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OBS Speaks Out: Diversity in YA Genre (Young Adult)

cindy_ella_coverDiscussion of diversity in media, young adult fiction in particular, has exploded in the past few months. An increasing number of authors are trying to include characters of varying ethnicities, classes, and sexual orientations. Yet these endeavors, though started with good intentions, often end up using stereotypes society has branded on these various groups.

For instance, many novels of the past few years included a gay best friend. This best friend typically cares a lot about fashion, and he’s incredibly bubbly. Robin Palmer’s Cindy Ella is one example— I read this when back in elementary school, but I still remember being uncomfortable with the stereotypical representation of a gay character. Granted, each person is different, and the stereotypical representation definitely is accurate for some people. But this representation still is not widening the range of diversity in young adult fiction.

What about characters with different ethnicities? As an Asian American, I see why it’s hard to create an Asian American protagonist; an author has to depict a struggle to find one’s identity in a mixture of at least two cultures. Even with other racial backgrounds, the questions are the same: how does one create a character who’s influenced by so many cultures? How does one not fall victim to stereotypes and create a “genuine” character?

I get it, creating diverse characters is incredibly hard, and it’ll be years before the majority of authors can truly grasp and articulate the concept. Yet for each author who attempts at adding diversity to his or her book, for each reader who appreciates the attempt, all I have to say is there’s hope. As long as we keep discussing diversity in media and we keep demanding it, we’ll never be backtracking.