dreadnought" by April Daniels features LGBTQ+ characters and is written by an LGBTQ+ author. The main character, Danny, is a transgender girl but hasn’t transitioned yet, until a superhero named Dreadnought dies in front of her and passes their powers onto her and transforms her body into what she thought it should be. She has to avenge the previous Dreadnought’s murder and save her city. 

Daniels herself is a transgender woman and also wrote a second book in the series that included a non-binary hero named Kinetiq. "Dreadnought" was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, a national award for books that celebrate or explore LGBTQ+ themes.

Daniels spoke with the Intellectual Freedom Blog of the American Library Association about her book, in which she said the only audience she was specifically writing for were teenage transgender girls, and she didn't add or change anything to appeal to cisgendered audiences.

"Cis people could come along for the ride or not, as they chose," Daniels said. "The thinking behind this was to accept that trans-focusing my work might make my audience smaller than it otherwise would be, but they would hopefully be more loyal."

'Not Your Sidekick'

"Not Your Sidekick" by C.B. Lee tells the story of Jessica Tran, an Asian American bisexual girl trying to find an internship in a world filled with superheroes without any powers of her own. She finds a paid internship working for the town’s worst supervillain, where a girl she had been crushing on works as well. Like "Dreadnought," "Not Your Sidekick" was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. 

Speaking with the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, Lee recalled her experience growing up as an Asian American and bisexual girl, how she never spoke much about sexuality or romantic feelings with her parents and had trouble understanding her feelings for girls and boys. 

"It wasn't until my twenties until I figured out that I was attracted to more than one gender and that it was a normal, valid thing," Lee said. "In my writing, I want people to be able to not only enjoy a fun story, but I also want people to see themselves and to see others who aren't like them, because that's a powerful thing, to be able to be present and visible."

These are only a small slice of the countless titles and authors dedicated to representation in the young adult genre creating great works. While it is sad to see a beloved series be ruined by exclusionary comments from its author, it is a great reason to turn away from the white-washed and heteronormative standard in fantasy novels and promote truly representative pieces that all children can read and see themselves as their favorite characters. 


Reach the reporter at rknappen@asu.edu and follow @RyanKnappenber3 on Twitter. 

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.


×

Notice

This website uses cookies to make your expierence better and easier. By using this website you consent to our use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie Policy.