Saturday, December 8, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Diversity in YA and MG: A Call to Action

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in publishing lately, and I don’t mean just YA and MG. This is an ongoing discussion in (adult) literary fiction circles, too. 
It’s almost 2013. Why are we still talking about this?

Well, there’s this:

On Dec. 4th, The New York Times published this article about Latino children who fail to find characters like themselves in books.

And there’s this:

What is the relationship between these two? Well, that’s a good question. (I’m interested in hearing your responses in the comments.)

But when we talk about the lack of diversity in YA and MG, we’re not just talking about the lack of main characters who are people of color. We’re also talking about characters that identify as LGBTQ, who have disabilities, who come from bilingual or multilingual families or communities, and from various faiths or religions.  

There’s been a lot of talk about book covers and the whitewashing of the publishing industry and privilege and educational inequality. But for readers and writers who are underrepresented, talking about it is not enough. Something needs to change.

So what can we do?

For starters, you can make it your mission to read widely and diversely. You can recommend these books to readers. You can put these books in readers’ hands. You can ask for these books at your local library or independent book store or wherever you buy books. You can review these books and blog about them. You can write these books. You can publish these books.

Also, here’s a starting point: back in August, Roxane Gay, one of my favorite writers (who is also a fantastic essayist, cultural critic, blogger, and superwoman) compiled this list.

Now, here’s where you come in. I want to compile a list for YAtopia—a diverse YA and MG list for readers of underrepresented groups. So let’s get started. What are your recommendations?        


  1. It's discouraging, because sometimes those of us who do have diversity in our books are sometimes accused of just "jumping on the bandwagon to stand out." A reviewer said that of two gay characters in one of my books, despite that MOST of my books feature LGBT characters. (Because...well, I'm gay.) So that stung a little.

    For my diversity recs:
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
    Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz
    With or Without You by Brian Farrey
    Grand & Humble by Brett Hartinger (Or any of his books, really) by K.E. Payne
    Love Drugged by James Klise
    Ash by Malinda Lo

    Also a nice list here ( for titles.

  2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. They're graphic novels but they're too good not to talk about.
    Light Years by Tammar Stein has a nice YA Israeli perspective (if anyone can find a good Palestinian book then please let me know!).
    That's about all I can think of for now. I'll spam your comments section if I come up with anything else!

  3. Adaptation by Malinda Lo, featuring a bisexual heroine and a depiction of San Francisco that truly represents its diversity.

  4. Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey (LGBT)
    Demon Eyes also by Scott Tracey

    That's all I can think about at the moment

  5. I LOVED "Five Flavors of Dumb" by Antony John, a very realistic portrayal of deaf culture with a wonderful, spunky deaf heroine. Also has great references to the music scene in Seattle and some of its greats (Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain).

  6. Thanks so much for your recommendations, everyone. This is a great starting point!

  7. This is rather discouraging, even more so when books with diversity are misrepresented by cover art. There was a recent uproar after a certain YA book with an Asian male MC ended up with a cover featuring a white guy. How disheartening and offensive. Didn't the publishing company think they could sell a book featuring an Asian love interest? How short-sighted.

    I'd like to think my writing reflects the real world and the various shades of humanity be it racially, religiously, sexually etc. It's not about jumping on a bandwagon by including LGBT or ethnically diverse characters, but about being realistic. Isn't verisimilitude what we writers strive for regardless of genre?

  8. I know it's being turned into a movie, and besides the main characters being mostly white, "The Mortal Instruments Series and The Infernal Devices" are great reads with very much diversity. There are characters that are latino, Asian, Gay, Jewish, plus many dysfunctional families...and the fact that Cassandra Clare was completely against whitewashing the Marvelous Magnus Bane, who is in fact Asian in the movie, just goes to show that although white-washing does exist, there are some people who are strongly against it!

  9. *adds more books to to-read list* It's heartening to see the progress made in the last couple of years, at least. I sincerely hope it keeps up. Right now, the books exist, but in small numbers, and the chances of them getting a lot of marketing attention or hitting a bestseller list... not so great.

    Unfortunately I have to wait until 2014 to be able to suggest my own book for these lists. Oh, publishing time. *g*

  10. I have a list of books by Latino/a authors on my blog. Here are a few I've read recently:
    We Were Here, Mexican Whiteboy: Matt de la Pena
    Dreams of Significant Girls: Cristina Garcia
    Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood: Benjamin Alire Saenz
    Marcelo in the Real World: Francisco X. Stork
    and Alex Sanchez writes about LGBT issues.