As a secondary school teacher librarian by trade, and a passionate lover of YA fiction by heart, I am frequently asked by other library staff and readers for recommendations of young adult fiction that features protagonists who are not necessarily white, straight or able-bodied. So many of our students and reading clientele experience life through a lens that is different to what the majority of YA fiction presents as “normal”, and it’s just heartbreaking to have so little to offer with a protagonist outside of this range.
I read extensively. I have judged for several Australian awards, both within the speculative fiction field and the general Young Adult and Children’s area. It’s far too rarely I come across a protagonist who is disabled, or queer, or mentally ill, or simply not from a white European background, and I even more impressed when the aspect of “difference” (such as it may be) is not THE plot of the book, but rather is simply an aspect of the character.
It’s possible publishing is improving in this area. We do see more lesbian and gay and other non-straight, non-cis gendered characters in our YA fiction, though more frequently as the “best friend” or other secondary role than the protagonist. We are coming across more inclusion of disability (physical and intellectual) or mental illness in stories, though again, less frequently as the main character. Love it or hate it, television shows such as Glee demonstrate to market forces that non-straight, non-white, non-able bodied characters don’t negatively impact on the popularity of a franchise. And the more books like Eon (Alison Goodman), Pantomime (Laura Lam), Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering (Karen Healey), Nightsiders (Sue Isle), Hunger (Jackie Morse Kessler), The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (Ambelin Kwaymullina), Ash (and others, Malindo Lo), Liar (Justine Larbalestier), and Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor) that are published and sell well, the more chance there is of more books featuring protagonists other than those who are straight, white able-bodied and mentally well.
And here is a project that aims to do just that. Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy stories. Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios are co-editing the anthology, which has a planned release date of August, 2014. Right now, Alisa and Julia are running a Pozible fundraising campaign to make the project happen. If you want to see more diversity in YOUR Young Adult fantasy and science fiction, I recommend it to you.