Diversity in YA Books- a discussion

Hey lovely person!

I’ve been thinking about this one very important, quite controversial topic that many bibliophiles and book lovers think about, often with different view-points.

Diversity.

Or, should I say, a lack of diversity.

~This post is specifically discussing race and color representation~

In YA, specifically. Yes, you’re rolling your eyes, because yes, you’ve probably read several posts on this by several book bloggers. If you’re a blogger yourself, that is. But so many people out there still haven’t, which is why these posts are still being made by several people just like me.

Someone who’s reading this will think, But there’s already so many diverse books! Why are you exaggerating this so much?

Because it’s not enough. For example, look at the number of YA books with POC protagonists compared to white protagonists. Then look at the number of POC compared to white.

Only about 10% of the world’s population is white.*

*In 2017, an estimated 8% were white. Given that no new studies have been published, 10% is a close estimate.

And a maximum of 15%. I’m not saying that no white protagonists should be allowed. Of course not- some of my favorite books have white protagonists. Actually, lots of them do! Instead, I’m saying that at least books should have some semblance of real world demographics.

Or at least show readers who don’t fit ‘the norm’ a version of themselves in media. Someone who looks like them, sounds like them, thinks like them.

Then there’s the question of old books. Of course, even twenty years ago you would see a lot less diverse characters. Some of those older books are still our favorites- take Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the classics like Pride and Prejudice. Even blockbuster modern books like Six of Crows. Some of them are harmful to POC (people of color) and incorrectly portray cultures.

Even if we want to be inclusive, say that we’re diverse, even if we believe that, does that mean we can’t love those books?

This post would be way too long if I went into too much depth about it, but I’ll reference you to a good post that does explain with detailed. Vicky’s post on problematic books is a real eye-opener and quite thought-provoking. These books don’t necessarily not have diversity, but they portray people of color incorrectly and sometimes harmfully. I encourage you to read it because you’ll surely learn something new.

The question is, would you rather have bad representation or no representation?

That’s up to you. But even if you’re fine with both, some people aren’t. I’m a person of color. I’m a girl of color. And even though lots of times there are YA contemporaries that seem specifically catered to teenage girls, that’s not enough.

Because lots of times when one form of diversity (e.g. you have a character in a wheelchair) is present, authors completely lose track of everything else.

You might be thinking, stop being so picky. Why does everything have to be diverse? 

Actually, someone commented this on a friend’s post:

I’m saddened about the fact that many (mainly international) readers
seem to make a ‘trend’ of calling out books to be problematic. This is
not happening so much over( )here in my country, maybe it’s because it’s
our culture to not dramatize things? I noticed that this thing is
increasing and I often think: “why can’t we just enjoy the story and
get lost in it? Why do we ALWAYS need to moan and groan about (a lack
of) representation? Why do we always have to find representation?”
Maybe it’s me, and I definitely don’t want to sound rude, but I enjoy
the story for the story and the writing and I’m not caring much for
representation. Lately it seems nearly all books and authors are
problematic which disturbs the joy of reading honestly. And sometimes
of writing an English book review or scrolling through book Twitter. I
understand people want/need to find representation, but it feels like
they are shoving it through other readers’ throats and if you like a
‘problematic’ book, you get trolled or whatsoever. I still will enjoy
Cinder and The Grishaverse and honestly I didn’t notice the ‘flaws’
you mention. Maybe it’s because I’m European, don’t know.

This saddens me. Not that they feel that way, but that they think that we always have to moan and groan. And mainly international readers feel that way. By that, the author of this comment means people of color.

Ok, that’s just sad. I agree that you can enjoy whatever books you want, although I believe you should acknowledge the problems and also promote good content, but that’s up to you. However, the us and them mindset that the author of this comment showed was quite disappointing.

The whole point of diverse books isn’t to be politically correct. It’s to show everyone someone who looks, sounds, and/or thinks like them.

I’m going to be completely honest here.

We have a long way to go.

But, we’ve come a long way. Now we have many more #OwnVoices books and authors. We have much more black, Hispanic, and Asian representation. We still need more.

And if I wanted to make this post even longer, I could tell you that I want to see more South Indian authors and characters. There’s Indian stories, there are some- but they’re mostly North Indian and lots of times I still don’t see myself in those characters.

Do you see what I mean? We will always need more diversity, especially based on the (pretty slow) rate things are improving in.

What can we do?

We can support BIPOC authors (black, indegenous, and people of color), #OwnVoices books, and still enjoy our favorites that don’t have the best representation.

We can promote diverse books and less popular authors as well as really popular books.

I’d love to hear what you think about this post. Tell me your criticisms and your appreciations- if I’m saying anything incorrectly, please correct me! I’m always looking to grow and learn as a person.

xoxoadiforadi1

39 thoughts on “Diversity in YA Books- a discussion

  1. This is a very important topic and I’m glad to see people talking about it. Like you said “It’s to show everyone someone who looks, sounds, and/or thinks like them.” I think it is an amazing thing to relate to a character, to feel connected and that you aren’t alone. And everyone should get to have that and I really hope everyone does.
    I agree there is a way to go as the industry does need to improve and I love that the book community really promotes diverse books as I think it have a positive impact and is wonderful.
    I definitely want to prioritise more and more #ownvoice books as they have a great voice!!
    Great post and so important!! 💙💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you feel that way 🙂 Aw thank you!! I love that feeling of connection- that’s what makes or breaks a book for me. The industry has a long way to go, but I’m also very grateful that the bookish community is promoting great books!
      I do as well! Thank you once more for your lovely comment! ☺

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course– it was a great post!! Yes having a connection is such a special feeling!! 🙂
        I really hope the book industry gets there and fast!! The bookish community is really good!!
        You are very welcome– thank you for writing a great post!! 💙💙

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this much needed post! I’m so frustrated by the lack of representation or the caricatural kind of representation. As a Black girl the only representation I get are best friends, gang violence, police brutality… Those are of course realities and they are important to talk about but I can’t always relate. I just want a well-written female character who happens to look like me. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank YOU so much for your lovely comment! Ugh I am too 😦 It’s really disheartening. I feel so bad about that! I definitely know that although those are realities, many people’s lives aren’t like that. I totally understand the struggle as an Indian girl born and living in the USA. I hope we both find representation! ❤ ❤
      By the way, I'm not able to find your website- Could you give me your site URL so I can check it out?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! It feels so good to be understood! 🥰 By the way did you see who’s going to be playing Ariel in the live action Disney? It’s starting…hopefully authors will jump on the wagon 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post so much! haha, yes, I’ve read many posts on this topic, but every blogger introduces it a different way, and I always feel like there’s something new to take into consideration. books like “cinder” kind of threw me off as well for not representing asian culture specifically and was a bit racist. there’s so much to get into in this topic, but I love how you explain it!

    for example, books that represent indian culture? I’ve read a wonderful total of 3 books that do. while white protagonists don’t have to be banished from books (don’t leave!), real-world demographics DO need to be applied! more indian diversity, please!

    thankfully, we have the *awesome* bookish community, and I’m sure we make a difference every week. plus, memes like YARC really do help. thanks for writing this post 💙💙💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Haha, there are a lot of these posts, but, as you said, there’s always different viewpoints and ‘new’ ideas. Yeah, I’ve heard about Cinder, and I don’t know if I want to read it, but there’s lots of praise so *shrugs* I really don’t know! That’s what I meant when I say that it really varies based on you and your tastes.
      EXACTLY. I CAN’T EVEN STRESS HOW. MUCH. IT WOULD MEAN TO ME. If I could find myself in a book, that would be enough (aka such a Hamilton nerd). Actually, I mean it. And sometimes you find North Indian/ Bengali characters, but I’ve literally never read a story with a Tamil or Telugu protagonist. And that really sucks. Of course, white protagonists are real. And they’d better stay (death glare) but I also need real-world demographics, like you said.
      Yes! The book lovers are amazing and I’m so glad I’m part of this community *hugs self* btw, YARC is a meme? Or did you mean memes and YARC?
      Thank you again! 💙💙💙

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yes! we’re always learning and expanding on our viewpoints, and that’s just amazing. ooh… yea, I know the entire series is quite popular in the bookish community, but I just wasn’t feeling it. OKAY YES. have you read “a time to dance”? it’s one of the only indian books I’ve with a south-indian premise. it’s so beautiful -starts crying- aha, memes and yarc. unless I’m wrong!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. yay! There’s always more to learn!! Mhm same… NOOO I HAVE TO THOUGH. I think you recommended it to me?? I’m definitely going to read it!! 💙💙💙 *crosses fingers* haha lol mhm! yarc is really wonderful ☺

          Liked by 1 person

  4. i totally agree! i’d like to add that intersectionality is so important. i see many more books today where i feel represented from one aspect of a character, which is great! however, there aren’t many books with leads who represent people from more than one minority. sometimes when i bring up this issue people comment how minorities already get so much representation, but they fail to recognize that it’s not enough. books represent our society, and if they don’t represent our whole society then we don’t have enough representations for certain groups of people.
    thanks so much for writing this post ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oh gosh, I totally should have written that!! I agree, that is SO important. those people are so wrong! I don’t get why people are so harsh..? how would they feel if they’re no characters who are like them at all in a book? exactly- books represent society. I couldn’t have put it in better words. I might just turn that into a quote because it’s just too perfect ❤ also, are you of multiple ethnicities? if so, what are they?
      thank you so much for reading it and leaving this lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i’m not of multiple ethnicities, but i’m an asian lesbian and i feel like there are very little books about poc who are also lgbtq+. after i watched odaat, i realized how little representation there is of poc lgbtq+ teens there are in media, especially those who aren’t sexualized. it’s a really awesome feeling to be able to relate to characters in media and everybody should be able to experience that feeling :))
        thank YOU for making this post, it means a lot! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        1. ooh okay! there are sadly so few of them 😓 but hopefully that’ll change! ooh odaat sounds good! I want to watch it! ugh why are teens sexualized?? especially asian females! it makes me sick 😝 I hope everyone will find themselves in the media someday! 😀
          aw thank you SO much!! 💙

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, I would LOVE to read more books that were set in India/fantasy India. I think I’ve only read two…Maybe three? I do wish YA fantasy would have more varied settings.
    I try to write more diverse characters; it is a little more stressful, because of the worry that I’ll get it horribly wrong and end up hurting some people, but I still do it. I like learning about other cultures, for one thing. And the potential of someone from the culture being able to see themselves in my characters is really nice, too. If all goes well in my writing, that is. 😉
    And it’s so hard to find books (especially fantasy books) with POC characters, let alone characters with mental illnesses (depression and anxiety are soo common in real life, but in books? not a peep), or characters of different religions, etc. Goodness. I hope that’s beginning to change? But like you said, it’s slow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would love that too!! Please tell me which books you read? I totally wish that YA fantasy had different settings as well. It’s either America, the UK, or some magical fantasy land lol.
      I do as well- and yeah, it’s hard because you’re worried- am I doing it right? What if I’m not right? I don’t want people to get hurt. But I think the intent is the most important and if you really care about it, then you’ll figure something out 🙂 I love learning about other cultures as well! Haha, I’m sure your writing is fine. 😉
      It’s so hard, like you said, but even harder to find a combination of both. 😦 Which is so sad, because you’re right- depression and anxiety are so common irl and most of this world isn’t even white- so why can’t we find books that have realistic characters? Even in fantasy and sci-fi and all. Gosh, I’ve literally never read a story about a Tamil girl (we could leave it at that, but I want to keep this rant going lol) who’s Hindu. I may not be super religious or anything, but I’m deeply in my culture and I want a character who loves her culture too, and isn’t shunning her origins.
      Ah, I’m done ranting! Definitely tell me your thoughts! Are you a POC? Idk, but I don’t want to assume anything 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rant all you like, I’m here for it XD I’ve read Crown of Wishes (and I think that one took influence from Hindu stories!), and Homeless Bird, which I think was historical middle-grade? But I can’t remember anything else I’ve read set in India, which is SAD. Heck, I’m pretty sure the only ‘UK’ authors use is England. I can’t remember ever reading a book set in Wales or Scotland.
        Yes, and practice helps, too. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at writing characters of different ethnicities as I’ve kept writing? And then research, research, research, which is hard, but should be a part of writing ANYWAY. *raises eyebrow at all those bad books I’ve read set in the Victorian period* And there are some people who will say that people can’t write characters outside their demographics because they’ll get it wrong, and just…I’m sorry, we’re all HUMAN here! It’s definitely not going to be as accurate as if someone from inside the group wrote it, but it’s not like people from different demographics will never understand each other and shouldn’t even try.
        YES. Intersectionality is so important! And I’ve never really understood why YA will do this thing where they’ll just take a character and go, ‘Oh. She’s–she’s Christian or something. Or Agnostic. We don’t really care. It doesn’t come up, she never thinks about it.’ And I’m pretty sure I’ve done that before as far as religion in fiction, so I’m a liittle hypocritical, but. I try. XD
        I’m not POC, no! And I get that about not wanting to assume XD
        I’m sorry for ranting in this comment, I’m tired, I hope all that made sense XD I’m writing through a headache.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ooh those books sound good!! I should check it out. It sucks that there aren’t many more. 😓 Oh gosh, you’re right!! I actually have only read a couple books that are in the UK but not Englan. That is SO sad! 😦
          Yup, research should honestly be mandatory- otherwise lots of times authors make errors and people get ticked off. 🙂 Believe it or not, my whole ‘awakening’ regarding representation and diversity on began two years ago. Before that, I wrote so many characters, none of which were diverse AT ALL. *points to all those Historical Victorian novels too*. OOF I hateee that!! It really bugs me as well. 😝 XD we all try! Haha thanks for understanding! I anyways love it when people who don’t even fall under some categories also are really vocal about their support. Lol it made lots of sense! Aw I hope your headache gets better!! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I actually have read some books set in Wales (if you’re interested I’d be happy to recommend them to you), but I’d love to see more in Scotland and Ireland, too.
          Also, THANK YOU for pointing out that it’s okay to write a character of a different ethnicity than yourself. We need to learn to understand each other and relate to other kinds of people.
          And would you mind explaining a little more what you mean about religion? Are you saying that it’s wrong to assume that a character’s religion doesn’t affect their actions (that’s what I’m getting from your comment), or something else?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Ooh I would be interested! Definitely tell me ☺
            Haha, it’s controversial, but it’s true. Authors SHOULD write about characters who don’t look like them! Just do their research first!
            No, I didn’t mean that- I meant more like their religion shouldn’t be the only aspect of them that is mentioned, because although religion is important to lots of people, they also have other characteristics.

            Like

          2. I would absolutely love to hear of any stories set in Wales! 🙂
            And what I meant about religion was that in YA, a lot of times it seems like religion is just not mentioned, and I think in real life religion or the lack of such is something people do think about, while in YA, it’s not really discussed very much. Which isn’t to say I want long theological debates in fiction, not at all XD But I just feel like in real life, people do reference their religion occasionally, and with most YA I read, I’m not even left clear what their religious views are. They could be agnostic, they could be Christian, they could be Atheist for all we know, because they never mention it. (Of course, it could just be the books I read; I’m not sure.) And then I could probably count the books I’ve read with characters who were religious minorities on one hand? At least from the books I’ve read, it doesn’t seem like YA thinks about religion very much, unless the book is specifically about religion. Although I have seen a few more #OwnVoices books with Muslim characters coming out in the past few years that I want to check out!

            Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an amazing topic, and you have put it so well! I think that there are certainly a lot of different YA books that focus primarily on white /non-coloured MC’s, which is rather difficult to avoid since, as you said, it is seen as a norm. I also think it is because it is a ‘Hollywood norm’ – if you aren’t white, then you are a glorious, eccentric tan which makes you mysterious! No. I think for me the hardest part about representation around the diversity in YA books is how they are represented. I find that there are two ends of the “trying to be diverse spectrum”: 1. The character is depicted as coloured, but this is not carried through any part of the book. And sometimes this is okay, and other times it feels like the author is trying to be diplomatic. 2. the character is depicted as coloured, and then stereotyped as such – I mean darker people are depicted to be rather crude, and rough and violent ‘hood people or they are only focused on religion and there are no plot devices in the story BUT their religion. This is certainly an interesting post and I love how you’ve written it!
    -Emma 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! Of course – that is kinda the norm for authors, but I hope that’ll change! The Hollywood norm really makes me sick- some of us aren’t white, but aren’t conveniently bronze as well! *rolls eyes*. There ARE other skin colors lol. Wow, you put it perfectly! I totally agree with all of that. It sucks that colored characters usually fit into those two labels 😓 because as for everyone, they have a life and a personality too 🙂 Thank you so much for your time and for commenting!! This means so much to me. 💙

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t read a lot of books with non-white protagonists (one of my favorite is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi), and as a mostly-German (1/4 Korean) American, I’m not usually bothered by books in which characters aren’t particularly diverse. However, I’m definitely not against diversity! My problem is when characters are of different races/ethnicities/skin colors/etc. just for the sake of being diverse, not because the story needed it or because the author really knew how to write a story from that POV. So I’d love to read more diverse books (any recommendations are welcome!) but not if the diversity is just for its own sake and not for the sake of the story, the characters, or another good reason.
    I also don’t support LGBT+ lifestyles so I don’t typically read books featuring characters like that. (Btw, I’m sorry if this offends anyone – I like and listen to people of any beliefs and lifestyles, and would love to talk about this, politely, if you’re wondering why I take this position.) But I am interested in reading more books with LGBT+ characters because I don’t know a lot about those issues and want to have better ways to relate to and talk about that community. Plus, I think a story can be a good story no matter if I agree with the author/characters or not.
    Finally, do you know what people’s problem with Cinder is? I’ve read the whole series and liked it a lot, and I didn’t see a lack of diversity, or at least, not because of a desire to exclude anyone. I’d be interested to here other people’s thoughts on that, though.
    Sorry for my long, controversial, and confusing comment! Thanks for writing this post! I really enjoy your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Tomi Adeyemi as well! I believe that even if you’re not a POC you can still read more diverse books. 🙂 I hate it when that happens as well. It bothers me when you read about a character who’s just there for diversity. Sure! I recommend Angie Thomas, Mitali Perkins, and Rick Riordan if you want to start off little. I understand that several people don’t support LGBTQ+ lifestyles. I personally do, but I don’t want to get into the politics of that right now. 🙂 It’s great that you want to read outside of your comfort zone!
      I haven’t read the series, but I’m sure if you search it up you’ll find an answer. From what I’ve heard, it has bad Asian representation. No, I always enjoy long comments! And controversies are part of life- you can’t agree about everything! Thank you so much for commenting! I enjoy your blog as well 💙

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s