Sunday, December 21, 2014

Let's focus on...YA Diversity

On Tumblr, I've seen several posts about needing more diversity in YA books. But there was one in particular that really stuck with me. It talked about how diversity doesn't only mean race and sexual orientation. The person demanded diverse books so that more people could see themselves in the books. Because, really, that's why we read, right? We read to see new places and experience new things through pages. We read because, at least for me, it's almost an adrenaline rush to make new attachments to fictional characters, who seem more and more real as you read the story or series. But what really makes a book successful is when it has a main character that readers can connect with. A personality trait, certain feelings, the relationships he/she possesses with others, maybe looks...there are lots of options.

This Tumblr post comment said they'd love to read about a person like them. A deaf person. Of course, this made me go "YEAH!" because I would love to read a book about a deaf/blind/mute person, if done right. And it made me think more about diversity. It's great that so many people want it, but I wonder if the majority just wants it for race purposes. It's great to not have only white people as main characters. I instantly perk up at the mention of a POC (person of color) as a main character. However, I think it's important to also want other kinds of diversities. I hate to say disorders or disabilities in case I offend anyone, but they're the only accurate, general terms I can think of. Deafness, paralysis, blindness, muteness, loss of limbs (Soul Surfer, anyone? Or a military story!), phobias, diseases, illnesses. The list can go on. I could even say leprosy, although that is uncommon, but it's an issue that's rarely done. Instead of authors going down the well-beaten path, I'd like to see more exploring going on. Like another Tumblr post said, it's not about having a character that's exactly like the reader (that won't really happen). It's about having situations/stories/lives to relate to and feeling like others get it. Even if they're fictional, it feels like someone else understands your own story or situation. 

I recently read and reviewed Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson (click on the title to be led to the review). It's a great example of this. The main character has anxiety issues and uses superstition to the extreme. Someone touches her, her family becomes permanently broken in her mind. It's a form of OCD, but not a type that many people are aware of since OCD is usually talked about in terms of cleaning and Monk

If you need suggestions to diverse books, here's a website that can definitely help. And here's another list, but devoted to race. But I'd also like to applaud HarperTeen for doing a great job this year. They published Say What You Will, which dealt with physical and psychological issues (wheelchairs and more anxiety). In Falling Into Place, suicide was a main theme. Then, of course, in Don't Touch, OCD takes place. Different kind of "heroes" for different people is always good. I already appreciated and liked HarperTeen as is, but they gained much more from me this year. 

And I'm not even saying that the aspect that makes the character diverse has to be the focus of the story (just like race shouldn't always be the focus in a story either). So authors, write characters with different traits. Maybe mention the fact that the love interest has only one hand. Or maybe the main character had a cutting issue in her past, but she's fine now. Or the main character is deaf. Or maybe the love interest is in a wheelchair. So many options, so little time, you know? 

What books featuring diversity have you read and enjoyed? What would you like to read about?


  1. I agree that this movement for diversity has, ironically, been rather limited to issues of race, sexual orientation and, sometimes, disabilities. I did a discussion post a while back on the push for diversity in YA because the approach taken seemed to put down writers and books that didn't fit into the- again, ironically limited- definition of "diverse." I won't bore you by copying and pasting the whole post, but it's on the blog if you're interested. ;)

    I think your list of mental disorders and physical disabilities would be interesting to see in characters, but I would argue that it still limits the definition of "diversity." Personally, I'd love to see more books about other cultures, places I've never been, food I've never tasted. Thus far, the Diversity in YA movement seems to have been limited to physical aspects and/or sexual orientation, but that's, essentially, one element of a character. There's a lot more ground to play with in terms of character, setting and plot. :)

  2. I think you're right. When it comes down to it what we need is more of every colour and flavour of the rainbow. No two people in the world are the same, I truly believe that, so why should characters be the same either? Diversity is totes about letting us reflect life in it's truest form and not just what's easiest or closest to home all of the time. I love diverse books :) I love going places I never knew I could and beginning to understand what it is like to be another person with an entirely different set of values and experiences. <3


  3. Yes, yes, yes! I love the We Need Diverse Books movement, and I love reading about people with different ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations, but I wish there were more diversity within the "diversity" we're aiming for. I don't like it when people say "we need diverse books so kids can have characters like them to relate to" because that implies you can't relate to characters who have a different skin color or different challenges, which is ridiculous. But it IS a phenomenal feeling when you encounter a character who is going through the same thing you're going through, and I imagine it would be empowering for someone with a often-overlooked disability to find a character who has that same disability.

  4. You bring up an excellent point, Summer! When we ask for diversity in literature, most of us are asking for more than just a variety in race or sexual orientation. We want to learn about different cultures, different political and social systems (if that can be applied), but basically, we're asking to learn about different forms of living. And you know, disabilities change the way people live their lives too! So, it's refreshing to see authors take risks like this. Only, we shouldn't be calling this a "risk." Sure, it's BOLD and DIFFERENT to talk about mental and physical disadvantages, but these are things people live with every day; this is their norm. There are challenges so many of us don't understand, and writing about them can only shape us into more empathetic and knowledgeable people. So, authors, don't be afraid to go there!

    But don't get me wrong, it's encouraging that we're beginning to see characters with different racial backgrounds grace the pages of books! I'm not going to minimize the importance of that, but we also need a little more now.

    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe is a great example of diversity in YA Lit: A.) Mexican-American culture B.) LGBT characters 3.) PTSD 4.) depression

    And possibly other elements I'm forgetting about in this moment. But it's truly an incredible book! It's one that'll stay with me forever.

    This was a lovely discussion, Summer! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject. :)

    1. Forgive me, it's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe!

      I don't know how I butchered that. It's an amazing read!

  5. The first thing I thought when I read this post was 'SAY WHAT YOU WILL' and I smiled when you mentioned it too. I love reading books about (and I don't mean this in a mean way, but I can't come up with another world) 'different' people, someone who isn't me. It's great to see the world through someone else's eyes.