Guest Post…Diversity in the YA World

Today’s guest post comes from Ebony who blogs at The Hundred Book Project. It was originally featured on her blog on April 30th 2012 and she’s kindly allowed us to re-blog it here for you to see. Hope you find it as interesting as we did – if you’d like to hear more from Ebony, you can check out The Hundred Book Project here. Now – on to the post!
Last month I reviewed a young adult contemporary fiction novel called Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz.
I had a bit of a moment whilst reading that book, and it prompted me to write this post.
Inconspicuously slipped in, as one main character recalled another, was this line:

“His hair might not be golden blond – he’s black, so that would be a little weird – but his eyes kind of are.”

I did a double take.
It is honestly that rare to find a black protagonist in young adult literature that I had to make sure I had read correctly.
The book goes on to detail the tribulations of the budding relationship between the two characters. Did I mention that they are both guys?
That’s right; a gay, interracial teen romance.
And more amazing still, the issues that they struggle with don’t depend on their race, or even necessarily their sexuality. Those things are just a part of who they are, and beyond that they have the same problems ‘traditional’ couples experience: emotional vulnerability, family trauma, social/political issues, etc.
So, why don’t we have that kind of awesome diversity across the board in YA lit?
Teen readers are at a time when they start to form strong values and ideas. When better to acquaint them with the ideas of acceptance and moral courage – not to mention introduce them to other cultures and lifestyles? And that better way than to write life-like, relatable characters who just happen to be of assorted cultural heritage and orientation? Why do so many authors shy away from presenting the world as it is – and in a positive way, for once?
I can only guess.
Perhaps authors rush to create characters that their supposed audience will relate to. If the audience is considered to be made up of white, upper-middle class fifteen year old girls, then the prevalence of characters mirroring that stereotype is understandable.
understand it, but I don’t accept it.
In a majority of the YA books I’ve read, there are pitifully few ethnic or gay characters, let alone protagonists. It has got to stop.
Just like glorifying abuse is bad for real-world victims, when readers are shown Black or Asian characters who are mere bit players in the lives of the white protagonists (or my pet peeve, the ‘gay best-friend’ stereotype), it only serves to bolster the ridiculous idea that those societal groups are of less value. That their hopes and dreams and desires are inferior to their white counterparts’.
Why, why, why are authors not concerned with including a cast of characters which accurately represent racial and sexual diversity in the world?

I’ve thought about this question and decided it is not a conscious effort to cut certain social groups out of literature (that would be too horrible to comprehend), but rather a kind of laziness.

For white authors, I suppose it seems more difficult to write from the frame of mind of someone of a different culture, religion or orientation than oneself. But it is a worthy effort to include at least some diversity in your novel.
I don’t think there is any valid excuse for arbitrarily excluding diversity in novels, particularly those aimed at a vulnerable audience.
I can only imagine how it must feel to be a lover of young adult fiction, yet open an otherwise enjoyable book and find no central character whose ethnicity of orientation you can identify with.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post…Diversity in the YA World

  1. Fascinating stuff. I always thought if I wrote about a gay / lesbian / ethnic character, I would make it the *least* interesting thing about them. Their sexuality and culture is what it is, that’s not why I’m writing about them, although it might label them to other characters.

    I remember reading a comment from a YA mainstream publisher who commented that if the book didn’t have ethnic minorities in it, they would ask for a re-write to include them.

    What about Malorie Blackman and Bali Rai to add to that list?

  2. I’ve been trying to put together a list of YA lit with diverse characters that are portrayed as full characters rather than stereotypes…and it is harder than it should be! So glad to see people discussing this important issue.

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