What's Up in YA

PCOS Representation in YA + This Week’s New YA Books: September 19, 2022

Hey YA Readers!

September might be one of the most jam-packed months when it comes to awareness building campaigns. Among the most well-known are that it’s suicide prevention month, that it’s the beginning of Latine Heritage Month, it’s national library card signup month, and it’s a month related to several health-related challenges, including one that hits home for me: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) month.

I’ve lived with PCOS my entire adult life, and it impacts me every single day. For those who aren’t familiar with this particular hormonal disorder, it impacts individuals who have a uterus and ovaries, and it can manifest in many different ways. Some of the most common include abnormal, absent, or very heavy menstrual cycles; significant facial or body hair; body weight which accumulates in the midsection; acne; fatigue; cystic ovaries; and trouble conceiving. PCOS impacts at least one out of every ten people of menstruating age, and it is often under diagnosed. There are no cures for it, and most people who choose to treat for it need to do so on a symptom-by-symptom basis (so, if you want to stop the excess body hair, you’d treat that, but it wouldn’t necessarily help regulate menstruation and so forth).

I’ve written before about the lack of books which tackle PCOS in YA*, and though things are not better than they were then, I do have a couple of books now that at least touch on this common disorder. I’m going to share them today in the newsletter, and I wanted to bring some awareness to this disorder because of how it impacts me every single day…and because I know for teens especially, anything “abnormal” can be extremely difficult to talk about and even more so when it relates to hormones and reproductive organs.

I also bring it up here because there is something to be considered with this particular disorder when it comes to gender. While the disorder impacts those with internal reproductive organs, some of its hallmarks are hormonal imbalances that more commonly mirror those of cisgender men. Some medical professionals and some individuals who have PCOS consider themselves to be intersex, and trans individuals with PCOS face even bigger hurdles when it comes to their healthcare and sense of self. I identify as female, despite hormones that don’t always align that way, and the more work I do on myself when it comes to my body, the more important I find it to talk about PCOS and how it disrupts and challenges “traditional” notions of a gender binary.

We need more YA books that talk about PCOS and we need more books, period, which explore PCOS and gender. I invite you to spend a little time this month reading and learning about this disorder and hearing from voices — particularly those of young people — learning to navigate a hormonal disorder with their own sense of gender identity.

*If given the chance to rewrite this piece, I’d have addressed PCOS with even more inclusivity, but I think it is important to both share it as-is and mention that the more we’re able to learn about ourselves and about the range of gender expressions available to people, the better we build more accurate language and understanding of ourselves and others.

Bookish Goods

a sticker featuring a stack of fall-colored books and a pumpkin that reads "fall is my favorite."

Fall Reader Sticker by ClaireyLDesigns

I love summer, but I also really love fall, particularly for reading. You better believe I am falling (heh) for this fall is my favorite sticker featuring books, a pumpkin, and twinkle lights. $2.50.

New Releases

Let’s look at two hardcover books hitting shelves this week. You can find the rest of this week’s new releases in the summer 2022 YA book release roundup. The fall roundup of new hardcovers will hit Book Riot this coming week, too!

rust in the root book cover

Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland

A Black, queer, magical historical fiction set in the late 1930s? This sounds like it will be a lot in a very good way.

Laura lives in America, which is divided between those who are part of the mystical arts and those who aren’t. The Great Rust destroyed the country, and now, the great rebuilding has involved a push toward industry and technology and away from traditional mystical work. Laura plans to pursue the arts, though, and once she arrives in New York City, she finds herself struggling until she applies for a job with the government. She meets Skylar, who agrees to take her on as an apprentice, and just before their first first mission, they find work from some of the most powerful mages in history that haven’t been seen in generations. It’s work that could get both of them killed.

Ireland’s no stranger to books about American history that explore race, power, and privilege. This book does all of that and more.

seoulmates book cover

Seoulmates by Susan Lee

Itching for a childhood friends-to-lovers romance? This one’s for you.

Hannah’s looking forward to her perfectly planned summer with her boyfriend Nate and her upcoming senior year. Too bad Nate leaves Hannah, and he, like so many of her friends, have found themselves falling for all things K-Pop. It wouldn’t be a big deal, really, but Hannah has worked hard to avoid getting to know the Korean part of her Korean American identity, so it’s even harder for her to handle this breakup than she anticipated.

Jacob, Hannah’s former best friend from childhood, is home for the summer. Jacob…who starred in K-dramas. Now, Hannah not only finds herself falling for him but needing to come to terms with her own identity in the process.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter.

Riot Recommendations

If you know of other YA books that tackle PCOS, I’d love to hear about them. This is my most current list, and my criteria is pretty minimal: there must be some time dedicated to naming it and explaining it, even if it’s just a few paragraphs.

You’ll note all of these are by white cis authors. Also interesting is that two of the three at Australian writers. Is there more awareness or conversation happening outside of the U.S.?

it sounded better in my head book cover

It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Natalie’s parents have just announced they’re getting divorced and she’s not entirely sure she saw it coming. They didn’t really fight or argue, and no one seems super upset about it.

At the same time, her two best friends Zach and Lucy get together, and now she’s upset and feeling super awkward about it. Natalie always thought she and Zach were meant to be, but it turns out, maybe that’s not the case after all.

So when an unexpected romance enters into Natalie’s life, she’s got to find a place between what she expected to play out for her and what actually is.

Natalie has PCOS and some of her experiences with mood and feelings mirror what can be common emotional challenges for those with the disorder (and compounded with being a teenager + dealing with two huge life events at once!). She is sometimes downright mean and it’s impossible for me as someone with PCOS not to see how some of her actions and reactions have less to do with how she’s emotionally feeling and more with how her body is reacting to a situation.

only mostly devastated book cover

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Ollie and Will had a whirlwind romance during the summer when Ollie spent time in North Carolina with his family. He’s preparing to head back home to California for the new school year when his parents break the news they’re going to be staying. His aunt, who has cancer, is really struggling, and being in North Carolina will be a way for them to help out with her husband and kids as she attends to appointments and caring for her own health.

Ollie immediately finds a friendship with a group of girls at his new school — and immediately learns that, despite the fact Will doesn’t live in the same town he does, he does attend the same high school. But Will has stopped responding to texts and is cold at the sight of Ollie. What happened to their connection? Can it be kindled again? Will isn’t out at school, among his basketball peers — many of whom are homophobic — and he worries that coming out will mean disappointment from his parents. This is why he’s keeping Ollie at arm’s distance and why, again and again, the two of them come close then once again fall apart.

The thing is, neither Will nor Ollie can resist one another, and it’s this magnetism that keeps them working toward a goal of connecting, of finding the same romance they had that summer.

If you’re wondering where PCOS fits into this, it’s one of the side characters. She openly talks about having PCOS during the book and it was such a refreshing moment for explaining a relatively common health condition.

body talk book cover

Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy edited by Kelly Jensen

It is never not awkward talking about your own work, but I wrote an entire essay on my experiences with PCOS for Body Talk. I wrote the piece in a whirlwind, and it still resonates with me years and years later. I’ll never be the person who might dye or braid my facial hair…but I will forever tell women — it’s always cis women — their jokes about that one single chin hair they get being the worst thing ever are the farthest thing from funny (and they’re so gender essentialist to boot).

Thank you all so much for hanging out and for allowing me space to get kind of personal and raw. I hope this is helpful for the (at least) 5-10% of you who also struggle with PCOS and for those of you who work with readers who do.

Until later this week, happy reading!

— Kelly Jensen, @veronikellymars on Twitter.