Books

Diversity in YA-Q&A.

The issue of a lack of diversity in YA books is certainly not a new thing. In fact scholars have been researching it for well over 50 years. Whilst there are statistics to suggest that diversity in YA and children’s literature is slowly rising it still does not reflect the diversity of modern day society.

In light of recent discussions about the lack of diversity in some YA fiction novels-I have asked a few questions of two book bloggers/bookstagrammers who (people who read a lot of books) in order to hear their thoughts on the topic (rather than me ranting on about it).

Emilija of coffeechatter.

1. Have you ever read a YA book with a main character who was LGBTQIA, a person of colour, was gender diverse, -had a disability or was from an ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities and did you enjoy this book why/why not? If no, would you read a book with such a main character why/why not?

I have quite a few. The first book that came to mind was After Obsession by Carrie Jones. This one stood out to me the most because the main character is from a Native American background. He’s half Navajo and he’s really close to his roots. He has a spirit guide and everything, it was an interesting experience to read about all of that as I’ve never really been familiar with that culture at all. Same goes for the Fated series by Alyson Noel. The MC is also close to this background and goes through an interesting journey herself. I think both books had decent representations of this culture.

Then there’s Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy. One of the MC’s is a gypsy and his family background and their lifestyle is featured quite a bit. I enjoyed this one a lot.

I’ve also read a book called The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl by Reşat Nuri Güntekin. The clues are in the title, it’s about the life of a muslim girl in Turkey. This was a very well done book in my opinion.

I’m going to list some here because I have read quite a few where diverse cultures are briefly touched on or mentioned, or even left open for interpretation. So there’s books like Perfect Chemistry (and the following books in the series) by Simone Elkeles – the guys in the books are from a Latino background. There’s Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead the MC – Rose – is from an exotic background, but I can’t really remember if it was discussed in depth, also the love interest is Russian and his background is discussed a little later on in the series. Same with The Gathering series by Kelley Armstrong. The MC Maya is also described in a way that would suggest she’s from a Native American background, but it wasn’t really touched upon deeply. Then there’s Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Even though it’s a dystopian novel, the characters are described to be from a Caribbean background. There’s also The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa and Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, both books have MC’s from Asian backgrounds. There’s also The Mortal Instruments series – I mean we all love Malec so there’s no need to go deeper there.

2. Do you think it is important minorities are represented in YA fiction why/why not?

Yes, of course. It’s extremely important. I’ve always believed that understanding and tolerance of others and their cultures comes from education and exposure to said cultures and their lifestyles. Not only that, in some cases if done well it makes the story much more interesting to read about because not only are you getting entertainment by reading a story, you’re also learning about something you’re not familiar with or would normally not get to experience.

3. Do you think it’s hard for authors to get representations of diverse characters right without offending the diverse minorities a character represents?

I think it depends. Like, I’ve read some books where the author has done an amazing job, and others where it felt like the author didn’t put much effort into researching the background and exposing their self to it, which results in having a character from a diverse background, but it only ends up mentioned once and then never touched again. It ends up feeling like they’ve done it just for sake of doing it. It depends how much research the author has done, how much they’ve been exposed to the culture/diverse background they are writing about. I would imagine it should be extremely hard to accurately portray characters (and their emotions) with disabilities if the author hasn’t come across it themselves or know anyone with it.

4. What are some of your favourite diverse characters from YA fiction?

Malec for sure. I haven’t come across any other characters from diverse backgrounds that I’ve enjoyed reading about as much as I love these two. 😀

Melissa of aus_ya_bookworm.

1. Have you ever read a YA book with a main character who was LGBTQIA, a person of colour, was gender diverse, -had a disability or was from an ethnic, cultural, or religious minorities and did you enjoy this book why/why not? If no, would you read a book with such a main character why/why not?

Yes I have. I love reading about LGBTQIA characters. Some of my favourite ships are from this group. The relationships add a level of depth to the characters. They weren’t just perfect, white characters… They had flaws, they were LGBTQIA, they were real.

2. Do you think it is important minorities are represented in YA fiction why/why not?

Absolutely. YA shouldn’t just be focused on one minority group. YA should be reflecting all groups of people. I lot of books seem to push the white ideal character on readers. This takes away from the complexity and beauty of all people. YA should be reflecting this.

3. Do you think it’s hard for authors to get representations of diverse characters right without offending the diverse minorities a character represents?

I always think it’s difficult for authors to express their voice – particularly when it comes to minority groups – and to represent accurately the voice of another group. As a history student, I’ve found that one of the big criticism of historical writing is cultural appropriation and one kind of person writing on behalf of another. What right does one person have to tell anothers story? Are they able to do it right? I think the same ideas are being applied to YA at the moment.

My belief is that if an author is going to create a minority character, they have the responsibility to do that group justice. On the other hand, YA books are targeted at readers aged 9-12 years who generally don’t concern themselves with these issues. But for us older readers of YA, we understand the importance of minority characters and the need for more.

4. What are some of your favourite diverse characters from YA fiction?

When I’m reading characters that are from the LGBTQIA community, I enjoy seeing their discovery of identity. Some of my favourite LGBTQIA characters are Simon Snow and Baz from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Alec and Magnus from the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare and Ronan and Adam from the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I also loved Jack from the Aracana Chronicles who was Cajun. His strength in overcoming the stereotypes of his ethnicity add substance to his typical bad boy persona.

Cinder is an amazing character from the Lunar Chronicles who struggles with the negative stereotype of disability and coming to terms with this identity. Her disability makes her unique and endearing. Unfortunately I haven’t read a lot of YA books with diverse characters. That is partly my fault but some of the blame lies with the publishing industry that continues to target characters that fit the white and straight category.

Thanks again to Emilija and Melissa for taking the time to answer my questions on this this topic.

As they have already stated in their answers-it is important diverse  minorities are represented in YA Fiction for several reasons. Firstly because it helps people familairise themselves with cultures other than white heteronormative ones which are mostly commonly represented in fiction. Secondly because it also gives people from those diverse minorities a chance to be able to relate to characters who have similar backgrounds. Emilija and Melissa have also given some great examples of diversity in YA novels-I think these examples show a slight change in the way writers think about diverse characters-however there is still a great need for more characters like these-especially protagonists.

The easiest way of course to support diversity in books is to read books which have diverse characters-and to write about them. A goal which I believe is quite achievable.

I’ve compiled a list below of further resources which relate to diversity in YA fiction which I’d all encourage you to check out for further information on this topic. I have also included a few lists which consist of titles of diverse books within the YA fiction category. As always feel free to post your own thoughts on this topic in the comments.

Further resources:

i. On why diversity is important

ii. We need diverse books campaign

iii. 10 Ya Books that explore sexuality

iv. List of diverse books on Goodreads

v. Diversity in YA | It’s terrible and I’m sick of it (video)

 

 

 

 

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