“When I was growing up, I never saw a book cover or read a book about someone who looked like me.”
This heartrending quote came from a good friend and colleague of mine several years ago. She is an African-American woman, an educator and published author. My friend now writes Young Adult novels that include healthy doses of diverse characters, and she feels fulfilled by doing so.
The tragedy, of course, is that it took so long coming. And the question is, why? One of the more obvious answers lies in the publishing houses. Publishers, in large part, have traditionally been white themselves. There was a widespread belief that diverse books would not be marketable, thus the profits would suffer. Finally, though, as with the impact of television in the 1950’s, the Internet came into its own. At about the same time, a third-wave feminist movement occurred, and a growing appreciation for the need of diverse young adult literature took root. Happily, today, with organizations such as We Need Diverse Books and Diversity in YA, the concept and use of diverse characters is much more fully etched in the writing landscape.
Diverse novels such as The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, legitimize diversity. These books give the characters flesh and blood, and heart, and humanity, not to mention a voice from which the reader can learn and grow. And if the reader is diverse him/herself, that person can be much the richer for having read the book.
If ever there were a time for Young Adult books featuring diverse characters, it is now. The rising culture of nationalism, brought on in large part by shifting populations worldwide, is allowing and validating groups of hatemongers in the United States and across the globe. Literature in general, and Young Adult literature in particular, has the power to combat such dangerous philosophies.
The future appears brighter in the world of Young Adult Literature. Publishing houses are much more open to giving diverse authors and their books the chance to be read. Librarians are buying the books needed by and for diverse populations. And teachers are recommending and reading these books to their classes. Diversity is truly the magic word in Young Adult novels.