Telling the Real Stories: 10 Young Adult Novels With Diverse Representation

People today read young adult (YA) books for a variety of reasons. Often, it’s because the books are popular, relatively easy to read, and contain the classic teen coming-of-age story. Other times, it’s simply because they offer us the chance to lose ourselves in a reality other than our own—a reality where the possibilities are endless and a good plot twist is always right around the corner.

However, once you read enough YA literature, you begin to notice that even the most popular books become cookie-cutter novels. Frequently, the general plots vary only slightly from book to book, and the same stereotypical characters can be found in every novel.

It’s important for young people especially to find books they can relate to; books about people like them, with similar cultural backgrounds or life stories. People want stories they can connect to that portray experiences and challenges they’re facing in their own lives, but much of the popular YA literature promoted today does not fulfill that need. It’s also crucial for young adults to read about people who are different from them; characters who offer fresh perspectives or insights about the world around them.

To that end, I made a conscious effort to read YA literature with more realistic and diverse characters and themes—books that contained viewpoints or representations that are not usually played up in popular YA series—and I’d like to share ten of my favorite books with you. It was hard to choose just ten, but these are the ones that stood out most to me. They’re well-written, relevant, and timely, and best of all, they apply to people of any age group.

Books are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If I listed them in order of how amazing they are or how much they made me think, they would all be number one.

1. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

High school senior Piper—who lost most of her hearing by age six—is struggling to manage a disorganized rock band called Dumb. The story follows Piper as she attempts to whip the band into shape and make it a success, figures out how to relate to her parents and siblings, and manages the typical challenges that come with being a teenager.

This story realistically depicts the challenges that deaf individuals encounter, and how they deal with them. It offers readers a chance to either relate to a character that represents themselves, or to reevaluate some of the stereotypes that may have formed their perceptions about hearing-impaired people. At the same time, it tells the story of a strong young woman trying to discover herself and decide who she wants to be without letting her hearing loss define her.

Source: Goodreads

2. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

Seventeen-year-old Rowan finds a skeleton on her family’s Tulsa property, and her choice to investigate the murder, which took place a century ago, leads her to some unexpected and painful discoveries about the past. One hundred years ago in Tulsa—during the roaring twenties—Will lives in a town segregated by Jim Crow and marked by prejudice and violence. He is soon called upon to make difficult choices during the Tulsa race riot and begins a painful journey of self-discovery.

The story is told by biracial characters in alternating perspectives from the past and the present, prompting important and relevant discussions on the history of race relations in America. It also highlights the courage of people who prevail over social and racial injustices and demonstrates the life-changing effect that a single person can have, no matter what time period.

Source: Goodreads

3. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian attends a small-town Texas high school where the football team rules the town and the girls constantly experience sexual harassment and double standards. When Vivian—inspired by her mom’s rebellion as a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ‘90s—creates a feminist zine and shares it anonymously with her classmates, the girls respond with overwhelming enthusiasm and begin to speak out. But soon, things start to spiral out of control, and Vivian must decide what she is willing to fight for, and what she is willing to risk.

This is an empowering story about young women of different races, sexualities, and school cliques standing together and making their voices heard. Strong, inspiring women uniting to protest injustices serve as good role models for people experiencing similar situations.

Source: Goodreads

4. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

When Grace moves to Prescott, Oregon, she learns that the former occupant of her new home (Lucy) was run out of town for accusing three popular boys of gang rape. Grace is determined to get justice for Lucy, as are Rosina—a Mexican-American queer punk rocker—and Erin—a girl with Asperger’s who loves marine biology and Star Trek. Together, they rally their female classmates to stand up against the school’s sexist culture and the power structures that protect it.

This book tells a powerful story (from multiple perspectives) that encourages readers to actively protest sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence. It also contains positive themes about friendship, faith, and feminism, as well as open and frank discussions about sexuality.

Source: Goodreads

5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

As children, Cath and her twin sister Wren used the Simon Snow book series to get through many difficult life events, such as their mother leaving. They’ve read and reread the series, written fanfiction, and dressed up for all the movie premieres. When Cath starts college and is away from Wren for the first time, she finds comfort in her writing, as it is the only other constant in her life. She has no interest in fitting in or making friends, until she meets Reagan and her best friend Levi.

This story touches on social anxiety and introversion in a way that is relatable and realistic. It also emphasizes the importance of love and family, and demonstrates the power of literature and writing (especially fiction).

Source: Goodreads

6. Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Jeremy, a shy artist who has isolated himself after a bullying incident the previous spring, meets best friends Mira and Sebby, who share troubling pasts. Mira missed a year of school due to depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and an eventual suicide attempt. Sebby has been in many different foster homes throughout his life and has been beaten for being gay. As Jeremy is drawn into their world, he becomes privy to the secrets they hide. Throughout the novel, all three teenagers come together to support each other and rebuild their lives through magic rituals, spontaneous road trips, and artistic expression.

This book is an honest, realistic depiction of the struggles and complexities that many young adults face as they find their true identities. It addresses complicated themes like depression, suicide, and homophobia while also speaking to the transformative power of love, friendship, and self-acceptance.

Source: Goodreads

7. Far From You by Tess Sharpe

When Sophie was fourteen, she was involved in a terrible car accident that left her with a disabled leg and an addiction to OxyContin that took her years to break. Now, she is seventeen and her best friend Mina has been murdered. Since the murderer planted OxyContin in Sophie’s pocket at the scene of the crime, everyone believes Mina’s death was a drug deal gone wrong. No one believes that Sophie is clean now, and she is forced into rehab. When she returns, she must process her grief for Mina, relive the struggles of her addiction, fight against those who refuse to believe her, and search for Mina’s murderer alone, all while struggling with a secret that she and Mina shared.

This book contains many elements of mystery and suspense, but it also tackles several tough topics. It paints a detailed picture of the way people process grief and cope with addiction. It also raises awareness of the process that people go through after experiencing both mental and physical trauma.

Source: Goodreads

8. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns, leaving Griffin searching for meaning in the aftermath of his death. Although Theo had moved away for college and started dating someone else (Jackson), Griffin had always believed that Theo would come back to him. Now, the realization that this will never happen causes Griffin’s depression and OCD to rear their heads as he struggles to deal with his grief and open up to Jackson. In order to begin rebuilding his life, Griffin must confront his history and the many buried pieces of his past.

This multilayered story is told partially through flashbacks. It offers an emotional look at the effects of loss in a person’s life, and gives readers insight into the grieving process. It also deals with mental illness, as well as themes of trust and friendship (and the complications that go hand-in-hand with relationships).

Source: Goodreads

9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr exists in two polar opposite worlds: she attends an affluent, predominantly white prep school while living in a poor, gang-ravaged neighborhood. She successfully balances these worlds until the night a police officer fatally shoots her unarmed best friend, Khalil, and Star is the only witness. In the aftermath of the shooting, Khalil’s death becomes a national headline. Everyone wants to know what really happened that night, and it’s up to Star to choose what she will say (or not say).

This book centers around the Black Lives Matter movement and addresses racial bias in America. It also contains an eye-opening narrative for those who are not a part of oppressed communities. A movie version of the same name will be released later this year, so now is an especially relevant time to read this novel.

Source: Goodreads

10. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha is a Jamaican teenager whose family will be deported in less than twenty-four hours. Daniel is a first-generation Korean American preparing for a college interview with Yale at the behest of his parents, who are adamant that he become a doctor. On Natasha’s last day in New York City, she tries everything possible to stop her family from being forced to leave. She crosses paths with Daniel, and over the course of a single day, they travel around the city, sharing countless moments together and, against all odds, falling in love.

This novel is told through the alternating voices of Natasha and Daniel. It examines the ideas of coincidence and fate, and the way that seemingly unimportant moments end up determining a person’s future. The story also offers many facts and insights about Jamaican and Korean culture.

Source: Goodreads

In short, these books made me think. They’ve offered me a glimpse into the lives of people different from myself. They’ve made me happy, sad, angry, and even uncomfortable (as a good book should). They’ve even given me new perspectives on a variety of situations and have helped me view many people and situations in an entirely different way.

To ensure that similar books keep being both written and read, I encourage everyone to specifically search out YA literature with diverse characters. Although you won’t find most of these books on the front display tables at Barnes and Noble, many websites—such as Goodreads, local libraries, and various other places—have book lists featuring similar themes and characters. Read them, recommend them to friends and family, and promote them on social media—and most of all, keep fighting for diversity and representation in literature.



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I’m a writing major at Grand Valley State University. Creative writing is my passion–although I also enjoy professional writing and copywriting–and I will defend the Oxford comma to the death. When I’m not writing, I’m re-reading Harry Potter for the hundredth time, searching for new ice cream parlors to try, playing the flute and piano, or watching the Food Network (and sometimes doing a little baking of my own).

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Telling the Real Stories: 10 Young Adult Novels With Diverse Representation

People today read young adult (YA) books for a variety of reasons. Often, it’s because the books are popular, relatively easy to read, and contain the classic teen coming-of-age story. Other times, it’s simply because they offer us the chance to lose ourselves in a reality other than our own—a reality where the possibilities are endless and a good plot twist is always right around the corner.

However, once you read enough YA literature, you begin to notice that even the most popular books become cookie-cutter novels. Frequently, the general plots vary only slightly from book to book, and the same stereotypical characters can be found in every novel.

It’s important for young people especially to find books they can relate to; books about people like them, with similar cultural backgrounds or life stories. People want stories they can connect to that portray experiences and challenges they’re facing in their own lives, but much of the popular YA literature promoted today does not fulfill that need. It’s also crucial for young adults to read about people who are different from them; characters who offer fresh perspectives or insights about the world around them.

To that end, I made a conscious effort to read YA literature with more realistic and diverse characters and themes—books that contained viewpoints or representations that are not usually played up in popular YA series—and I’d like to share ten of my favorite books with you. It was hard to choose just ten, but these are the ones that stood out most to me. They’re well-written, relevant, and timely, and best of all, they apply to people of any age group.

Books are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If I listed them in order of how amazing they are or how much they made me think, they would all be number one.

1. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

High school senior Piper—who lost most of her hearing by age six—is struggling to manage a disorganized rock band called Dumb. The story follows Piper as she attempts to whip the band into shape and make it a success, figures out how to relate to her parents and siblings, and manages the typical challenges that come with being a teenager.

This story realistically depicts the challenges that deaf individuals encounter, and how they deal with them. It offers readers a chance to either relate to a character that represents themselves, or to reevaluate some of the stereotypes that may have formed their perceptions about hearing-impaired people. At the same time, it tells the story of a strong young woman trying to discover herself and decide who she wants to be without letting her hearing loss define her.

Source: Goodreads

2. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

Seventeen-year-old Rowan finds a skeleton on her family’s Tulsa property, and her choice to investigate the murder, which took place a century ago, leads her to some unexpected and painful discoveries about the past. One hundred years ago in Tulsa—during the roaring twenties—Will lives in a town segregated by Jim Crow and marked by prejudice and violence. He is soon called upon to make difficult choices during the Tulsa race riot and begins a painful journey of self-discovery.

The story is told by biracial characters in alternating perspectives from the past and the present, prompting important and relevant discussions on the history of race relations in America. It also highlights the courage of people who prevail over social and racial injustices and demonstrates the life-changing effect that a single person can have, no matter what time period.

Source: Goodreads

3. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian attends a small-town Texas high school where the football team rules the town and the girls constantly experience sexual harassment and double standards. When Vivian—inspired by her mom’s rebellion as a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ‘90s—creates a feminist zine and shares it anonymously with her classmates, the girls respond with overwhelming enthusiasm and begin to speak out. But soon, things start to spiral out of control, and Vivian must decide what she is willing to fight for, and what she is willing to risk.

This is an empowering story about young women of different races, sexualities, and school cliques standing together and making their voices heard. Strong, inspiring women uniting to protest injustices serve as good role models for people experiencing similar situations.

Source: Goodreads

4. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

When Grace moves to Prescott, Oregon, she learns that the former occupant of her new home (Lucy) was run out of town for accusing three popular boys of gang rape. Grace is determined to get justice for Lucy, as are Rosina—a Mexican-American queer punk rocker—and Erin—a girl with Asperger’s who loves marine biology and Star Trek. Together, they rally their female classmates to stand up against the school’s sexist culture and the power structures that protect it.

This book tells a powerful story (from multiple perspectives) that encourages readers to actively protest sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence. It also contains positive themes about friendship, faith, and feminism, as well as open and frank discussions about sexuality.

Source: Goodreads

5. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

As children, Cath and her twin sister Wren used the Simon Snow book series to get through many difficult life events, such as their mother leaving. They’ve read and reread the series, written fanfiction, and dressed up for all the movie premieres. When Cath starts college and is away from Wren for the first time, she finds comfort in her writing, as it is the only other constant in her life. She has no interest in fitting in or making friends, until she meets Reagan and her best friend Levi.

This story touches on social anxiety and introversion in a way that is relatable and realistic. It also emphasizes the importance of love and family, and demonstrates the power of literature and writing (especially fiction).

Source: Goodreads

6. Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Jeremy, a shy artist who has isolated himself after a bullying incident the previous spring, meets best friends Mira and Sebby, who share troubling pasts. Mira missed a year of school due to depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and an eventual suicide attempt. Sebby has been in many different foster homes throughout his life and has been beaten for being gay. As Jeremy is drawn into their world, he becomes privy to the secrets they hide. Throughout the novel, all three teenagers come together to support each other and rebuild their lives through magic rituals, spontaneous road trips, and artistic expression.

This book is an honest, realistic depiction of the struggles and complexities that many young adults face as they find their true identities. It addresses complicated themes like depression, suicide, and homophobia while also speaking to the transformative power of love, friendship, and self-acceptance.

Source: Goodreads

7. Far From You by Tess Sharpe

When Sophie was fourteen, she was involved in a terrible car accident that left her with a disabled leg and an addiction to OxyContin that took her years to break. Now, she is seventeen and her best friend Mina has been murdered. Since the murderer planted OxyContin in Sophie’s pocket at the scene of the crime, everyone believes Mina’s death was a drug deal gone wrong. No one believes that Sophie is clean now, and she is forced into rehab. When she returns, she must process her grief for Mina, relive the struggles of her addiction, fight against those who refuse to believe her, and search for Mina’s murderer alone, all while struggling with a secret that she and Mina shared.

This book contains many elements of mystery and suspense, but it also tackles several tough topics. It paints a detailed picture of the way people process grief and cope with addiction. It also raises awareness of the process that people go through after experiencing both mental and physical trauma.

Source: Goodreads

8. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns, leaving Griffin searching for meaning in the aftermath of his death. Although Theo had moved away for college and started dating someone else (Jackson), Griffin had always believed that Theo would come back to him. Now, the realization that this will never happen causes Griffin’s depression and OCD to rear their heads as he struggles to deal with his grief and open up to Jackson. In order to begin rebuilding his life, Griffin must confront his history and the many buried pieces of his past.

This multilayered story is told partially through flashbacks. It offers an emotional look at the effects of loss in a person’s life, and gives readers insight into the grieving process. It also deals with mental illness, as well as themes of trust and friendship (and the complications that go hand-in-hand with relationships).

Source: Goodreads

9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr exists in two polar opposite worlds: she attends an affluent, predominantly white prep school while living in a poor, gang-ravaged neighborhood. She successfully balances these worlds until the night a police officer fatally shoots her unarmed best friend, Khalil, and Star is the only witness. In the aftermath of the shooting, Khalil’s death becomes a national headline. Everyone wants to know what really happened that night, and it’s up to Star to choose what she will say (or not say).

This book centers around the Black Lives Matter movement and addresses racial bias in America. It also contains an eye-opening narrative for those who are not a part of oppressed communities. A movie version of the same name will be released later this year, so now is an especially relevant time to read this novel.

Source: Goodreads

10. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha is a Jamaican teenager whose family will be deported in less than twenty-four hours. Daniel is a first-generation Korean American preparing for a college interview with Yale at the behest of his parents, who are adamant that he become a doctor. On Natasha’s last day in New York City, she tries everything possible to stop her family from being forced to leave. She crosses paths with Daniel, and over the course of a single day, they travel around the city, sharing countless moments together and, against all odds, falling in love.

This novel is told through the alternating voices of Natasha and Daniel. It examines the ideas of coincidence and fate, and the way that seemingly unimportant moments end up determining a person’s future. The story also offers many facts and insights about Jamaican and Korean culture.

Source: Goodreads

In short, these books made me think. They’ve offered me a glimpse into the lives of people different from myself. They’ve made me happy, sad, angry, and even uncomfortable (as a good book should). They’ve even given me new perspectives on a variety of situations and have helped me view many people and situations in an entirely different way.

To ensure that similar books keep being both written and read, I encourage everyone to specifically search out YA literature with diverse characters. Although you won’t find most of these books on the front display tables at Barnes and Noble, many websites—such as Goodreads, local libraries, and various other places—have book lists featuring similar themes and characters. Read them, recommend them to friends and family, and promote them on social media—and most of all, keep fighting for diversity and representation in literature.



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