This particular post is one that I've always wanted to write but I always hesitated because its such a big topic – there are so many different aspects and corners to it, and I can’t talk about everything I want to talk about in one post, or even several posts, and there's always the constant worry of being misunderstood... but after participating in my first proper #ukyachat it gave me that final push I needed to finally address it in a post. Awareness for diversity has bloomed quite a lot over the recent past few years that I've been truly present in the book community, and its brilliant to see campaigns like #weneeddiversebooks becoming so recognized and supported but despite this and the diverse books we already have there is still a lot of leeway to be made.
First off, let’s start of with the basics – what are diverse books? Well, rather than myself rambling on with a probably not so accurate description I have one from the lovely Sarah Benwell (very big thanks to her for letting me use it in my post!) author of The Last Leaves Falling, a diverse YA book that I absolutely adored – you can read more about my love for this brilliant book in my review!
What are diverse books? Books with authors or characters that are people of colour, QUILTBAG, and/or physically/ mentally disabled, also includes those of ethnic, cultural, religious and gender minorities, indigenous peoples, socioeconomic diversity and class. Disabilities shall here include physical, sensory, cognitive, and intellectual or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions and mental illnesses. – SARAH BENWELL, via Twitter
[NOTE: POC = people of colour & QUILTBAG = Queer Undecided Intersex Lesbian Transgender/Transsexual Bisexual Asexual/Agender/Aromantic. Gay.]
As you can see the realms of diverse books are far reaching, and at the foundations they’re all based within human nature – they can affect everyone and anyone. One of the biggest merits of books (YA or otherwise) I believe, is the element of self-discovery and without diverse books there is such a significant portion of the reader populace that goes without this fantastic element, because as I said during the chat ‘people are people’ and what I mean by this is whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, bisexual etc we all have the same issues whether that be depression or just simple relationship problems with a person you like/want to date!
Diversity itself is real; the world is full of these people so why shouldn't books be the same? Why should Young Adult books be exempt from including and addressing the things we experience everyday and know about? I don’t claim to be an expert on diverse books, they’re something I've only begun to seek out and I really haven’t read very many but I do know about diversity. I've grown up with international peers, people of colour and different religions, and getting to read about things I know and things I've experienced – things I can relate too – is always so much more interesting, its that relatable element for any person that makes diverse books such a valuable commodity. Furthermore in diverse writing I think one of the most important things is accurate representation, of the characters and their experiences.
Last but not least, there’s the fact that a lot of books focus on the diverse elements as their main story and e.g. put gay/trans characters in the spotlight because they’re gay/trans but I find books that integrate the elements much more seamlessly (as it is in real life) often tend to have a higher standing with me. That’s not saying that the books that do focus solely on the diverse elements as their story are terrible; there have been some absolutely brilliant ones!
Now, I’d like to talk a little about things I would like to see more of and some of the diverse books I've read that I’d like to recommend!
I would love to see more people of colour and different races than just white and black – I do know that representation of black people is still underdone but representation of other races is even less so, and I think there is so much untapped potential with these types of characters and the stories they could have! Secondly, I really want to see more written about taboo subjects in diverse books – of course many diverse topics themselves are still quite taboo, but in the books that have that seamless integration it would be great to have that as a further element. And on that point if you really want to know what a diverse should be, in my opinion it shouldn’t draw attention to the “abnormality” of someone with a mental illness, or someone who’s gay – it should not have me constantly thinking that “this person is so and so…” but instead it should have me thinking about the experience the character is going through.
A really excellent example of what I was trying to articulate above is Becky Albertalli’s book; Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Whilst I was fully aware that the romance was between two homosexual teenage boys, it didn't feel any different than reading a sweet YA contemporary between a heterosexual couple. Unfortunately Simon isn't available to the general public yet, but it is definitely one that you should watch out for! If you would like to read more about how much I loved this one then please do check out my review of it right here!
Like I mentioned earlier I haven’t read that many diverse books, but of the small amount I have read I absolutely adored the majority of them, quite a few of them also simultaneously being UKYA books too. This turned into a really long post even though I was trying to keep it short, nonetheless if you have stuck with it until the end then thank-you!