So, if you’ve been paying attention to social media over the past several years and you’re part of the book community (or even if you aren’t), you’ve probably noticed the push for more diverse stories. It’s an important push, one that I wrote about on my Instagram the other day when a controversy popped up on Twitter/Youtube. I came into the fray very late and having missed most of it, but from what I gathered, it was a mess.
Someone in the book community posted a 22-minute-long video about why diverse books aren’t necessary, even going so far as to say that it’s a detriment to YA literature. I won’t bother linking to it, since she doesn’t need more views (I didn’t watch it, either, but I did read a transcript). She made more than a few ignorant points, from the eyeroll-worthy (like that “diversity of values/viewpoints” should count as diversity, which completely misses the point of the diversity movement) to the downright reprehensible (such as when she suggested that slavery wasn’t that bad). It made an impact on the community, particularly black female writers (and other women of color) who, from what I read afterwards, were targeted by bigots and horribly harassed. Furthermore, it revealed that people like the woman who posted the video exist in the book community–too many of them. There’s a whole host of readers who are against diversity, which indicates ignorance at best, and racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/ableism/fatphobia/Islamaphobia etc. at worst.
Like I said on Instagram: diversity in fiction is so, so important, especially in books for young people. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented. Those who are over represented (white, straight, cisgender, Christian, neurotypical, able-bodied, skinny, etc.) need to be exposed to perspectives other than their own so that they can better empathize with more types of people in real life. The push for more diversity needs to continue, perpetually, because the history of these voices being marginalized is very long and this will not be fixed overnight. Authors have a responsibility to include a diverse cast in their books, which means they have a responsibility to do their research and to make use of (paid!) sensitivity readers. And authors should also know when to step aside–when they’re telling a story that may not be theirs to tell, and that may get snatched up by an agent/publisher who passed over a story by an author who actually is part of that group.
The best way to help diversity continue is to buy diverse books, especially #ownvoices books (meaning books written by an author who is part of the group or groups being represented). Don’t know where to start? I’ve compiled a list of diverse books that I’ve read below. Many of them are more popular books that are well-known in the book community, but I realize my blog audience may not be as familiar with that world as I am, and could use a resource like this.
A few notes: I didn’t necessarily like every book on this list, but just because it wasn’t personally my thing doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable book. Someone else might love the books that weren’t my favorites, so I’m including them. I’m also only featuring books that I have heard positive things about from people within that group, i.e. books that aren’t problematic representations. The books must also do well intersectionally, meaning they don’t throw other groups under the bus. For instance, if a book has great queer representation but is horribly ableist, I won’t include it.
- R = racial diversity
- LGBAQ = diversity of sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, queer)
- T = gender diversity (standing for “transgender”)
- D = diversity of disability, whether physical or mental (or both)
- F = diversity of body type (fat characters)
- * = #ownvoices for at least one of the categories, as far as I know
- The Weight of Feathers by Anna Marie McLemore (R)*
- More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (R, LGBAQ, D)*
- If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (T, LGBAQ)*
- Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (LGBAQ)
- The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (LGBAQ)
- The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (R)*
- The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (LGBAQ, D)
- Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray (R, LGBAQ, D)
- A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (R)
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (R)*
- Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (F, LGBAQ)*
- Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (D)
- Everything Leads to You by Nina Labour (LGBAQ, R)*
- Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (R, LGBAQ)*
- Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman (LGBAQ, T, R, F, D)
- The Diviners by Libba Bray (LGBAQ, R)
- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (LGBAQ, R, D)
- Fire by Kristin Cashore (R)
- Coda by Emma Trevayne (LGBAQ, R, D)
- Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (LGBAQ, R, F, D)
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (R)*
- The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (LGBAQ, R)
- Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (R)
- A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (R, D)
This list is still far too short, and I’m looking forward to adding to it (part of my problem is I’m a slow reader). As you can see, there’s definitely a dearth of body type diversity and gender identity diversity. I don’t think *any* of the books I labeled LGBAQ actually have asexual characters in them, so there’s more needed there. There are also certain disabilities that get focused on more than others, and certain races that are represented more. If you have any specific questions about any of these (such as what race/races are represented, what sexualities, what genders, etc.), please ask me in the comments.
This list may also be flawed, since I wrote it based on my memory of these books, and some of these I read a long time ago. If you see an error with this list–that I forgot a category for a book, didn’t realize a book was #ownvoices, etc.–please let me know in the comments. In addition to that, if I included a problematic book without realizing it, I would like to hear about that as well.
For those wanting to learn more about this, there are plenty of resources you can turn to. For LGBTQ recommendations, check out LGBTQReads, run by author Dahlia Adler. If you’re a writer representing disability or just want recommendations for books featuring characters with disabilities, check out Disability in Kidlit (one of my favorite blogs on the Internet, which posts reviews exclusively written by members of the groups being represented in each book). Writers wanting to learn more about race should follow Writing with Color on tumblr, and should study the writings/tweets of Debbie Reese, an American Indian activist who focuses on representation in children’s books within that group. I’m not aware of any sites dedicated to body diversity, but you should follow my friend and fat activist Sarah Hollowell on Twitter, who also has a blog.
If we keep demanding diversity, we will see more diverse books on shelves. I hope someday, bookstores are transformed. I hope they’re colorful in every sense of the word. I hope at some point, everyone will be able to see someone like themselves represented in a book–more than one book.
Enjoy your diverse stories!
*Avatar by Charlavail