When We Say YA: May Edition

Each month on the OneFourKidLit blog, those of us who love YA answer a question about our reading and writing. In honor of the recent movement for diversity in YA, this month’s question is: “Which diverse YA book has been most influential to you, and why?”

Monster MyersMONSTER by Walter Dean Myers. This book blew me away. The idea that we judge, react, criticize, and demean without even realizing made me consider how I respond to all people. In MONSTER, the main character is accused of a crime but realizes that the jury and even his lawyer don’t look at him as innocent until proven guilty, but as African American and therefore guilty, needing to prove innocence. If we look at our penal system, this certainly appears to be the case. All young adults should read books like this and reevaluate how they respond and react, even subconsciously, to those of different ethnicities.–Chris Struyk-Bonn, author of Whisper

MockingbirdTO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. As a young reader, TKAM was perhaps the first place I consciously encountered the idea of the “other” through Boo Radley. He is damaged and creepy and easy to fear. But he is also good. Being able to see his ultimate goodness through Scout’s eyes was really important to me as a child. It gave me the strength to be kind to people who deserve kindness, despite the fear they may instill–like the hulking, brain-damaged man who lived down the street from me when I was young. When he rang the bell and grinned his strange, other-worldly grin, I wanted to hide. But because of Scout, I opened the door. I let him in.–Mary Crockett, co-author of Dream Boy

everworldThe EVERWORLD series by K.A. Applegate. It’s been so long since I read it that I don’t even recall how well the various characters were handled, but I do remember vividly one scene in the first book where a black character was insistent on leaving the scene of an incident before the police came, because he knew they’d suspect him regardless of what he did and didn’t do. Reading the book as a young white girl, that was the first time I realized that racism was a lot more complex than the belief that “certain people are inferior,” which was the impression I’d gotten up to that point. I might’ve read other books later that handled the topic of racism better, or with more nuance, but this was the first to really stick with me.–Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound

adaptationI’ll go with a couple of recent books, the ADAPTATION series by Malinda Lo. The point of view character comes to identify as bisexual, and the books features a love triangle among her, a nice guy, and a “bad girl.” I’d never seen either in YA before. I’d read a similar scenario in maybe one adult book. Everything about ADAPTATION and INHERITANCE felt so refreshing. The series totally revitalized the love triangle trope, and it gave me a new perspective. I’ve talked with bisexual friends about their experience but never really put myself in their shoes in terms of thinking about how that might complicate relationships or how societal perceptions on bisexuality might hurt them. Reading this series, I felt such freedom as a writer because when I grew up, those subjects would have been taboo, and I kept internally cheering, yes, our culture has arrived! At least enough of it that these characters are rocking it out in a mainstream YA sci-fi. It made me feel like no human experience was out of bounds–it just takes great authors with the courage to write true.–Rachel M. Wilson, author of Don’t Touch

left handTHE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin blew my mind as a teen–though it’s not YA. (I didn’t have a massive amount of YA as a teen.) Not only is the MC, Genly Ai, black without such a big deal being made over it (much like some of Le Guin’s other characters, e.g. in the EARTHSEA books), but Genly visits an entire society that is asexual–until they’re occasionally not asexual, and then they can either adapt male or female attributes. This book flexed my mind in terms of gender, sexual orientation, and relationships more than any other book had, at the time.–AdriAnne Strickland, author of Wordless

pantomimePANTOMIME by Laura Lam. The MC, Micah Grey, is intersex, but was raised as a girl. The bulk of the novels I’ve read where the character has questions about sexual identity have been contemporary, so it was really fantastic to come across an epic fantasy novel with a hero facing those challenges.–Danielle L. Jensen, author of Stolen Songbird

cameron postNot really YA, and not a diverse MC, but TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the first book that really spoke to me as a young person about racial inequality in the deep south. I’d lived there my whole life and that book opened my eyes in ways my parents never would have. A recent favorite was THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M. Danforth, a literary coming-of-age, coming-out story about a small-town girl who’s sent away from home to be “healed” of her sexuality. The part I loved most about it was Cameron’s eventual total acceptance of self.–Jaye Robin Brown, author of No Place to Fall

douglassThis isn’t really YA–as the category didn’t exist when the book was written–and it’s not fiction, but it is the story of a young adult learning to overcome severe challenges, which is the basic plot of all YA. I’m speaking of NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE, which was profoundly influential to me when I first read it in high school. Douglass’s ability to provide a vivid first-hand account of slavery, and to peel back the institutional racism that existed not only in the South but in the North, demonstrated to me the power of diverse voices to shock white readers like me out of their complacency, while affirming for readers of color the validity of their experience.–Joshua David Bellin, author of Survival Colony 9

 

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since age eight (though his first few were admittedly very short). His debut YA science fiction novel SURVIVAL COLONY NINE will be published in September 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Josh likes (in no particular order) gorillas, frogs, monsters, and human beings.
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