Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

Asexual Awareness Week: Three books that give a voice to ace characters

These books make for short and captivating reads that explore asexuality from the perspective of three unique female protagonists.

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Saturday 31 October marks the last day of Asexual Awareness Week and The South African has rounded up some books which put asexual fictional protagonists in the spotlight.

In their own special way, each text explores the topic of asexuality or aromanticism. These books are important because they allow for the representation of so-called “ace” identities that are rarely depicted in media or depicted in prejudiced ways.

Media trend of stretching boundaries

They are part of the positive trend of the boundaries of media being stretched to represent people from all walks of life. If you have ever been interested in the topic of asexuality and wish to know more, Clariel, Quicksilver and Every Heart a Doorway are excellent places to start.

These books can offer validation to those who are asexual and can be educational to those who are not.

Our selection of novels featuring ace heroines

‘Every Heart A Doorway’ by Seanan McGuire

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Image via Instagram @amyjanealice

Written by Seanan McGuire, Every Heart A Doorway is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning young adult novel filled with fantasy and mystery.

It takes place in a very special boarding school where every student has had the strange experience of opening a door and suddenly finding themselves in an alternate reality. When they return to our world, they often wish they could go back to the strange reality they visited.

Nancy is a young girl who discovers a strange door in her cellar. She opens it, walks in, and finds herself in the Halls of the Dead. Although that might sound scary, Nancy wishes she could have stayed there forever.

Things get dark and many questions

Upon returning to our world, her parents send her to the special boarding school. There, she meets many other kids who have had strange experiences like hers.

Things get dark when children start dying. Soon, it becomes obvious that there is a killer in their midst.  

Nancy is different from her peers because she is asexual. This is a bit confusing to the other kids in the boarding school, and they often ask her many questions.

Fortunately, Nancy can explain herself well. In doing so, she also educates readers about asexuality. Nancy describes how being asexual has affected her life and how people perceive her.

Window into asexual challenges in society

Her descriptions are useful, as they offer a window into what challenges an asexual woman might face in society. For example, she reveals how she has been called a “cold fish” and has been described as “dead inside”.

Every Heart A Doorway is a touching story with plenty of mystery and many unexpected twists. It offers a rare and insightful look into the life of an asexual young adult who feels out of place in the world in which she finds herself.

‘Clariel’ by Garth Nix

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Image via Instagram @am.hart

Garth Nix is no stranger to the world of young adult fantasy. The Old Kingdom is one of his most popular fantasy series. It is set in a fictional world of magic and royalty.

Clariel is a novel in The Old Kingdom series. It focuses on a 17-year-old girl named Clariel.

She craves independence and wishes to live in the Great Forest where she can live in isolation. Furthermore, she insists on mastering the dangerous powers of Free Magic instead of the Charter Magic pushed onto her.

There is something about Clariel that makes it difficult for her to conform to the social norms of Belisaire — she is asexual. This is revealed when Clariel deals with male characters, forcing her to admit that she is “just not… not interested in men” or “women either”.

Quest for independence

Clariel’s asexuality causes friction between herself and society. She opposes her arranged marriage to the governor of Belisaire’s son. When she tries to explain herself to her father, he insists that she is too young to know what she wants and simply has not “met the right young man”.

Through Clariel, readers are informed of some of the hardships faced by those who inhabit atypical identities in society. She must struggle through condescension, being misunderstood, and having to assert herself in the face of overwhelming pressures to conform. 

Clariel is a compelling novel about a young adult trying to find her own way in a world that wishes to mould her into something she is not. Although Clariel is a flawed character who makes many mistakes, her quest for independence is one many readers, asexual or not, can resonate with.

‘Quicksilver’ by RJ Anderson

For fans of science-fiction, there is Quicksilver by RJ Anderson.

The protagonist is a woman named Tori Beaugrand who wishes to live a normal life and escape from scientists who want to do tests on her. She also has a big secret – she is an alien. To ensure some privacy in her life, she alters her identity and changes her name to Niki Johnson.

Tori’s life is upturned once again when she receives a visit from Sebastian who informs her that she is not safe just yet. Sebastian asks for Tori’s help to build a device that could help her with her problems.

Alien in the literal sense

Tori is an alien in the most literal sense, but she also feels alienated from society due to her asexuality. She states that she feels like she is “standing on one side of some vast and uncrossable abyss and everybody else I knew was waving at me from the other”.

The fact that Tori is an alien could be considered dehumanising to asexuals. However, through RJ Anderson’s skilful writing, it becomes apparent that Tori is far from being an unsolvable enigma.

She displays characteristics such as kindness and compassion. These are traits that most readers can identify with and admire. In doing so, Tori is made to seem less strange and instead becomes somebody that can be empathised with.

Most importantly, Tori receives something the heroines of the other two young adult novels struggle to find – acceptance. When Tori confesses to her friend, Milo, that she is asexual, she is not rejected or made to feel strange. Instead, she is accepted for who she is. Thus, Milo becomes a positive role model and provides hope to readers who may be asexual like Tori and who may have anxieties about fitting into society.

Quicksilver is a book that science-fiction fans should not miss. It packs tons of action and suspense while providing a cast of characters that are impossible to not get attached to.

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