Eurocentrism, or Western-centrism, is prominent in both society and literature due to many reasons. It stems from the colonization that happened during the 17th century and continued with the way the colonial empires shaped the present day that we’re in. As such, many books in Young Adult literature focus on cultures, myths, and traditions that stem from Europe. However, the recent influx of non-European stories has really revived my love for fantasy and fiction. By non-European, I mean stories that capture the brilliant narratives of voices from across the globe other than Europe: Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Pacific. These stories take inspiration and ideas from diverse cultures and apply them to the stories that I’ve been reading since elementary school. I’m a lover of all-things fantasy, so of course I’ll pretty much read anything with magic and special abilities; but the infusion of traditions and legends of stories outside of Europe that were once unfamiliar to me provides a new depth for these fantasies. This blog post is my love letter to them.
Growing up, I’ve read so many books dedicated to Greek and Roman myths, with white characters that follow a heritage I could never see myself in. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy them, but it’s one thing to “like” a book and another to just “get” the book on another level. That was my experience reading Chinese fantasies written by, if not #ownvoices authors, other marginalized authors that are sensitive with their depiction of my culture. And I also know for a fact that many readers out there feel the same with their own respective cultures. These fantasies bring in myths, legends, and folklore to a whole new level. Imagine all the different traditions out there, and the cultures and ideas that stem from them. It’s a big world, and that just means more wonderful stories to include. I can’t stress how important it is to bring into light these previously unknown legends for young readers to see.
I think we can all agree that words are important, and books even more so. They can shape the knowledge and direction of a reader’s mind, with none more influential than Young Adult books that target adolescent readers. With that, it’s extremely important to make it so young adults can see themselves and their own heritage in stories. Of course not every experience is the same, but that’s why we need to advocate for more than just one author to represent a whole. Not only that, but it creates an empathy and understanding with readers outside that heritage. I took AP World History freshman year of high school, and it’s absolutely astounding how my textbook glossed over the historical events in Mesoamerica, Africa, and Asia, choosing to focus more on the development of the European nations and their complex family drama perhaps centuries after the river valley civilizations developed. There’s a reason why the classes “European history” and “US History” are pushed in American schools more than “East Asian History” and “Latin American History” (which I did end up taking in senior year). Sure, the curriculum wants us to learn about our own history – I understand that. But at what expense? To the point where I have to take an online class to learn about my own culture?
I love the fantasy genre in general because of all the possibilities within a fantasy realm. Taking in inspiration from non-European cultures just adds to these fantasy realms, as they transport readers to a world they’ve probably never heard of before. Here are some ones I’d like to highlight; click on the link on title to go to Goodreads page.
- Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh – a Japanese-inspired fantasy with an immersive world and dynamic characters. My review | Jeann’s Review
- Prophecy by Ellen Oh– a Korean-inspired fantasy focusing on demons and a girl with the ability to fight them; action-packed from beginning to end. My review
- The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury – an Aladdin retelling that is full of twists and turns with a spunky mc and lovable Aladdin. My review | Jeann’s Review
- The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – an exceptional fantasy based on Middle Eastern culture that travels from historical Egypt to Daevabad, the city of the fiery djinn.
- The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana – gorgeous Indian-inspired historical fantasy that brings to life the importance of destiny and fate. My review
- Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao – dark, twisty Chinese-inspired fantasy that follows one anti-heroine’s journey to get to the top.
- Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova – traverse to Los Lagos, the land between living and dead in this family-fueled adventure based on Latinx myths.
- Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older– the streets of Brooklyn are about to get magical with this book’s infusion of Caribbean legend and magic.
- Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi – intricate Nigerian-inspired fantasy with a complex hero who navigates a fantastically built world with twists.
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – okay honestly all I know about this book is that it’s a West African fantasy and a game-changer, with movie rights already sold and in prep to be translated to a bunch of different languages. I read the excerpt on Fierce Reads (over here) and I AM READY. Plus y’all need to add it to your TBR’s.
What are some of your favorite books with non-European foundations? Have you read any of these recs? I’d love to know!