Wednesday, May 13, 2009

C.O.R.A Diversity Roll Call: YA You Don't Know

This is week #6 and this week we'll focus on genre- YA fiction. Last week I shared at length my observations regarding cover art featuring black characters. Some responded that readers have been conditioned to make narrow assumptions about African American fiction. Another reader said librarians and teachers need to expose students to a greater variety of authors. Your assignment this week is to inform readers what they are missing. With your help, maybe we can begin dismantling misconceptions and introduce readers to a more diverse pool of writers.

I opted to answer question #1: provide a recommended list of lesser known works.

Recommended YA List

Life Is Funny
by E.R. Frank – a novel of interconnected short stories. Multicultural. Realistic fiction.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi- graphic novel. Coming-of-Age. Set in Iran.
When Kambia Elaine Flew In From Neptune by Lori A. Williams. Story of friendship and molestation.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichia. Coming-of-Age. Abuse. Set in Nigeria.
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. Teen Romance. Race.
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott. Time Travel. Social Commentary.
Down To The Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole. LBGT teen fiction. Realistic fiction.
Parable of The Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Dystopia fiction. (technically, not YA)

Looking at my list I realize how heavily I lean towards realistic fiction and dark themes. I also realize my YA reading choices today are not much different from when I was young. The absence of fantasy and mystery today is consistent. As a teen I didn’t read funny stories or the zombie stuff either. Today, I would read more in romance, fantasy and mystery, but I don’t know any works written by writers of color or with characters of color and honestly, while I don’t need characters to look like me, I’m not motivated to read genres outside of what I prefer if there isn’t an additional draw. Moreover, I think I lean towards realistic fiction and the dark themes because I prefer YA that mirrors the same qualities I look for in adult literature: solid character development and quality writing. I don’t read chick lit or romance in adult fiction so I don’t look for it in YA either.

I want to address the gaps, mainly fantasy and mystery. While these genres are not likely to become regular reads, I am very interested in being aware. It's good to know what's available. Suggestions?


Summer said...

Parable of the Sower is a really great book. So is Life is Funny. I'm still waiting for a new ER Frank book. It's been a while since Wrecked.

I definitely share your tastes when it comes to book, realistic fiction with dark themes. Seems like there are so many new vampire and faery books out there lately!

NaySue said...

I see Purple Hibiscus on your list. Now I believe you! ;-)

When I think of YA books, I always think of the books I had no business reading as a YA. lol Because of this I can only add one author to your list: Mildred Taylor.

Is Virginia Hamilton a YA author. I think so. Add her to the list.

I said I would blog about these two. I will.

susan said...

Hi NaySue, yes they're both YA authors. They're also established, veteran writers. Most librarians and teachers will cite these authors and most readers associated these writers with historical and traditional African American literature. We were trying to highlight authors we don't hear enough of. Looking forward to reading your contribution. The upside of you focusing on these writers and that many young readers today, haven't heard of anyone who has written more than 2 years ago. Everyone is so focused on what released yesterday.

Renee Simms said...

I loved Persepolis. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is good, too.

Janel said...

Life Is Funny sounds interesting. I love short stories and connecting them to each other makes the book all that more interesting.

Doret said...

Susan, you know Jacqueline Woodson is an established YA. but I know how much you love her work and you are pointing out a romance so I won't get on you too bad. I can't think of a lot genre fiction featuring authors of color. One of the reason I loved The Prince of Fenway Park by Baggott, the MC/hero is a biracial child. Everyone should have the chance to see themselves reflected back in the chacacters they read.

gaby317 said...

I just learned about Silver Phoenix, a debut YA novel by Cindy Pon, an Asian American writer.

I've read a third of it and love it - the main protagonist is a 15 year old Chinese girl (?) and she goes on a quest to save her father, but so well done and fun! I noticed how everything was woven in to show another culture and world while still being so relatable.

I highly recommend it. Plus, Cindy is holding a WORLDWIDE giveway - here's my post on it!

Anonymous said...

I loved "The Prince of Fenway Park" too. But I didn't think it was a "YA" book. What exactly is the "8-12" year old category"? Is there a genre name? Or is it YA also? (or VYA for Very Young Adult?!) I guess I don't know!

Zetta Elliott said...

Hey, Susan--thanks for putting me in such great company! I teach Purple Hibiscus, and it's ALWAYS a class favorite. Parable of the Sower is grim, but also well-received by students (Kindred is their fave). Have you tried Helen Oyeyemi, Icarus Girl? Not quite fantasy or thriller, but suspenseful, kind of creepy, maybe it falls under magical realism? I'd love to know what you thought of The Shadow Speaker--I wanted to blog about it, but couldn't pin down my feeling about the book. Have you tried out anything by Nalo Hopkinson? I'm actually interested in trying some of these fairy books, though I'm staying away from Twilight. I never even got through more than 2 of the Harry Potter books, but grew up loving Tolkien and CS Lewis and other fantasy novels set in England...

tea said...

Glad to see your Shelfari shelf. I can see some books I really want to read. Thanks.

susan said...

Doret, yep, I put Woodson on the list because If You Come Softly because of the romance. I read little teen romance and have seen very little of it with black teens.

Zetta, I have Brown Girl In The Ring by Hopkins. Saw a great review in the 50 Book World Challenge.Haven't read it yet.

Rhapdsody, YA is changing and a lot of it is written with a potential adult audience as well. I tend to read on the older end of the scale. There is a genre called middle grade fiction. Hopefully, someone who better knows this genre will chime in.

Gabe, your point about being relatable isn't lost on me. Part of the driving force behind promoting writers of color is to point out that multicultural literature is relatalbe. Do we ever question if children of color could not relate to white characters? What makes a white character universal?

susan said...

Zetta, I'm openly, very critical of Twilight. Will look for Icarus Girl. Still haven't gotten to Shadow. I think Kindred is my favorite, too. I want to get through her entire catalog. I've read 6, I think. I've learned that if I read fantasy, I prefer urban fantasy and the more contemporary the better. I like Gaiman for fantasy. I've only recently began reading graphic novels. Pop Culture Shock has introduced me to some works I want to check out.

susan said...

For those who haven't looked, do check out the link to the meme and read the other participants' posts. I'm going to provide some new recommended reading lists at Color Online based on Roll Call posts. Stay tuned.

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

I'd love for you to check out my book, Courage in Patience. I think you would like it. It's realistic fiction-- just check it out. Please.

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
Ch. 1 is online!