Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish. This week’s prompt is “Top Ten Books I Wish Had (More/Less) X In Them”. I chose diversity.
This week I’m doing something a little different. I still have a list of books, but also a little discussion to go along with my picks. I originally had ten books picked out until I realized they pretty much all belonged in five categories. Hence the discussion. 🙂
Also, a quick disclaimer. This list is based on what I remember from when I read each particular book. My memory might be little foggy. In addition, there are a lot of different types of diversity. But as a person of color, racial and ethnic diversity will be my main focus for this post.
Diversity in Contemporary Novels
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is just one example of YA contemporary novels that have mostly white characters. I applaud it for including some representation of disability and illness but it still lacks the racial/ethnic diversity I’d like to see. I’ve come to the realization that this lack of diversity in this genre is not uncommon. So many of the contemporary novels I’ve read don’t have any characters of color. I don’t know if its because they are normally written by white authors for a white audience or just because often times, they take place in a predominantly white location. Either way, I think its a shame characters of color are sometimes hard to come by in contemporary fiction.
And when they are present, they are often the token diverse character or poorly written. The sad part is that I don’t know what’s worse; no representation or poor representation.
Diversity in High Fantasy
While we’re talking about diversity in genres, another genre that I think suffers from a lack of diversity is high fantasy. People have made the argument that is totally reasonable to assume that race operates in different ways in completely made up worlds. And while I can understand that point, I still see characters described with descriptions you can use to describe a typical white character. You can think race is different in a fantasy world, but the truth is, the reader who is reading the book will still make assumptions based off of reality. It doesn’t matter if race is different. Fair skin still translates to white, no matter how hard the author may try to change that.
I think Throne of Glass is just one example of a high fantasy novel with limited diversity. Are there characters of color in the story? Yes sure, but how long did they last? For a book that is so popular, one that has the power to reach so many different people, I think it’s sad how it can’t use its voice to help educate others and build tolerance and understanding of different races. I know it was written years ago, but just look at what is going on in the world today. Exposure to diverse characters and letting people get to know them and love them, even, is more important than ever.
Diversity in Middle Grade
I feel like the push for more diverse books generally targets YA. But like I mentioned before, it is important to expose people who may not have the opportunity to interact with a diverse population of people, to have those interactions within the pages of the books they read. And who is more impressionable than children?
If you teach children from a young age that diversity is good, the world will end up with more people who are more understanding and tolerate of people who may not look or act like themselves. That’s why I feel like it’s a shame Percy Jackson didn’t have more diversity. The lack of diversity was pretty evident when the movie had to change the race of many characters in order to have a more diverse cast. To be fair, Rick Riordan really improved on the diversity front with The Heroes of Olympus books.
I personally don’t think The Hunger Games is very diverse. I think you need to have more than three diverse characters in order to be considered more diverse than average. My issue with The Hunger Games is that, from what I hear, the reason for the lack of diversity is that most people who live in the districts are supposedly mixed race and described as racially ambiguous.
Now, I can see the benefit of racial ambiguity. By being vague in descriptions, you give readers room to see themselves as those characters. So theoretically, characters that are racially ambiguous should be able to represent all, or at least most, races.
That’s great and all, but that doesn’t account for social programming. Maybe, when I was a kid, I would imagine a racially ambiguous character as an Asian American, like myself. The problem is, I can no longer do so. Society has programmed me through the media, the casting of white actors as racially ambiguous characters, among other things, to see characters with vague descriptions as white.
You can describe a character that has brown eyes and dark hair and I’ll immediately assume she’s white. That description can fit so many races and ethnicities but my automatic response is to assume white. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s the way I think.
Imbalance of Diversity
I was really hesitant in including Vampire Academy in my list but I felt like I had to. Just look at the cast of the movie – at a glance it’s pretty much an all-white cast. I know that there are some actors of color included and that casts for adaptations don’t always accurately reflect the descriptions of characters (just look at the cast of Percy Jackson, for example), but it still can be pretty telling.
The reason why I was hesitant to include Vampire Academy is because while it isn’t very racially or ethnically diverse, it is diverse in a way that not many other books are; Rose, the main character is described as curvy. That’s not a description I see very often in YA.
And size isn’t really a type of diversity that is demanded as much as some others (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, sex, etc) so I really applaud Richelle Mead for emphasizing that Rose is not your average skinny model. I just wish Vampire Academy had more diversity in general, not just diversity of size. Then again, if you like to nick pick, pretty much any book you read is lacking in diversity in some ways. S
Why do some books feel more diverse than others? Is it the genre in which they belong, the author’s attention, the time they were written? I don’t really care why, I just want more diverse books. But I also don’t want forced diversity. I’m a very picky person.
What do you think?
What books do you wish were more diverse?