Diversity in YA

July 30th, 2012 • Kate

Diversity CupcakesI’m repeating myself, but as I just posted on Twitter, there’s going to be a panel on Diversity in YA at LeakyCon. I’m moderating. And so I ask you, what shall we talk about? What are important questions to ask? Points to raise? Topics to discuss?

Please bear in mind, that I mean to include issues of diversity in race, sexual orientation, religious practices, and gender identification. Or as much as I can in an hour, with enough time left over for questions. And I would be remiss in my duties if we didn’t bring up the topic of whitewashing in cover design, as well as Cassie Clare’s recent amazing post about the casting of Magnus in the Mortal Instruments movie.

Please let the comments ring with your suggestions, thoughts, or any questions you would want to ask if you were in the audience at such a panel. I’m also inclined to ask the panelists about some of their favorite diverse characters in YA fiction, and so I’ll put the same question to you.

Image above by flickr user clevercupcakes. Used under a Creative Commons license.
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13 Responses to “Diversity in YA”

  1. lexacain Says:

    I think it's great that you'll be moderating such an important topic. I think the industry has come a long way, but not far enough. I'm doing my (little) part by using some Islamic characters in my writing (I live in Egypt). I think it's important to change conceptions and prejudices. I'm sure you'll be an excellent moderator!

  2. @nobleheartbear Says:

    What bothers me the most about diversity in fiction is how often the characters being not-white is the point of the book. To me, a diverse cast is not the hook. I want to read a story that's interesting for all the reasons fiction is interesting, that ALSO doesn't whitewash the entire world.

  3. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    My biggest pet peeve is when a character is clearly, even painstakingly, identified as Black or Latino or Asian or Martian and then thinks and acts and talks like a White person. The only thing worse than ignoring the issue of diversity entirely is only paying lip service to it.

  4. Writer Says:

    What on earth does "talk/act like a White person" mean? If a character is Black, how do you think they should speak, in Ebonics? Automatically act "ghetto"? I find this really offensive. Do you realize how many black people who are educated or speak well get told that they are 'acting too white'? This is a mindset that needs to stop. People of color act, think, and speak in a wide range of ways, just like everyone else.

  5. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    I didn't mean at all to be offensive, and I apologize if I came across that way. I certainly don't think that all Black people sound the same or that all White people sound the same. I know that people of every race are well-educated, that everyone has their own voice, and I think it's awful that well-educated Black people get reprimanded for acting too White.

    I simply meant that I think it undercuts the issue of diversity when all the characters in a book sound like they come from the same homogenous, majority background. When all the characters, who on paper come from many different cultures and backgrounds, sound like they come from one culture and background. That's not diversity; in fact, it's the exact opposite.

  6. Janet Says:

    I recently heard Simone Elkeles speak and she mentioned that one editor had passed on Perfect Chemistry because they "already had a book with a Hispanic character." Are you kidding me? That pissed me off. I also get mad about the white-washing of book covers.

    I am a minority, so maybe it's just me but personally I am MORE drawn to covers that have minority characters. Yet another example of how the Big Six is out of touch. They're still operating on information from decades ago.

  7. Jenny Says:

    I think one of the most important things I've read about writing characters came from a recent PW interview with Tana French. I don't have the article in front of me, but she basically said that if you're writing with the minority/sex/sexual orientation of a character then you're not writing an individual – and that's what needs to be focused on. Characters are individuals, and should be treated as such.

  8. laurengibaldi Says:

    I agree with Noble above. Are we at a time when having a diverse cast doesn't have to be a THING. Like, can two characters of different races date without that being the point of the book?

  9. @ehbishop Says:

    I teach in a Title 1 public high school and many of my students read far below grade level. What our library and classrooms most need are lower level books written for and about "real world" teens of all races, types, colors, & creeds. So much of what is accessible to struggling readers is either not age-appropriate (teens don't care about Mr. Popper's Penguins) or terribly written/ boring. Most of our high interest material assumes a higher reading level…. no wonder many of them hate reading. Other questions to consider: What are the ramifications of lumping groups like "hispanic", "asian", or "poor" together in fiction? What responsibilities, if any, do white privileged authors/agents/publishers have to create stories for children that raise questions about difference and power in modern America? What can white privileged authors/agents/publishers do to better support and expand literature among diverse communities?

  10. Jessica Says:

    Personally I would love to see more gay/lesbian characters as the protagonists and have their sexuality NOT be the focus of the book. Why can't a love story be told in the same way with gay characters? Sure, coming out is a huge deal for anyone, especially a teen, but lets say they are out and comfortable with it. And then meet the person of their dreams who's also come to terms with their sexuality. What then? They face the same drama as straight couples do. But I think that gets over looked because so much is focused on how their sexuality affects their love and their families and friends.

    Give me a lesbian vampire hunter. Or a gay couple fighting through a dystopian world. Putting so much focus on homosexuality not being the norm makes it that much more of a bigger deal for a character to be gay. But if that's just how the story is built from the beginning, then maybe one day, if we're lucky, it won't be such a big issue.

    Good luck at the panel! I think it's wonderful that diversity is will be discussed. 🙂

  11. Anna Says:

    Great that you’re bringing attention to this issue! In addition to all of the above, there isn’t much talk of differences in socio-economic status in YA. Often the characters who are on the low end of the spectrum are poor as a plot point (Katniss as a broad example) which can be problematic in the assumption that nothing intersting can happen to poor characters except as it relates to beig poor. And I’d guess the percentage of YA readers who can afford to attend boarding school is much lower than the percentage of widely-released books in that setting. I’d love to see some research or a discussion on SES in YA.

    Thanks again for driving conversation towards these important issues!

  12. @sesinkhorn Says:

    I would really like to see the discussion touch on the topic that diversity in YA isn't just about including diverse characters, but also in making sure there is diversity in the authors represented. Non-white/straight/cis/etc. authors need to be part of the equation, and their voices/experiences need to be brought to the category.

    P.S. – I hope there are some rundown posts about the highlights of this panel, because I'd be very interested!

  13. Paloma Says:

    I think it's interesting to point out that there aren't many YA books that have different races in it. I guess you could say that the hunger games does, but it's really only Rue and the other guy from her district, and even then, it's not really mentioned. I also think that religious practices are completely avoided because it scares people, but I think that there are many different ways to approach these types of topics in a way that won't offend people, or at least not offend people as much. Also, I think publishers and literary agents need to not be so hesitant and nervous about offending people, because someone will always be offended.