Hello! I am a cisgender woman and proud mother to two queer kiddos; my eldest being non-binary. I am also an award-winning and internationally published author of 15 books for young readers, and a doctoral candidate at UoN. My creative project is a middle grade fantasy novel featuring a non-binary protagonist. As such, I have been doing lots of reading. It’s exciting to see so many great books coming out featuring non-binary characters when they were nearly impossible to find just a few years ago. Here, I’ll share another five of my favourite fiction novels! To read more of my recommendations, check out Opus’s 2022 Pride Zine.
Felix YZ by Lisa Bunker
This science fiction novel has a number of LGBTQIA+ and diverse characters, which I really loved. Thirteen-year-old Felix is the male protagonist, questioning his sexuality as gay, and has a bisexual mother. His grandparent is genderfluid, spending three days of the week female, three as male, and one day neither – spending that day alone meditating naked and not eating or talking to anyone (I quite like that idea)! The premise of the story is that Felix must have a procedure to separate himself from Zyx, a non-gendered, four-dimensional being that attached to him when he was three years old, and who can only communicate via typed diary entries. The vo/ven/veir neopronouns are used for both Zyx and Felix’s grandparent, which was cool. There’s a lot going on in this book, maybe a little too much, but Felix’s school essay on the concept of ‘threeness’ provides a lovely summation of both the story plot and broader themes around love, family and identity.
Seven Wherewithal Way by Samantha Ellen-Bound
To be honest, there’s a lot I didn’t love about this, but writing in the fantasy genre myself I give it kudos for the use of mythology and fairy tales, and some super interesting creatures and portal magic drawn from this. The main characters are cis sisters Celeste and Esme. They’re a little annoying in that they are quite mean to one another throughout. That said, it was great to see a secondary non-binary character, Ferdinand, who facilitates the whole adventure. I did take some issue with the ‘othering’ of Ferdinand as the eccentric, odd-ball ‘not-quite-human’ cousin, (as well as a fair bit of gender stereotyping through the story), but it was good to see this representation present in Australian fantasy. Plus, what’s not to love about a non-binary character who wears burgundy robes, a blue suit, a star earring and has iridescent hair! I look forward to seeing where book two leads us.
Elementals (trilogy) by Amie Kaufman
This fantasy trilogy follows the adventures of siblings Rayna and Alders, who are a scorch dragon and ice wolf, respectively. In this world, the two clans of shapeshifting humans are enemies, unwillingly placing the siblings on opposing sides, and thus being a catalyst for change. Though the non-binary character in these books plays a relatively minor role, I enjoyed how Jai, a shapeshifting wolf, is normalised in their non-binary identity. Gender and cultural diversity as a whole are present in the books, yet the overarching theme is about prejudice and discrimination. The books explore preconceived notions about others based on difference, shown through the conflict between the two groups. In the action-packed finale, it is by uniting humans, ice wolves, and dragons, and combining the powers of the two clans, that the ultimate victory comes: a statement on the importance and value of inclusion and acceptance of all.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
A middle grade sci-fi space opera that draws on Korean mythology? Yes please! Dragon Pearl is a first-person narrative told through the perspective of trickster fox spirit Min, who can use her magic to shapeshift and persuade others to do what she wants. When Min sneaks into the Space Forces to find her missing older brother, she befriends ‘supernaturals’ Haneul, who is a dragon, and Sujin, a non-binary goblin cadet. There are quite a few other queer characters in this story too, all of whom are normalised through the storytelling. Min also engages in some cool gender-bending herself. Not only are fox spirits able to choose their preferred gender, Min spends part of the story disguised by shapeshifting into a male character, Jang. The story itself lost me at times, but the normalisation of gender diversity more than makes up for a few plot points that could have been stronger.
Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans (Recommended for 14+)
Euphoria Kids is another title that is marketed to a teen audience, but that I think tween readers would also enjoy. As the title suggests, the story celebrates queerness. A heart-warming and gentle yet adventurous fantasy novel, it is interestingly told in first person narrative from the perspectives of two characters, Iris and Babs. Iris is non-binary, born from a plant to lesbian mothers, and Babs is a transgender girl, cursed to have bouts of invisibility from a witch’s spell. Another character who forms part of the trio is gender questioning and is thus referred to as ‘The Boy’ while he discovers his identity. Many of the other characters, both human and fantastical, are also queer. The story contains an educative undertone about different gender identities and sexualities, while the magic that involves spells, curses, and mythical creatures is sure to delight, as will the connections to the natural world. If you like this, Alison has other queer books and short stories worth checking out as well!
You can check out more of Candice’s recommendations by picking up a copy of our 2022 Pride Zine. Head to the UNSA Building, one of our magazine stands dotted around campus, or read online now!