YA Wednesday: Racism and Sexuality

Rather than shy away from hot-button issues, YA fiction tends to do the opposite and embrace them. Why not? Young people aren’t afraid to deal with Uncomfortable Truths and Difficult Conversations. Some of the best, most cutting-edge YA books deal with issues of racism and sexuality, facing them head-on.

• Keeping up with the reality of today’s world, one of several new children’s books that use fiction to address police shootings of unarmed black teenagers, Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, has garnered high praise, and has been an instant success, bought in a bidding war and already optioned by a movie company.

• These six YA novels also confront police brutality, racial profiling and the Black Lives Matter movement.

• Hugo-winning author, Nnedi Okorafor, was shocked to see the ethnicity of her protagonist changed on the cover of her first YA novel, The Shadow Speaker. And she wasn’t the only author to experience this kind of whitewashing – it’s happened before in other books and Hollywood movies.

• Malorie Blackman not only challenges race issues in her Noughts and Crosses series, she tackles sex in the fourth installment. At the Cherwell Books website, read about the importance of consent and honesty in representing sex for Blackman, as well as for YA author John Green.

• Young readers today are no longer forced to accept limited binary depictions of gender and sexuality. But for one reader in England in the 1990s, the lack of LGBTQ+ material was compounded by Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which remained in force until 2003, restricting “promoting homosexuality” and silencing a lot of schools on the topic. Today, Emily Roach appreciates that YA novels offer a space to explore the tumult of adolescent anxieties in a safe and private way and hopes that increasingly varied depictions of queer experience will help normalize queerness for today’s LGBTQ+ teen.

For now, teens can keep trying to make the world a better place. Until that happens, at least there are novels to help them deal with it!

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