Why Does Diversity Matter in YA?
As the popularity of Young Adult literature continues to become even more prominent in the mainstream media, the debate around the portrayal of diverse characters - or lack thereof - continues to be a topic that many fans of YA are pretty passionate about.
What do I mean when I say 'diverse'?
For me these are books with people of colour and all manner of ethnicities, characters living with physical disabilities or mental illness, and stories with characters from across the LGBTQ spectrum. It also means showcasing these diverse characters in the same light as the 'industry-standard' white/cis-gendered/heterosexual/able-bodied protagonists.
So why does diverse representation matter?
If you're asking yourself this question, I'll ask you. How did you picture Katniss when you first read The Hunger Games? Or Tris/Four in Divergent? Or Hazel and Gus in TFIOS? We often forget the protagonists for some of the biggest YA franchises are littered with characters of similar ethnic background, physical ability and sexual orientation. When you look across the YA spectrum there's often few black/asian/middle-eastern protagonists, disabled heroes or transgender heroines that are held in the same kind of light as their more popular counterparts.
We all know those stories and characters that feel like they are written just for us. But from the viewpoint of children and young adults of colour it can be disheartening not to see themselves in popular YA books. Not only does it go on to perpetuate and reinforce stereotypes in real life but it makes it seem ok that we white-wash stories or assume certain characters with particular character traits are only meant to be sat in the sidelines.
Diverse YA novels give diverse YA readers role models who are just them and seeing a YA protagonist who is just like you can be both uplifting and inspiring.
Young Adult readers are also often still very young and impressionable people. They are, in my opinion, are some of the most receptive and perceptive readers around. So why let them grow up with the same view of the world every time they pick up a YA novel? Reading diverse YA books allows readers to open their eyes to experiences they haven't had. Hearing those stories can even allow YA readers to become more empathetic to those in the real world who are experiencing the same things.
Diversity in YA is important because our world is diverse too. And when you really look for diverse YA literature, there's so much out there already to choose from.
Change comes from us, the readers, and if we demand, read it and request it we'll see it more and more. So let's support representation across YA and let's celebrate the diverse stories for everyone.