Storytelling is the key to empathy. When all kinds of people write stories meaningful to them, with characters that represent more than dominant voices in society, literature has the potential to unleash a new era of understanding. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone whose experience you don’t share-- whether that experience is based on race, age, ability, sexuality, or gender identity-- is a powerful tool in fostering empathy and changing the world.
For these reasons, the work of several Young Adult (YA) authors is worth supporting. These seven authors have crafted stories based on storylines and characters with diverse representation, which is always worth celebrating.
Moreover, representation in literature spills into representation in all forms of media. Many of these authors have had their books made into films, spreading their impact even further.
Next time you go to your local bookstore, head over to the YA (Young Adult) section and check out these amazing authors.
Note: For ease of readers, the lists of books include links to the author’s Amazon page. However, we encourage you to support local bookstores and reduce the environmental cost of your purchases.
Rainbow Rowell has provided a place for so many experiences in YA literature-- interracial dating, being a child of interracial parents, being a child of an immigrant parent, dyslexia, domestic abuse, poverty, mental health issues, and more. Not only that, but her books were the first ones I read that made a point to have representation of characters with different sized bodies. No more of YA's problem with indistinguishable protagonists- Rowell is all about fiery redheads and girls who don't need to fit into a size 2 to be confident.
Eleanor and Park
Angie Thomas, a black female writer, used to be a rapper and now holds a BFA in creative writing. Her book The Hate U Give has given the Black Lives Matter movement a place in YA literature. Her work humanizes the victims of police brutality, which mainstream media often fails to do.
The Hate U Give
On the Come Up
Becky Albertalli has provided so much representation of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically stories of teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. (However, it is worth noting that her book The Upside of Unrequited treats lesbianism and pansexuality as givens for two of the main characters, which is also incredibly important.) Her novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda became the film Love, Simon, one of the few mainstream rom-coms with a gay protagonist.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Leah on the Offbeat
The Upside of Unrequited
What If It’s Us (co-written with Adam Silvera)
Adam Silvera used to work in children’s publishing, but now works as a successful writer. His four books have received amazing reviews, and they all provide a profound window into different experiences of love, sexuality, and coming of age.
More Happy Than Not
They Both Die at the End
History Is All You Left Me
What If It’s Us (co-written with Becky Albertalli)
Nicola Yoon creates stories that make your heart want to melt-- they have all the elements of classic love stories. The Jamaican American writer’s book The Sun Is Also A Star (the film version of which comes out in May!) weaves together a love between a teen whose family faces deportation and another struggling to meet the expectations laid out for him.
The Sun is Also a Star
Jenny Han is on this list because not only is does her To All the Boys I've Loved Before trilogy tell the story of a quirky, hilarious Asian American teenage girl, she didn't bend to the will of movie producers who wanted to whitewash her characters. Reading about her commitment to Asian American representation in YA literature and film makes her stories that much more compelling.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Always and Forever, Lara Jean
P.S. I Still Love You
Leigh Bardugo is a fantasy writer and the creator of the Grishaverse. Her Six of Crows duology is told from multiple characters’ perspectives, and includes a diverse cast of characters-- including a gay relationship, disability, and two characters of color.
She notes that she is aware that everyone has biases, and she does a lot of research to make sure she’s not doing harm to marginalized communities. She says, "I try to make sure I'm reading LGBT authors and authors of colors. The truth is, I get a lot of praise for diversity, but there are far more diverse fantasy worlds out there."
Six of Crows
What You Can Do
These authors are only seven of many writers that are incorporating diverse characters and stories into their books. They are challenging ingrained notions of which characters are “the default,” as Becky Albertalli’s character Simon put it. However, even though the number of diverse authors and books is growing, much of literature still fails to include the stories of non-white, non-heterosexual characters. There seems to be an assumption that readers will not want to buy to read stories about these characters. According to a 2016 survey, 79% of the overall publishing industry is white, 89% straight/heterosexual, 96% non-disabled, and 99% cisgender.
So what can you do to support these authors’ work?
Contribute to this wave of authorship that is giving readers of all backgrounds the invaluable experience of seeing themselves in a book. Support authors like these by buying their books and recommending them to others. Check out campaigns like 1000BlackGirlBooks and We Need Diverse Books. We do need diverse books, and reading these authors’ novels is a great way to start.