Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bookish Discussions: Why the Lack of Diversity in YA?

It's time for another Bookish Discussion!  Recently, I was reading a lot of blog posts about diverse books (I believe it was a TTT topic a couple weeks ago) and I got to thinking, why is it that there aren't all that many diverse books?  So that's exactly what I'll be discussing today!

Today's Topic: The Lack of Diversity in YA

So, lack of diversity.  Now, I haven't been around the world of YA as long as some and I'm sure the situation has gotten significantly better over the past 10 years or so (I've only been around the YA community for about 4 of those).  Still, it seems to be a huge topic of discussion in the bookish community.  Why all the white-washing?  Why is there no representation of obscure cultures?

Skin Tone

Authors tend to write about what they know, right?  If you've only grown up around people with light skin and had never traveled to any other part of the world where that wasn't the case and you weren't really into the news, how could you possibly know to include those characters in your books?  Now, that's becoming less and less of an excuse as globalization seizes the world and traveling is easier than ever.

Another possibility that I've been entertaining is the excuse for fantasy authors.  In so many fantasy books, it's either not clarified, or the characters are light skinned (especially in some older books).  I've been thinking, could this be because the fantasy worlds take place in a colder climate?  Darker skin tones evolved to provide protection from the sun that is more present and intense in warmer climates nearer to the equator.

Most of the fantasy books I've read take place in colder climates where they have some sort of hard winter.  And with books like Throne of Glass, the authors make sure that the further south on the map the characters come from, the darker their skin tone.

Gender and Sexual Identity

Another obvious topic in this debate is the lack of representation from the LGBT community.  To be completely honest, I think that out of the over 700 books I've read, maybe 2% had a character that identified as something other than straight and were a gender other than their assigned gender at birth.  My first experience was when I read:

Goodreads Blurb:
"Whether you’re trans, gay, lesbian, bi, queer, questioning, or straight, this winner of the Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award will make you marvel at the beauty of human connection and the irrepressible nature of love.

Everyone has that one line they swear they’ll never cross, the one thing they say they’ll never do. We draw the line. Maybe we even believe it.

Sage Hendricks was my line.

Logan Witherspoon befriends Sage Hendricks at a time when he no longer trusts or believes in people. As time goes on, he finds himself drawn to Sage, pulled in by her deep, but sexy feminine voice and her constant smile. Eventually Logan’s feelings for Sage grow so strong that he can’t resist kissing her. Moments later, he wishes he never had. Sage finally discloses her big secret: she was born a boy. Enraged, frightened, and feeling betrayed, Logan lashes out at Sage. Once his anger has cooled, however, his regrets lead him to attempt to rekindle their friendship. But it’s hard to replace something that’s been broken—and it’s even harder to find your way back to friendship when you began with love."

Before reading this book, I had no idea that LGBT was a thing.  Not that I was raised in a conservative setting, but that there just weren't that many outspoken people in my community that were educating people (and there wasn't all that much education on the subject until my sophomore year of high school).  I read this book in the midst of middle school and it really opened my eyes to the fact that people actually do choose to change their gender and it's a totally normal thing to do.

During my regular reading, however, I rarely come across LGBT or trans characters.  If I'm not going out of my way to find these kinds of books, I wouldn't run into them because there just aren't that many out there.  Why is this?  I think it's the same sort of thing as race: people just don't know enough about the subject and authors don't think they can touch the subject because they don't think they know enough and there would be backlash.

I recently watched a Last Week Tonight episode by John Oliver (awesome show, btw, you should totally check him out on YouTube or on HBO every Sunday night) on abortion and how, down in the southern US, sex education is desperately lacking and people don't know their options.

I think the same thing applies with diversity.  If children aren't exposed to all kinds of people and cultures that populate our earth, the chance that they'll know about them later in life is dramatically decreased and those who become authors, won't know that these people exist and therefore won't write them into their stories.

Different Cultures

Another thing I've been taking notice of is the strange lack of different cultures in my reading.  While of course I don't expect fantasy books to display different cultures (they're making up an entirely new culture), other books seem like they should be taking place with different nationalities.  And again, I speak English and read books that have been published first in English and have been primarily been written by American authors which limits cultural exposure.  Because, for the same reasons as race and gender identity, you can't write about something that you know nothing about.  Truly learning about a culture requires either rigorous research or an extended period of time spent immersed in that country which can be tricky for some people who don't have the time or the funds.

One book I really admire is:

Goodreads Blurb:
"Also Known As: Two Pearls of Wisdom, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and Eon (All the same book just published with different publishers)

Swordplay, dragon magic--and a hero with a desperate secret

Twelve-year-old Eon has been in training for years. His intensive study of Dragon Magic, based on East Asian astrology, involves two kinds of skills: sword-work and magical aptitude. He and his master hope that he will be chosen as a Dragoneye--an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune.

But Eon has a dangerous secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been masquerading as a boy for the chance to become a Dragoneye. Females are forbidden to use Dragon Magic; if anyone discovers she has been hiding in plain sight, her death is assured.

When Eon's secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a deadly struggle for the Imperial throne. Eon must find the strength and inner power to battle those who want to take her magic...and her life."

This book really delves into the eastern way of life which I hadn't really seen before up until I read this series.  I would love to read more books in general about different parts of the world.  I've started with books taking place in England and I've read books about India and Iran but I really want to expand even further.

The Take-Away

Don't take this as me hating on authors who don't write with diverse characters.  Every character is created with certain characteristics for a reason.  And some authors feel they don't know enough about the topic to write about it (we write what we know, don't we?).  I'll be honest and say that while I've had extensive exposure with sexual orientation (a couple of my friends are gay and bi), I know very little about trans people and I don't think I would feel comfortable writing a character that's trans into one of my stories without doing extensive research on the subject.

So here's my favor to ask of you: if you have any good diverse books to recommend to me, please do!  I'm trying to expand and support authors who are writing diversely to make sure they get the credit and coverage they deserve.

One blog in particular that does an excellent job of highlighting diverse books that I love is Twinja Book Reviews whose whole blog is focused on "fighting to bring multiculturalism to YA Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels".

What are your diverse book recommendations?  What do you think about this topic?


  1. Great post! I used to dabble in writing and I live in a very white world. It's changing but growing up I rarely saw other races. So when I'd write I'd write about white people. It's what I knew. I'm glad things are changing and different now.

    1. That's exactly what I thought was going on! I write a little as well and I would never put diversity into my writing because I was never exposed to it enough that I would feel comfortable writing about it. It's so important to expose everyone to different things and help each other learn about the different views around the world. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny!


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