Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English.
Representation in literature is important, especially for young readers who don’t often see characters like themselves represented in the media. It is important for young readers to see characters like themselves in the books they read to feel like they aren’t alone. Seeing positive representations of characters like oneself can greatly increase the self-esteem of young readers, so it Is very important for authors to include diversity amongst the main characters in their works. Reading about relatable characters also helps to foster a life-long love of reading in teens and young adults.
Even with LGBT+ representation improving in the media, including in literature, it is still rare to see novels featuring well-written, multidimensional bisexual protagonists. Fantasy has long been a favorite genre of people who identify as bisexual. There is just something about creatures and beings that we’re told don’t exist in the real world that bisexual individuals can relate to. These six Young Adult fantasy novels feature main characters who identify as bisexual, or who are demonstrably bi in their stories. People of all ages and identities will enjoy these fantasy novels featuring bisexual characters.
Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst
Inkmistress is an action-packed YA fantasy novel about love, loyalty, power, and revenge. It is a companion novel to Audrey Coulthurst’s debut novel, Of Fire and Stars. Billed as a prequel to Of Fire and Stars, Inkmistress is its own standalone story with its own characters set in the same world as Coulthurst’s first novel.
Summary: Inkmistress follows the story of Asra, a demigod with a dangerous secret power: the ability to change future events by writing with her blood. She lives a life of seclusion to keep her secret safe. Things go terribly wrong when Asra uses her powers to help Ina, the girl she loves. Unknowing that Asra is a fault, Ina uses her newfound powers to seek revenge on the King who she believes is at fault for the destruction of her village and the deaths of her family. Asra embarks on a journey to stop Ina and discovers horrible secrets about her own history along the way.
Bi Representation: It is rare that a bisexual character ends up in a relationship with an opposite-sex love interest by the end of the story (without their sexuality being called into question, at least), but Inkmistress allows the protagonist to organically develop feelings for a male love interest while still processing her feelings for her female ex without making a big deal about genders of her two loves.
Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash by Malinda Lo has been described as a “lesbian Cinderella,” but I read the main character as more bisexual than lesbian. Ash is a somewhat dark retelling of Cinderella, with a bisexual twist. Though Ash is a bit darker than the Disney version, this novel is suitable for a teen and young adult audience. If you enjoy Ash, the author has also written a prequel to this book, entitled Huntress.
Summary: After her father’s death, Ash is left to the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Her only comfort in her grief comes from rereading the fairy stories that her mother used to read to her by the fire. She eventually meets a dangerous fairy male, named Sidhean, whom she desperately believes may be the key to her salvation. Eventually, Ash meets the king’s huntress, Kaisa, who teaches her to hunt. The two slowly form a friendship that eventually blooms into something more. The only problem is that Ash is already promised to Sidhean. Ash is faced with a choice between two paths.
Bi Representation: The main character is torn between two love interests. Sidhean and Kasia. The conflict between who Ash should choose is more about the characters themselves than about whether she is more into boys or girls. In the world of Ash, sexual orientation is never really questioned. Some people in this world simply end up with members of their own gender.
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
Wild Beauty is a YA magical realism novel with plenty of queer and POC representation. This novel is the story of a multigenerational family who tend a magical garden, which enchants guests from around the world. The family has a terrible, secret, however. A family curse that prevents them from ever falling in love too deeply, lest their lovers vanish forever. Wild Beauty is a captivating story of magical realism that explores themes of love, loss, and family.
Summary: For generations, the Nomeolvides women have tended the gardens of La Pradera, a lush estate that enchants visitors from all over the world. The family harbors a horrible secret, however. If these women ever fall too deeply in love, their lovers will disappear. One day, a strange boy named Fel appears in the gardens, who knows nothing of who he is or where he came from. As Estrella tries to help the strange boy piece together his unknown past, dark secrets are uncovered.
Bi Representation: The main character, Estrella, as well as her four cousins, are all bisexual Latina women. Though the author never actually uses the word “bisexual” in the novel, all of these women are portrayed as liking more than one gender. There is also plenty of genderqueer and gay representation throughout Wild Beauty.
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith is a YA historical sci-fi/fantasy novel about time travel. The main character is a bisexual Japanese-American girl who suffers from mental health issues and must confront her own demons as she finds herself literally trapped between two different worlds.
Summary: After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko is sent to live with family in Japan for the summer in hopes that she can learn how to control her emotions. While Reiko is visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, she finds herself transported back in time into the life of a young woman named Miyu. As Miyu, Reiko finds herself seeking revenge for ancient wrongs. While living the life of this nineteenth-century girl, Reiko/Miyu discovers the secret of the village and is forced to face her own demons.
Bi Representation: Reiko’s bisexuality is portrayed as just one part of her complex identity. Her sexuality is never portrayed as some awful trait that she needs to deal with or overcome, nor is it written as a core defining part of her personality. She is bisexual, but she is also so much more. She is a troubled teenager who has her share of problems, but her sexuality isn’t written off as being a part of her mental health struggles.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Labyrinth Lost is the first book in Zoraida Cordova’s Brooklyn Brujas series. This young adult fantasy novel features a diverse main cast, including Latinx queer characters. This dark and spellbinding story is set in a world that draws heavily from Latin mythology. This dark, action-packed introduction to the Brooklyn Brujas series will leave you eager to read the next installment.
Summary: Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation. The downside is that she absolutely hates her magic powers. During her Deathday celebration, Alex tries to perform a spell to get rid of her magic once and for all, but the spell backfires and her entire family vanishes. Alex is now left alone with Nova, a brujo whom she doesn’t trust. However, Nova may be Alex’s only chance at rescuing her family.
Bi Representation: Alex, the main character in Labyrinth Lost, is bisexual. Throughout the novel, her sexuality is presented as a matter of fact, with no stigma or shame attached to her identity. Her sexuality is only one small part of who she is as a person. Alex is only one of many queer, as well as POC, characters represented in this novel.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
In Other Lands is a light-hearted, humorous YA fantasy novel by Sarah Rees Brennan. This novel follows Elliot, a young teenage boy who finds himself in a magical world full of wondrous magical beings, as well as untold danger. It features elves, harpies, and mermaids.
Summary: Elliot is a smart, sarcastic, and at times obnoxious thirteen-year-old boy. While on a field trip, Elliot finds a wall that no one but him can see and is granted the chance to go to school in the Borderlands. He soon finds that on the other side of the wall, classes are a lot tougher than he initially expected. Here he meets Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, a beautiful elven warrior, and her human friend Luke. While in this other world, Elliot finds that he has the chance to change the world.
Bi Representation: The protagonist, Elliot, is bisexual. While YA books with well-written, positive portrayals of bisexual characters are rare, bisexual male characters are even rarer. Elliot is a confident and sarcastic young man who never questions his own sexuality, even in the face of people who mock or bully him for being himself.
Representation and Diversity are Important
It is refreshing to see so many authors writing novels featuring diverse casts of characters all along the sexual identity spectrum, particularly characters with identities that have historically been underrepresented in literature, such as bi-identified people. Though it is getting better, we still have a ways to go before LGBT+ people, especially bi men and women, are equally represented in the media.
Diverse casts of characters in literature and in other forms of media are very important because the media helps young people shape how they see themselves in the world. Seeing characters that are similar to oneself can help to boost young people’s self-esteem. This is especially important for young people with minority identities, such as racial or sexual minorities, who rarely see people like themselves as main characters in books or on television.
What other YA fantasy or sci-fi novels featuring bi or otherwise LGBT+ characters would you recommend? What about non-fantasy books for young adults? Let me know in the comments! (Please, stick to books that are appropriate for young adult audiences. Thank you!)
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
HollyBerry22 on January 24, 2019:
This is such an important roundup! Thanks for sharing! I like how you shared the depictions of these characters and their experiences -- recently read the YA "Lies My Girlfriend Told Me" and found the acceptance of the main character's friends and schoolmates really refreshing, as the tension could be elsewhere. https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/landing-page/ya-...
K S Lane from Melbourne, Australia on January 03, 2019:
Great article! I love fairy-tale retellings so I think I might give "Ash" a go. Thanks for sharing.