“People talk about coming out as though it’s this big one-time event. But really, most people have to come out over and over to basically every new person they meet. I’m only eighteen and it already exhausts me.” – Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour
This ongoing call for diverse characters—of all races, of all genders, of all sexual/romantic orientations, anything you can name under the sun—isn’t so widespread because readers are hungry for new and interesting characters to paint the ever-changing, complex fictional worlds they’ve built inside their heads. It runs much, much deeper than a natural curiosity or a desire for a change of scenery from the usual white/cis/straight oriented characters we’re all so accustomed to.
As a primarily YA book blogger, I get asked for book recommendations on a daily basis. The preferences of young readers have turned from generic lists of categories like “romance,” “adventure,” “paranormal,” “contemporary,” and “fantasy” to “What about books with asexual characters?” “What about books with male/male romance?” “What about books where the protagonist identifies as trans*?” “What about books with Mexican characters?” “What about books where the protagonist has bipolar disorder?” “What about books where the female protagonist likes to kiss girls and boys?” “What about books where the protagonist isn’t so sure of their romantic orientation?” And the list goes on and on for miles.
They all scream the same exact heartbreaking things.
“What about books that have characters like me?” “What’s wrong with me that I’m not like any of these characters?” “Am I not important enough to be represented?”
So no, this loud call for diversity isn’t about wanting our every whim catered to.
This is about changing lives.
This is about teaching self-love among the masses of people (especially teenagers) who go to bed every night feeling like they’re alone in the world because they’re perceived as “different” by their family and peers.
This is about opening minds.
This is about encouraging basic human empathy towards your neighbors—all of your neighbors.
This is about teaching acceptance of all identities, no matter which area of the person’s life it applies to.
This is about showing that a character doesn’t need to be white/cis/straight in order for them to be relatable—that readers can relate to someone regardless of the harmful stereotypes they may have built up in their minds about whatever race/gender/sexual orientation/etc they have hesitations about.
This is about proving to others that the accepted norm is not necessarily the default.
This is about being able to look around ourselves and realize that the world is so incredibly colorful and diverse and, as such, should be reflected within fictionalized worlds.
Growing up, fiction—especially young adult fiction—didn’t just give me a new and stimulating world to escape into for a few hours at a time. Young adult fiction helped me grow into the person I am today, and the few books I read with LGBTQA+ characters provided me with a sanctuary where I finally felt understood on a much more fundamental level. Most of all, those books helped me understand myself enough to embrace all the parts of myself that everyone around me seemed to be condemning without a second thought. For once, LGBTQA+ YA fiction gave me a place that I could call “home” even when I didn’t feel at home inside my own body and mind.
You think you’re exhausted from the constant call for diverse books?
Imagine how exhausted we are of having limited spaces to call “home,” when it seems like everyone else has a nice, comfortable space to call “home” almost everywhere they turn.
“There are worse things in the world than a boy who likes to kiss other boys.”
-Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Find Manda on her tumblr, BookMad.