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Booklist: Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction

As we embrace more inclusion in our media, strides are being made for more diverse representations in literature. The result is that we are starting to see where there are major gaps. When it comes to books featuring queer characters, those that are not exclusively heterosexual or cisgender, we are slowly building the canon of books that feature prime or side LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) characters. When we continue the acronym to be inclusive of sexualities to LGBTQIAP, we see where we are lagging, and it is in those IAP (Intersex, Asexual, and Pansexual) representations.  In young adult fiction we had the groundbreaking 2015 teen novel, None of the Above by I.W. Gregario featuring an intersexed teen, as well as the 2014 Alex Award winner Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin, but there have been few to use the word asexual or pansexual to describe characters.

Asexuality in YA Fiction

 

Asexuality can be very isolating, especially as a teen when your peers are experiencing crushes, talking about love interests, and/or sex. You can feel like something is wrong with you, especially if you don’t know what an asexual is. It can be very validating when you meet a character on the page that experiences the world similarly to you, yet it is rarely called out in text, so it is often more of a kinship than a chance to understand one’s sexuality.

Asexuality or “Ace” is a spectrum. One can be asexual and/or aromantic, demisexual or a gray ace. Society as whole seems to make assumptions and misjudgements about Aces and asexuality, which can be invalidating to others experiences, another reason why it never hurts to have more representation in media forms so there can be both “mirrors and windows.”

Below are book titles that have characters that identify as asexual. It usually isn’t the story, but just a part of who they are.

Young Adult Fiction with Asexual Characters

Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson

The second in the sci-fi thriller Ultraviolet Series, follows the character of Tori. In a new home and with a new identities, Tori and her family are on the run to hide a secret about her unusual DNA. Just when she thinks they might be able to pull it off, someone from her past shows up showing she is not as safe as she thinks.

Tori, the main character, is explicitly asexual, and her asexuality is integrated throughout the story. Tori’s sexuality is only one facet of this multidimensional, strong, female character, who is dealing with high stakes situations.

The Movement Volume 1: Class Warfare by Gail Simone

A group of young super-heroes rise up to take back the streets of their corrupt city sparking a revolution that goes viral world-wide. The corruption leads to one of their own being kidnapped by police, those that are supposed to protect, and issues between the “haves” and the “have-nots” rise up.

This is a full cast of characters all unique from one another. Tremor, aka Roshanna Chatterji (previous from comic series Secret Six), comes into this new series where she identifies herself as asexual. Her story arc isn’t focused on sexuality, but rather her path to redemption for previous grievances.

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (2011 Morris Award Finalist, 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Steeped in the Maori legends of New Zealand, a string of murders start to occur at the boarding school where Ellie is a new student. Underlying magic and myth shake her world as she tries to stop a fairy-like race of creatures who are determined to regain their lost immortality.

Ellie falls for Kevin who comes out as asexual. Though there isn’t much exploration of Kevin’s asexuality, and it  isn’t so much integrated into character development as it is more of a plot point, it is written on the page even if it ends there.

Demonosity by Amanda Ashby

This lively, humorous take on good vs. evil has the reluctant Cassidy Carter-Lewis being chosen to assist the spirit of fourteenth-century knight, Thomas Delacroix in protecting a powerful ancient force, the Black Rose. Now she has to learn sword fighting and start killing the demons infiltrating parties, the mall, and school.

Cassidy’s friend and sidekick, Nash, explicitly identifies himself as asexual. This is a very rigid portrayal of his sexuality, not allowing for any fluidity,  he does however remain asexual throughout the whole of the book.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

This epic trilogy explores the gray areas that surround good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. Set in a European world filled with mythical and magical beings, this follows Karou as she rises an army of monstrous beings to avenge her people. From the dark streets of Prague to the ruins of Rome, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die.

In the second book Days of Blood and Starlight, side character Liraz comes out as asexual. Though she reads true, later in the series there is a little flirtation with another character, though not done explicitly or fully explored, one could read it as showing the complex nature of asexuality.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford (2010 Best Books for Young Adults)

Beatrice’s family has moved around a lot, leaving her a life with no close friends. Not wanting to let her familial irritation show, she portrays a lack of emotions having her mother nickname her Robot. Now her family has just moved to Baltimore where she is starting at a boarding school

where everyone has known each other since kindergarten. There she meets up with Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a nickname referring to his pale skin and middle school prank that won’t go away.

Neither main character say that they are asexual, but descriptions of Jonah can read as though he is. Beatrice and Jonah have a very rocky and emotionally intense friendship without any romantic or sexual feelings getting in the way.

Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey

The first book in this 1980’s Vows and Honor trilogy has Tarma swearing vengeance after she witnessed her clan’s murder and Kethry fleeing a forced marriage. Tarma becomes a master warrior and Kethry obtains a magical sword which draws her to others in need. The two join forces to avenge the wrongs done to women.

Though the text of the novel does not have Tarma claiming her asexuality, Lackey has said in one edition of the book that she created the character Tarma as “celibate, chaste, and altogether asexual.”

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Darcy Patel is a prodigy author getting her first novel published at the age of 18. Moving to New York City, she has to navigate the world of publishing. Her novel, that is told in alternating chapters, follows her heroine surviving in the Afterworld after a terrorist attack.

Darcy’s sexuality in never explicitly stated but mentions that she doesn’t look at people and feels attraction. She reads as more a demisexual/gray-asexual, as she has a girlfriend, Imogen. When questioned on it, she says how she doesn’t look at people and feel things, that maybe she is only “Imogen-sexual.”

More Resources:

There are a variety of online resources from the asexual community. The Asexuality Archive is “a repository for all-things-ace anywhere else,” and has an exhaustive glossary of terms. The Asexual Agenda blog strives to be a community center for other asexual blogs. Their resource page links to two key article series that go into depth about asexuality understanding, awareness, and issues: “Ace Talk: Asexuality Uncovered” on Matthew’s Place and “Asexuality: The ‘X’ In A Sexual World” on The Huffington Post.

Be sure to check out vlogger Swank Ivy’s ongoing Youtube series series Letters to an Asexual. Also see her book, The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, written under her penname Julie Sondra Decker.

— Danielle Jones, currently reading Front Lines by Michael Grant

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Danielle Jones

Danielle is a teen and youth librarian at Multnomah County Library - Hollywood in Portland, Oregon. Her interests include rabbits, reading, and redefining "work appropriate" clothing. Usually she has a song from Hamilton stuck in her head.

6 Comments

  1. VKM VKM

    You might want to add Clariel by Garth Nix and This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin. The Nowlin book in particular is a really great portrayal of a character who is asexual but is still able to have full, happy and meaningful relationships (some romantic) with other people.

    • Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. Diane Colson Diane Colson

    “Symptoms of Being Human” by Jeff Garvin was just released this month. The main character, Riley, never reveals a biological gender.

    • VKM VKM

      I haven’t read Symptoms of Being Human yet, so I don’t know if Riley is also asexual, but being agender or genderfluid has nothing to do with sexuality. I know people get confused about how gender and sexuality relate to each other, so I just thought I’d stick that in there!

  3. In Guardian of the Dead, Ellie doesn’t actually fall for Kevin; they’re best friends, but she’s not romantically interested in him. A different character (Iris) is, though.

    I wouldn’t say Demonosity makes Nash’s asexuality too rigid; it does equate asexuality with aromanticism, though, which is unfortunate.

    Regarding Daughter of Smoke and Bone and How to Say Goodbye in Robot, some asexual readers don’t feel that the characters are actually asexual. See http://agentaletha.tumblr.com/post/132987123699/some-books-with-asexual-characters. For more on DSB, here’s an in-depth post from an ace who didn’t like it: http://agentaletha.tumblr.com/post/119049241179/ace-reviewdaughter-of-smoke-and-bone and a longer one from an ace who felt more positively about it: http://www.gayya.org/?p=1368

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective! Obviously, with issues such as these, there can be a number of viewpoints and ways of interpreting different books.

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