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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Sit-Down Rants with Courtney: Where's the Diversity?

If you're sick and tired of the female character's life turning upside-down when "Enter *male name here*" or "And then she met so-and-so" bullcrap please raise your hand. Because mine has been in the air for years now. And if arms could grow, mine would be out of the Earth's atmosphere.

I don't know how many more times I can read the same thing over and over again. Same shit, different book. And the lack of diversity in these novels makes everything gray. Young women falling for young men, and vice versa. Not a drop of color marking their skin or customs or culture, leading perfect lives until something ravages the lives they lead. Rumors. Loss of loved ones. Aggressive powers. Led down a path astray. Forlorn and falling for the dark, brooding guy down the road. Always snarky, always looking to have the last word in.

Overpowering. Pretentious. Bland.

Where is the change? The originality? Where are these diverse characters that I am craving?!

I'm not looking for store-brand novels, I'm looking for ones that fly off the shelves with different genders, races, sexualities, illness/disabilities and a struggle for overcoming the odds. Diversity has become a necessity in contemporary society. Look at the Oscars. Look at your TV shows. Look at the latest book you've read.

It NEEDS to bee incorporated more into our daily lives.

I have been asked on plenty of job interviews: What does diversity mean to you?

Well, Interviewer, that can be a subjective question. But, in my own opinion, diversity is what we embody. It can be the color of ones skin, the cultures that flow through us, the languages that we speak, the ways in which our minds think, and the people with whom we spend our time with. Our pasts that make us into the people that we are today. Diversity flows through us, and it should flow through the stories we read and the characters we read about.

I don't know about the rest of the readership, but I'm not sure how much longer I can stand the privileged white girl falling for gorgeous, toned, white boy trope. Or little Mary Sue embedded with great power, wielding great responsibility. But--(oh gosh, plot twist! It burns!)--doesn't want anything to do with it even though she is the only one who can save her people/world/society. Add a handsome boy who allows main protagonist to swoon/fall in love/help her understand herself/add pages of sweaty romance and loins tingling scenes, and you have yourself 85% of the YA genre right at your fingertips.

But where is the grit? The fluctuation? The universe conspiring against everything? THE DIVERSITY? Where is my girl protagonist falling for the girl best friend? Or the male protagonist wanting the prince rather than the princess? Rather than making drug abuse or the character with a mental illness or disability the secondary character or subplot, make them the focus, the main story, the main character.

Readers, including myself, cry out for MORE DIVERSE AUTHORS and MORE DIVERSE CHARACTERS and MORE DIVERSE STORIES.Yet the publishing industry keeps pumping out more and more cliched stories, more hetero-normative characters, and a whole lot of white-washing.
But having your novel take place in a third world country or add token characters to the secondary listings does not a diverse novel make. It shows the superficiality of the story tying to act diverse, and blatantly exposes the fact that novels have a token character just to slap the "I'm diverse!" sticker on there.

Our English canon taught in schools is painstakingly all dead, white English and American men. Contemporary society has been pushing out a high toll of women writers in the past decade, but I have not seen many racially diverse women in that cluster. And even less characters who are even a smidgen diverse. The only diversity that I've seen is in genre.

Taherah Mafi. Sabaa Tahir. Marie Lu. Sherman Alexi. Renee Ahdieh. Jenny Han. Roshani Chokshi. Traci Chee. Randi Pink.

These are only a few of the few diverse authors that have been around recently in the young adult world. The latter three are all debut authors. I went searching through my TBR books of 2016 reads, and I had to go through pages before I picked out these diverse ladies from the rest of the bunch. I find it extremely sad to see how difficult it is to find diverse authors in today's society. And not many of them are men, either. The Young Adult faction of the literary world is dominated by women. Go women! And while it is becoming harder to find new and upcoming male authors in children's genre, there are always the stereotype that many readers will not pick up a book if it were written by women. That women are inferior to men in storytelling. False. A great writer is a great writer. So what do we do about that?

Writing stems from what we know; that is, we write what we know. And readers read what they want to know. And where it comes to attributing diversity into the YA gene pool, it doesn't necessarily mean we need black authors to write black characters or Asian authors to write Asian characters. But culturally appropriating another culture as a means to diversity the young adult genre does not help. It slanders and condemns people, ideas, ideologies, and the world in which we live in. People's heritage and culture is not something to slap on as a price tag to sell a book/movie/song/etc.

Here comes the controversy.

There actually are many novels that feature diverse casts of characters both as primary and secondary characters. Written by diverse authors, and written by the majority. Writers write what they know, the rest comes through research. So . . . do we leave the diversity to the diverse authors? Let those who have first hand experience tell the story rather than researching primary and secondary sources for a novel?

Some may say yes, while I think not. A great writer is able to tackle any obstacle, forge miraculous characters no matter what age, gender, sexuality, race, time period . . . anything. We need great writers, role models.

Life is not black and white, so don't write or read books that are.

Tell me what you think about diversity in the young adult genre. Do you think that it is becoming more diverse? Not diverse enough? What can we as readers and writers do to create a more diverse reading list? Do you agree with what I wrote? Disagree? Let's communicate.