Ingram Blog

Finally! Body Positive YA Fiction

By Wendy Rancier, MLS

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work in Collection Development at Ingram is meeting with publishers to get early, in-depth looks at what’s happening in the book industry: new trends, new authors, new topics. I have been in numerous meetings in which I have fallen in love with a forthcoming title or been truly moved by the work of a debut illustrator. Do you ever have one of those moments when you see or hear something that totally changes you?

This happened to me in a publisher meeting over a year ago (life pre-pandemic) when I first saw the cover art for Julie Murphy’s Faith: Taking Flight (and Paperback Edition). To provide some context, throughout my life I have struggled with body image. The reality is that we are all different in many ways, and this fact is no more evident than in how we look compared to others. Our differences regarding appearance can be a struggle for many. Some people consider themselves too tall, too large, or too small…I'm sure you understand. As we get older, we learn to navigate societal standards and live our lives. Regardless, the emotional scars remain and can have devastating physical and psychological effects.

So, to say that Faith: Taking Flight affected me is an understatement. I nearly fell out of my chair! Since then, it has made a great difference in my life, and I believe it may bring positive reinforcement to younger audiences. I like graphic novels, though I am not an avid reader of them, and I was unfamiliar with Faith, a superhero themed graphic novel by Jody Houser. Julie Murphy’s interpretation of Faith challenges everything I thought about superheroes, women, and beauty. How can someone like Faith be a heroine?, I asked myself. She doesn’t adhere to usual standards set forth in pop-culture for a female lead. But, while being a teen in a larger body, she radiates the confidence, strength, and beauty characteristic of a superhero. Oh, and, in between struggling with teen love drama and her newfound power of flight, she also solves crimes.

I think back to my teen years in the 90s and the pervasive culture that made teens like me feel inadequate. YA book selection in the 90s was slim, so most of my reading consisted of V.C. Andrews. Yet, most of those book covers featured stereotypically “perfect”-looking girls. The positive message a cover like Faith (or any of Julie Murphy’s other superb titles like Dumplin’would have conveyed to me as a teen may have positively changed things for me. I cannot travel back in time and give my teenage self a copy of Faith, but it gives me hope and joy to know that teens today have the chance to see someone on the cover of a book who might look like they do.

I love Julie Murphy, but I soon discovered many more books with body positive characters being published; so many, in fact, I had to make a list!

Body Positive YA Fiction

Highlights of this list include Love is a Revolution by Renée Watson. Harlem teenager Nala misrepresents herself as a social activist to maintain a romance with civic-minded Tye. Though she struggles somewhat with her self-identity, that struggle is never about her weight. She is an outgoing Black teen comfortable in her body, and the cover of this book is stunning.

Another great choice is by debut author Crystal Maldonado. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega features a young Latina named Charlie struggling with feeling like second choice in love. Charlie is body-positive but tries to navigate the pressures in a world that seems to want her to change.

I wish I could tell every teen struggling with body image that they were not put on this earth to make themselves conform to externally imposed standards. The good news is that the body positivity trend is growing with more resources and body positive images than ever before. As librarians, we are often called upon to help lead information revolutions. I am ready to help lead this one.

I also compiled a list of anti-diet books for your adult collection. You can find that list here.