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Neuro-diversify Your Romance Bookshelf

A graphic of an open book on a purple background. There is a heart above the book. Text above the book reads "Neuro-diversify Your Romance Bookshelf."
Maris Ava Cruz
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Neurodiversity is often lacking in books, specifically in the romance genre.

How many romance novels have you read with characters who have autism, anxiety, depression or ADHD as part of their stories? Meet three authors increasing representation of neurodiversity in romance.

If you’re looking for a book with all your favorite, time-tested tropes, there’s nothing like a romance novel. The well-worn storylines include the meet-cute and the forbidden love, and finally, the happy ending. That happy ending is the hallmark of romance, but that doesn’t mean they have to be homogeneous. And there’s a growing number of authors writing romance novels that feature perspectives long absent in the genre, including perspectives of characters whose brains work differently from what’s considered “neurotypical.”

Host Anita Rao talks about the representation of neurodiversity, from autism to ADHD, in the romance genre with three neurodivergent authors. E.S. Yu is the author of the paranormal romance “Human Enough.” Ceillie Simkiss is the author of two romance novella series, and Emery Lee is the author of “Meet Cute Diary.”

Interview Highlights

E.S. Yu on finding neurodivergent characters:

I noticed it was a lot more common to find romances with characters who had mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. ... I discovered some romances with characters who were autistic or had ADHD, definitely, because in traditionally-published romances, I hadn't encountered it at all. So starting to see it in the indie space made it feel very welcoming for me as a reader and a writer.

Ceillie Simkiss talks about her favorite character dynamics:

I really love playing with friends-to-lovers, because you get to kind of start out with what you would see with an established relationship. But you also see how that relationship kind of shifts to be more romantic, rather than a strictly platonic one. So you get to see them saying: Oh, well, we've always done this together, we've always held hands. That's just a comfort thing, especially for, you know, autistic and ADHD main characters. But then you also realize that it's not just platonic. It has other meanings to it that you didn't see before or that you didn't feel before. And it's just really fun to put on the page.

Emery Lee on writing for young adults:

I think a lot of people have this idea of, you know, young adult books as being distinctly different from, you know, regular adult books. And I think [in] a lot of ways, they're kind of really similar, especially when it comes to the contemporary romance category, because essentially, you're still trying to meet all of those genre expectations: the happily ever after, the two characters coming together. … In terms of life lessons, like you have to be a little more careful and making sure that you're not normalizing or enforcing, you know, harmful relationship images, and basically make sure that what you're presenting to teenagers is something that if they take away from it, it won't cause them harm in their daily lives.

Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.