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The Importance Of Diverse Young Adult Fiction

Monday, October 3, 2016

Project Anjou's lead protagonist Anjou Ishikawa.

Young Adult Fiction is going to be here for a long time. The genre has been a riveting source for literature, and has lent itself across other media platforms. From movie series to interactive visual novel video games, the trials, aches, loves, and adventures adolescence has resonated with millions of readers. The genre is still young in its own right, its infancy dating back somewhere in the 1960s. But in the 80s, an exhaustion of young adult arrived, making way for subgenre fiction that brought new life going into the 90s. It's been two decades since then, and we're removed from the peak of the 2000s: Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson set precedents. So what's next for the genre in its evolution as we approach a new decade?

 

The answer is quite simple: it's time for diversity to flourish in young adult fiction. 

 

From its authors and its protagonists, young adult fiction needs more representation of its diverse audience. This well has hardly been tapped, and its rich with unique stories of adversity, heritage, tradition, fantasy, and love--especially queer love. These narratives are important because the next generation has a complex amalgam of race, sexuality, and religion. They're growing up in a confusing time charged with discrimination, prejudice, and violence against people who are "different." They're growing up and will spend more than two or three words to respond to weighted (and often ignorantly proposed) questions like where are you from? or what's your nationality? The answer is esoteric and shouldn't be maligned with primitive small talk.

 

And, by the way, those kids are growing up fast. 

 

Where are they going to turn to when they're ready to dive into a good book? Will they be able to easily find stories that represent them? How will they escape harsh realities and find words that help them understand who they are and what they are becoming?

 

Young adult fiction owes a responsibility in that it educates its younger demographic in how (or how not to) cope with hardships and conflicts. Whether it occurs at school, at home, over a friend's house, or past a magical doorway, adolescence is a complex stage abundant with anxieties that become our flawed manifestos. Tweens and teens certainly aren't expected to manage these conflicts without blemish. In fact, young adult fiction reflects that accurately: we're naturally inclined to screw up. It's the only way we ever learn. 

 

Harry Potter taught us what family really meant. It informed us that evil can exist in even the greatest of good. The Hunger Games is an epic adventure grounded in sacrifice and the hopeless pursuit of forgiveness and retribution. Twilight (despite all the groans aimed at the series) is a timid exploration of sexuality. These all serve their purpose, but now that these stories have been told, it's time for new stories to be told.

 

Young Adult fiction desperately needs refreshing faces. There need to be more Sherman Alexie's, Thanhha Lai's, Nnedi Okorafor's, C.B. Lee's...

 

...the list goes on, but not long enough.

The Recital Explores Both Interracial & Queer Young Love.

 

The Recital contributes with a girl, Edith Solstice, who finds love where few lead protagonists in YA do. Her pubescent affections bud with a boy much the opposite of her ivory skin--and later (spoiler alert), her best friend, a girl who gives her the same kind of clumsy stomach butterflies that the boy did. Edith's antagonist is a Japanese girl (another spoiler alert) who she discovers is adopted, has no idea who her real parents are, and is acting out against Edith because she pinched that sensitive nerve by accident. 

 

In the upcoming Project Anjou, the lead protagonists are characters representative of the black, Asian, and Latino communities. Am I writing characters these molds simply to fill a queue? Yes and no. I'm writing them because these are the kinds of people I grew up with. It naturally occurs to me. But I do also feel (happily) obligated to fill that void.

 

There's nothing wrong with that. No one should feel guilty about writing what they know. And no one should be afraid to go out there and explore what they don't know, even if it means getting it wrong to some extent. 

 

Writing diversity takes courage. Optimistically, one day, it won't be such a risky niche.

Image retrieved from Fireside Fiction, via this article.

 

Not enough YA narratives explore queer sexuality, especially in its early stages. Not enough of them have a diverse cast of characters, particularly those with urban backdrops. There's plenty of white suburbia YA out there, which is totally fine as I enjoy my share of that fare, but the lack of diverse YA stories is insufferable. I have not gotten my share of diverse narratives in the genre. 

 

If nothing is done to diversify the Young Adult Fiction, then the next generation will struggle carving identity through literature, and that's unforgivable on the part of the industry.

 

Who are your favorite diversity authors or protagonists? Share in the comments below!

 

 

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Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor, published author. To inquire about his editing services, visit the services page. To read his work, check out The Recital and Project Anjou If you're just hanging out, subscribe to his newsletter below, where you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.

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