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Life, Law & Libros

Discussion: Low Diversity in YA

11 comments
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Recently, a campaign for more diversity in YA books went viral. Twitter, Tumblr, the whole shebang. I'm sure many people have already said everything on this topic in far more eloquent terms, but I needed to write this post to gather my thoughts. 

First, I really want to see more data. All the charts/graphs I've seen come from published samples. I'd love to see a comprehensive study starting with the literary agents and slush piles. I wonder how many manuscripts are submitted with "diverse" characters? Why are they rejected or accepted? How many are submitted to editors? Why are they accepted/rejected by the publishers? How well do they sell? And for what reasons? 

Writers now seem to be in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" pickle. They're condemned if they don't write characters of color/LGBT/disability. They're condemned for stereotyping or writing too ambiguously if they do. I think it's important to keep campaigns like this positive. We shouldn't force writers to write characters one way or another for the sake of diversity statistics. What we should do is encourage writers of today and tomorrow to work hard and write the stories they want to tell. As my school teachers always said, if the book you want to read isn't out there, go write it.

Having options is the great thing about books. There's something for everyone regardless of your reading preferences. In the midst of this call for diversity, I want to stop for a moment and take a breath. Increased options for readers are good; but I want to be careful that, in the process, we don't vilify or devalue the white, straight, non-disabled characters or their authors, or the people who read them.

11 comments :

  1. Shannon Hale just wrote a blog post about this very topic; it was really interesting. I agree; it's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for writers. It's also a fad that's threatening to destroy literature some more. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for characters of different race and cultural background in stories, but NEVER should any author be pushed into putting characters like that into their story because they need to be diverse. Suddenly, an awesome Indian or Japanese character becomes annoying and cardboard because they're so obviously there to get the author's diversity credits in. I hate agenda in fiction; I hate it with a passion. Diversity has become an agenda, and we all saw what happened with THE HOUSE OF HADES when Rick Riordan felt that he needed to put a gay character in there so gays wouldn't shout. Fiction isn't about political correctness and balancing the right number of lesbians, cripples, Africans, Asians, and girl-power. It's about stories.

    It also seems like whenever authors DO write characters of different race or culture, it's always in a "I'm a victim; I've been persecuted" role. I'm also irritated that somehow writing characters in who are Scandinavian, Irish, Russian, or Danish isn't being diverse. You're only diverse if you have non-white characters.

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    1. I don't want to start pointing fingers and say, "You did this just to be politically correct," but I also won't deny that the inclusion of certain "diverse" elements has felt forced or like an unsupported afterthought in some of the books I've read. Authors will write what they write, but I like to think the story comes first and peer pressure/fads come second or not at all. :)

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  2. Good point. I think no characters should be vilified, actually, neither their authors. There is diversity out there, mostly not in YA I think, because those other editors/publishers went with it, and readers did or did not love it. This is the kind of "who came first, the egg or the chicken" question, because publishers take on what they know has already sold very well, therefore putting out mostly the "more universal" white, straight, non-disabled character that has been done to death, pardon my French.
    I for one don't read a lot of YA nowadays, I do have a big craving for diversity and it's very rare that I see a title's blurb and not feel like I've read a version of this story before. But then again I'm the kind of person who gets bored quickly and always wants new things from all over the place, lol, all kinds of genres, mostly adult or NA stories, etc. so I'm not exactly part of the YA target audience.

    Either way, I totally support discussing things, thinking about them, maybe even changing our minds on some topics :)

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    1. Except maybe Twilight? >.> I kind of want to vilify those characters. ;)

      YA definitely seems to go through sweeping trends. I can't blame publishers for printing what they're reasonably sure will sell; it is a business after all. But I know they take chances on out of the box properties, too. (The odd ones out just don't get as much marketing buzz.)

      I get what you mean about the stories all meshing together. As my professors told me, "There is no original story; just stories retold in an original way." ;) And YA's sweeping trends tend to limit the variety. It's definitely had me looking to expand my reading more into Adult titles, though I've been having some trouble finding ones I like. I really enjoyed Anne Bishop's "Written in Red," though. :)

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  3. Ok I love your take on this. I agree - writers should still ultimately write what they want to freaking write. If you don't want to read it - reach for something else. I might still want to read what is be putting out. I am all for diverse characters and diverse everything - I praise and love when I see something that isn't done before.

    I'm sure it is a well meaning movement and I hope they do it positively.

    As for YA and Adult - there is so much more diversity in adult. But then even that has it's overwhelming majority of white female/male attractive characters. And yes - what has already 'sold well' will undoubtedly get a repeat type book put out by another publisher.

    You liked Written in Red I LOVED that book(s) If you want some diversity and a book that is just STRANGE try The Waking Engine - I loved it and it is just freaking weird - one you'll either love or hate. It has a LGBT main character but then still plenty of other diverse characters. ]

    Yes vilify Twilight *cackles madly*

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    1. I definitely hope the campaign remains positive and respects people's freedom to read and write whatever they wish, regardless of whether they like or agree with their preferences. I wouldn't mind seeing some more YA about East Asia. That's how I get my historical knowledge about places and train for Jeopardy. ;)

      I'm not surprised Adult has a larger selection of reading choices. It's been an age grouping far longer and has more officially separate genres with well established audiences. YA imprints don't seem to specialize in a particular genre as often. However, Adult publishing is also like Hollywood- #1 choices and best bets for sales: sequels and remakes. Hence the new Star Wars.

      Book(s)? You mean you got to read Murder of Crows already? Lucky! My library doesn't have it yet.

      I want to cackle madly, but also cry. You see, one of the Twilight books made it onto this week's Top 10. *sob* Why didn't I just put it down?

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  4. And I say again: why isn't a cast of characters who are Scandinavian, Russian, Irish, French, or Danish not considered diverse? It's a bit of a rhetorical question, but that's the point. Think about it. Why is THAT not diverse? They're all of different cultural backgrounds. Irish culture is not the same as Russian. But it isn't considered diverse. If authors want to write a "diverse" book, all power to 'em. If they want to flood their book with political correctness, they can do that, but I won't be happy, because that isn't what fiction should be about. But if you force an author to do it - guilt them into it - then you have a problem. And that's what people are pushing for. By saying "your cast is only diverse if it's not white" (even though, as I've illustrated, Russians and Irishmen are quite different), they're shoving writers into a little writing box that won't allow for creativity. And I for one am so tired of everything being turned into political correct garbage and having shoved down my throat. If people are guilting authors into doing this, then people who are fed up with it have every right to vilifity whoever is responsible.

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    1. It's an interesting question. I wonder whether Ruta Sepetys' "Between Shades of Gray" (which I still need to read) would count.

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    2. That probably would because it deals with a tragic time in history.

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  5. Hummmmmmmm, super interesting post. I'm kind of in two minds about this one though. I agree that campaigns like this should largely stay positive, mostly because I think they'll be more effective that way. But I think that ultimately their aim IS to devalue white/ cisgendered/ able-bodied characters - because at the moment, those types of characters are overvalued (when really they should be equal to everyone else). That's why we currently have a glut of them in our fiction.

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    1. I hope this campaign remains positive, not merely for utilitarian motives, but for the express and simple purpose of treating all people with courtesy and respect.

      I'm afraid we're treading on dangerous ground whenever we aim to devalue anyone. There's a difference between lifting everyone up to one level and pulling particular groups down. The latter, aiming to devalue certain people, strays away from diversity and into discrimination territory for me.

      Encourage writers to write whatever stories they want to write and encourage readers to read whatever stories they prefer. If we go beyond that into the realm of imposing one set of views/preferences, however "broad," on others, I feel we're no longer pursuing diversity, respect and tolerance- we're repressing it.

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