Chatterbox: Spreading the Wings of Diversity in YA

October 26, 2015 by Aila J. | Blogger Chatterbox, Chatterbox, Features

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Happy Monday guys! It’s Aila here, with my first post on Happy Indulgence. *cue clapping and confetti* This discussion post is something that I’ve been meaning to get off my back for a while, and you’ve probably heard me talking about it in bits and pieces throughout the blogging community.

Recently, the book community has been spreading the word about diverse books, which is great stuff! With the involvements of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign and numerous advocaters around the world, I believe that we are making a tremendous difference in the way Children’s Literature is written. The best part is the involvement of bloggers and readers, who can spread awareness in the littlest ways: reviewing different diverse books, checking them them out at the library, or even mentioning about it in conversations.

But let’s take a step back for a second, shall we? Some absolutely amazing books I’ve read featuring diverse characters this year include debut author Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars starring an endearing Pakistani main character, Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe with its romantic story of two Hispanic boys finding love, and another debut by Nichola Yoon, Everything, Everything, where the main character is half Asian, half African-American, and has an immunodefiency disorder.

I totally recommend all three of these books to all kinds of readers, but do you see any common trends there? Whoa, whoa, whoa – they’re all contemporary!

This is probably not the first post you’ve seen about diverse books; it’s probably closer to the millionth. But this isn’t a post to ask about whether we should read diverse books, or how to spread awareness, or how cultures/sexualities can be identified incorrectly in such books. (although they’re all great discussions!) This is a request – no, a PLEA, an entreaty for diverse books to expand their wings and fly, fly, fly away to different genres. 

Imagine it! What if we follow the adventures of a girl with bipolar disorder who tries to fulfill a prophecy meant for her to save the world? Or two girls trapped in a spaceship, trying to find a way out while the time is ticking and also discovering their love? Or a gender-fluid character trying to break down the caste system in historical India? The list goes on and on, and the ideas keep on flowing. It just goes to show how there are no limitations for diverse books. There will always be another genre, setting, culture to expand on, which provides for more stories and books, which also means appealing to a larger audience, which means more reading, which means the world is a happy place and Aila is satisfied.

This post basically stems from the fact that I’m not a huge contemporary reader. I have a couple of favorites from that genre, I’ll enjoy it, but I like to read to escape from the world I’m in. (Which fantasy and science fiction books can accomplish really well.) While the contemporary genre is getting numerous diverse books written under their wing, I feel as if there’s so much more opportunities to explore it in other genres.

With that, I’ll leave you with a couple of diverse books set nowhere near our modern, realistic world.
(Click on title to add to Goodreads!)

  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is one starring a bisexual character and a POC, that was recently reviewed on Happy Indulgence, which you can view here.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is beautifully written and features characters amidst an Arabian backdrop.
  • This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner has a main character who is half-black and is trying to prevent war in the planet. Review.
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell has two boys on opposite sides of destiny find their way to each other.

And also some sneak-peeks of upcoming diverse books!

  • Soundless by Richelle Mead, coming out 10 Nov 2015, is a fantasy infused with Chinese folklore.
  • Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, coming out 5 Jan 2016, includes a POC love interest who may be from another time period.
  • The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, coming out 16 Feb 2016, starrs a half-Asian main character traveling across space and time with her crew, including a cute Persian thief.
  • Timekeeper by Tara Sim, coming out sometime in 2016, has a steampunk genre and two boys that fall in love despite all odds.

What are some diverse books that you’ve read and enjoyed? What about something you’d like to see happening with this campaign going on? 

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Aila is a voracious teen reader whose nose is always in a book. She is eternally reading, crying about characters, or clutching her heart because of the feels. Let's talk about our obsessions on Twitter @aila_1woaa!

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68 responses to “Chatterbox: Spreading the Wings of Diversity in YA

    • Ahh thanks so much Sunny! <3 That's so sweet of you. And right?? I'm pretty quick at coming up with book ideas, but actually writing them? Haha, not my kind of work. 😛

  1. I have to admit, with all the diverse books that have been releasing this year I didn't even notice they were mainly contemporary. I'm trying to catch up with The Lunar Chronicles and I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone not too long ago. But I haven't seen many fantasy/sci-fi ones, you're right!

    I haven't read Written in Our Stars or Everything Everything yet but I definitely need to get both of them now heheh. Plus the covers for those two are gorgeous. Great post though, Aila! You should right a book with all those ideas you've got ;D

    My recent post Review: UPSIDE DOWN by Lia Riley

    • Thanks so much Jae! And right? I literally have so much ideas popping out of my head yet I can't bring myself to write about one. There's just too many!
      YESSS, I would totally recommend you get Written in Our Stars and Everything, Everything asap!

  2. Yes, so much yes! I don't get it myself- why is diversity only in contemporaries (for the most part)? I mean, are only pretty, young, able bodied, heterosexual, cisgendered white people allowed in space? In a dystopian world? In a world that doesn't exist!? (That one is the hardest for me to even wrap my head around- because if someone creates it.. can't literally ANYTHING or anyone exist there!?)

    FABULOUS post! I do hope (and think) we will have more of these books soon. It's a disservice to everyone not to!
    My recent post The Conclusion of Ivy

    • Thanks for agreeing Shannon! And I love your description – that was what I was thinking when writing the post! Hey, if you can create an imaginary world, how about some imaginary characters that go beyond the realm of expected? It would certainly draw a reader like me in. 🙂

  3. I love the We Need Diverse books movement and I agree that we need more diversity because the world we live is so much more diverse than what is usually depicted in most books!

    More diverse books are coming next year, a few of them debuts! Vicarious by Paula Stokes is science fiction/thriller has an Asian MC and a Hispanic love interest, The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie is fantasy/dystopian has plenty of different races in its characters and a F/F ship and The Star Touched Queen is a fantasy based on Indian/Hindu mythology!
    My recent post Release Day Review: Gabriel by Nikki Kelly!!

    • Danggg Pili, thanks for all the recommendations! I should've added those in the post hehe, but now I will be advertising those as well in the future! I absolutely cannot wait for all of them – just hearing about it on Twitter makes me giddy with excitement!

  4. aentee @ read at midnight

    EEEP what a wonderful first post, Aila <3 I think this is the first discussion post I've read of yours and I agree so much! I want to see diversity in different context! Mainly because my genre are pretty much fantasy and speculative fiction, so I have to read contemporary if I want diversity — but I am a greedy monster that wants BOTH. I've been reading The Girl From Everywhere and it's really good. I absolutely can't wait for Soundless as well, I need ALL the Asian heroines that publishing can throw at me,

    • Thanks Aentee! <3
      And you're right – I guess I'm not a discussioner on my own blog haha. Okay, you and me both girl. Fantasy and speculative fiction is my MAIN. Without it, I wouldn't have entered the realm of reading in the first place. So yes, diversity in it is a must. I'm so glad you're enjoying The Girl From Everywhere! That was a pretty awesome book.

  5. Charnell

    Ahhh my TBR pile just got a lot deeper!!! Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations!!!! I love finding diverse books that aren't just contemporaries.

  6. You do have a point with that one! 🙂 Most diverse books only stay in one genre, which is contemporary. But when i think about it, I think it would be very hard for writers to write about diversity in genres like fantasy and dystopia. I think it's because diversity is much more evident in realistic fiction — when life is normal and equal — and since fantasy focuses more on paranormal or unreal aspects, it would be hard to have diversity to be another focal point.

    But I do get your point! You just suddenly made me overthink about it HAHA <3
    My recent post Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

    • Very true Jillian! I mean, authors have to deal with a fiction world – and now they have to deal with diverse characters? But how I see it is that it's possible to subtly put diverse characters in it, without having to interfere with the focal point. 🙂 I guess it's all a matter of what the author's trying to express in regards to story and characterization in the end. Thanks for bringing that out!

  7. I agree with this so much! I do think there should be more diverse characters in fantasy or science fiction. I read those genres more than contemporary (though I do read a lot of contemporary) and there is not as much diversity there. Great post!
    My recent post Top Ten Tuesday – Scary Books

    • Agree x100. It's so easy to take something from a stereotype and just pop it into your story, it's another to actually incorporate a well-researched/understood concept that would reach out to readers. I think my favorite reads are the ones that have subtle hints of the character's color/race/culture. When they make it so normal like that, it really reflects the increasing inclusion of diversity in our books!

    • HELLO DRE! *flails back*
      In regards to your first comment, the worst is when authors try to put in some diversity but end up misrepresenting a certain group of people, out of ignorance or otherwise. Either way, I agree about the handful of gems. 🙂 Hopefully we see more of those in the future!

    • Sooo true! It's way easier to recall a book and go like, "Oh yeah, that character who had anorexia!" or "I remember that book, the PoC main character was super amazing," than a book whose characters are the norm in the realm of literature.

  8. This is so true! I think the reason why they all seem to be contemporaries is because their main focus is on being diverse and having diverse characters. I completely agree with you that the diversity should spread to other genres too! Carry On is truly amazing (one of my favourite books), and The Wrath and The Dawn is great too – both some amazing books. Timekeeper sounds like something I'll be picking up!

    The Half Bad Trilogy is a fantasy that has some racial diversity (it explores themes of racism), and sexual diversity (the main character is questioning). It's one of my favourite series, I'd definitely recommend 🙂

    ~Denise @ The Bibliolater

    • Thanks for the rec, Denise! I still need to read Half Wild, haha, but I love how Half Bad introduced us to the discrimination of the different witches as well as an open sexuality for the MC. (Although Nathan and Gabriel 5ever!)
      Isn't Carry On just so adorable? And I can't wait for Timekeeper too!

    • I'm so glad paranormal's taking to introducing diversity too! 😀 I'm not a big reader on that front (the occasional book or series), but it makes me smile so wide to be seeing more and more books include characters of an amalgam of cultures and backgrounds.

  9. I completely agree with you Aila, I would love to see diverse books come out in other genres and to become the standard! I absolutely LOVED Aristotle & Dante, as well as This Shattered World (Jubilee was AWESOME). I think Ink and Bone was also a fantastic one, as was Magnus Chase for diversity! Here's hoping diverse books become the norm soon!

    • OMGEE YISSS Jubilee was so kickass, I loved her. Riordan always has such an amazing cast of characters from a variety of places, and ooh I haven't even thought about Ink and Bone! I love how these books can put diverse characters in such subtle ways, and not make a big deal out of it.
      *raises and clinks glass* Cheers for diverse books!

    • It's okay, I know the feeling Christy. ;D The Lunar Chronicles are absolutely wonderful, and I did enjoy Cinder's Asian setting immensely!

  10. Jenna

    Great first post, Aila! I love talking about diversity. I'm a contemporary reader and what I love most about the genre is exactly what you said: the fact that there are so many diverse books. I guess one reason why there's so much more diversity in contemporary is because it emulates real life, and children and teens can relate to the situation. But I agree that diversity needs to be in other genres too, especially since so many people love to read SFF!

    • Thanks Jenna. 😉 Can't wait for yourssss~
      Right?! Think about all the readers out there who haven't experienced diversity because they only read a certain genre that lacks in that department. We need to get the word out!!

  11. Can I hug a post? Because I need to hug this post. I agree with everything you've said here! I was really big on contemporary for about a year, but since it seems like they all focus on suicide lately, I've pulled back and fallen for the high fantasy and historical fantasy genres. What gets me about the lack of diversity is that, like, you can create your own world entirely from the ground up, and yet they all seem to be white and/or neurotypical?

    One that I would add to this list of recs is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo! It was fantastically diverse and also top notch in plot and characterization as well *thumbs up*
    My recent post When reading isn’t BAE anymore

    • Thanks Kayla! *post hugs you back*
      LMAO at your comment about building a world but having mundane characters – my thoughts exactly. I'm just not a big contemporary reader in general, because I like to get AWAY from reality while reading, not read ABOUT it.
      Also, Six of Crows is absolute <3! I really don't know what I was thinking when I didn't put that in the list, because that's pretty much one of my top fantasies this year. 🙂

  12. I LOVE THIS POST, AILA! (Also, welcome to Happy Indulgence!!)

    While I have some pretty extreme love for contemporary, fantasy is still my first love, and to be able to read about diverse characters there would be absolutely amazing. A few of the ones I've read include Six of Crows (gender and racial diversity), The Sword of Summer (racial diversity and disabled characters), The Girl From the Well (Japanese horror) and probably a few others. 🙂
    My recent post Rambling Rundowns #2: The Excitement is Epic

    • Thanks Aimee! 😉
      YES, YES, YES to the books you listed! Six of Crows is literally my love and all of Riordan's books have a great variety of characters from all sorts of places. I really need to start The Girl From the Well though! (Especially in essence of this Halloween season.) Either way, it's so great to see all these fantasies with diversity. 🙂

  13. Vane J.

    Oh, I remember TWATD! I agree about the diversity! Why can't there be more fantasy/scifi books that feature diversity? I don't read contemporary, so I'm sadly losing all the diversity. Great post! May be one of the millionth about diversity, but it's good! 🙂
    My recent post 13 Books To Spook You Off Your Socks!

    • Haha so true Vane, I've been seeing so many posts about diversity, I couldn't help but put in my two cents. ;P Luckily for you, 2016 has a bunch of fantasy/scifi books coming out with SO MANY DIVERSE CHARACTERS. Be on the lookout for them!

  14. THANKS FOR BACKING ME UP JOSEPHINE <3 <3
    105% agreeing you on this! As much as I enjoy reading contemporary books with all these awesome types of characters, can we see them in our fantasies and sci-fis more? I see that lots of 2016 books coming out will be having diversity in a more fantastical world, so I can't wait for those!

    • Thank you Peach! I'm so glad you liked Everything, Everything – it was such a sweet story. I can't wait for the books you listed to come out too!

  15. keionda

    I SO agree with you girl in that we do need more diversity! I'm a writer so anyway I can ass diversity and look for ways to be different and appeal to a wider audience, I'm always up for it! I love to see it when books have character from all ranges instead of just a few. Because DUH that way more people will be able to relate and MORE people will be happy and start reading!♡♡ great post lovely!♡ (and awesome first post! You're a natural!)

    • Aw thanks Keionda, that's so sweet! But I feel like authors should really take into account the fact that hello? If you're going to include an amalgam of different characters, you'll have an amalgam of different readers!

  16. Maraia

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Another blogger mentioned how the book Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore involves trauma and how to cope with it, which led to a discussion about how rare it is to find a fantasy that addresses mental health. The same can be said for other types of diversity. I did finally think of a fantasy series that involves mental health issues: The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta. I highly recommend it. You're not alone in wishing you could see more diversity in sci-fi and fantasy books. The ironic thing is, it seems as if it would be so EASY to incorporate into two genres that have so much room to be flexible. I don't have any bright ideas about how to make that happen, except for people to continue writing posts like this and to support any books that do have diverse characters. Great post!

    • You're so right Maraia, I really hope more and more writers will start incorporating these components into additional genres! I HAVE read the Lumatere Chronicles and enjoyed it very much – it was one of my first Australian author reads. The mental issue part really contributed to the story and character development, which is why it was such a great addition!

  17. Yes to this, Aila! I love that there is more diversity in YA books these days than there ever was, but we definitely need to see more of it in other genres as well, especially fantasy which seems to be predominantly white. Some fantasies don't even have side characters that are POC which is sad. It does look like 2016 will have a slew of them though. I know there's going to be an LGBTQ fantasy and many with foreign settings. I'm excited for the prospect.
    Lovely post! 🙂
    My recent post Review: Nuts by Alice Clayton

    • OMG 2016 is going to be an awesome year for diverse characters in foreign settings! AND I CANNOT TO FIND THESE JEWELS – I mean, books. But same thing, right? Haha.
      I agree Nick; too often do I see a white-washed cast of characters, which certainly isn't bad! Just mundane. Trite. Banal. Where have I seen that before? Oh, mainly every other book I've read growing up. If anything, having diverse characters adds some spice to the story.

    • Ooh nice! It shows how great minds think alike. 😉 Thank you! And your main character sounds pretty rad. A girl going to Wonderland in a wheelchair? Sounds like all sorts of fun!

  18. Great post to start with, Aila!
    I love diversity in books (fantasy or contemporary)! And Six of Crows surprised me in that regard with characters who are not "perfect" but have physical disabilities, learning disorders and various body types. There should be more books like that out there.
    However, I have to admit that I never thought of Carry On as diverse book. But with M/M paranormal aspect playing a big role, it is definitely unique kind of romance 🙂
    My recent post What Books To Read To Get Into Halloween Mood + Giveaway

    • Thanks Lucia!
      YES to Six of Crows – I pretty much loved everything about that book, with the characters being the foremost.
      I think Carry On bends more towards fantasy, but it definitely has a cute romance. I had to add Carry On because I'm not sure if I've read another LGBTQ fantasy recently this year. (Plus I really enjoyed it ehehe)

  19. Rachel Lightwood

    Welcome Aila, and what a discussion to start with! I completely agree though. I am probably more of a contemporary/mystery and paranormal reader, but I do read my fantasies and I completely and utterly agree that diversity needs to make its way into ALL the genres. Diversity is a natural part of life, right? Why can't it just be a natural incorporation into books too..?
    My recent post {Blog Tour ~ Bieke Reviews} The Libby Garrett Intervention by Kelly Oram

  20. amanda_gray

    I definitely agree. I always see that contemporary does that diversity so much better than other genres, and in some ways, that might happen because there's so much to consider in fantasy, and so it doesn't appear as important to them, but still. I definitely want more f/f romances in fantasy fiction for sure, that's a serious thing that I related to and don't see enough of, which sucks. Great first post though Aila! 😀
    My recent post How I Dropped My 'Book Blogger' Label and Why

    • Thanks Amanda!
      And ooh I haven't read an f/f fantasy at all. However, The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie comes out early next year and I recently read a review that the f/f romance in it was very well-done and enjoyable to read. It's a sci-fi/fantasy, so I do recommend you checking that one out!

  21. Kara Terzis

    The Wrath and the Dawn was SO. GOOD. And not just in terms of its diverse cast– but I seriously adored that book. <3 <3 And I so agree; it would be GREAT if we saw some more diversity in books that weren't just contemporary. Lovely post! <3 🙂

    • Thanks Kara! AND AGREEEED – TWATD was just amazing in every aspect. Writing, setting, characters, plot… Ahh you're making me want to reread it again! One of my favorite parts of the book is how it is engrossed in an unfamiliar (to me) culture. Imagine the realms we can explore if we read stories that came from cultures from all around the world!

  22. I definitely want to read diverse characters in ALL THE BOOKS. 😀 I have noticed that contemporaries seem to be catching onto this…but not so much fantasies. *heavy sigh* Althoooough. I just did read The Demon King and there were POC in there. Also Game of Thrones has tons of characters of diverse race and sexuality. And I'll forever love Percy Jackson for having so many ethnicities in there as well as kids with ADHD. 😀

    • Ooh I have to check out The Demon King! I know quite a few fantasy books have PoC's and characters with mental disabilities, but I'm always keeping an eye out for more. There's just so much potential in adding diversity to a stagnant fantasy or sci-fi read! YES TO PJO – Riordan did an absolutely fabulous job on having a cast of characters from all around the world.