A common phenomenon that happens in a publishing industry that is skewed toward cis straight white people is that so often the representation marginalized folks get is table scraps in the form of side characters. Not only are they marginalized by society, they’re often marginalized by the fictional narratives they exist in. For this reason, I wanted to round up some side/supporting characters who I wished had books/stories of their own where they take center stage. For most, I’ve included either fanart or a picture I’ve picked as a fancast representing how I’d imagine the character. If you click on the fanart/fancasts you’ll see a description of the model’s background or artist credits where applicable.
Note: I couldn’t think of any side characters with disabilities that I could include in this, but if I think of any later on, I’ll add them.
Hannah from The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne – YA, contemporary
I definitely bought this book because of the queer Asian girl on the cover. The story is told from the perspective of a cishet white girl who’s Hannah’s best friend, and it does explore a lot of the common pitfalls of allyship, but unfortunately Hannah took a backseat to the main character’s Good Intentions. Because of that, I want a book about Hannah’s side of things, about her experience as a biracial, Vietnamese American lesbian.
Risha from Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee – YA, science fiction, thriller
The main character of Zeroboxer is Carr, who’s a professional zero-gravity prizefighter and ethnically mixed/ambiguous as is common for scifi protagonists since they’re supposed to represent the end result of the “melting pot.” Risha is his brandhelm, or marketing and public relations manager, and girlfriend. She is half-Martian and of Asian descent (in an interview, the author mentioned that much of the Martian colonies was populated by descendants of people from Asian countries affected by overpopulation, so I imagine her as being a mix of Indian and Chinese) and feels like she doesn’t belong with either Terrans or Martians. Unfortunately, she comes off as kind of an accessory to Carr’s character and is largely seen through the male gaze. She’s intelligent and graceful and I wish I knew more of her perspective as someone with a hybrid identity, an experience I relate to a lot as an Asian American.
Nara from The Prophecy Trilogy/The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh – YA, fantasy
Nara was one of my favorite supporting characters from the Prophecy trilogy. She’s a fox demon whose greatest desire is to experience being human. I wanted to know more about her background and her adventures after the events of the series, whether she had any luck finding love or companionship. (I emailed the author about the lack of queer rep in the series except for one minor character who was heavily implied to be gay, and she told me that Nara’s character was supposed to be a lesbian, but that was edited out because she was on a tight deadline didn’t want to risk getting Nara’s representation wrong, so I’m 100% headcanoning her as queer.)
Zhen Ni from Serpentine and Sacrifice by Cindy Pon – YA, fantasy
Zhen Ni, the MC Skybright’s mistress and best friend, is a lesbian and I wanted to see more of her relationship with Lan and other girls. She’s a supporting character in the first book and then a viewpoint character in the second. SPOILER (highlight to see): She ends up with someone at the end of the series but there’s very little about the details of her relationship and how she got into it, just a brief summary of it as she tells it to Skybright. She also raises an adoptive daughter who’s a demon, and I wanted to know more about her mothering adventures. END SPOILER
Raffaele Laurent Bessette from The Young Elites Trilogy by Marie Lu – YA, fantasy
My favorite gorgeous queer guy. I want to know more about his relationship with (and sadly, one-sided love for) Enzo prior to the events of The Young Elites and what he’s up to after the events of The Midnight Star. Raffaele is a sex worker, and while his clients include men and women, the author’s out-of-text comments seem to point to him being gay. I originally read him as bi though, maybe because I really want bi rep. (On a related note: I was disappointed by the way sex work was treated by the narrative in The Young Elites. During a conversation between Adelina and Raffaele, it was said that nobody would ever choose to be a sex worker, which erases the agency of sex workers who aren’t trafficked/coerced into the work. I want more narratives that are nuanced and center sex workers and portray the diversity of experiences they have.)
Whit Wu from The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee – YA, contemporary, magical realism
Stacey Lee took a departure from her established pattern by not featuring a Chinese American protagonist in The Secret of a Heart Note. However, one of the supporting characters is the handsome and talented Asian (most likely Chinese or Taiwanese based on the last name) American soccer player, Whit Wu. It was mentioned during the narrative that Court, Mim’s crush, got a magazine cover shoot because he looked more “all-American,” i.e. white, even though Whit is the more skilled player between them. I really want more stories about Asian Americans playing sports and kicking ass and the struggles they face because of stereotypes. A fictional Jeremy Lin, you might say.
Daphne Richards from Timekeeper by Tara Sim – YA, steampunk/alternate historical fiction, fantasy
Although the main character of Timekeeper is white, there is a supporting character who, like the author herself, is biracial white and Indian and white-passing. That would be Daphne, who is an extremely competent clock mechanic and a total badass who rides around on a motorbike flouting society’s rules about how women should dress and act. Since the story is mostly told from Danny’s point of view, we don’t get to see much of Daphne’s inner world as a WOC. However, the second book of the trilogy, Chainbreaker (coming later this year!), will be set in India, so I’m hoping Daphne will be there and play a larger role in the events.
Bucket from Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger – NA, urban fantasy
As I mentioned in my review, Last Call has a very diverse cast across the board. Bucket is a trans guy who befriends the protagonist Bailey, and he already transitioned prior to the events of the book, so his storyline isn’t about transitioning. There is one scene where he discloses to Bailey that he’s trans, and it’s written in a way that’s hilarious but not at the expense of trans people. It was probably one of my favorite scenes in the book. Bucket is very much a comedic relief type character, but I’m sure he has his inner demons somewhere, and it would be cool to learn more about how he got into the demon-fighting business. Also, he works at a gay bar, so delving more into that setting as it relates to the story would be a bonus.