It’s no secret that asexual representation in media is few and far between. Ace characters tend to be on my radar, yet somehow I went into my most recent read completely oblivious as to what was in store. Yes, Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow is categorized under the asexual tag on Goodreads, but somehow I missed that. Going in unaware of Hazel’s asexuality made my reading experience that much better, though. It made the story more authentic and relatable for me. When Hazel begs her moms to sign the waiver for sex ed because she feels uncomfortable at the thought of ever having sex someday, I thought, this can’t be what I think it is? One of her moms gives Hazel a significant look, and at the end of the book the topic is revisited in such a heartwarming and validating way that I may have shed a few tears. In this middle grade realistic fiction book with sapphic mothers and a trans girl, I never expected there to be a conversation about being valid for not wanting to date, have sex, or get married when you grow up. As someone who didn’t realize I was ace until I was in my 20s, I can’t help but wish this book had been around when I was 13, like Hazel. It might have helped me realize what I was feeling, or wasn’t feeling, a lot sooner. But I am grateful this book exists now, for all the ace kids on the cusp of puberty and all the messy, confusing feelings that come with it. It’s so easy to get caught up in what the other kids around you are feeling that your own feelings can end up getting mixed up, too. Having a character like Hazel, who sticks to her own convictions and doesn’t try to change who she is to fit in, is an important character for kids to have.
The ace and other queer representation in this book wasn’t the only thing I loved about it, of course! Ace or not, Hazel’s story was super easy for me to relate to. At her old school, Hazel was seen as the weird “Goat Girl” (because she lives on a goat farm) with only her best friend Becca on her side. When she’s forced to go to a new school for eighth grade, the only thing she has to look forward to is hers and Becca’s sleepover traditions. But as Becca’s social life starts to blossom and Hazel’s family’s situation takes a toll on her emotions, the two girls begin to drift apart. I may have shed some more tears when Hazel and Becca have a particularly brutal conversation, where Hazel reminds Becca that she promised they’d always be best friends, and Becca admits maybe she shouldn’t have promised that. Society places a large emphasis on how much breakups suck and how to move on, but no one ever talks about friendship breakups. Losing a best friend is just as painful as the end of a romantic relationship, and while I wasn’t glad the two girls in the book were losing their precious friendship, I am glad that this book touched on that topic.
Hazel’s Theory of Evolution has ups (Hazel makes some new friends, and they are funny and caring and awesome) and downs (Hazel spends the whole book repressing her emotions because she’s terrified that one of her mothers, who’s pregnant, might have another miscarriage) and touches on topics that real kids experience but that we don’t often see in media. Hazel’s voice comes across as authentic, too. Some middle grade can read as though the reader is being talked down to, but Bigelow really nailed the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl in an emotional tumult. If you’re looking for more ace representation, or even if you’re not, this is a great book to add to anyone’s reading list!