Tag Archives: Statistics

2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers

By Malinda Lo

For the last three years I’ve been tracking the number of young adult novels about LGBT1 characters. Here are my statistics from 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as an overview of LGBT YA published by mainstream publishers from 2003–13. Anyone who reads these posts can see that the topics I’ve been interested in unpacking have changed and focused, my methodology has been refined, and the language I’ve used to describe gender has evolved as I’ve learned more and as the language itself has evolved.

I use the term “LGBT YA” to identify a young adult book with an LGBT main character or that has a plot primarily concerned with LGBT issues. Some books have multiple main characters, and if one of that cast of primary characters is LGBT, I also count that book as an LGBT YA book (e.g., Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater). In the cases of books about LGBT issues, those issues typically focus around a straight person’s relationship with an LGBT person who comes out to them (e.g., The Boy I Love by Nina de Gramont). I do not include YA books with supporting LGBT characters because I think it’s important to focus on books where the LGBT person is the star of the story, but I recognize that the dividing line between supporting and main can be pretty blurry. Nor do I include YA books that have subtextual gay story lines (e.g., The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin; and more recently, Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry), because I’m focused on books where the gay story line is overt. (In other words, I’m tracking openly gay YA!) That means I may have left out some YA titles that others would count as “LGBT YA,” either on purpose or by accident.

LGBT YA is published by several different kinds of publishers ranging from small independent presses and LGBT-specific publishers to major global conglomerates. I am primarily interested in books published by mainstream publishers. By “mainstream” I mean the Big 5 publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster), as well as general interest publishers that do not focus on LGBT books. These general interest publishers include: Akashic Books, Algonquin Young Readers, Amulet, Big Bang Press, Bloomsbury, Booktrope Editions, Candlewick, Carolrhoda Lab, Flux, Harlequin Teen, K-Teen, Merit, Ooligan Press, Pulp, Red Deer Press, Scholastic, Sky Pony Press, Sourcebooks Fire, Spencer Hill Press, and Strange Chemistry.

In 2014, mainstream publishers published 47 LGBT YA books. This is a 59% increase from 2013, when only 29 LGBT YA books were published by mainstream publishers.

The category of “mainstream publishers” includes tiny presses like Big Bang, a startup with only one book out, as well as global giants like Penguin Random House; they don’t always have the same resources or the same distribution levels. That’s why, when I did my analysis of LGBT YA from 2003–13, I focused on “major commercial publishers.” That was an attempt to look at the biggest producers of YA books — they truly aim to reach the masses, which I think is something important to think about. In my analysis, major commercial publishers are the Big 5 plus three major US publishers: Disney Book Group, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Scholastic.

In 2014, out of those 47 LGBT YA books, 24 or 52% were published by major commercial publishers. The other 23 or 48% were published by small publishers.

(Edited 12/10/14, 1 PM: Initially my math was wrong on the above statement because I’d accidentally omitted one title. It has now been corrected above, as well as in the third chart below.)

This year I’ve chosen not to analyze the output of LGBT publishers simply because they produce too many titles for me to manage. I think that LGBT presses still play an important role in producing stories about LGBT experiences, but since my interest lies in analyzing mainstream production of LGBT books, they fall outside the scope of this project at this time. For those who are interested in looking at how LGBT presses represent LGBT experiences, I encourage you to look up the catalogs of Bold Strokes Books, one of the leading publishers of LGBT fiction, as well as Harmony Ink Press and Queerteen Press. I don’t know how many LGBT YA titles Queerteen Press released in 2014 (it was hard to tell from their website), but Harmony Ink informed me via email that they released 52 YA books this year. Bold Strokes Books published 15, and Lethe Press released at least one title (Red Caps, a collection of fantasy short stories by Steve Berman), adding up to at least 68 YA books published by LGBT presses in 2014. Continue reading 2014 LGBT YA by the Numbers

  1. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. It is currently most widely accepted English term used to identify sexual and gender minorities, but its initials omit other identies such as queer, intersex, asexual, and more. While I could add more initials (e.g., LGBTQQIA+) or use a term such as QUILTBAG, I believe that would simply be too confusing for the general reader, so I’ve chosen to follow the standards in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide – AP and New York Times Style

Book Challenges Suppress Diversity

Analysis of the most banned/challenged books in the U.S. shows that diverse books are disproportionately targeted for book challenges and censorship.

By Malinda Lo

Over the summer, a Delaware school board removed The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth from a high school’s summer reading list after parents complained about the novel’s explicit language. Sadly, this kind of censorship isn’t unusual. Novels are removed from reading lists or are challenged in classrooms and libraries all the time. From 2000–2009, 5,009 book challenges were reported to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (source).

What made me take notice in this case was the fact that Cameron Post is a critically acclaimed novel about a lesbian teen coming of age, but the reason cited for the book’s removal was explicit language — even though several other books on the summer reading list also included explicit language. It was no great leap to wonder if “language” was used as a cover for homophobia.

After the school board was faced with a significant amount of pushback in the media for its removal of Cameron Post, it reacted by reconsidering their decision and deciding to remove the entire summer reading list, not only Cameron Post. Although the School Board continued to insist repeatedly that Cameron Post was removed solely for its language, the parent’s initial letter challenging the book, sent June 4, did in fact focus on the lesbian story line.

In an article at The Atlantic earlier this month, excerpts of the June 4 letter were posted in which the parent was “shocked and appalled” by the reading list, and declared that Cameron Post resembled “a roadmap or guide book on how to become a sexually active lesbian teen.”

The unfortunate situation with Cameron Post and the entire banned summer reading list made me wonder how often the cited reasons for book challenges (which are enumerated by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom here) are smokescreens for the real reasons — reasons that might not always be socially acceptable to state publicly.

If a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison is challenged because it is “sexually explicit” and has a “religious viewpoint” and contains “violence” (these are the stated reasons for its challenges in 2012), is it simply accidental that Beloved is also a novel about an African American woman, written by an African American woman?

I wondered if there was a correlation between books with diverse content — that is, books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people — and book challenges, so I decided to take a look at the data available from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and see what emerged.

The Data

The Office of Intellectual Freedom compiles data on book challenges. According to the OIF:

“A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. Therefore, we do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.” (source)

For my analysis I used the OIF’s list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000–2009 and the Top Ten Challenged Books lists for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

While these books are not all young adult books, the books are most often challenged by parents and/or are challenged in schools (see these statistics). Additionally, many of these books are classics that are often taught in middle and high school English classes, so the issue of banned/challenged books is highly relevant to young adults and the YA community.

Working from these lists, I researched the authors’ race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability status. I also researched the content of each banned/challenged book to determine if the book included any of the following types of content:

  • Non-White main and/or secondary characters
  • LGBT main and/or secondary characters
  • Disabled main and/or secondary characters
  • Issues about race or racism
  • LGBT issues
  • Issues about religion, which encompass in this situation the Holocaust and terrorism
  • Issues about disability and/or mental illness
  • Non-Western settings, in which the West is North America and Europe

I decided to include secondary non-white, LGBT and disabled characters if those secondary characters seemed particularly significant to the story. Additionally, some of these books were story, essay, or poetry anthologies, and some of those stories, essays, and poems were by or about non-white, LGBT and/or disabled characters. Though the entire anthologies were not about them, it seemed important to include them.

“LGBT issues” includes both books that focus on the LGBT experience, and books that are broadly about sexuality and include specific chapters about homosexuality (e.g., It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris). “LGBT issues” also includes a book about two male penguins who hatch an egg together (And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson), who are not gay because they’re penguins and gay is a sexual and cultural identity for humans, but have been interpreted as such by those who wish to ban the book.

Authors and Banned/Challenged Books

From 2000–2009, 84 authors wrote the Top 100 most frequently banned/challenged books. Among those 84 authors, 81% were white and 19% were non-white. Those authors include Walter Dean Myers (Fallen Angels), Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me Ultima), and Toni Morrison (challenged for Beloved, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye).


To understand what these figures means in this context, it’s important to get a sense of the percentage of non-white authors being published in general. I couldn’t find any comprehensive study of this issue, but there are two data points worth sharing.

In 2012 at The Rumpus, Roxane Gay counted the number of authors of color reviewed by the New York Times in 2011. She concluded:

“Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers. That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white.”

Secondly, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center has been compiling data on the children’s books it receives since the mid–1980s. In 2013, multicultural children’s book publisher Lee & Low examined the CCBC data and concluded that over the past 18 years, the percentage of children’s books by and/or about people of color has remained virtually constant at 10%. In comparison, 37% of the U.S. population consists of people of color — a huge gap.

The New York Times and CCBC data are not directly comparable to the percentage of authors of color on the banned/challenged books list. However, I do think it’s interesting to see that almost twice as many authors of color appear on the banned/challenged books list as were reviewed in the New York Times.

The data from 2010–2013 is similar.


For this chart, I compiled the data from the Top Ten lists from 2010–2013, and eliminated repeated titles (e.g., The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie appeared on the Top Ten lists of each of the last four years). That resulted in a total of 30 authors (some of them had more than one title in the Top Ten lists), of which 79% were white and 21% were non-white. The non-white authors included Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), Kim Dong Hwa (The Color of Earth) and again Toni Morrison (for both Beloved and The Bluest Eye).

What Kind of Diversity, Exactly?

Among the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000–2009, 52 books included some kind of diversity — that’s 52%: the majority of banned/challenged books included diverse content. Over half of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000–2009 addressed issues about race, sexuality and/or disability; or were about non-white, LGBTQ and/or disabled characters.


Looking more closely at the diverse books on the list, some included more than one kind of diversity. For example, Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk included issues of disability and race, as well as a biracial main character. I counted each of those kinds of diversity separately because they speak to different experiences. That added up to 61 instances of diverse content, in which 40% were about issues (this means that the main character could be white, but the book is nonetheless about race, such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee), and 32% were about a non-white main character. The types of diversity content break down as follows:


For 2010 to 2013, the data is similar. Once again I compiled the Top Ten lists for 2010 to 2013, eliminated repeated titles, and found that there were 29 individual titles in all on those four Top Ten lists. Among the 29 titles, 15 included diverse content, and 14 did not. In other words, once again 52% of the banned/challenged books included diverse content of some kind.


The diversity content of those 15 books broke down into 17 different types, which are seen in the following chart:


Diversity Under Attack

Although the data I am working with is a selected amount — these are Top 100 and Top 10 lists, not the raw list of 5,000+ challenges that the OIF received over the last decade — I think it’s still quite revealing. It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo.

This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists — as a majority — is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.

The message this sends is loud and clear: diversity is actually under attack. Minority perspectives are being silenced every year.

I think it’s important to note that the reasons for a book’s challenge may be beside the point when the result is a broad silencing of these minority perspectives. Though some might protest a book’s explicit language, the real result is closing off dialogue and preventing readers from experiencing stories and lives outside the mainstream.

Recent academic studies have shown that reading fiction leads to increased empathy, which suggests to me that it’s more important than ever to make sure books with diverse perspectives are widely available, not censored. I hope we can remember this during Banned Books Week, which takes place Sept. 21–27 this year, and every week.

The data I compiled for this analysis is available at Google Docs. Here is my data for Diversity in Banned/Challenged Books, 2000–09, and Diversity in Banned/Challenged Books, 2010–13. While I have double and triple-checked my research, I am the only one doing this research. If you discover errors, please email me at diversityinya@gmail.com. Thanks!

Diversity in 2013 New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers

By Malinda Lo

Over the past year or so, I’ve examined diversity in the Publishers Weekly bestsellers (here’s 2012 and here’s 2013) as well as the Best Fiction for Young Adults (here’s 2013, here’s 2014). One list I haven’t looked at until now is the New York Times bestseller lists for young adult books.

My conclusions? There’s nothing really surprising about the diversity on the New York Times bestseller lists for young adult books. They tell the same story that Publishers Weekly does, but with a slightly different sample: There isn’t much diversity. Continue reading Diversity in 2013 New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers

Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

By Malinda Lo

On March 14, 2014, Publishers Weekly released its annual accounting of children’s bestsellers for the previous year. Continuing Diversity in YA’s efforts to analyze diversity in the book market, I’ve taken a look at the 2013 figures to determine how characters of color, LGBT characters, disabled characters, and authors of color are represented in these bestselling titles.

In comparison to 2012 (you can read those results here), there was a tiny uptick in 2013 in terms of overall numbers of titles that incorporate characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled characters, but that increase is due to errors I made in calculating diversity in the 2012 list. Last year was my first attempt to count diversity in bestsellers, and I missed the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (published by St. Martin’s Press), whose main character, Zoey Redbird, is part-Cherokee. I also missed Michael Grant’s Gone series; I explain more about that series later in this post.

Additionally, last year I did not count Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue as including a disabled character because I thought Lowry’s Giver Quartet was middle grade. While the series was originally published as middle grade, in recent years the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has repositioned the series as young adult. (See the search results at Edelweiss, where the 2002 publication is categorized for ages 8–12, whereas the 2012 reprint is for ages 12 and up.) This clearly indicates that “young adult” is a marketing category, but because I rely on publishers to categorize their own books, I have to follow my own rule. That means this year, Gathering Blue and the other books in the Giver Quartet count as YA.

What this means is that the number of diverse YA titles — when diverse means main characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled main characters — has remained flat. There has been no improvement overall.

Before I continue to the rest of the analysis, first I’ll define my terms and explain some background information. If you’re not interested in this you can skip down to the next section, Overall Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 YA Bestsellers. Continue reading Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

Diversity in YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults: Updated for 2014

By Malinda Lo

Last fall, I wrote about the diversity in the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists, which are issued annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association. These lists are often used for collection development and can be very helpful in boosting awareness of a book. Because the 2014 BFYA list was released last month, I thought I’d update my analysis with this year’s data.

Defining My Terms

To briefly recap from last time, my analysis focuses on the following things:

  • The percentage of authors of color on the lists.
  • The percentage of main characters of color on the lists.
  • The percentage of LGBTQ main characters on the lists.
  • The percentage of disabled main characters on the lists.

While recognizing that all categorizations of race and ethnicity are imperfect, I broke down race/ethnicity as follows:

  • White – Characters with European origins (This definition is different from the US Census definition, which also includes those from the Middle East and Northern Africa, because I wanted to count Middle Eastern characters)
  • Asian – Characters with Asian origins including members of the Asian diaspora and South Asians
  • Black – Characters with African origins including African Americans
  • Latino – Hispanic and Latino Americans; characters from Latin America (Exception: Indigenous people are identified as Indigenous even if they’re from Latin America)
  • Mixed Race – Characters of mixed race backgrounds
  • Indigenous – Including American Indians and Indigenous peoples from around the world
  • Middle Eastern – Characters from the Middle East, e.g., Iran
  • SF/F of color – Characters from a secondary or futuristic science fiction or fantasy world who have a race that does not precisely match our contemporary US understandings, but which is situated as being nonwhite in that secondary or futuristic world

Authors of Color

The representation of authors of color on the BFYA lists continues to be regrettably poor, although in 2014 there was a small uptick in the percentage of authors of color to 10% (from 7.8% in 2013). Continue reading Diversity in YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults: Updated for 2014

Diversity in ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults

By Malinda Lo

Updated on Sept. 19, 2013, with these corrections.

Every January, the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, releases the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. This list includes novels, short story collections, and novels in verse that were published in the past 16 months. These titles, according to YALSA, “are recommended reading for ages 12 to 18.”

As librarian and blogger Kelly Jensen explained to me, “I think the BFYA is useful for librarians who don’t know YA lit well, who may be the only librarians in their library or system, or who have been tossed into teen librarianship without the background that would help them in building a collection. I think people use BFYA as a collection building tool, which has a lot of merit to it.”

Thus, because the BFYA lists are used for collection development — and because the adjective “best” indicates that these titles are of high quality — being included on a BFYA list can help both sales and book buzz. (Full disclosure: My novel Huntress, published by Little, Brown, was on the 2012 BFYA list.) Indeed, the ALA’s various lists and awards can be extremely significant in terms of a YA book’s overall success — and thus, the author’s literary career.

The BFYA lists are typically fairly long, including approximately 100 titles, which suggests that there’s room for plenty of diversity. The question is: How much diversity is included in the BFYA lists? That is what I set out to discover. Continue reading Diversity in ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults

Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers, Part 4: Covers and Conclusions

By Malinda Lo

In Parts 1, 2, and 3, I examined diversity in 2012 YA bestsellers in individual titles and series. Today I’m looking at representation on covers, and then drawing some conclusions.

Among all of the titles surveyed, only two had covers that clearly conveyed the diversity of its content:


  1. Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare — This is the only YA bestselling novel to unarguably feature a character of color on the cover.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie — The diverse content is clearly telegraphed on this book cover by the title and the illustration.

Two books feature debatably diverse covers:


  1. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles — The boy on the cover looks like he’s of color to me (in the book he’s Latino), but I can easily see someone arguing that he passes as a white guy with a tan.
  2. Fated by Alyson Noel — The dream catcher/feather earring is a well-known and often clichéd indicator of American Indian mythology. The girl could be Latina; or at least, she’s not unambiguously white.


In Part 2, I noted that 17 individual titles on the PW list, across all formats, included diverse main characters. That list included 109 individual YA titles overall. What proportion of the YA titles on the PW bestseller list, across all formats, were diverse?

There are two ways to count this, both of them imperfect.

1. If you count every title on the list individually, meaning every single Pretty Little Liars book is counted separately, then it turns out that 17 out of 109 titles is 15.6%.


The problem with this percentage is that it does count every single title individually. So for example, there are 10 Pretty Little Liars books on the PW lists, but there is only one Emily Fields; it’s not like there are 10 different minority characters.

2. If you condense the series so that those 10 Pretty Little Liars books only count as 1 series, and do the same with all the other series on the PW list, that adds up to 53 total YA properties (I know, I had to come up with a word). Those 53 include both standalone books such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and series such as The Infernal Devices. After condensing the list, you arrive at 7 diverse properties out of 53, or 13.2%:


Now, I have been working on these spreadsheets for weeks, and I lost all my data at one point. Luckily my Mac allowed me to revert to previous editions, and I think I corrected my mistakes. However, I was the only person working on this. I didn’t realize what a giant project this would turn out to be. So I could have made mistakes — I probably did! Nevertheless, I don’t think I’m too far off with that 13.2%.

And after spending way too much of my time scrutinizing these numbers, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • These days, it’s totally normal to have diversity in the supporting cast of a bestselling YA series. While I personally am tired of having minorities relegated to best friend status, I do think this is a good step toward increasing diversity among main characters.
  • Cultural appropriation remains a real problem, particularly for representations of American Indians. There are three books or book series on the PW lists that feature American Indian characters and cultures: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, and Alyson Noel’s Fated. These books vary widely on the scale of cultural appropriation vs. cultural authenticity, and yet they all do contribute to increasing visibility for American Indians in YA literature. Whether or not that visibility is positive is a different issue (one that I’m not going to delve into here because it is too huge).
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pretty Little Liars has made a very comfortable home for itself on those lists, because I’m often asked whether having LGBT main characters is a problem. I know that the B is not the same as the L, G or (especially) T, but still: I’m thrilled to see a bestselling series with a queer girl lead selling so well.

TL;DR: There’s more diversity in the PW lists than I initially thought there would be, but some of that diversity is problematic. Does this sound like a mixed bag to you? It sounds like that to me, too. What did you think about this series of posts? Feel free to share your responses with us, or if you have questions about my methodology etc., please ask. I’ll post some of your thoughts over the next couple weeks as they come in.

Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 3: The Minority Best Friend

By Malinda Lo

In Parts 1 and 2, I focused on books with diverse main characters. As you could tell from the last two posts, the majority of PW’s YA bestseller list is dominated by series. In this post I’m focusing solely on diversity in YA series.

While only two of those bestselling series — Pretty Little Liars and The Infernal Devices — include diverse main characters, I wanted to find out how many of the other series included secondary/supporting characters of color or secondary/supporting LGBT or disabled characters.

The good news is that among the top 10 bestselling YA series (incorporating PW’s sales figures across all formats), 8 out of 10 include diversity in their supporting cast — and they’re the top 8 bestselling series overall.

1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; 27,700,000 sold) — Supporting characters include Rue and Thresh, who are black; Peeta Mellark and other characters deal with disabilities. There has also been a continuing discussion online among readers as to whether Katniss is biracial, although Suzanne Collins has said “They [Katniss and Gale] were not particularly intended to be biracial.”


(Amandla Stenberg as Rue, Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh in The Hunger Games movie)

2. The Divergent series by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins/Tegen; 2,054,302 sold) — Supporting characters include main character Tris’s friend Christina, who will be played by Zoe Kravitz in the upcoming movie.


(Zoe Kravitz has been cast to play Christina in the Divergent movie)

3. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown/Tingley; 1,129,754 sold) — One of the two boys the main character Bella Swan is in love with is Jacob Black, a Quileute Indian, although there has been widespread debate over the representation of the Quileutes in the series.


(Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, and other actors portraying Quileutes in the Twilight movies)

4. The House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (St. Martin’s Griffin; 878,014 sold) — Supporting characters include Shaunee Cole, a biracial Jamaican American.

5. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner (Delcorte/Random House; approx. 846,034 sold) — Supporting characters include a boy named Minho, who is of Asian descent.

6. The Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen; 781,972 sold) — One of the four main characters is Emily Fields, who is bisexual.


(Shay Mitchell as Emily Fields [right] kissing Lindsey Shaw as Paige McCullers [left] in the Pretty Little Liars TV series on ABC Family)

7. The Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/McElderry; 756,712 sold) — Supporting characters include Alec Lightwood, who is gay, and Magnus Bane, a bisexual half-Asian warlock, with whom Alec has a romantic relationship. Notably, Magnus Bane has become so popular he will have an entire series of ebook short stories about him published in 2013, The Bane Chronicles; he also appears in The Infernal Devices trilogy.


(Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane in the City of Bones movie)

8. Fallen by Lauren Kate (Delacorte/Random House; approx. 737,684 sold) — Supporting characters include Arriane Alter, who is a lesbian (she comes out in Fallen in Love), and a gender-nonconforming character named Randy.

9. The Matched trilogy by Ally Condie (Dutton; approx. 684,711 sold) — As far as I can tell, there is no diversity in this trilogy.

10. The Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore (HarperCollins; 613,653 sold) — As far as I can tell, there is no diversity in this series.

In Part 4, I’ll look at representation on covers, and draw some conclusions about YA bestsellers and diversity.

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.

Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 1: Overview – UPDATED

By Malinda Lo

On March 17, Publishers Weekly posted its accounting of the bestselling children’s books of 2012, including young adult titles. PW does this every year, and I’ve always wondered what proportion of these bestselling titles include main characters of color and/or LGBT characters. I’ve always assumed that very few of the bestsellers would prominently feature diversity, but as a former economics major I also know that I really shouldn’t make those kinds of assumptions.

So last week I sat down with the list, some spreadsheets, and crunched the numbers. The results both confirmed some of my assumptions and surprised me. This week, in four parts, I’ll be unpacking my findings. Here’s what I’ll be examining:

Part 1: Overview — Defining the terms of the analysis, plus the top 4 diverse YA bestsellers.

Part 2: Main Characters Only — Bestsellers featuring main characters of color or LGBT characters.

Part 3: The Minority Best Friend — Bestsellers featuring secondary/supporting characters of color or secondary/supporting LGBT characters.

Part 4: Covers and Conclusions — Representation of minorities on covers, and my conclusions.

UPDATED 4/2/13 11:27 am: Someone pointed out that I had not included The Fault in Our Stars by John Green when the characters in that book are disabled. Yes, that person is right, and here’s why I omitted it at first. So now this post and the other forthcoming posts have been updated to include TFIOS.

* * *

Part 1: Overview

Before I get to the top 4 diverse YA bestsellers, let me set the scene for the analysis. You can skip to the first chart (under “Diverse YA Bestsellers”) if you’re not interested in this.

The Data

The PW list is comprised of publisher-provided data on sales. The complete children’s list counts bestsellers in five different categories:

  • hardcover frontlist (new hardcover books, presumably published in 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • hardcover backlist (old hardcover books, presumably published before 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • paperback frontlist (new paperback books, published in 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • paperback backlist (old paperback books, published before 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • ebooks (published anytime) with sales ≥ 25,000

There are some things to note:

  • Ebook sales only need to top 25,000 to appear on the ebook bestseller list. This is obviously much lower than the number for printed books (100,000).
  • A lot of books that made the ebook bestseller list did not make the printed lists. Presumably, those books could have sold up to 99,999 printed copies without landing on those lists.
  • The vast majority of bestselling children’s books were not young adult. Instead, they were board books, picture books, middle grade, or nonfiction titles like Justin Bieber’s celebrity memoir.

What does “diverse” mean?

By “diverse,” I mean: Books in which the main character or one of the primary point-of-view characters is a character of color, LGBT, or disabled. Note:

  • This is a very narrow definition. It does not include books that feature diverse supporting casts, but I’ll address that in more detail in Part 3 of this series. For now, I’m talking about main characters.
  • This also does not mean that these books feature well-written minority characters. They could be chock full of stereotypes, but they are clearly minorities.
  • I could not find any YA bestsellers that featured disabled main characters or supporting characters. I might have missed them, though; if I did, please let me know!

Diverse YA Bestsellers

Here are the proportions of diverse YA novels across all formats that PW tracks (Note: this chart has been updated to include TFIOS):


The “Other Children’s Lit” category includes board books, picture books, and middle grade. As you can see, the majority of children’s books bestsellers are non-YA, except in ebooks, which makes sense. Younger children are currently not likely to read ebooks.

Looking more closely at the proportion of new YA books that were diverse, here’s the percentage of 2012’s YA hardcover frontlist bestsellers (new books) that were diverse (Note: this chart has been updated to include TFIOS):


Honestly, 17% 22% is (a lot!) better than I expected. But there were only 23 titles on the bestselling hardcover frontlist, which means it only took 4 5 diverse titles to make that 17% 22%:


  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. Stunning (Pretty Little Liars #11) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — The eleventh book in the long-running series that is now a TV series on ABC Family. The series has four point-of-view characters, including Emily Fields, who is bisexual and has been since book one.
  3. Fated (Soul Seekers #1) by Alyson Noel (St. Martin’s Griffin) — The first in a trilogy about Daire Santos, a half-Hispanic 16-year-old girl who discovers she’s descended from shamans. Additionally, the book draws heavily from Native American mythology, though it has also been criticized for its stereotypical depictions.
  4. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — A companion novel to the Pretty Little Liars series.
  5. Burned (Pretty Little Liars #12) — The twelfth book in the Pretty Little Liars series.

That’s right: three of the four five diverse bestselling hardcovers are from the Pretty Little Liars series. There are even more of them coming up in the next posts.

Tomorrow in Part 2: Main Characters Only, I take a look at all the diverse 2012 YA bestsellers across all formats.