So this has become a very consistently discussed topic in the book community as of late, and rightly so. And I do not know a whole lot about this topic in detail, I’m newly 18 and still just learning and figuring all this out, and I understand that it’s a rather controversial topic but I’m just gonna tell you all a little bit about my experiences with diversity in books.
First off, I’m gonna let you all know that I’ve been reading YA since I was about 11 years old so it’s been a good 7 years of my life devoted to this category of books that I love and enjoy. I’ve grown to love and adore so many series and characters. Does this mean that I find a character whose ethnicity and sexuality is the same as mine in every book I read? No. Heck no. And the worst part is I didn’t realize this was a problem until people started talking about it and I thought “oh that’s a good point”.
I am Maldivian; therefore South Asian, as well as Musliml. I mean I am basically a mix of (correct me if I’m wrong) the most rarely represented characters in young adult fiction. For the longest time, I enjoyed reading about these straight, white, cisgendered protagonists (and I still do) not really realizing that it was a problem. It was fiction, and I just had this idea that that’s what it was and that’s how it always had to be which I realize now, is absolute crap. This is something that is slowly changing and still needs to be talked about a whole lot more for us to really make it the norm to pick up a book with an accurately represented gay or hispanic main character.
When I actually started reading books with diverse characters, I really did see a difference in how the story was represented and it felt refreshing. As an example, I’m just going to draw your attention to a wonderful book that I read this year called Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. It’s a book that follows a Muslim girl, who is the only one in her school (?) in Sydney, Australia and she decides to wear the headscarf. More than ‘normalizing’ our religion, for me reading this, it felt familiar in a way that made me very happy. Now, I don’t wear a hijab (a lot of the women in my family do though) and I was lucky enough to grow up in a community of Muslims so there was nothing odd or threatening about wearing a headscarf in public but the representation of her family in this book was so nice to read about, because she was like me. She was Muslim and at the same time she liked to listen to the Spice Girls (this was released in the early 2000s) when she was sad, and she had a crush on a boy at her school and she went shopping with her friends. Randa Abdel-Fattah, being a Muslim herself did not alienate the character of Amal.
It in no way is an absolutely perfect novel with breathtaking writing. I gave it a 3.5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. However, this book made me think “why aren’t there more books like this?” which is something that more of us need to be thinking regarding correct representation in books.
Recently there was someone on twitter who was claiming that by asking for representation and asking for clear portrayal of diverse characters is in some way eliminating progress to make us all ‘people’. To not see color is not something we can so easily do, we need representation because we live in a world where everyone is labeled with a stereotype based on the color of their skin or who they love or a majority of other reasons. To right these backward beliefs and not have those people looked at through a white lens is not only important but comforting as well. It makes us stop and think “oh hey she/he’s like me”.
Now I’m not even going to try and explain everything wrong with representation in YA fiction because that’s far too vast and I cannot possibly accurately talk about what other minorities must be feeling. If you are interested in finding a bit more about this, whittynovels on YouTube made a collaboration with a bunch of wonderful booktubers discussing diversity and #ownvoices which I will link here.
This is just a short post talking about my thoughts. If you have any points to add or if I’ve made any incorrect points please kindly let me know in the comments of this post. Also if any of you know a YA book where there is a south asian main character who is portrayed accurately please please let me know!