Monday, 21 October 2013

How to battle the lack of representation in YA

I realise I have yet to make a post about diversity in young adult literature, which is odd since it's something I talk about all the time outside the internet.

As a white, cis-gendered, able bodied person, I've always been able to find myself in books. Go to even the smallest library and there will be a thousand teen books about a white girl falling in love with some supernatural creature. Or if contemporary is your thing, a white girl falling in epic love with a white dude. Or a white girl becoming a princess of a distant land, etc. Whatever genre is your thing, you will find white ladies and guys.

Now try finding a young adult book with a person of colour as the main character in that library. You might find one book, if your library is exceptional. More than likely, the white heroine of the book will have a one-dimensional coloured friend. Which is great for the white heroine, but what about the readers who aren't white, who have different ethnic backgrounds? They could almost take from these books that they're meant to be the supporting character, that they'll never be the main character or hero/ine of their own story. Which is bullshit.

Now how about a disabled teen trying to find him/herself in a book? Will they be able to find a young adult book in which a disabled character is at the forefront, saving the day, falling in love, battling evil creatures? Probably not. And the sad truth is, that even with my extensive knowledge of YA books and with the help of  Google, Tumblr, and Goodreads, I have not found a single one. The same sadly goes for transgendered characters in YA genre fiction. There are some amazing (I am assuming) contemporary books in which transgendered and disabled characters are featured, but why should these characters be limited to contemporary fiction? I don't see why a transgendered lady of colour shouldn't be killing vampires in a wheelchair. But that's not practical, I hear you say. How would one kill a vampire whilst in a wheelchair - they're fast, they're deadly, they'd kill that character in a heartbeat. To which I say: if a vampire exists, why can't a wheelchair with super speedy propellers? Why can't this wheelchair be made of silver? (Notoriously not fun for vampires to touch!) Why can't there be deadly spikes on the wheels and a secret place to stash stakes? Why can't it eject garlic mist? Alright that might be taking it a bit too far, but you get my point.

There's no excuse for leaving anyone out of YA fiction, genre or otherwise. In my next post I'll be recommending some YA authors that didn't, and some books that have these characters center stage.

But here's the thing. If you want to see more books that feature diverse characters, you need to be buying and reading the ones already published. If a publisher sees that a book with a lady of colour MC is doing well, they'll be more open to publishing books with POC in the future. The same goes for all of the different under-represented characters. There are some publishers, such as Tu books, that focus on diversity, but the major publishers need to see that we, as readers, want equal representation in their books.

So that's how you battle the ~spooky~ lack of representation in YA. By reading. A tonne of other things will also help combat the spooky, such as writing blog posts, making a racket on tumblr, twitter, facebook etc., and if you're a writer, write diverse.


((Never fear, I have not forgotten about ladies who like ladies and boys who like boys, and ladies who like ladies and boys, and boys who like boys and ladies. I've not even forgotten about ladies and boys who like people, and not a person's gender, or the ladies and boys who like ladies and boys without all those complicated want-to-have-sex feelings.

I'll make a post about sexual orientation in young adult books in the near future, but since my focus is on genre books and speculative fiction, I'm having a little difficulty finding asexual and pansexual representation in YA. And this is an issue. If you have any recommendations, please comment with them!))

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