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Some of my earliest book memories are family trips heading to WHSmith with our World Book Day book vouchers.

We would be given our vouchers at school, and I would hold on tight to that ticket, wanting to keep it crease-free. Our parents would then be very patient with me and my siblings as the three of us ran to the stand of books, before spending an age making our choices.

We would also have enormous fun scavenging the house for book character costumes to go to school in. In the years that went by I remember dressing up as Angelina Ballerina, Pippi Longstocking, and one year also, of course, Sarah the Sunday Fairy.

World Book Day made a big impression on my childhood. The event was originally created by UNESCO in 1995 to “promote reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person to have a book of their own”. Research by the OECD has even found that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success.

I am therefore very grateful to have had parents that encouraged us to read as children – I enjoyed every book I got my hands on from the Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. But for me, reading was not only a passion and a pastime that followed me into adulthood, it also allowed me to discover who I am and find the LGBTQIA+ representation I needed to feel seen.

Over the last five years I have gone on a journey with my sexuality, landing on the labels ‘asexual’ and ‘lesbian’. As all aces will be aware, there is very limited asexual representation in the media. When I was first questioning my identity, there were virtually no ace characters on TV. I did, however, come across a few books.

Loveless by Alice Oseman is a YA asexual classic about Georgia, a teenager heading off to university and questioning her sexuality, making friends along the way while on the rollercoaster of uni life. Reading Loveless really hit home; so much of my experience was being reflected back to me from the pages.

It is a wonderful experience to feel completely seen and understood by a book, and even more than that, books like Loveless have even given me the invaluable sense of community with other ace people that I have today.

I am a member of an asexual book club, a wonderful group of people who have not only provided me with plenty of asexual (or ace-implied) characters to read about, but a space to safely discuss the ace experience with.

Some of my favourite books we’ve chosen so far include Ace Voices by Eris Young, Upside Down by NR Walker, and The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. All these titles have been such important components of me coming to terms with my sexuality and exploring who I am.

Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli is another example of a book that found me at just the right time. It warmed my heart with recognition and relatability. Imogen is the ‘world’s best ally’, but after a weekend with her best friend’s college crowd, she begins to question whether the reason she feels so connected to the LGBTQIA+ community is that she might be queer herself. This book came out in 2022 and what Loveless had been for my journey of asexual self-discovery, Imogen, Obviously was for me “lesbian side”!

Just as I saw so much of myself in Georgia in Alice Oseman’s novel, Imogen’s story has so many parallels to my own journey.

This World Book Day, I can look back and understand how big a part books and stories have played not only in my journey of self-discovery, but in my life as a whole. Books can transport you to different worlds, provide an escape from reality and allow you to live every dream, while sometimes being just the thing to help you understand the world and your part in it.

In my case, books allowed me to explore who I am and feel pride in my identity. Reading has been shown to both expand vocabulary and accentuate empathy, yes, but for many LGBTQIA+ young people they also provide vital representation and a sense of belonging that they may not have outside of the pages.

Sarah volunteers as an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBTQIA+ young people’s charity. LGBTQIA+ and aged 18 to 25? Sign up here!