In January, an organization known as We Need Diverse Books challenged readers to promote diversity in literature by making New Year’s resolutions to read diverse books. They described diverse books as “books where people of color can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where people with disabilities can be just…people.” I joined their challenge, pledging to read at least fifteen diverse books in the year 2015. And just a few weeks ago, I fulfilled my pledge, with plenty of time left over to read even more!
I set my goal as low as fifteen because I knew that diverse books (especially in my main genre of YA sci-fi/fantasy) can be hard to come by. That is in fact the reason why this challenge and organization exist. Consuming diverse books shows the publishing industry that readers want to read them, which urges them to publish even more diverse books. Nonetheless, while also participating in the Goodreads challenge, aiming for a stretch goal of 100 books in one year and the 2015 Reading Challenge where I am aiming to read books from 50 different categories, I was a little pessimistic about the number of diverse books that would end up on my list. Yet, while it took me six months and 45 books, I did finally meet my goal, averaging one diverse book for every three books I read. Read on to see what books helped me meet this challenge, especially if you are looking to expand your own diverse reading repertoire.
Characters with Disabilities Representation
- Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber — The protagonist of this piece of gothic historical fiction has trauma-induced mutism. While she can talk in the prison world in which a handsome aristocrat is trapped, she must use other means of communication in the real world to solve the mystery of what has happened to him and how to save him.
- Soundless by Richelle Mead — This book also belongs in my racial diversity section as it takes place in a obviously Chinese-inspired fantasy world. However, as the title suggests, the main focus is on a deaf community which keeps track of their news and current events through beautiful calligraphy and paintings rather than by telling it. Fei’s whole village has been deaf for many generations and now many members are going blind as well. It is only once Fei mysteriously regains her hearing that she begins to believe something can be done to save their village from destruction.
LGBTQ Character Representation
- The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black — In this novel, the gay character is not just the second-rung best friend, but one of the main protagonists; chapters of the story are from his perspective. While the novel arguably focuses slightly more on his sister, he *spoiler alert* is the one who snags the main love interest, a horned faerie prince awoken from years of slumber.
- The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks — In this piece of Biblical fiction, Brooks chose to depict King David as gay. While he did indeed marry many wives and father many children, his most special relationship in this book was with his friend Yonatan (Jonathan), son of Shaul (Saul). Although his time with Yonatan is over by the first few chapters, it was bold of Brooks to take a character so precious to both Jews and Christians and reinterpret what is written of his relationship with Yonatan into something more than just friendship.
- Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray — This is another one that fits multiple categories. The gay best friend of the first book in this series (The Diviners which Kayla recently reviewed) is one of the main protagonists in this sequel. The other protagonist is a first generation Chinese-American with a disability. Due to an adolescent case of infantile paralysis, she is destined to use crutches to walk for the rest of her life. The novel also features an inter-racial couple in 1920s New York and the prejudice they face.
- The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow — This dystopian novel features a lesbian romance. Although the characters are young and circumstances prevent them from pursuing their romance, it shows how a girl can be a strong protector and emotional supporter for another girl, even if that’s not the sort of dynamic we usually see portrayed in YA novels.
- The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff —
*spoiler alert* One of the three stories included in this unique combination of short stories and writing tips features a trans character. Her explanations for why she should be gendered as a woman even though she was identified male at birth are beautifully stated. My favorite line of hers, directed toward her love interest who is angry at the ‘lie’ he believes she is living, is this: “You may ask questions, but stop arguing with me — I know you cannot understand, but you will not tell me I am wrong” [quoted from uncorrected proof. May be different in final version].
- The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater — *Spoiler alert* In this second book of the Raven Cycle series, a major character is revealed to be gay. Maggie very subtly begins to hint at it throughout the book and probably even a little bit in the first book and then says it outright.
- Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater — In this third book of the Raven Cycle, the sexuality of the gay character is hardly mentioned because it is no longer relevant to the plot. I think this shows that Maggie treats her characters primarily as people, not as token diverse characters.
Religious/ Racial Diversity
- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks — This is one of the only books I read this year that featured Muslim characters, let alone favorably portrayed Muslim characters. Brooks was inspired by true stories of Muslims saving Jewish texts during the years of anti-Semitism leading up to the Holocaust, and depicts a Muslim couple who hide a young Jewish girl and protect a precious prayer book.
- Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014 edited by Ellen Datlow — This collection of sci-fi/fantasy short stories actually fits into several if not all of the categories I have divided these into. “The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson features African folklore and depicts racism. “Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome” by John Scalzi gives voice to people suffering from a fictional terminal disease. “In the Sight of Akresa” by Ray Wood is a love story between two women. While there were some stories I didn’t care for, there’s bound to be something for everyone in this book.
- Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang — Originally written in Chinese by one of the most well-known modern Chinese authors, this novella takes place in Shanghai during WWII, a setting most Americans know little about. It’s good to read books from outside our country/ hemisphere/ the English-speaking world every once in a while. After all, they read so many of our books in translation; there is so much we could learn by reading some of theirs.
- Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar — This is a memoir-like collection of short-stories by Indian-American actor Kunal Nayyar, most famous for his role as Raj on Big Bang Theory. Some of his stories take place in India, while others describe his life in America struggling to be an actor. All are quite hilarious and I learned some things about Indian culture that I didn’t know about before, such as the holiday tradition of rakhi threads and just how intense Indian weddings are.
- Poison Tree by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes — Amelia is a highly successful lesbian writer, famous for her shapeshifter Kiesha’ra series and her vampire Den of Shadows series, of which Poison Tree is a part. The author’s sexuality did not overtly seem to influence this particular book, but you can see it more in her later Kiesha’ra books.
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri — This is a series of short fiction stories by Indian-American author, Jhumpa Lahiri. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in the year 2000. Each story features Indian characters, whose lives are explored in extremely realistic detail. Like Kunal’s book, some take place in America and some in India but each explores aspects and issues related to Indian identity.
Are you participating in We Need Diverse Books’s New Year’s Resolution, too? Do you have any suggestions of great diverse books? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.