Diversity in YA Lit

Today I’m going to call myself out.

My classes at Brock recently have encouraged a closer analysis of my own interests in YA lit in order to determine how those interests correlate with what lit is pushed by publishing houses and marketing teams.

You’ve guessed it. I’m talking about the white washing of popular YA lit and my own blind consumption of it.

In case anyone cares to learn something from this today, what I am about to take part in is called pleasure critique nexus. It is the critiquing of a concept, genre, or activity that a patron particularly enjoys. Obviously, I quite passionately enjoy YA lit.

Today, I took a look at my bookshelf, and I looked for covers that illustrated a person of colour  or featured a protagonist of a skin colour other than white within the story.

shelf
This is my bookshelf.

There are approx 200 books on this shelf (I haven’t counted so don’t hate if I’m wrong). When I looked through the books I owned for representation of ethnic diversity, this is what I came up with.

Of the approx 200 books on my shelf, there were 7 books that featured a person of colour in a primary position in the story. The books are The Wrath and the Dawn  by Renee Adieh, Red Queen & Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard, The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. In Adieh and Tahir’s novels the protagonists are of an undisclosed middle eastern ethnicity. In Roth’s Divergent trilogy Four, the love interest of the protagonist Tris, is mixed race. I only included Alegiant and not the first two novels because it was only after Insurgent was published that Roth revealed an inconsistency in her writing where Four was in some scenes very pale but in other dark skinned. Moreover, Allegiant is a split narrative with both Tris and Four telling the story. The protagonists in The Walled City and Cinder are both a undisclosed Asian heritage and the protagonist in Aveyard’s books, Mare Barrow, is also of mixed race.
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So why is this important? What does this say about me as a reader? What does this say about diversity in YA? Is this more telling of my own interests or of the priorities of the publishing houses that publish these books?

With careful consideration, I think that is a mix between my own fault and the fault of the publishing companies for the lack of diversity. I am a firm believer in everyone wanting to read a book where they can relate to the protagonist. On more than one occasion, I have found myself striving to emulate the characteristics of my favourite heroine in my every day life, and this is by no means a bad thing. However, I am a white, heterosexual, middle class female, and the novels that I read tend to be similar to what I am. If I can’t relate to the character, I usually can’t get into the book.

I’m here to call bullshit on myself and say that this type of attitude is unacceptable.

By reading the same character profile throughout a variety of novels, I am only limiting myself. I am only making myself more ignorant to the colourful vibrant haunting glorious and terrifying novels out there that don’t immediately appeal to me because they arn’t about someone like me.  And this is shitty on my part.

So! Here’s to a diverse YA lit 2016. To the readers, have you ever noticed yourself falling into a habit of reading things that are within your comfort zone? What thoughts do you have on diversity within lit (doesn’t have to be YA)?

Next week I’ll be talking on another level of diversity in YA, and that’ll be the lack of LGBTQ relations. I will, however, highlight a few that I have read recently and love. 🙂

Happy reading!

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4 thoughts on “Diversity in YA Lit

  1. Excellent post! It is most certainly important to hold character design in high esteem and priority when crafting a novel for any age range. And as such, physical appearance would no doubt play a pivotal role in this. From my experience, when a character is not physically described or at the very least up until they are, I tend to project my own depiction and that mainly makes the character’s appearance resemble more of my own. I find that I do not read a book for that factor of the character design however, rather more for that person’s personality and their dilemmas that arise from the events of the story, and how effectively it can engage me to care about this protagonist(s) and their journey to reach resolution.

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  2. It would be interesting to see who the market is for YA Lit in North America. If you went to another English speaking country where such books are allowed (ex Jamaica, Barbados) are they selling our books or are they pushing books that more reflect their market? You can say North America is diverse, and we are, but we are still considered “white”.

    Your bookshelf is impressive for a young person. Kudos.

    Your articles have been very good. You’ve taken my attention in several directions, all different.

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  3. Mack, I love this post so much! I find myself doing the same thing constantly when I’m reading or watching tv or movies, etc. I find it’s something that easily can be swept under the rug in the YA community, but at the same time I do know that even if it may seem small there are plenty of books that offer more diverse characters and by reading them I think we can find ways to relate to people in so many different ways. I think doing exactly what you did here, and looking at the patterns in how we read can only be beneficial in the long run if it helps us be more open to different types of storytelling!

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  4. That is one hecka bookshelf.

    I agree with the gist of your post here, but I don’t think enjoying certain types of media is at all “unacceptable” behaviour–perhaps in your own judgement of yourself as a YA Lit “connoisseur” of sorts, and that is fair. But if an individual enjoys what they read because they can connect with the characters, and prefers not to venture out of their comfort/enjoyability zone, then I think that is their prerogative. You cannot force someone outside their comfort zone; they must choose to leave it themselves, perhaps with some poking and prodding.

    That all said, I’m pretty sure most of the books that I have would be in the same of a similar place as yours are–white protagonists. There are some key exceptions to this though, now that I think of it–the big one being Daja from Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series.

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