What I’m yearning for that I haven’t yet come across is good asexual representation – preferably asexual characters who aren’t pursuing hetero romances, y’know? Whether they’re coming to terms with their asexuality as part of the narrative or if it’s just an aspect of them that the reader sees, I need this. Doesn’t have to be fiction either! Would that be a reasonable challenge? It’s a tricky one.
This is probably the most challenging lesbrarian request I’ve had yet! Off the top of my head, I could think of just one piece of fiction with an asexual character and one scholarly non-fiction collection. Yikes! Luckily, though, I was able to find some other fantastic-sounding books in my research. Let me know what you think of them, Clare!
The very first book I thought of was Keri Hulme’s majestic, Man Booker prize winning novel The Bone People. The Bone People is that best kind of fiction that will challenge your dearly-held beliefs and assumptions about the world, and make you a better, kinder, more compassionate person. Be warned: if you are a black and white thinker, this book will turn your world upside down. Above all else, The Bone People forces you to look at the complex, ugly nature of human existence and behaviour. One part of this complexity is an asexual character, Kerewin, who is a loner and artist who lives self-sufficiently in a tower, literally on the edge of the earth on the west coast of New Zealand / Aotearoa. Her asexuality is addressed directly in the book, although it’s definitely not a major part of the plot. Kerewin is also aromantic, so no romances, hetero or otherwise. Both Kerewin and the author are of mixed Maori and European background, so Kerewin is an asexual person of colour to boot! Hulme herself also identifies as asexual. I read this book while travelling in New Zealand years ago and it has remained one of my favourite books of all time. [Trigger warning for child abuse and alcoholism]
The other book that was in my memory bank is a scholarly anthology edited by Megan Milks and Karli June Cerankowski called Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives. This one I haven’t read, but I have read creative fiction by Milks, which is deliciously strange and queer in the broadest sense of the word. This anthology is said to be highly inter-disciplinary, approaching asexuality in conjunction with race, disability, queer theory, medicine, literature, and others. An FYI, though: this essay collection does sound quite academic in tone, and in particular some parts of the book use Lacanian psychoanalytic language, which can be challenging even for the most ambitious readers!
Another novel I haven’t read but that has been recommended to me is Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett. This book features an asexual book-loving librarian, Dorcas: a woman who “lives a quiet life of the mind.” Her twin sister is Abigail, “a woman of passionate sensual and sexual appetites.” But what happens
when the sisters are sought out by the predatory and famous poet, Guy DeVilbiss, who introduces them to Hollywood hack writer and possible psychopath Conrad Lowe, [and] they rapidly become pawns in a game that leads to betrayal, shame and ultimately, murder[?]
Reading was not an escape for her, any more than it is for me. It was an aspect of direct experience. She distinguished, of course, between the fictional world and the real one, in which she had to prepare dinners and so on. Still, for us, the fictional world was an extension of the real, and in no way a substitute for it, or refuge from it. Any more than sleeping is a substitute for waking.
I am really excited about a pair of books, Quicksilver and Ultraviolet, that I discovered in my online searches. Not only do they feature an asexual teen girl protagonist, they’re science fiction and set in Ontario! If you haven’t heard of the Asexual Agenda website yet, go and check it out! They have a ton of resources there, including book reviews, which is where I discovered Quicksilver. I searched “asexuality in fiction” on the site and found a ton of interesting stuff, including lists of self-identified asexual characters in books and TV and reviews of webcomics. Their review of Quicksilver, the second book in R.J. Anderson’s Ultraviolet series, is simply glowing:
Wow, how do I even start? Let’s put it this way: I almost just copied and pasted the entire coming out scene, because I loved it that much. Then I almost copied and pasted most of the asexuality-related sections of the book… I’ve already swooned over Tori a little bit, but let me reiterate–she is an excellent YA protagonist. Throw her asexuality into the mix, and I am falling over myself in excessive affection for her. What’s great about her is that she is not solely defined by her asexuality… She felt to me like a real person who just happened to be asexual, rather than the Token Ace.
This Tori character could also be characterized as wtfromantic, a kind of aromantic. If you’re interested, this is a blog post the author wrote about deciding to create an asexual YA heroine.
Two other books for young adults featuring an asexual character are Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey and the Vows and Honour series by Mercedes Lackey. Readers have a lot of positive things to say about the fantasy novel Guardian of the Dead, which includes Maori myth, a boarding school, a nerdy girl heroine, and an asexual guy. That said, one review says his asexuality is used too much as a plot point. Read an in-depth review here. Vows and Honour is also fantasy, and a classic series from the 80s. Tamra is the asexual character in this book, and she is also a swordswoman who swears herself to a warrior goddess. She has a queerplatonic relationship with said warrior goddess, which I’m sure is just as awesome as it sounds. Have a look at this positive review, which also links to a more critical review.
Actually, it seems almost all of the fiction I could find with asexual characters is fantasy or sci-fi, which is pretty interesting. That would sure make a good essay topic. Somebody get on that! This list on Good Lesbian books has a lot of genre fiction on it, as does this Goodreads list of asexual fiction. Hopefully you’re into speculative fiction, Clare!
Here are a few other (fantasy) options that look good: Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith, is a fantasy of manners with an asexual protagonist, which also sounds feminist, epic, and action-packed. Here’s a full review of that one. Garth Nix’s YA fantasy Abhorsen series also sounds great, especially a prequel called Clariel, which focuses on a self-assured asexual teenage girl who would rather be a lone forest ranger than living in a crowded city learning magic and being forced to marry the son of a political ally. Have a look at this review.
One last book is The Heart of Aces, edited by Sarah Sinnaeve. It’s a short story collection, featuring asexual characters in all sorts of romantic relationships, from hetero- to homo-romantic. What sounded cool to me about this book is that all the authors are asexual too!
Tell me, readers! Do you have any recommendations for books with asexual characters, preferably with queerromantic leanings? Maybe ones that aren’t fantasy?
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