Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 2: Main Characters Only

By Malinda Lo

In Part 1 I looked at diverse YA Hardcover Frontlist bestsellers. In this part, I’m ranking all diverse YA bestsellers across all formats: hardcover frontlist and backlist, paperback frontlist and backlist, and ebooks.

However, I should note that ranking all the titles in one list comes with some problems because the titles aren’t completely comparable for several reasons:

  1. Not all of the books are new; that means some have been on sale for a lot longer than others.
  2. I don’t have sales figures across all formats for every book (remember, only print sales ≥ 100,000 made it on PW’s print lists).
  3. Some of the books are in series; others are standalones. (In part 3 I will be looking at series only.)

That said, I was still interested in finding out which 2012 bestsellers, in all formats, featured diverse main characters. So, using the figures I do have from the PW article, here are all the bestselling YA novels of 2012 that feature main characters of color, LGBT or disabled main characters:


There are 17 individual titles on this list. Sales in each format are noted by different colors, and for the bottom 10 titles, only ebook sales were provided to PW. That doesn’t mean these books didn’t sell any printed copies; only that they didn’t sell more than 100,000 copies in each print format.

In more detail:

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton) — The widely acclaimed novel about two teens falling in love while dealing with cancer and disability.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown) — First published in 2007, the main character is an American Indian boy named Arnold Spirit Jr. The author is also American Indian. (Note: no ebook sales figures were provided.)

3. Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — First published in 2006, the series is told from the perspectives of four girls, including Emily Fields, who is bisexual.

4. Stunning (Pretty Little Liars #11) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

5. Fated (Soul Seekers #1) by Alyson Noel (St. Martin’s Griffin) — The first in a trilogy featuring half-Hispanic main character Daire Santos. The author is also half-Hispanic.


6. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

7. Burned (Pretty Little Liars #12) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

8. Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare (S&S/McElderry) — The second book in The Infernal Devices trilogy, which is about a white girl named Tessa Gray. Part of Tessa’s story involves a love triangle with two boys, including half-Chinese Jem Carstairs. Written in the third person, the books feature some scenes from Jem’s perspective, but more importantly, Clockwork Prince is the only YA bestseller that unarguably shows a character of color on the cover. Although you could argue that this book doesn’t belong on this list because Jem is not the main character, I erred on the side of generosity in this case because of the book cover.

9. Ruthless (Pretty Little Liars #10) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)


10. Flawless (Pretty Little Liars #2) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

11. Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare (S&S/McElderry)

12. Perfect (Pretty Little Liars #3) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

13. Legend by Marie Lu (Putnam) — The first in a trilogy about a dystopian future Los Angeles, from the perspectives of two characters including Daniel “Day” Wing, who is half-Mongolian. The author is Asian American.


14. Unbelievable (Pretty Little Liars #4) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

15. Twisted (Pretty Little Liars #9) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

16. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (Walker) — A contemporary romance about Mexican gang member Alejandro Fuentes and white cheerleader Brittany Ellis, told from their alternating points of view.

17. Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)


Once again, Pretty Little Liars leads the pack here in individual titles. Tomorrow in Part 3, I’ll focus solely on series, and address the trend of incorporating a minority best friend.