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Booklist: Asexuality and Aromanticism in Young Adult Fiction

In February 2016, the YALSA Hub published a booklist, Asexuality in Young Adult Fiction, as a response to teens wanting to see this kind of representation in books. It was a hard list to create as there were very few books at the time with any mention of asexuality or aromanticism, and most of the representation in the books listed is minimal at best. In that list, most representation was of side characters, or the word asexual was never explicitly mentioned. Over the past three years, some exciting books for teens have been published that center the Ace/Aro experience.

Asexuality in YA Fiction

Asexuality and/or Aromanticism is a spectrum, and every person’s experience is individual to them. Asexual or Ace refers to someone that does not experience sexual attraction and Aromantic or Aro is someone who does not experience romantic attraction, people can be Ace and/or Aro, romantic asexual, or in between. Gray ace is someone in the gray area between sexuality and asexuality and demisexual is someone who generally experiences sexual attraction only to one person whom they are in an close relationship.

It should be noted that most of these books in this new list are specific about one portrayal of being asexual or ace/aro without going into the full spectrum of asexuality, and very little going into being aromantic. Also, almost all titles are straight cisgender female protagonists. Here are a few of the new titles that have ace main characters.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, 2018 (Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2019)

In this exploration of identity and love, biromantic Alice Johnston, 19, is out and open about being bi. She isn’t out as asexual though, and when she comes out to her girlfriend, her girlfriend breaks up with her, leaving her think that love is not for her. Working at her local library for the summer, she meets the cute Takumi, and he leaves flustered and questioning. Alice’s parents are also pressuring her to go pre-law in college, and Alice seeks therapy to help sort out all her feelings.

An asexual romance with all the feels.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Omsbee, 2017

Natasha Zelenka (Tash), is a serious fangirl of Leo Tolstoy and a rising YouTube star with her webseries Unhappy Families, a modern-day adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Vlog, Tea with Tash. When a famous vlogger gives a shout out to the series, it goes viral. Now she, along with the cast and crew, are finding what it means to be a hit sensation and are managing the adoration, and the trolls, coming their way. Tash, a romantic asexual, has had a long time crush on the hit vlogger star Thom, who, as her online popular grows, so does Thom’s attention. Amidst the fame and romance, Tash is also dealing with her older sister creating distance, her parents announcing a new sibling on the way, college applications, the impending end of the series, and the big “What’s next.”

An asexual romantic comedy coming of age.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, 2018

2018 Morris finalist Bowman’s sophomore novel follows Rumi, a young musician plagued with grief and survivor’s guilt after her younger sister is killed in a car crash. Her mother sends her to liver with her aunt in Hawaii, and is also now mourning the loss of the music she would create with her sister and is unable to recapture her passion. As she navigates her loss, and feelings of abandonment from her mother, Rumi is also starting new relationships with neighbors, one a cute, easygoing surfer boy, and the other a irascible 80-year-old crankypants, while also becoming comfortable with her aromantic and asexual feelings.

An immersive aromantic, asexual journey through grief and understanding.

This Song Is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin, 2016 (Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2017)

This is not your usual love triangle. Ramona has been in love with her best friend and bandmate Sam for a long time, Sam has also been in love Ramona. When Tom joins the band, he completes them. Now Ramona is starting to have feelings for Tom, and those feelings are reciprocated. Tom is a romantic asexual, whose asexuality is fully explored.

A romantic asexual, “I’m with the band” story with a male main character.

The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee, 2018 (Amelia Bloomer List – Young Adult Fiction 2019, Best Fiction for Young Adults 2019, Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2019)

Felicity Montague, a highborn aspiring doctor and now disowned living in London in the mid 1700s, is finding her dreams of studying preventative medicine constantly thwarted, mostly based on her gender. She is hoping to study with her medical idol as a research assistant, as he is someone who might hire a woman as his own path to medicine was rather unorthodox. This plans sets Felicity up on path of high adventure taking her to Stuttgart, Germany, and to the high seas of the Atlantic. Though the term “asexual” is never used due to historical context, Felicity’s asexuality is fully explored as she comes into her own.

A humorous historical asexual aromantic epic adventure.

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire, 2016 (Alex Awards 2017, Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2017)

After finding a door into another magical land, this finds Nancy home with a family unsure what to do with her. Soon she is sent off to a Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children where other girls claiming to have had similar experiences now reside. A string of murders start to happen, with the murderer taking a different body part from each victim. Though not a major plot point, Nancy states that she is asexual.

An asexual horror story.  

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp, 2018 (Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2019)

Corey returns to her small Alaskan town shortly after the death of her best friend. Trying to piece together what happened, everyone seems to be keeping secrets and pushing Corey away. Corey is asexual, and still sorting out where she is on the romance spectrum.

With haunting magical realism, an asexual tale of friendship and love.

Jughead, Vol. 1 by Chip Zdarsky, illustrated by Erica Henderson, 2016 (Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2017)

When the principal of Riverdale High starts messing with the hot lunches, Jughead takes action. In this Archie Comic offshoot, it is explicitly stated that Jughead is asexual, but it isn’t a storyline that is really explored or kept consistent in the CW television retelling Riverdale.

A comic and comical rare male asexual character.

Another heartening trend is seeing representation in books side characters or characters from stories with multiple points of view. Here are some to note:

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell (Editor), 2018 (Best Fiction for Young Adults 2019, Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2019In this collection of queer short stories set in the near and distant past Nilah Magruder’s, “And They Don’t Kiss at the End” explores what it means to asexual in the 1970’s with Dee, a Black teen girl on wheels.  

Belly Up by Eva Darrows, 2019 -A funny contemporary story with Leaf, a demisexual, and Devi, a gray ace side character.

Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria, 2018 – Alys, one of the main character in a multiple POV high fantasy is asexual.

Dread Nation by Justine Ireland, 2018 (Best Fiction for Young Adults 2019) – A historical zombie thriller with Katherine, a main side character that is ace/aro (though because of the historical setting, this is not stated on the page).

Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie, 2018 – A sci-fi adventure where Aisha, one of the main characters, is Ace/Aro.

Immoral Code By Lillian Clark, 2019 – A cyber thriller with Reese, an ace/aro main side character.

The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta, 2019 Lelia is nonbinary, gray asexual in cast of characters in this contemporary fantasy.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, 2016 (Best Fiction for Young Adults 2018) – A contemporary British story where Aled, the main secondary character is demisexual.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, 2018(Best Fiction for Young Adults 2019) – A contemporary, fantasy thriller where Zoey, one of the main characters is asexual.

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, 2016 (Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2017) – Valentine, one of many main characters, is asexual in this contemporary character-driven novel.

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno, 2018(Amelia Bloomer List – Young Adult Fiction 2019, Best Fiction for Young Adults 2019, Rainbow Book List – Young Adult Fiction 2019) – Vira, a side character, is ace/aro in this magical realism contemporary novel.

That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger, 2018(Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers 2019) – An contemporary realistic story where Lee, one of the main characters, is asexual.

 

–Danielle Jones, currently watching The Good Place

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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.