Much of diverse young adult literature is contemporary, realistic fiction, or historical fiction about the struggle of being a person of color. As a teen library worker, I get to know the personal lives of teens and some of their stories are heartbreaking. From poverty to bullying, I recognize that the struggle is real and I am happy to be a non-judgemental adult soundboard. I am also grateful for the plethora of young adult fiction available so that I can hand a book to a teen I feel will provide some insight and comfort.
But when life is tough, many teens also like to escape into fantasy and science fiction. Readers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror also like to see themselves in these books. If people of color can survive slavery and oppression and poverty, they can also survive zombies and maniacal kings and dragons. So, where are the black Hermiones?
I am a teen services specialist and a major part of my job is to connect teens with books. I have an avid reader, who is Middle Eastern, who asks me to recommend fantasy books about once a month. A year ago when the We Need Diverse Books movement started, I asked her to do a cue card about why we need diverse books and she stated that she would like to see more Middle Eastern characters in fantasy. A little over a year later, I gave her The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh and she came back and absolutely raved about the book. She said that she particularly loved the inside cover because there was a girl who looked and dressed like her. This is one reason why we need diverse books.
If you are a library worker looking to enhance your diverse young adult repertoire or a teen reader looking for yourself in a magical world or a speculative fiction reader seeking something new, here’s a list of speculative young adult fantasy/science fiction titles for you to try. Please note that some titles feature characters of color in a supporting role—but that’s okay because Hermione was a supporting character, too.
Fantasy and Science Fiction that Feature Latino Characters
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
Sierra’s tia teases that her skin is too dark and her hair is too nappy but she is confident and driven to find out the secrets of her family’s supernatural connections.
Mateo isn’t quite human; he’s a clone created to extend the lives of others.
- More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Aaron has a girlfriend who loves him but his friends aren’t always supportive. His mother loves him unconditionally but his father recently committed suicide. His older brother ignores him but he’s found a new best friend. His friend, Kyle, feels responsible for the death of his twin brother but the Leteo Institute erased Kyle’s memories. Aaron is more happy than not.
Elisa bears the stone of greatness. She is chosen to wed a king but is loved by a revolutionary.
Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror that Feature Black Characters
- Half Bad Series by Sally Green
Nathan is a half black witch and half white witch and was disowned and caged for his mixed race. He needs his three gifts to gain his powers but he must find his father, the most terrifying witch in the world, to attain them.
- Jasper Dent Series by Barry Lyga (2013 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, 2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
Jasper Jazz Dent’s father is an incarcerated notorious serial killer which he fears he will one day become. A copycat killer is on the loose and Jazz may be the only person who can catch him. With the help of his girlfriend Connie and his best friend, Jazz sets out to capture the killer. (The person of color in I Hunt Killers is Connie.)
- Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Ivy suffers from the nightmares of a brutal attack and when she receives an opportunity to meet a famous horror director, she jumps at the chance. Ivy and six other fans however find themselves in the middle of horror film of their own. (The person of color in Dark House is a supporting character.)
- Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
Celaena is one of the best assassins in the land and the king needs an assassin for his personal bidding. To get out of the salt mines, Calaena must battle others to win the title. (The person of color in Throne of Glass is Nehemia, the Princess of Eyllwe.)
- Fairest (Cinder Novella) by Marissa Meyer
Fairest tells the backstory of Queen Levana and how she came to be so evil. (The person of color in Fairest is Winter, Queen Levana’s step-daughter. Winter is also the title character in book 4 of The Lunar Chronicles.)
Evie is a spunky clairvoyant who is forced to live with her uncle in New York City to escape a misdeed. When a serial killer begins to terrorize New York, Evie uses her skills to solve the murders. (The persons of color in The Diviners are Memphis, a boy with the power to raise the dead, and Theta, a chorus girl.)
Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror that Feature Asian Characters
- Of Metal and Wishes Series by Sarah Fine
Wen works as her father’s surgical assistant in a slaughterhouse. At first Wen scoffs as the workers leave offerings for a ghost but when her attacker is mysteriously injured, Wen begins to believe. Of Metal and Wishes is a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera.
Thomas arrives in The Glade but doesn’t know his name or why he’s there but he soon finds out that he and the other Gladers must make it through the maze to survive. (The person of color in The Maze Runner is Minho, the leader of the runners.)
- The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco
Okiku hunts child murderers until she meets a mysterious boy with special tattoos.
- The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
Allison, a human, lives in the city’s underbelly to hid from the vampires. When she is bitten, she sets off on a pilgrimage to find the cure.
Cinder is a cyborg and may be the antidote to the deadly disease that is plaguing New Beijing. Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella.
Tessa arrives in London to find her missing brother but gets swept up in the underground paranormal world. (The person of color in The Infernal Devices is Jem.)
Fantasy and Science Fiction that Feature Middle Eastern Characters
- The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Shahrzad has one mission-marry the king then kill him for murdering her best friend. The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights.
- The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
Callum has been warned to stay away from magic but when he’s tested to enter the school for magic, he fails to fail the tests. Accompanied by his new friends, Aaron and Tamara, Callum must pass the Iron Trials where he finds out he’s truly exceptional. (The person of color in The Iron Trial is Tamara.)
-Dawn Abron, currently reading Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin