Discussion of LGBTQ+ representation is spreading, and with it comes an increase in YA novel queer characters. But progress still needs to be made. It’s hard to find LGBTQ+ protagonists in stories that don’t specifically center around sexuality or gender. On top of that, when a novel does feature queer characters, they tend to be supporting roles or white, cisgender, gay men. The asexual community is a queer group that is especially hidden in literature. Asexual people are often accused of making up a “fake” sexuality, and they face discrimination in LGBTQ+ groups as well as in everyday society. Reading YA novels with asexual protagonists is one of the best ways to learn about their struggles. Here are three short novels that feature ace female main characters.
As Autumn Leaves by Kate Sands
Kayla Caruso doesn’t understand why she feels so broken when it comes to relationships. A year after breaking up with her ex-boyfriend Jason, she finds herself with new friends, a new dance team, and a new nickname—“Ice Queen.” When Kayla meets Alethea Ritter, her hopes simultaneously soar and sink. She knows how she feels, but she doesn’t know if anyone would accept her if she tried to explain.
For young readers that have never heard of asexuality, this is a good introduction to the topic. I especially liked how Kayla’s romantic preferences are left ambiguous and open. Despite the novel being interesting, sweet, and very informative, there is a sense of detachment. It’s not clear whether the author is asexual herself, but certain moments throughout the story lacking honesty and truth suggest that she is not. The book definitely seemed more like an educational experience than an adventure.
Verdict: Borrow. Despite some phrases and characters falling flat, the love story is super cute, and everyone can use a little asexuality education.
We Awaken by Calista Lynne
Victoria Lindy Dinham dreams. She dreams of nailing her ballet audition, of her brother waking from his coma, and of Ashlinn, the otherworldly girl who only appears when she falls asleep. Victoria quickly begins to realize that although Ashlinn isn’t tangible, she isn’t necessarily not real. As both characters grow to understand each other, they ache for Ashlinn to live in the waking world. And she can—but at a price.
The best thing about this story is the love. The relationship between Ashlinn and Victoria is quite literally a dream; the emotions are healthy, the willingness to understand each other is strong, and their exploration of sexuality is very genuine. The novel’s supernatural elements also bring in a layer of fantasy that sets a dreamy, happy tone to the story. The main issue lies with the plot. There are multiple, separate conflicts that don’t flow well together, and chapters jump from plot point to plot point without much transition.
Verdict: Borrow. Happy, interracial, asexual relationships are always worth the read.
After I Wake by Emma Griffiths
Carter Rogers has just attempted suicide. She’s trying to get better, but her scars taunt her, and the nub at her wrist reminds her that she can’t do the one thing she loves most. She wishes she could be more like her best friend Emmett, but it’s so hard to stay positive when every poem she wants to put to paper stays stuck at the edge of her brain.
I feel as though the foreword the author wrote should be repeated: this is a very triggering novel. There are frequent mentions of cutting and depression, and it was pretty emotionally difficult to read through. Very few moments in the story point towards the protagonist’s sexuality, but it is very clear that she does identify as ace. (“I’ve always been full of asexual pride,” Carter states.) Carter also has lost her hand in an accident, rendering her physically disabled. I especially appreciated that these very large characteristics of her identity did not seep into her personality, and this allowed me to fall in love with other details of her character. Something about Carter’s conflicting selfishness and compassion rang very honest and true to me.
Carter’s mental health stems almost entirely from her disability, and although I am grateful that Griffiths included this representation, I wish her novel had mentioned that not everyone necessarily has such a clear reason for their mental illness. However, many stories about hypersensitive topics miss details, so it may be unreasonable to judge the author harshly for her inability to cover every aspect of suicide and depression.
Verdict: Borrow OR bypass. I don’t think I would be able to relive an emotionally heavy book like this one over and over, but the experience is impactful and definitely worth the read. If you can be harmed by detailed scenes of self-harm and suicide, however, definitely save yourself the pain and leave this one on the shelf.
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