Peeling back the layers of any story I’ve written until you get to the core will reveal the same theme every time: hope. More than anything else, I write about hope.
To have hope, I believe there must be some hardship to inspire it. If the main character isn’t wrestling with some kind of inner turmoil or external world obstacles, what is there to root for? Tension and adversity are critical components of a good story. Readers expect to be surprised, delighted, or even angered—they expect to feel something while immersing themselves in other worlds and lives.
So what happens when every story you read with characters that represent you on the pages, at its core, has nothing but pain? Those characters are always villains, described as “soulless” or “robots.” They never get to have a Happily Ever After or sometimes, don’t even make it to The End. They are side characters stripped of their agency–their lives, their stories, are transformed into a cautionary tale to evoke false empathy and teach a lesson. And even worse still, they’re erased. They simply do not exist.
Constant, endless suffering and hardship are not the same thing. It is incredibly demoralizing to know those characters may become so popular they will be herald as the shining example destined to be associated with your identity. Likewise, repeatedly being exposed to the same negative aspects assigned to specific identities can be devastating to young readers, who are still growing, learning, and discovering who they are. They might shrug it off or they might internalize it. They might realize that it’s a lousy characterization or they might get upset and not be able to figure out why they feel that way. And unfortunately, when there’s nothing in the YA canon to combat such an intense level of systemic hopelessness, it becomes the standard and replicated.
The importance of having stories that offer the opportunity to see beyond suffering—beyond the bullying, confusion, erasure, and tragedy–can never be stressed enough. In YA at least, a revolution of change has been rippling the waters for years now. It has reached a fabulous breaking point. Readers have begun to challenge negative and stereotypical characters by standing up and saying, “No more.” Authors are taking a stand by listening, working towards properly creating more inclusive works, and realizing that not every story is theirs to tell. The time for flat, one-dimensional characters who never got a chance to be more than their sexual orientation is over.
Readers deserve to lose themselves in stories with characters who lead vibrant full lives, have complicated relationships of all kind, who find happiness and love, if they want it. They deserve characters who get a chance to be just as human and real as they are.
They deserve hope.