Publishing goes through trends (zombies, anyone?), and these days, diversity is unfortunately regarded in that light by some—which shows in the end results.
Genuinely diverse books do more than simply toss a few non-Western names into the background or mention someone’s brown skin. They show us textured, well-rounded individuals who are more than the sum of their (diverse) parts. These books ignore the tired criticism that there are “too many issues,” an attitude that allows mainstream characters to grapple with life in multidimensional ways but expects diverse characters to be flattened down into one single, defining difference.
Akemi Dawn Bowman, Kheryn Callender, and Anna-Marie McLemore are trailblazers for incorporating informed, authentic diversity into novels that do far more than just tick boxes.
Bowman’s protagonists from Starfish and Summer Bird Blue are multiracial, artistic young women. They explore many aspects of identity—family dysfunction and abuse, racism, depression and anxiety, sexuality, grief, and more. Her books are about strength and survival—and growing into the fullness of all the parts of one’s self.
Callender’s YA debut, This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, features the sort of effortlessly inclusive and accepting social circle that so many young people today inhabit. Even better, it’s a light romantic comedy celebrating characters of different sexual orientations, abilities (our protagonist’s love interest is hard of hearing and uses ASL), and ethnicities.
McLemore writes novels that evoke the word “lush,” ones infused with magic, mystery, and wonder. Her fourth, Blanca & Roja, features diversity of ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. A constant in her works is the blurring of boundaries and crossing of borders, physical and otherwise, a reminder of the beauty to be found when we embrace how varied life is.
I look forward to a day when the content of books such as these is so unremarkable that they do not need to be called out for breaking down boundaries.
Laura Simeon is the young adult editor.