Chatterbox: Diversity in Books – My Recommendations

May 9, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | Books, Chatterbox, Features

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It’s funny because before the diversity in book discussion arose, I never really thought about it much. On my shelves are a whole heap of paranormal books that feature vampires, werewolves, angels/demons, shadow hunters, aliens and the like but how many of them actually explore other cultures, subgroups and sexual orientations at a deeper level?

I think reading widely and diversely is important for shaping and opening our mind to different thoughts, opinions, cultures and practices and that’s what book diversity is about. That’s why I support this movement and find it so important that people are taking notice.

Being asian myself, there is a huge lack of books that feature asian characters and even main characters at their core. I have read books that center on cultural fiction that obviously do it well, but in YA literature there is a massive lack of exploring even other cultures. Even ones that do touch on other cultures or even LGBT fiction, tend to stereotype them often come off as half-baked to the reader.

Here are some of the diverse books that I recommend (and do it well):

Paranormals 

immortalrules (Custom) whatkillsme  cinder Ink

The Blood of Eden series by Julie Kagawa is a great vampire series, with Allison Sekemoto, an asian katana wielding vampire as it’s main character, and What Kills Me by Wynne Channing is a great indie book about a sassy asian vampire Zee who has some great humour.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is set in New Beijing where the main character and the Prince are both asian and Ink by Amanda Sun explores a caucasian girl experiencing Japanese culture.

Contemporary Romances

E&p toalltheboys

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han weave the Korean heritage of the characters into the storyline.

Cultural Literature 

thefirstthird lookingforalibrandi

The First Third by Will Kostakis and Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta are both YA contemporaries which explore the life of a teenager as another culture (Greek and Italian).

chinesecin maoslast memoirsgeisha

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah, Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden are all great pieces of Asian literature.

Historical fiction 

bronzehorseman thousandsplendid

The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simmons is one of my favourite historical romances that is set in wartime Russia and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is one of my favourite books set in Afghanistan who gut-wrenchingly shows us two women who are oppressed.

stripedpj booktheif nightandfog

Holocaust books such as The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John BoyneThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak and recently the YA release The Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman are also diverse, being set in Nazi Germany.

LGBT Fiction

morethanthis  twoboyskissing

More than This by Patrick Ness and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (or anything by David Levithan) explore LGBT in different ways without stereotyping it.

Have you read any of these books? What diverse books do you recommend?

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Jeann is an Aussie blogger, gamer, reader who loves to read, write, fangirl, geek out and eat food. You can find me glued to one of my many mobile devices 24/7, or fangirling over the latest YA book, TV show, movie or game. Chat with me on Twitter @happyindulgence

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77 responses to “Chatterbox: Diversity in Books – My Recommendations

  1. Me whilst reading this:

    YAY Cinder!

    ERMAGERD MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. *flails* *bounces happily* *reminisces* *tears up* *has urge to watch movie and stroke book*

    Seriously I love that story more than I can express! Even though I do love the movie more, the book is absolutely beautiful and one that I know will stick with me for the longest time.

    I love all your recs and even though I have read or marked most of them as TBR there are a few I have found so YAY thank you, Jeann ^.^ <3
    Chiara @ Books for a recently posted…Book Review: Shatter Me (Shatter Me #1) by Tahereh MafiMy Profile

  2. I am late in this but awesome, AWESOME post Jeann. Thank you for all the recommendations, we definitely need more diverse books! I definitely support more diverse main characters, we don't get that enough. I think it's about time that books go beyond the hair and eye color and actually focus on characters with different ethnicity. As you know, I've been featuring a lot of Filipino authors recently because if I can support other authors from different countries and their works, I can definitely also support my own. Also, I recently read and enjoyed Girl from the Well and it features a Japanese female ghost, pretty much like the Japanese horror characters we often see in J-Horror Movies…it was pretty cliche but it was still refreshing to have a badass asian character, even if she was dead lol.
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    • I do enjoy reading the reviews of your Filipino picks too Pili! Woah, that Girl from the Well book sounds amazing, even though the plot and stuff kind of sound cliche. Kind of like Anna Dressed in Blood but only Japanese.

  3. Oooh, I'm glad you're interested in diverse books after all the buzz now Joy! Thanks for the recs, I have heard some wonderful things about A&D and I loved the sound of One Man Guy when you reviewed it.

  4. How did I miss this post? I couldn't agree with you more. Being Hispanic and first generation American, the representation of Hispanic leads are dismal and often time are the stereotype of what authors THINK they should be. People think we are mostly Chicanos because it's what you see on TV but that's simply not the case. There's also a subculture that lives here for Hispanic people in the US. Sometimes when you are born in the US but are the children of immigrant parents from Central or South America, we are not white enough for the average white American but not Hispanic enough for some of the people that have recently arrived from SA or CA. Not sure if that makes sense but it's always a topic I wished was explored more in YA or NA, maybe it has and I just haven't discovered those books. I don't have issues with that myself BUT it's an observation.

    Some of the books you've recommended, I haven't read and clearly, I want to connect with much needed diversity…I thank you for this so much. And I know you know this but ELEANOR & PARK and THE BRONZE HORSEMAN are just a few of my most treasured books.

    Great post Jeann!!! ♥

    • Thank you lovely, wow I must admit I actually haven't read many books about Hispanic people either! After being in the US earlier this year, I must admit it was much more multicultural than I expected and I wish books kind of covered that. I'm glad you love BRONZE HORSEMAN too, it's amazing.

  5. I LOVE Cinder! New Beijing is a unique idea for a fairy tale retelling and it works really good! As an asian, I realize too that there are only few titles with asian main protagonists, but I like it when an asian character get an important role even only as a side kick character (like Kenji from Shatter Me and Zu from The Darkest Minds).

    Thanks for the recommendations, I'm curious with To All The Boys I've Loved Before, it sounds like a cute contemporary. I think I need to try The Immortal Rules, I didn't know the main character is an asian 😀

    • I'm glad to hear you finally read it, it was soo good and I'm really happy that Cinder was Asian as well as Prince Kai. I'm curious with that one too, and hope you do read The Immortal Rules!

  6. I'm guilty when it comes to diversifying my reads (racial wise). I have been reading more LGBT books lately, but I fear it's not enough. I was just eyeing my copy of In Darkness by Nick Lake and I think this is a perfect time to go on a hunt for these books.

    I do hope you'll read One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz, and Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie if you haven't read them yet.

    Great recc's, Jeann. 🙂
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  7. I'm a huge advocate for diversity in YA and recently think it's a topic that's close to my heart! i have actually read a lot of the books on your list! It's suprising since just the other day i thought i hadn't read all that much diverse reads but i guess i'm wrong —haha!
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  8. The Bronze Horseman. YUSSS. I loved that book so much! It was a little slow for me at first, but after I got halfway through, I couldn't stop reading! I need to read the rest of the series but I have to wait, because I've bought so many books this month (or so my mom says,lol). Two Boys Kissing is awesome too! I've read some of your recommendations, and added the rest to my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendations, Jeann 🙂
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    • Yay, I'm glad to hear that you loved it too, that makes me happy hehe! I totally know what it is like to not get around to a book for months, even years later. Massive TBR and all! No problems, Marianne!

  9. Yay, I'm Chinese and my bf is Filipino hehe! I always take an interest in Asian main characters and have really enjoyed the ones that I read. How awesome that Chinese Cinderella was a required reading, I really enjoyed those asian culture type reads in high school. Thank you lovely! <3

  10. It makes me happy doesn't it, because now the movement has raised publisher and author attention, hopefully we'll see more different reads. The Book Thief is one of my favourite books of all time!

  11. It's uncanny just how many books there are that focus on caucasian US/UK females isn't there? Even male povs are lacking! Glad to hear you loved both of them, oh I've read a few books that focus on Thai culture and found it so interesting. Thank you for the rec, Allie!

  12. I agree, seeing those tweets about #diversebooks reminded me that a lot of books these days aren't as unique or enriching to read. I love all of your recs, I'm not a fan of historical fiction, but I am planning to read The Book Thief because of the good opinions about it 😀 Great post Jeann!

  13. I am an Asian (Chinese/Filipino) so I just really love it when Asian cultures are explored, or when there are Asian characters in books. I'm almost immediately interested in reading a book if I find out that there is a character who isn't American/European. And I most definitely HATE it when these characters are stereotyped!

    From your recs I've read The Immortal Rules (LOVE Allie), Cinder (LOVE Cinder), Eleanor and Park (LOVE Park), To All the Boys (do NOT love Lara Jean, haha), Chinese Cinderella (it was one of the only required reading in school that I actually liked) and Prisoner of Night and Fog (didn't love it, but I liked the setting). Awesome recs, Jeann. More power to diversity in books! <33
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  14. I love this post, Jeann! We do need diversity in books. Sometimes it gets really boring or repetitive when the main characters are the same people with different names or different hair colors/eye colors. I like that there are books out there that weren't afraid to be different, and readers that choose them and love them. <3
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    • Thank you Dre! I totally agree with the characters being the same and they start having such a big impact after a while. Absolutely Dre, could not have said it better myself!

  15. Great recommendations, Jeann! I love books where the diversity is hardly even noticeable, such as the Blood of Eden series. You barely know that Alice is Asian if it wasn't for Kanin's reaction to her choosing the katana (unless you actually know what a katana is. In my head, I picture a samurai sword. Stereotypes ruin imagination) and by her picture in the second cover ('cause she barely looks Asian in The Immortal Rules cover).

    I also agree with Looking for Alibrandi. Another book like that, that I would recommend is called Willow Tree and Olive by Irini Savvides. It also looks at Australian identity, but has more focus on depression and a hint of LGBT.

    Memoirs of A Geisha, Ink, Cinder and Prisoner of Night and Fog are on my To Read list – can't wait!
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    • Thank you Brea, I love how it isn't the center point of the story too and it's just integrated into the story. Sounds interesting, I'll really have to pick that one up! I hope you do read some of those other books because they are great diverse reads 🙂

  16. YES to all of this. The really depressing part is that it's not just YA that suffers from a lack of diverse protagonists. Adult fantasy books are probably one of the worst – "I've created this entire magical world! There's dragons! And magic! And demons! But everyone is white. EVE.RY.ONE." Sigh.

    I read Pointe this week, which has an African-American protagonist. It was awesome but a really hard read because of the subject matter…
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    • That's so true, I wonder why that is with adult fantasy? Think anything with fantasy or paranormal themes tend to be like that. Point actually sounds really amazing, I'll have to check it out!

  17. Yeah for diverse books! I definitely agree with all the recommendations you have here…especially Cinder, Eleanor and Park, and Two Boys Kissing. Diversity in books is so important because it makes everything so much more realistic and relatable. (I mean, if we didn't have diversity in books, we wouldn't have Rue in THG! And that would be horrible!) Thanks for sharing Jeann, and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3
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    • Thank you Zoe, I love books that share with us different experiences, that's why we need diversity. AND yes Rue was an amazing character, as was the wide variety of characters in THG! Thank you Zoe 🙂

  18. I mostly just pick up books I'm interested it, I don't look for diversty but I own some diverse books I just haven't read them yet. I own mostly books set in japan or a characters who is japanese or Asain because I love the japanese culture. I also love LGBT fiction. I hope to read some sone. thanks for sharing!!
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  19. That's funny because I all for diversity in books, as it makes you realise that all the books I love on my shelf but sometimes, I like to go for something different and out of my comfort zone. However, the books you recommend, I've tried, like The Immortal Rules, Cinder, and Ink and I couldn't connect with the book or the characters but I've always a picky reader so that could be it. But I mean, TMR is in the vampire genre, my favourite, why couldn't I get into it!? It's very frustrating. LOL! Lovely post and thanks for sharing, Jeann!
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    • I do enjoy books that are out of our comfort zone, because that's how we grow as a reader and a person. Hmm, perhaps those YA books weren't your thing? How frustrating though! No problems, Emma.

  20. I never really thought about this much either, not until the hashtags started popping up all over twitter! But once I examined my shelf, I realised how many books I read there were about white, american / english females. Not a lot of diversity in that regard. I do have quite a few LGBT books though, which I absolutely love. It's nice to read a romance that isn't so same-old. LGBT books bring so many interesting things to the romance table!

    LOVE Eleanor & Park, and Cinder. Such great books. Another good'un is She's So Money, which has a Thai heroine. It was one of my first fluffy contemporaries and I think it's a great little romance.
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  21. So many interesting books to discover. I loved the Geisha movie but I haven't read the book. I have Cinder but I still need to try it and I loved the Kagawa novel too. Thanks for sharing!

  22. I seem to always find diverse books without trying too hard. I'm one of those readers who honestly doesn't pay attention to the ethnicity of the author or characters, I'm simply drawn to books that sound good and will deliver a good story. If you haven't read Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer books, and you love fantasy, they are set in an alternate reality Japan and EVERY character is Japanese. And I always seem to learn so many cool things by reading books set in other countries. I'm glad diversity in books is getting the spotlight right now, because it is important.
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    • You dooo Tammy, and I love reading about all of those different, unique type of books that you find! OMG I have stormdancer on my shelves signed by the author, just haven't gotten around to it yet. (You know what I mean with the TBR and all). But it sounds really amazing and you've moved it up the TBR pile!

  23. I love this hashtag so so much! I feel so cool because I've read quite a few of these haha. One that stands out is The Bronze Horseman because I've heard heaps of raves about it but like, the length! It's so long! And it's a trilogy as well right? >< These are all definitely going onto my TBR radar though! Awesome post Jeann. <3
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    • Me too Laura, it makes me really happy! It is actually quite a long book, I took it with me on vacation a few years back and still remember it ever since. It was a really great experience and still memorable. It is a trilogy, there are some spin-offs out now and I haven't read the 3rd book int he series. Thank you lovely!

  24. Ugh I could totally agree! I wish there were more novels set in other countries and embrace other cultures. I'm sick of seeing books that are set in America and England. Authors need to stop shying away from controversial topics and need to take a risk. If there were more books set on things like gay marriage and stuff maybe it would be less controversial.
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    • I know right? That's why I do enjoy Aussie fiction for something different! I totally agree and I love that authors are taking a stand, like David Levithan and Patrick Ness.

  25. I loved Hosseini's other book The Kite Runner and have been meaning to read A Thousand Splendid Suns. I also enjoyed PoNaF, TBF & Cinder! Diverse books I'd recommend: Partials by Dan Wells and Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. 🙂
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    • Oh my, I can't believe I haven't read the Kite Runner yet! I was always meaning to read it but I totally forgot about it until now. Thanks for the reminder. Ooh I didn't realise Partials was diverse, makes me even more eager to pick it up.

  26. After the whole #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, I've been wanting to read a lot more books about other cultures. I mean, I'd like to think I read a lot of diverse books, and I think I read more than the normal person, but not as many as I could. Which is a shame because learning about different cultures is one of my favourite parts of reading! So I'm going to add these to my tbr list (the ones I haven't read and LOVED anyway XD )

  27. I've read seven of these books. I really liked ALL of them. Mao's Last Dancer, Cinder, Eleanor and Park and a few others. It's good to see there are so many out there! There's also I Am J, about a transgendered boy, which is quite good. Night Vision, set in New Zealand, about a girl with a rare disease which means sunlight will kill her. Dead Ends, where the main character is a bully who makes friends with a kid who has Down Syndrome. The Impossible Knife of Memory, where the protagonist's father has PTSD. Bird by Crystal Chan for a lot of different cultures. There are SO MANY – I'll stop now 😛 Next week I might be devoting the whole seven days to diverse books, so that will be fun! These are great recs.
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    • YAY I'm glad to hear you enjoyed them Emily! It makes me happy that other people have read and enjoyed similar books. Thank you for all of these amazing books, I will definitely be checking them out! I totally forgot about Bird, that reminds me of The Help which I really enjoyed as well. Thank you, I look forward to your week of Diversity and even more recommendations Emily.

  28. Such good book recommendations! I love Nikita Lalwani's books. I always try to read as many different kinds of books as I can. Another book I really liked is Ask the Passengers. I can recommend the Dysfunctional Test by Kelly Moran. And one of my favorite authors is Alice Peterson. Her book By My Side is about someone in a wheelchair for example.

    I'm currently trying to write a YA novel about people who aren't standard as well.
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    • Thank you, I haven't heard of Nikita Lalwani but I will definitely look them up as well as your other recommendations. Thank you for those, and I'm glad you're sticking to diverse characters in your own writing.

  29. These are such good recommendations! I recently read Cinder and loved the whole premise and the diversity in it and I hear it gets more diverse the further in the series you go so I'm looking forward to that, but I've actually not read any of the others, so shame on me! I've watched The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, does that count? I own The Immortal Rules and want to read Eleanor and Park and All the Boys and also plan to try More Than This soon when I get it out of the library, so maybe I'll end up more diverse in a few months time. Great post Jeann! 😀
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    • Thanks Amanda, I did loved Cinder and it was great that it was so different but well received at the same time. I hope you do get to read some of these Amanda, I enjoy hearing your thoughts on more diverse books!

  30. Definitely agree; there needs to be more diversity in the Young Adult market considering how so many people read books categorized here. I would love to read books with Asian heroes and heroines. I'm Asian myself, and while I love the majority of them, I find people like myself under-represented, and that makes me a tad sad. Definitely agree with Cinder, The Immortal Rules, and Ink (despite my not liking the American heroine, the Japanese characters and settings were well done). There's also THERE WILL COME A TIME by Carrie Arcos that features a Half-Filipino hero. Contemporary, and well-done, from what I heard.
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    • Out of the proportion of books that feature a caucasian main character and male love interest as well, it kind of seems natural that the rest of the other races should be represented adequately doesn't it? I do enjoy Asian heroines, but yes Cinder was really good! That sounds really interesting, I love hearing about Filipino authors and books! Thanks Faye.

  31. I agree that diverse books are entirely under-represented, but I am quite happy that there ARE diverse characters out there….they just usually not the best books. And I kind of wonder why that is?? I mean, just thinking out loud here, but I think the really REALLY good diverse books are when the point of the book isn't about being LGBT or from a country other than US/UK/AUS… It's part of the book, but not the centre. Gah, I'm not even sure that makes sense! But I think when writers really push that they're book is "diverse" like a character coming out, for instance, it feels preachy? Sometimes? I really like how Fangirl includes LGBT characters and just makes it normal. Or how Cinder just makes it normal that the book is set in Asia. Anywho. Haha! Little ramble here. Awesome post, Jeann. I totally agree and I can't WAIT to read More Than This.
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    • I totally get what you mean, like the other cultures or subgroups aren't centered on how different they are but just weaves it into the plotline so you wouldn't really notice that it's there. I think that's when it's done well. Can't wait for you to read More than This, I loved it Cait!