Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for...No Diversity

Controversial Song of the Day:  "Ordinary People" by John Legend

For the entire month of April, we'll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from diversity.uno.edu
Over a year ago, Nicola K. Richardson wrote an aspiring guest post on YA Highway about Race in YA. So inspiring, in fact, that I had to write my own post about it here.
I won't repeat myself but, simply put, if you look at the YA bestsellers list, there is a GREAT chance that those novels do not feature a minority protagonist. Don't get me wrong, I love those books. I'm counting down the days with the rest of you for Insurgent, and I'd read ANYTHING by John Green--even if he was just balancing his checkbook. But novels with minority leads usually release on a much quieter scale (and we'll be talking about "quiet" novels later on in the week).
So, does the lack of fanfare for minority leads scare Quita and me? Quite frankly--sometimes. So much so that I used to be scared to have a major character that was just black--they always had to be mixed with some other race. However, Nicola's post changed my mind about that, and I did change an important character in Project J to African-American--and the response to the novel has been pretty great so far. My readers don't care if my character is black or not--they were just entertained.
Here's a look at some awesome YA books with minority leads:
*Thankfully, a few of the novels listed above did receive the "hype" they deserved.

So what are some of your favorite racially diverse novels? Does writing characters outside of your race scare you?


Jaime Morrow said...

I really enjoyed The Agency: A Spy In the House by Y.S. Lee, and the main character in that story is half Chinese in a time and place where there were completely ignorant and racist notions about Chinese people. This actually plays a pretty major role in the novel, and, quite frankly, made it more interesting. I'd love to read more stories with minority characters, and I really hope that we start seeing more.

In my own writing, I think I unconsciously write mostly white characters. When faced with the topic of a lack of minority characters in YA, I realized that there are two reasons for why I probably do this: 1) we tend to write a lot of what we know, and 2) I think I subconsciously feared offending by misrepresenting a minority people group. I know that the only way to overcome this is to ask questions, research, and just honestly attempt to do justice to that character.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Definitely food for thought :)

Musiqal1 said...

Very interesting ideas. Many novels do not feature minority leads. Are you a writer? That is awesome. My major in college is English now. I love to write and hope to go further with it. Sounds like an interesting book. When will it be done? Goo dluck with it.

Rachel said...

I second Jaime - AGENCY is a great series with a diverse main character :)

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I just read What Can('t) Wait by Ashley Hope Perez - the protagonist was Tex-Mex and it was a great read and gave a lot of insight into the struggles of an Americanized daughter of a Hispanic family. I loved it.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Interestingly enough, storytellers struggle a lot with these questions too. Telling stories (even folktales) from a culture outside yours raises a whole number of questions about telling, language, dialect etc. For example, I have to tell a story in an Irish accent for a school assignment, and I hate every minute of it. It feels like I am making fun of Irish people :) All right, so thsi si not strictly a minority question, but it becomes one when Native American storier are mentioned...

Happy A to Z! Fun blog! :)

Carrie-Anne said...

I don't know if this counts as another race, but the romantic partner of the main character of my handwritten magnum opus is Armenian. (They also appear in my other Atlantic City books.) I only wrote in this guy and his brother and sister in 1995 because I'd just become an Armenophile, and was planning to pair him off with another character. I'm so glad I gave Levon to Cinnimin, since their interethnic love story, which is also tested by military separations, is one of my favorite love stories I've ever created. Creating, developing, and getting to know Levon so well over the last 17 years has greatly expanded what was once just a rudimentary knowledge of Armenian history, culture, religion, and language. There are also a few other Armenian characters, like Cinnimin and Levon's slightly older friend Varlam Hagopian, who also goes on to join the military and eventually lives next door to them.

Alison Miller said...

Writing characters outside my race doesn't scare me. It's actually realistic in my stories. In my current WIP I have several secondary characters and a few bit roles who are of a different race and ethnicity than me. I haven't yet written a story with a minority lead, but I won't shy away from it.

And agreed - John Green could write about doing laundry and I'd read it.

Great post! I've really enjoyed your take on the A-Z challenge!

Unknown said...

I enjoy novels that both entertain and educate. Dragon Wings is an excellent one.

Jessica Love said...

I had a long talk (er, email) with one of my CPs about this. My last book featured a Korean mc and my new book does, too. To I want to be pegged as the white girl who writes about Asians? Is that going to be my "thing?" Do I want a "thing?" Will it be an issue? We hashed it all out.

The thing is, even though I am white, I feel like there are SO MANY people telling stories about white people. Those stories are being told and told well. I have nothing to add to that conversation.

And when I look around my world, I see people who aren't white and who are the stars of their own story. I am MUCH more interested in their stories.

So I decided I don't really care if it becomes a thing for me to be the white girl who writes about Asian girls. I think there are plenty of stories about white girls and there always will be, you know?

Stephsco said...

@Jessica - we should talk. I feel exactly the same way. My current WIP ties in with civil rights in the '60s, although my protag is white there are African American characters central to the story. I outlined another book and my vision for the main character she's of mixed race - white and black, and her racial identity is a subtext of the story. I'm white and I'm not "trying to write black stories" but at the same time, I grew up in a diverse area and that's who I see.

So I'm going with my gut and writing fearless like all the good advice says. We'll see whatever happens with it.

Also, now that I've derailed this further, I will check out some of the books listed - I'd love to read Liar.