We’re officially halfway through the season of surf, sun, sand, and swimsuits—which means that for many of us, we’re officially at peak fatigue when it comes to the endless and insipid debates about what a “beach body” looks like. From six-packs to thigh gaps, sometimes it seems like the world has a mile-long list of body prerequisites for the simple act of wearing a bikini.
Lucky for us, these body-positive heroes of YA lit have just the right attitude to inspire us all to blow past the confines of narrow body/beauty standards, and take our butts to the beach—without worrying about how said butts will look in a bathing suit. Pack one of these titles alongside your sunscreen, and go bask in some solid self-love.
My Big Fat Manifesto, by Susan Vaught
The heroine of Susan Vaught’s book is a burgeoning activist for body positivity. As the author of a column about the indignities and discrimination fat people face, Jamie Carcaterra is devoted to opening people’s eyes to body image as a social justice issue—but when her boyfriend gets bariatric surgery and becomes consumed by his obsession with weight loss, Jamie ends up getting a worthwhile education herself in the dangers of treating her body like it’s the most important thing about her, whether she’s taking pride in it or trying to change it (a relatable message for readers of any size).
Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell
Everything Beautiful packs a double shot of body acceptance: In addition to a chubby, badass heroine in the form of atheist rebel Riley Rose, the book delves into the world of disability when Riley bonds with Dylan Keir, who is a) paraplegic and b) sexy as hell. Romance, swearing, dune-buggy theft, and an exuberant celebration of physicality in all its, ahem, various forms ensues.
Future Perfect, by Jen Larsen
After a lifetime of being bribed by her grandmother to lose weight, Ashley Perkins is presented with the inevitable, ultimate deal de resistance: Grandma will fund her entire college education if Ashley undergoes stomach-stapling surgery. It’s an alluring idea, except for the part where Ashley likes her bigger than average body just fine—as does just about everyone else in her life, which makes this a refreshing and realistic take on contemporary body image issues. In a world where too much fiction indulges the fantasy of being thin—and the idea that life doesn’t really begin until or unless one’s body is a particular size—Larsen’s book is a portrait of a happy, fulfilled, and beloved fat girl whose body has never held her back.
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
He closed his eyes and saw her again. A stack of freckled heart-shapes, a perfectly made Dairy Queen ice cream cone. Like Betty Boop drawn with a heavy hand.
Swoon. Whether you’re reading it for the first time or rereading it for the fifteenth, Rowell’s sweet and heartfelt story about two teenagers falling in love—in which Eleanor’s Rubenesque body goes from being an object of mockery to a vehicle of divine pleasure without shedding a single pound—is a perfect body-positive read with just the right amount of steamy romance for (oh, oh!) those summer nights.
Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
Not only does Willowdean remain her wonderful rotund self from start to finish—and call out the trope of the miserable fat girl with great wit and confidence—but this book contains perhaps the best bikini-wearer’s pep talk in the history of fiction:
There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.
…and then grab Dumplin’, and hit the beach.