8 examples of diversity in YA that totally nail it
Diversity is a touchy subject. If I talk about having more diversity in any medium (especially in YA books, where the default character is a Caucasian girl with big eyes and long brown hair) I hear a few automatic responses, such as:
“Who cares? It’s just a story.”
“I don’t even see colour.”
“That doesn’t really matter.”
These responses really frustrate me, especially when they come from Caucasian people who are represented in every medium.
Diversity is important.
When you are represented this way, you don’t see the problem. Think, for a minute, about all of the stories you’ve read and seen. Who were the main characters? Where they Caucasian? Straight? Able bodied? Cis? Or were they of a different race, religion, sexuality or gender? A lot of the stories we’re told are from the former description, completely ignoring that other types of people exist.
When you’re Caucasian, straight, able-bodied and cis-gender, you see yourself and your story validated all the time. Stories are reaching out to you saying, “I see you. You exist. You are valid.” So, of course the automatic response to the issue is: “This doesn’t matter.”
We need to have good stories about people of different races, sexuality, ability and disability and so much more. Everyone deserves their story to be heard and told. People shouldn’t be erased out of books, movies and TV shows because they are “other”. People shouldn’t be used as a cliché or a footnote of someone else’s story.
Indulge me for a moment and imagine all the stories you’re told are of people who aren’t like you. And when you’re included, it’s as a joke or your entire existence is erased entirely. In these stories, you don’t exist. This is exactly what happened to me. I grew up in Australia, where I mostly saw Caucasian people in movies, TV shows and books. Occasionally the story was of someone different, but it wasn’t that often. So, I become disconnected with my identity and my Maori heritage. I looked in the mirror and was surprised when I saw a girl with Maori features looking back at me.
Slowly, but surely, I came to understand that it’s okay to be myself and I’m really proud to be part Maori. I think my perspective widened when I was exposed to more types of stories.
We need to write and create stories that include different types of people. Not just one. Everyone deserves their story to be told and their existence to be validated.
Diversity in YA – 8 books you MUST read
1. Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…
2. Ash by Malinda Lo
Ash is a fairy tale about possibility and recognizing the opportunities for change. From the deepest grief comes the chance for transformation.
3. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna’s tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.
4. Hate Is Such A Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub
Sophie Kazzi is in Year 12 at an all-Lebanese, all-Catholic school where she is invisible, uncool and bored out of her brain. While she′s grown up surrounded by Lebanese friends, Lebanese neighbours and Lebanese shops, she knows there′s more to life than Samboosik and Baklawa, and she desperately wants to find it.
5. The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Claire
From the imaginations of bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a heart-stopping plunge into the magical unknown. Think you know magic? Think again. The Magisterium awaits…
6. Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Micah will freely admit that she’s a compulsive liar, but that may be the one honest thing she’ll ever tell you.
7. Willow (Scarred) by Julia Hoban
It’s hard to keep a secret when it’s written all over your body…
Series. Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan’s no ordinary girl – she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi’s time, 100 years later….
Together, YA books like the ones above show people of varying race, sexuality, ability and mental health. Stories like these can help people not feel ashamed of parts of themselves and get them through crappy times in their lives.
Everyone should have stories that reach out to them and say, “I see you. You exist. You are valid.”
If you want to explore more diversity in YA, check out the Diversity in YA Tumblr blog. You’ll find all kinds of reading recommendations and discussions there.