Representations in YA Lit: My Veg/Vegan TBR List

representations in ya lit my veg vegan tbr list Representations in YA Lit: My Veg/Vegan TBR List

Earlier this week, I asked some of my followers on Twitter, including @appifanie, @jennykacz, @MyfanwyCollins, @Word_Tapestry@yalovemag, & many others, if they knew of any YA novels featuring vegetarian or vegan characters. I’d read several books with one or more of these characters, usually the protagonist, with diverse dietary choices – all of which I shared in Tuesday’s blog post about the representation of veg and vegan characters in YA lit. In case you missed it, I’ll just state here briefly that as someone who has lived as either a vegetarian or vegan for the last 13 years, I’ve become very attuned to way characters with similar dietary needs and ethics to the ones to which I ascribe are represented.

As for the veg and vegan characters portrayed in the following novels, I can’t really speak to whether most of the following are positive, negative, or neutral as I haven’t read them yet. That said, from comments I read on Goodreads or speaking to other readers and authors, it seems like there is a range of representations in the books below, including, in The Art of Falling, for example, a teen who uses veganism as a means of restricting or controlling the food she eats in a way that may be unhealthy. While I know it’s possible to have a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet, some teens and adults might not go about in the right way, which makes this story just as necessary as one in which there aren’t any problems represented.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I heard that The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series does something like what Gilmore Girls did with Mrs. Kim. One of the mothers is a health conscious veg or vegan, and when it’s her turn to supply treats for the book club, the other members do whatever they can do avoid eating them because they’re so “gross.” If this is true, I’d have a major problem with the representation, which would seem not only dated, but also overly biased in my opinion. Still, I want to read it just as much, if not more, than the other books on the list to judge for myself and to call it out for the problems that readers who don’t subscribe to this diet might not see.

Check out this list of books featuring veg or vegan characters, and let me know which ones you’re most interested in reading:

Coming In July 1, 2015:

Have you read any of these books yet? Or will you seek them out now that you know they have characters with either a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle? And just as important, do you any other books featuring vegetarian or vegan characters that are either already published or will be published in the future that my readers and I should read? I want to update this list or create new veg/vegan character features like this one in the future, and your eyes and ears will help keep my information up to date. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

  8 comments for “Representations in YA Lit: My Veg/Vegan TBR List

  1. Cynthia Karabush
    June 12, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    I’ve read some of the books on this list, but never taken notice: I guess I’m around so many teens (who are perpetually experimenting with dietary philosophies) that I take those diets for granted. I did just finish a Sarah Andrews book that included characters discussing the environmental benefits of vegetarian diets, but that was an adult book (hey, it’s summer).

    I loved Stargirl, but I suspect her diet was part of building up her “quirkiness”, and I wonder how often authors use veg/vegan diets as shorthand for defining quirky characters – like Mrs. Kim?

    Blankets and Obernetwyn are right here on my “must read soon” pile, so I’m going to pay more attention as I read them!

  2. June 14, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Cynthia. I do agree that teens are often experimenting with diet (and so much else), but I also think that whether it’s something of particular interest to you (as it is with me) or not, it’s easy to forget this detail, especially if it isn’t part of a major plot point or growth in the character, since it usually isn’t a key part of any novel. I don’t know about you, but I read so many books that small details slip my mind often. That said, I read a few books in a row this year (and at least one last year) where vegetarianism was something of major consequence, so I started thinking about it more. I read an adult novel, Rooms by Lauren Oliver with a teenaged character who is vegetarian last year also, but the interesting thing was that he never dwelt too much on this aspect of himself whenever the book was told from his perspective. In fact, I think that the only time it is mentioned at all is during his adult sister’s POV, and is used almost as an insult. She thinks that the only reason he has become a vegetarian is to be “difficult,” to make life harder for everyone else in his family.

    I haven’t read Stargirl yet as this post makes clear, though I did just acquire a copy of it today, so I look forward to reading it soon. That said, I’m definitely going to pay attention to the way her vegetarianism is used based on your assessment. Since only around 5% of the population as a whole is veg and about 1% is vegan, I get that it’s not something that the majority of people try and understand why someone might thinks it’s “quirky.” The truth is that more teens and 20-somethings become vegetarian or vegan than those numbers would suggest; I think it’s much more common now than would make sense as a shorthand for quirky characters. I know that so many people still view vegetarianism or veganism as a “phase” that some teens go through, rather than something serious or important to them, even if it doesn’t stick. It’s no different, in my opinion, from the way adults don’t take teen love very seriously. Again, it doesn’t always stick for various reasons, but I still think it means a great deal to them when they’re in it. In either case, though, I don’t think it’s ideal. I understand why this may have been done in the past, but I think it speaks to a lack of understanding of what it really means to that character, and I think that authors should try to do better now. And I think that people who are invested in creating or reading vegetarian or vegan characters should demand better representation.

    I hope that you share what you think of Blankets and Obernetwyn with me. too.

  3. June 26, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Hi Melissa,

    Thank you for putting this list together. I’m a vegan, a writer and co-founder of a small publishing house devoted in large part to literature with animal themes, and many of our books feature vegetarian or vegan characters.

    We published one of the books in your list — Out of Breath by Blair Richmond. This is book one of a (now complete) trilogy that features a vegan protagonist and is inspired by the Twilight Series. The author wanted to create truly vegetarian vampires and this trilogy is the result.

    To expand on your comment, I’m particularly excited about books that feature vegan characters who are not “fringe” characters. There are simply not enough of these books out there yet, but this is changing. As a publisher, we’re always looking for books that feature strong vegan characters. And for the writers out there who are pursuing works with animal rights themes, I’ve put together a brief list of tips here: http://www.ecolitbooks.com/2013/05/writing-for-animals-advice-for-writers-of-animal-rights-fiction/

    In the future, I’d like to see books in which carnivores are the fringe characters, or characters going through a “phase.”

    Thanks again for this post!

  4. June 26, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for commenting, John. I’m glad that you appreciated this list, and I’m wondering whether you saw the other piece I wrote, which speaks about the representation of veg and vegan characters in several books that I’ve already read. If not, you can find it here: http://www.yabookshelf.com/2015/06/mrs-kim-the-representation-of-vegvegan-characters-in-ya-lit/.

    I had no idea that there were any publishers specifically looking for vegetarian and vegan characters in the books they published, but I imagine that your own veganism plays a big part in publishing books with positive representations. I read your tips, and I am particularly happy to see that you mentioned a need for compassion not just for animals, but also for those who consume meat and animal products. I strongly believe that it’s a journey people have to take for themselves when they’re ready. Pushing people into vegetarianism or veganism will never yield a positive result, and most likely will maintain some of the stereotypical opinions that some omnivores have regarding these diets and the people who practice them.

    That said, I know what you mean about looking for a time when veg or vegan characters aren’t fringe characters. Some of the mainstream books I’ve read which take place in the future have envisioned this kind of future, though if I remember correctly, there weren’t any meat-eating characters at all in those books, unless the MC went back to our present time. Thanks again for commenting!

  5. June 26, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I completely agree that pushing people into veganism rarely works. I certainly had my own journey to follow and was stubborn every step of the way.

    So, as a press, publish a range of books that appeal to a range of readers — books with vegan characters, books with vegetarians characters, and we have a new YA book with a character who becomes vegetarian along the way: Strays by Jennifer Caloyeras.
    http://ashlandcreekpress.com/books/strays.html

    Thanks again…

  6. June 26, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    My pleasure, John! Thanks for pointing out that Strays is about a character who becomes vegetarian along the way.

  7. K.S. Madrone
    November 8, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Thanks for this list! I’ve published two self-help books for teens and just completed a novel (the first of a series) with a vegan main character and several other vegan and vegetarian characters (several of who work at a local farm sanctuary). I came across your post while collecting research to show that there is interest in such characters, and in story lines involving rising consciousness among teens–animal welfare, environmental concerns, other-than-classical ideas about spirituality, and so on. I was formerly a staff writer for the Humane Society of the US, and I completely agree with John’s comments about how it’s important to show compassion for all people, as we’re all on the journey together. While I’m a vegan now, I wasn’t raised vegetarian or vegan, and I try to always keep in mind how I could have communicated with the animal-eating me of my earlier life.

  8. November 16, 2015 at 12:30 am

    Thanks for commenting, K.S.! Like you, I wasn’t raised either vegetarian or vegan, so I agree that showing compassion for others is so important. :)

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