Where are the YA Characters that are interested in STEM?

Hey everyone! Welcome to my second discussion post!

Here’s a little interesting fact about me…I am a science geek. I love love my science. As difficiult and annoying as they get, I love learning about it. I love biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, etc. Branching out of those amazing (and hard) classes, comes most science majors! Biomedical Engineering, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, etc. Jobs in science are EXTREMELY important. You all may or may not have heard of the acronym STEM, which stands for SCIENCE | TECHNOLOGY | ENGINEERING | MATHEMATICS. There’s a substantial amount of work being put into schools getting kids to want to pick them as future careers.

Now, what the HECK does this have to do with reading? A lot of kids turn to books to escape their reality and experience a whole new world. From reading, a child’s imagination can go anywhere. If they see a character enjoying what they’re learning/studying/doing, chances are they’ll want to try it out and see for their selves if it’s fit for them. So many writers are writers because they read books as kids and wanted to write for others. It may have taken a while, but it planted that career seed.

Now from my experience, I know that there’s a huge weight on kids to do well in science classes at young ages. And many museums encourage kids to learn more about science to increase their chances of pursuing it. I work at a science museum, so I have first hand experience of this. I personally don’t attribute my love for science to my childhood reading because the books that I did read as a child didn’t feature eager scientists or mathematicians.

A lot of times, in contemporaries, we’ll get a character yearning to get accepted into Harvard or Yale or Cornell, but they’re such a well rounded student. Don’t get me wrong, being a college freshman, and undecided at the moment, I still know I want to pursue science. SOME kids should have a sense of what field they want to study. So, why aren’t we seeing more STEM interest in books? Like I said, it’s needed SO much in the industry and so many jobs are requiring science and technological background. And if reading can possibly affect a child or teenager’s interests, shouldn’t we include STEM interest? Not to say that writers should be forcing it in their writing.

I personally haven’t read a ton of books with characters interested in STEM, but there are a few out there! I know Kady from Illuminae is a computer genius. GO KADY!!! I loved seeing a girl interested in computers and kick butt at the same time. There’s also Mercedes from Firsts which wants to study Chemistry! (Very hard, but STILL – amazing!) Besides those two characters, we have Joanna from Salt to the Sea which had experience in medical field which is AMAZING. Can you tell how amazing I think STEM interests are? They’re pretty amazing.  A few other characters that have been brought to my attention are characters within Code Name Verity (that feature careers within engineering), James from The Countess Conspiracy who is a scientist, Gottie from The Square Root of Summer who is interested in math and physics and Lyssa from the Razia series who is a sceintist. Basically, just a bunch of kick butt jobs and interests.

Isabel Bandeira, a mechanical engineer and author of Bookishly Ever After really has great things to say about this problem. We may not realize it, but mention of STEM can do wondrous things for children and teenagers alike. And STEM interest is needed. Bandeira talks about how “Careers aren’t the center of a story.  Sometimes,they’re just tiny mentions… but mentions that can still carry an unconscious bias. When we write, we have a chance to subtly tell that girl who is interested in science ‘yes, you exist. And you can do amazing things.'” She then goes on to say “Inspire. Lead. Guide. Don’t forget the non-traditional as a career option. Make the mom an engineer, computer scientist, astronaut, mathematician. Let your female characters love science class. The subtle can be more important than we realize.”

So authors, think about it. You may have hated science and math, but your character might love it. And you might spark the love for science in a 14 year old girl or boy yearning to explore the field. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with other professions, but STEM holds both a special place in my heart, Bandeira’s, and many others. So think about it. We desperately need more of these loved characters.


21 thoughts on “Where are the YA Characters that are interested in STEM?

  1. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles says:

    I love this discussion topic! I’m a STEM major myself, so I’ve noticed the lack of YA characters who are interested in STEM. I would love it if there were more characters who went down a more technical route because I would bond with them so well! It would also be great because it would possibly encourage kids to be more interested in STEM subjects.

    I suppose the lack of STEM in YA books might have something to do with authors tending to be more well-versed in humanities and social sciences?


  2. Iridescence says:

    This is a very good post! And so true. Most of the time I just see characters who are interested ib writing. No doubt, main characters usually evolve from the authoe and it’s easier to write but we need these too. As a student about to pursue Computer Science Engineering in college, I recognise the value of this. Sure, I actually want to write but I like CS too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jolenewilsonblog says:

    Have you read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate books? It’s about a girl in the 1900s that loved science but of course made fun of and was expected to learn to cook and sew instead. Only her grandfather helps and support her.


  4. Lila says:

    Yooooooooo! I was just about to do a post on this topic too! A few weeks ago I posted for top 10 tuesday the top 10 YA books girls in stem should read! It think this is such an important thing, especially for encouraging young women who want to pursue STEM. We need more role models, alive AND fictional. As a young woman in STEM, most of my favorite characters are girls in STEM. Great post!


  5. Joey @ thoughts and afterthoughts says:

    In terms of STEM inclusion, my best guess is that it can break the natural flow of narrative; particularly in romance/fluff heavy storylines. It’s one thing for inclusion but it’s another to actually do it just and not some passing “oh I need a science tutor” nonsense because, in my opinion, once you enter those arenas of discussion, speaking on it briefly will NOT do the concept and themes justice as they relate to the construct of characters and/or to spark interest. It’s almost a non-issue if Character X likes examining sinusoid waves while the whole story is about their relationship to Y with no connection in-between.

    Just my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Valerie says:

    I love this! I’m also somewhat of a STEM major, and I’m going to be an actual “scientist” next year. So it gets me really excited when I see a character interested in science, or brain science for that matter, and pursue that field. As much as I like humanities, I don’t really connect to those characters because that’s not my major.

    I think in response to Joey’s comment, I wouldn’t even mind if the knowledge was in passing. Like maybe just the fact that the character is taking all science classes, or why they like science. I mean, computer programming is becoming a huge thing in every field, so it’s bound to turn up in books one day (Yay for Illuminae)


  7. sam (@rebelbooks) says:

    I actually think about this a ton. I feel like in many books a character has a singular “intense interest” as I call it, which is basically what they are passionate about (acting, dance, ect.), but I have had a really hard time finding characters who’s number one interest is in something STEM related. I would love to see more of that especially since I know I plan to go into a STEM oriented career and I feel like if there was more STEM representation in YA and children’s books it could definitely make a difference for other younger readers who have no idea what they want to do. Awesome post!


  8. Katherine @ Fabled Haven says:

    I really loved this post! You’re definitely right- it’s really rare, now that I think about it, to come across main (or even supporting) YA characters who are invested in STEM fields. It’s something that should really be addressed, and I would love reading about those characters in particular- it would probably motivate kids who are more STEM invested but dislike reading to read more books, too. I know my younger brother, who dislikes reading but loves CS and math, would probably like reading more if he had a main character who he shared similar interests with. This was a great, thought provoking post!


  9. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    I’m doing a Bachelor of Science right now in uni, and I totally agree – there are not a lot of protagonists out there in YA books that are interested in STEM! Would definitely be cool to see more of them – that way, more and more people can be interested in STEM! 😀


  10. MC @ Blame It On The Books says:

    Love, love, love this post! I actually just finished reading Genius: The Game and I’d definitely recommend it if you are looking for more books that feature STEM. I found it totally refreshing to read because I barely ever get to see main characters who love science and math. It was so much fun! (Also, the female main character is freaking awesome and can out-STEM everyone lol.) Anyways, I loved reading what you have to say here and I totally agree with you. I really hope we get to see more characters interested in STEM in the future!


  11. katz says:

    I think there are a couple reasons we don’t see more STEM protagonists in YA. The first is that there just aren’t that many STEM people in YA. IME, the environment of networking and self-promotion can be really frustrating and tiring to an introverted STEM person who’s used to their work’s merit speaking for itself. And when non-STEM people write STEM characters, they often make obvious mistakes, like getting anion and cation backwards.

    The other problem is that, by convention, YA is not very technical, so it can be hard to sell a book that includes science content. For instance, Among the Red Stars had a brief discussion of potential versus kinetic energy, but it was cut during the editorial process for being overly technical. So when STEM characters do appear in books, it’s often more of a window dressing because if you put in hard science content, people think it no longer sounds like YA.


    • flyingthroughfiction says:

      I totally agree. It’s such a hard line to find; it’s easy to do the wrong thing (relay misinformation) and easy to over indulge in the STEM talk. Nonetheless, I still think there should be a bit more STEM. Just the mention of their interest in a field is crazy. If I read about characters that wanted to be doctors and chemists or science researches, it’d be amazing! Or a scene in a lab/hospital. It’s the little things for sure. If it counts for anything, I would’ve read that discussion with KE/PE talk gladly!


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