6 Young Adult Protagonists Who Aren’t White

Teen fiction often relegates characters of color to the margins, if they appear at all. These books help broaden the spectrum.

“You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror?” Dominican-American author Junot Díaz once told an audience in New Jersey, “There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

If The New York Times Best Sellers list for youth fiction is any indication, the only reflections in popular teen novels are of whiteness. For example, NPR’s list of 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels, which was voted on by readers, only includes three writers of color. This is nothing new: The most popular young adult writers of yore—Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, R.L. Stine—were white, as are many of the biggest contemporaries, like John Green, Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, and Gayle Forman. As a whole, the category clings closely to narratives of whiteness, centering on white characters and (maybe) sprinkling characters of color in the periphery. In recent memory, the only young adult series that even came close to touching race issues has been Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” books. Many readers interpreted protagonist Katniss Everdeen to be biracial or Native American, but Collins never made explicit reference to her race, allowing the casting of white actress Jennifer Lawrence as Everdeen in the film adaptations.

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