Young Adult Book Reading Challenges discussion

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Aristotle and Dante Discover... > Diverse Books- do we need to read more?

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message 1: by Angie, YA lovin mod!! (new)

Angie | 2687 comments Mod
For those that don't know there is a big campaign this month to get more books by diverse authors read. The hashtag #weneeddiversebooks is being used on social media. This is the perfect book for this. Do you have any diverse authors you would suggest we read? Do you make an effort to read books by authors with a different culture then you? http://www.bustle.com/articles/22915-...


message 2: by Angie, YA lovin mod!! (new)

Angie | 2687 comments Mod
Personally ... for me I do need to read more diverse books. I find that I read a lot of books from white authors. I am glad that this month we got read a book from a different perspective. I love the campaign that is going on right now too. Trying to get people aware that we are not reading books from diverse authors.


message 3: by Kay, Conquering YA One Book at a Time (new)

Kay | 79 comments Mod
I definitely agree. I am so used to picking up books that are a 'worldwide phenomenon', I miss reading a book nobody has heard of before. (So if anyone knows any great books that are not so popular, could you recommend them to me please?)!


message 4: by Tessa (new)

Tessa | 22 comments I do believe that we need more diverse books. The YA genre has taken huge steps these past years, but there are still an awful lot of the cliché books about white girls falling in love with white guys.
As for authors, I believe writing is a level playing field. Anyone from any culture can become a writer and project their unique voice and culture. Honestly, most of the time I do not even read the about the author. Their writing speaks for them and that is what I am going to judge them on.


message 5: by Angie, YA lovin mod!! (new)

Angie | 2687 comments Mod
Such great comments here. I am so glad that this campaign is getting people thinking. Including myself. I like how Priscila talks about the cover of books too. Most have white people on them too. Movie actors that are supposed to be people of color are cast as white people. Take Katniss.. isn't she olive colored in the Hunger Games? The books the Wizard of Earthsea's characters are all people of color yet the SyFy series was cast as all white people.

By the way... love the Tumblr for #weneeddiversebooks thanks for sharing!


message 6: by Grace (last edited May 06, 2014 12:36PM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments What does everyone mean by 'more diverse' books. Are you looking for diversity in subject matter or diversity in the creators?

In my experience, there is lots of diversity available if you're willing to look for it - especially if you're prepared to look beyond the YA label. For example, you could try Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai for a double- or even triple-dose of diversity. Although this book isn't marketed as a YA novel (at least, not to my knowledge), it qualifies as one on several levels.


message 7: by Angie, YA lovin mod!! (new)

Angie | 2687 comments Mod
This is where it all began: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014...


message 8: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Thank you for the link, Angie. I'm still confused, though. It sounds like the campaign started because there's an apparent lack of diversity in children's literature but it seems to have expanded to include YA literature. I would tend to agree that, historically, there's been very little diversity in children's literature but that's changing. In the last year I've read dozens of children's books (while looking for good books for my grandson) and I've found an amazing diverse array of literature for very young children. (Would you believe that one of the most diverse collections of children's books is written by a white, male author?)

The article quotes Ellen Oh as saying "awesome genres like YA wouldn't exist if we hadn't moved away from the old, white dude model of literature and started reading stories written by ladies." I wonder about this? I would argue that the fragmentation into genres for specific age groups might actually hamper diversity because teenagers and young adults may overlook authors and novels which provide the diversity they crave because many excellent authors don't write in the genre.

I would also argue that, if we measure diversity by the colour and gender of the author, we're missing out on a whole body of literature that may satisfy our other requirements for diversity. Consider, for example, What is the What by Dave Eggers. Here's a book written by a white male that tells the story of an African boy who flees from the civil war in Sudan in the 1980's. True, there isn't an LGBT theme in the book but that doesn't mean it doesn't qualify as a book that adds to the diversity of modern literature.


message 9: by Grace (last edited May 12, 2014 02:56PM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Non white authors write books that misrepresent people of color and other "diverse" characters... I recommend this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainm... to further understand my criticism about this. "

Hmmm - that article seems to focus on how characters in science fiction stories are cast for the movies. It doesn't really speak to how authors treat diversity with one exception. In the example about Earthsea and the The Left Hand of Darkness it's clear that the author tried to make the race of her characters a background detail but the adapters " ...[whitewashed] Earthsea for the television adaptation: Since the non-whiteness was done subtly, the adaptors felt justified in ignoring it."

As to your main argument that "It's important not only to see accurate character representation of "diverse" people, but also to see authors [who] fit this "diversity.", I wonder what you mean. Are you saying that only Hispanic authors should write books that feature a Hispanic character; only homosexual authors can write books about the homosexual experience; only black authors can write about black characters? If this is what you're saying, I believe that it would lead to a very restrictive writing environment if taken to its logical conclusion.

Of course, there's an alternative way to interpret your statement - "It's important not only to see accurate character representation of "diverse" people, but also to see authors [who] fit this "diversity." - and that is: not only should we welcome "diversity" in the contents of the books, we should also encourage "diversity" among the creators of those books. I would wholeheartedly support this view.


message 10: by Grace (last edited May 13, 2014 11:40AM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Because if it wasn't there wouldn't be an overwhelming need for a hash tag called #weneedmorediversebooks."

From what I understood, the hash tag was started for juvenile literature. I believe the need for explicit diversity (of gender and race) is crucial for young minds who haven't yet developed the ability to think in the abstract. If a young child sees a character that looks like themselves they're more likely to identify with the character. Through this identification, they learn to enjoy reading.

As children age, they develop the ability to think in the abstract and to recognize symbols, analogies, metaphors. I believe the need for a direct match with the characters is lessened. But that assumes that the child/teenager has already developed a love of reading.

I don't think that you do wholeheartedly support my view as you state in the last paragraph, given the the comments in the prior paragraph.

Ummm - I intended to describe two diametrically opposed viewpoints in the two paragraphs you refer to. (Unless you're referring to two others.) I guess I didn't make the if...then...otherwise very clear.

A Latino author can probably overlook the "identity" of a Latino and give him a real identity that does bot correspond to anything stereotypical because the author has had a first hand experience as a Latino.

Thank you for the clarification.


message 11: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "I believe that you think that since this hash tag started in juvenile literature it is no longer relevant with classics or young adult. I think that you think that this is limited to children's novels. "

Well, no. I believe diversity is important for everyone but, in my experience, finding explicit instances of diversity isn't as big an issue for people who have figured out who they are or for those who have moved past genre boundaries.

In many of the books I read the ethnicity and sexual orientation of the characters aren't part of the story. I can imagine whatever I want. I often forget the physical description of the characters if it's provided because what's more important is the human condition of the character. Why do I chose those books? Because I know the stories will reach me on some level and the author writes well.

You've proven that it's possible to find diversity if you look for it. If readers demand more diversity all they need do is support the authors who give them what they want.

As for promoting diversity in classics - alas, classics by their very nature have outlived their creators so you can't add more diversity than what is already there. For example, you're not likely to find any books written in the 19th century that portray homosexual marriage. At best, you may find books written by closeted gay or lesbian authors.

If you're willing to search for translations of classics written by authors from other cultures then there is a chance that you will find the range of diverse characters you want.

It's clear that you and I have a different view of what's important in literature. For me it's the quality of the writing. I hope and long for a future when we can look past the external features of who a person is - black, white, blonde, brunette, green eyes or brown eyes, gay or straight - and see the person within. I believe that we are more alike under the skin. What we should look for in literature are the core elements in stories that touch us emotionally and link us. In other words - instead of looking at how we are different from the characters and how our experiences differ, we should be looking at what we have in common.


message 12: by Grace (last edited May 14, 2014 11:01AM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "If you feel comfortable enough with yourself that it is not important to have diversity in literature, then you can only speak for yourself. "

You completely misunderstand me. I do believe there needs to be diversity in literature. I also believe that it's up to the reader to discover that diversity and to support it.

You're right, though. I am speaking for myself. I can give only my viewpoint - but that doesn't make it any less valid.

By the way, have you ever read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I'd be interested in your comments on that book.

Priscila wrote: To you, personally, race may not matter but it is still very socially relevant.

And you misunderstand me again. I do believe race is socially relevant - at least it is in our society because, unfortunately, it shapes how people interact. But it shouldn't be the primary factor we consider when interacting with each other. The ideal, for me, would be a society in which race is no longer important because the races are so thoroughly mixed that you can't discern what an individual's race is.

I see that you're very focused on how things are now and I keep thinking about how things could be in the future. So, YES, we do need more diverse books. We need to recognize and embrace authors of diverse backgrounds and learn from the authentic characters they create. AND the reason we need that diversity is so that sometime in the future there is no longer the need to promote diversity because it has become a fact of life.

Priscila wrote: When you read it is more than likely that you don't image a faceless colorless non-specified gender character who has an ambiguous sexual orientation. You imagine someone and that someone is probably a character that fits the norm I have specified

You're assuming a lot here. Sometimes the character I imagine IS faceless and colourless - although the gender is usually specified by the author - in stories where the situation is important. Other times, I do imagine a person but you really shouldn't assume that I select a character who fits the norm - nor should you assume what the norm is for me - given that you really have no idea what my experience is. You don't know where I live - the type of neighbourhood I live in, who my co-workers are or even who my friends are. So you really can't assume what my 'norm' is.

Aside from that, if the ethnicity and sexual orientation of the main character isn't important to the story then anyone else who reads the story can imagine whatever they want. Even if I were to imagine a 'white, straight' person as the main character it doesn't mean that other people who read that book can't imagine a 'Latino, gay' character when they read the same book. That's the strength of the authors who are able to capture our attention without being really specific about their characters. I'm currently reading a book that allows me to imagine whomever I want as the main character - that's why I mention this as one way to bring diversity into literature.


message 13: by Angie, YA lovin mod!! (new)

Angie | 2687 comments Mod
I do think that people tend to read and imagine the characters to be like them. We were playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons once. This is where you make up a character and play that characters. One of the players (my husband who is black) had been playing for a long time with a character he created. One day everyone got to talking and the other players assumed his character was white (they were white) when all along he pictured his character as black. He of course never specified this and no one asked either. We all just pictured what was more like us (though in honesty I did assume his character was black). I myself want to read more diverse books to learn more about other cultures. Everyone usually has some sort of tradition that they carry on.. I even like to read books in other countries to see how they live. Even other states!


message 14: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Angie wrote: "I myself want to read more diverse books to learn more about other cultures."

I fully agree with you. I've learned a lot about the cultures - and history - of other countries by reading novels. However, I've found novels by white authors to be just as instructive as those by natives of the countries in which the novels are set. For example A Passage to India by E.M. Forster provides both an English and Indian perspective on British rule in India in the 19th century. It's fascinating to see how communication breaks down between the English and Indian characters because they aren't willing or able to understand each other's cultures.


message 15: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Angie wrote: "I myself want to read more diverse books to learn more about other cultures."

I fully agree with you. I've learned a lot about the cultures - and history - of other countries by reading novels. However, I've found novels by white authors to be just as instructive as those by natives of the countries in which the novels are set. For example A Passage to India by E.M. Forster provides both an English and Indian perspective on British rule in India in the early 20th century. It's fascinating to see how communication breaks down between the English and Indian characters because they aren't willing or able to understand each other's cultures.


message 16: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "However, according to what you said it seems like you don't really seem interested int the promotion for diverse books today..."

Once again - I AM all in favour of promoting diverse books. I try to find as many diverse books as I can for myself and for my grandchildren.

I don't know what I can say to convince you of this. You and I are on the same side.


message 17: by Grace (last edited May 14, 2014 03:06PM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Well, if you can show me how the way I showed you that would help (through quoting back to me)."

I made some suggestions - look for authors who satisfy the criteria for being diverse - who they are, what they write about and how they write - and support them. We can support them by buying their books (if we're passionate about their message) and recommending them to other readers. Let people know who they are - what they write about.

We can also promote diverse books by communicating the need for them to the publishers. If they perceive there is a market for more diverse books, they'll be willing to consider publishing them when any are submitted for their consideration. Better still - support the authors who self-publish - assuming their books are well-written.

Finally, when Hollywood whitewashes a story that featured diversity, boycott the movie and let them know why.

Is this what you had in mind? In my earlier posts I suggested some books I've read that I felt were diverse. I can make other recommendations if you want.

It's been a pleasure chatting with you, too. This thread has given me a lot to think about. I'm going to read some of the books you've recommended. I'll also try to look for more authors. You've introduced many that I'm not familiar with.


message 18: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Here are some books with queer characters:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/27-mu..."


Thank you for both lists.


message 19: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Here's another list with great suggestions:

http://www.mtv.com/news/1823290/diver..."


Hmmm...Gay? Black? Latino? I guess that's a start. What about Asian? African? Middle Eastern? Indian? Aboriginal? Inuit? - I guess there's a long way to go to really be diverse.


message 20: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "It's not good to critique the few propositions that are out there in such a negative way."

You're right. I apologize. I reacted to the heading when I should have taken the time to give more than a cursory look at the books that were listed. I will take a closer look at what is contained in that list.

I've been going through my own book list - thinking of memorable books I've read in the last few years. Quite a few give accurate portrayals of diverse people in other cultures but I don't think any of them are considered to be YA books even when the main character is in the YA age range and the writing and subject matter are appropriate to readers between 16 and 25. I don't think they would fit your criteria for being 'diverse' books; I believe, though, that they are appropriate for anyone who wants to taste a broader range of writing that doesn't focus on life in North America.


message 21: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Here is some Asian fantasy:

http://msforster.blogspot.com/p/looki..."


Hooray! I've read two of the books on that list and have recently put a hold on a third that that has been on my to read list for several years.


message 22: by Angie, YA lovin mod!! (new)

Angie | 2687 comments Mod
Priscila wrote: "More books ^_^

Here is a list for diverse books for toddlers:

http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/...

Here are some suggestions f..."


I love that there are some for toddlers. I read And Tango Makes Three a few years ago and it was beautiful. I can't believe people get it banned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_Tang...


message 23: by Grace (last edited May 17, 2014 07:16AM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Priscila wrote: "Well, I guess that really really really proves this hash tag right. You're right, I can't believe people got that banned."

If you're a person who has spent their entire life believing that homosexuality in humans is outside God's plan because animals don't exhibit homosexual behaviours then any evidence to the contrary has to be a work of the devil and must be eradicated. How much worse when that evidence is aimed at young children whose minds haven't yet been trained to think along the narrow path that equates homosexuality with sin.

At least, I think that's how the mind of social conservatives work. If it doesn't fit what's in the Bible - or one person's interpretation of the Bible - then it's the work of the devil and must be suppressed.

I think I'll add And Tango Makes Three to my grandson's bookshelf. He's just approaching the toddler stage.


message 24: by Lucia (last edited May 17, 2014 06:50PM) (new)

Lucia | 27 comments I am a latina living in the US and Ive been wondering if American teens would be interested in YA novel based in other countries. I have a lot of ideas to write YA novels (I've already finished one) based in my home country, Argentina. Would you read a YA novel about YA in another country?


message 25: by Lucia (new)

Lucia | 27 comments Sorry to disappoint you, but I haven't started anything to get published. A little lost about that but will get on it.

I wouldn't mind sending you a draft for you to tell me what you think. I am doing some finishing stuff on it.


message 26: by Tessa (new)

Tessa | 22 comments Lucia wrote: "I am a latina living in the US and Ive been wondering if American teens would be interested in YA novel based in other countries. I have a lot of ideas to write YA novels (I've already finished one..."

I love to read books set in other countries. I believe that reading is a type of travel that is actually affordable. If you are willing to open your eyes to other cultures and their writing, you can discover the best books.


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

We need diverse books in every way, and beyond reading books with POC authors. We need books with POC, LGBTQ, different characters without restricting them to this difference. What I mean is that a character with a gay MC should not be about the MC's sexuality. Wouldn't it be great if we could have a lesbian girl as a main character (not a supporting, a main) in a sci-fi novel where it's not all about coming out, where this lesbian girl is just as badass as other straight ones (or more?)

We need diverse books. We need them because we shouldn't need to say this at all.


message 28: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments POC? What is that? Proof of concept? Program of choice? Professional Organizers in Canada?

Oh! People of colour!


message 29: by Grace (last edited May 21, 2014 08:10AM) (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Sophie (Bibliophile by Nature) wrote: "Wouldn't it be great if we could have a lesbian girl as a main character (not a supporting, a main) in a sci-fi novel where it's not all about coming out, where this lesbian girl is just as badass as other straight ones (or more?)"

So...if the girl's sexuality isn't part of the story how do you know what her sexuality is? What I'm trying to say - why would you have to work sexuality into the story if what you want is a badass character?

In all the books out there where the main character's sexuality doesn't play a part in the story why can't one assume that the character is lesbian or gay since there's no reason to assume that they're straight.


message 30: by Lucia (new)

Lucia | 27 comments Sophie (Bibliophile by Nature) wrote: "We need diverse books in every way, and beyond reading books with POC authors. We need books with POC, LGBTQ, different characters without restricting them to this difference. What I mean is that a..."

I see what you're saying. I personally think there shouldn't be a separate category for POC or LGBT if we're all the same, and if we want integration, why separate?


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Grace wrote: "Sophie (Bibliophile by Nature) wrote: "Wouldn't it be great if we could have a lesbian girl as a main character (not a supporting, a main) in a sci-fi novel where it's not all about coming out, whe..."

We assume that they're straight because that's the point we're at in YA lit. That's simply how the book world works.

I never meant to say that LGBT characters are not badass. I never meant for that come out that way. What I mean is that every book that features someone with a "different" sexuality is all about their sexuality. What if we could have an awesome sci-fi book with a lesbian protagonist who fights aliens and has some steamy moments? What I mean is that I want LGBT MCs to be something commonplace and normal, instead of something that is featured in "lgbt-fiction."


message 32: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Sophie (Bibliophile by Nature) wrote: "We assume that they're straight because that's the point we're at in YA lit. That's simply how the book world works."

You're right about this - but you can change this attitude. I've tried myself. Recently, I've read a few short stories in which the ethnicity and sexual orientation of the main character doesn't play a part. I could just assume that they share the ethnicity of the author and that they're straight but I tried to imagine another ethnicity the story still worked. (The gay or straight question didn't enter into it since that wasn't central to the story - not even peripheral to the story.)

So the first thing we can do is to STOP assuming the main characters are white and straight - even if the authors are; even if the reader is. Try to see all characters as someone who doesn't conform to the so-called "norm". (I can guarantee that the "norm" for me now is much different from what it was when I was growing up. I'm "white" and we're definitely among the minority in my neighbourhood.)

Sophie (Bibliophile by Nature) wrote: "What I mean is that I want LGBT MCs to be something commonplace and normal..."

YES! That's the whole point of promoting diversity. When we expose ourselves to diverse literature, we begin to see the world from other perspectives and can begin to understand how other people think and feel. The goal should be to get to the point where we don't notice "the other" as being "other" - they're just a person.


message 33: by Grace (new)

Grace (gdaminato) | 520 comments Enna wrote: "...for example, writing an autistic protagonist..."

Such a book has been written. Take a look at: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. That's not to say the more books with autistic characters aren't needed... at least one exists. And it's good.

If we read - and talk about - the diverse books that DO exist, it will encourage publishers to consider publishing more of the diverse books submitted. One blockbuster that features a fully characterized and believable character who fits in one of the LGBTQIAZKEX categories will lead to more books being published. As readers, we can make that happen by looking for and vocally supporting books diverse books.


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