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Why Diversity Is So Important In Young Adult Books

If you’re  even remotely familiar with the young adult genre you’ll know that in the last few years leaps and strides have been made in favor of including more diverse stories and voices in the main stream literary world. Angie Thomas’ book THE HATE YOU GIVE exploded on the scene a few months ago and rocked the world. The book, about a 16 year old who witnesses her friend being killed by a police officer, has graced the New York Times Best Sellers list for a whopping 34 weeks and it doesn’t look like it’s making an exit any time soon. Nic Stone’s debut DEAR MARTIN is another authentic diverse book that made it’s way onto the NYT Best sellers list. And Indian American Author Sandhya Menon blessed the book world with her YA hit WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI.

There are even movements sweeping the social media world calling for more authentic voices like #weneeddiversebooks & #ownvoices.

With all these amazing books shaking the foundations of everything that was the book world the question comes to surface. Why exactly is diversity such a big “hit” all of the sudden? I even came across an author ranting on twitter about how she’s sick of the diversity “trend” because it’s not always “realistic” in a story or real life.

That statement blew me out of the water because I didn’t know someone could possibly miss the mark so much.

Diversity isn’t a “trend” and as a person of color it is most definitely “realistic”. As an African American, Hispanic, & Native American woman I live, breathe, bake, & bathe in diversity. For me it is real life, just as it is for millions of Americans. While it’s been an amazing few years for books when it comes to including diversity it is far from a trend and has been long overdue.

Growing up on a Native American reservation there isn’t a lot to do, they are often far from big towns and stores. The nearest town was 30 minutes away from mine, so a kid could either hang around (usually getting themselves in the wrong kind of trouble), or find something to occupy themselves. I was a quiet child who loved to write, so naturally I loved books. We’d go to town and I would stock up on enough library books to last me until we went again. While I loved them and the journeys they took me on I was faced with a problem. It was always hard for me to identify with the amazing and heroic characters that leaped from the page. As much as I tried I couldn’t see myself as the blonde hair, blue eyed double agent from a suburban town in Idaho. Not only that but I rarely came across Native American characters. When I did? They were either the fumbling Natives that couldn’t speak English and threw Tomahawks or they were the sidekicks that weren’t capable of saving the day without the aide of their white heroes.

When all you see about your people on TV are stereotypical “redskins” who wear headdresses and gamble & all you read about your people in books is that they aren’t capable of saving the day themselves it starts to take a toll on you. You develop an identity crisis and wonder.

“Is that really how the world sees me?”

“Is that how I see myself?”

That is why diversity is so important, because millions of children pick up books every day and see people on the front that don’t look like them. They open the book and read stories that (while great) don’t resonate them. And on the off chance they are able to find a book with a diverse character it isn’t authentic because it’s written by someone who hasn’t walked in their shoes.

While I’m so excited for where the young adult genre is heading regarding diverse voiced and I love all the amazing stories that are emerging there is still a huge need for the Native American narrative to be included.

What are your thoughts on the new narratives being added to the book world?

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