Diversify Your Reading Challenge Essay

Diversity in Young Adult Literature: A Chance To Teach

The thought of this challenge made me smile: Diversity in YA? Growing up some twenty plus years ago, I can confirm that there was very little diversity in YA literature. Truthfully, the lack of diverse characters was not limited to literature, but also spanned television as well. Therefore, to see a challenge based solely on diverse characters being the main or supporting characters in books are strong examples how far our society is progressing.

This challenge pushed me to seek out new and exciting authors. The majority of the books I read are young adult, but I can’t say I would have picked up most of these if not for the challenge. While some of the books I may have picked up anyway, many of them I had to search for. Local bookshops and libraries didn’t carry many of them and I had to order a couple on amazon.com in order to read them. I found that to be a bit sad, but I’m hopeful that these books will be circulated soon.

The majority of them, such as Under the Mesquite, Hurricane Dancers and Inside Out and Back Again dealt with the uprooting of the narrator to various degrees. Hurricane Dancers' narrator had no home, a child between two worlds. The teenager in Under the Mesquite was able to travel back and forth to her homeland of Mexico, where she was able to grow fully in both cultures, heal and move onto new adventures. Inside Out and Back Again seemed to be the most severe. Uprooted because of war, the narrator is thrust into Southern America, where not only her language and culture is tested. She sees the most adversity, merely because she is Asian and different.

All of these books are about the character’s struggles to keep a part of their culture with them, how to grow in this new land and time and how to carve a life out for themselves when they are unique and one of a kind.

Many characters, especially those in Guantanamo Boy and Bird in a Box, face racism merely for being who they are and living in the time they do. The fact that these two stories are set years apart shows how slow our progress can be.

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever., a contemporary fictional novel, described Almira’s family dynamics and their culture brilliantly. I had never experienced Ramadan or read any literature about it. It was refreshing to read about something so different from what I had ever experienced. Silver Phoenix was also a very different and beautiful fantasy story. Strong female characters facing adversity were major themes in this book. Almira’s mom and herself are seen as infidels in the eyes of Almira’s grandfather. Ai Ling is a lone girl going on a long journey to rescue her father, in a world when women were bought and sold to men to pay off debts. It’s so hopeful to read about driven females asserting their power.

These stories hit a very personal note for me. I’m Korean and was adopted as baby to a white family. Regardless of culture, history or language, I was always seen as Asian due to my physical characteristics. Reading these types of stories express the internal and external struggles that many of us confront every day. They show us we are not alone. Holding onto culture and molding it into your own becomes more common with each generation. As time passes, I believe everyone’s history blends together and our children and our children’s children will make their own way. It’s vital that while we hold onto our past, we do not fear change or different ways of life.

Today, it is more important than ever to expand diversity in young adult literature. Our children today become our leaders tomorrow and diversity in YA literature, no matter how small, enlightens future generations about different cultures, traditions and history.