Thursday, July 30, 2015
Today I am happy to announce that YA Diversity Book Club has been going strong for a whole year!
To celebrate, Teen Lit Rocks and the Reading Date are giving away a bunch of amazing books. DO NOT WALK RUN RUN RUN to their sites and enter for your chance to win!
And since you're already clicking around, please head on over to YADBC's new Tumblr and Twitter accounts too. That's where we'll be announcing each month's selection so that people can join the club and read along with us. We're also going to move from private discussions between the four of us to live Twitter chats (hashtag TBD) with anyone and everyone who wants to participate.
Here's to cultivating a more diverse readership of more diverse YA books!
In honor of YADBC's anniversary, I'd like to share a few things that I've learned from a year of consciously seeking out diverse YA.
- There are many kinds of diversity.
Race, of course, is a big one. Sexuality, too. We've also read about religion (twice), class/poverty, and disability. Many of the books covered more than one type of diversity, too. Because people are beautifully multi-faceted.
All that in just one year -- 10 books -- and all that is just touching the surface.
- Not all diverse books are about diversity.
Sometimes the diverse elements are just inherent to the characters, not a Big Thing that the plot revolves around.
Sometimes a book's diversity comes directly from its author, because writers who are not part of the dominant culture inherently offer an Othered perspective or speak with an Othered voice.
- Diversity is a good thing, but a book that includes diversity is not automatically a good book.
Sometimes a diverse book just isn't very well-written. The characters are one-dimensional, or the plot moves slowly, or the language is dull. *shrug* It happens, and it has nothing to do with diversity.
When the problem is due to diversity, it's usually because of insufficient research, or research that has been poorly deployed -- i.e., misinformation and stereotyping.
Some people believe that bad representation is worse than no representation. Others believe that increased visibility is better than invisibility. Either way, I think the ideal we should be striving for is prominent AND accurate diversity.
Failing isn't fun, but what matters most is that we keep trying, and failing better, and trying again.
- Not everyone will agree on whether or not diversity has been portrayed appropriately.
One of the best things about reading is that it's largely about personal connection and interpretation. A story is written by an author, but it is brought to life by a reader and their imagination. Naturally, that means there will be differing opinions. For example, some people objected to ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, whereas I found it to be a true-to-life and moving portrayal of mixed Asian heritage.
Debating right or wrong isn't the point; discussing is.
That's why we started this book club: to explore the rich world of diversity in YA literature, to spotlight it for the community, to learn from it. Contemporary, historical, romantic, adventurous, high fantasy, low sci-fi, mid paranormal, whatever! Diversity can be found in every genre. Diversity can entertain, challenge, and nourish all at the same time.
But as of right now, diversity is still underrepresented in YA literature. #WeNeedDiverseBooks
These are the things that I have learned during our first year of the YA Diversity Book Club. Here's to next year, and new lessons, and more great books! I hope you'll join us.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Over the weekend I visited Chicago with a girl friend, and we popped into the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Ave. I had been in this building before to admire the two gorgeous domes (one done by Tiffany's!) but somehow I had missed these wonderful bookish quotes. Apparently the CCC was originally a library. It makes me smile to imagine such a beautiful space filled with rows and rows of books...
Between the stunning architecture and the free rotating art exhibits, this place is not to be missed!
Friday, July 10, 2015
THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma is a kaleidoscope of haunting emotions and damaged girls. You may feel a little disoriented at first, but trust me when I say that Nova knows what she's doing, and it all weaves together just as it should.
Guilt, innocence, justice. Friendship, loyalty, betrayal. The past, the present, and the slippery space where time gets all mixed up.
Violet, Amber, Orianna.
These girls, these themes, are so powerful. The use of collective first person ("we") draws us into Amber's life in prison. I felt the wildness of those girls, of that life, even amidst the sterile gray walls and neatly labeled cells that are meant to impose order.
The story moves quietly, like a stream trickling through a forest. A smart reader will probably know what's coming, but that doesn't kill the suspense. This isn't about surprises (although there is a good one at the end). This is about the way girls have to survive. About all the different ways they can be harmed, and all the different ways they can harm others. It's about the power of perception, and our place in the world. It's about how even good things -- like friendship, like trust -- can be wielded as weapons when put in the hands of the wrong person. It's about how blame isn't a ribbon you can pin on just one person, but rather a chain that links us all together.
I know that sounds grim and dark, but, well, maybe it sort of is. Darkness exists. And it isn't something we can just wish away or hide from. Darkness is not inherently bad. My advice is to sit with the darkness, sit with your discomfort, and just maybe it will illuminate a few things for you, before it's too late.
That's how I felt about THE WALLS AROUND US. Disturbed, but in an important, hopeful way.
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Also, just because it needs to be said: "Swear to god a ghost just tried to eat my hair haha not kidding omg" is one of the funniest lines ever. Read the book so we can laugh about it together.
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