So this post came out of nowhere. I have a vague list of possible post topics for this month, but this one’s not on it – because I got the idea for it only last night, after publishing a list titled 58 YA Novels That Would Be Better With Lesbians.
At the end of that post, I talked about how we need more diversity in fiction AND how those stories need to have fun, creative plots as well. One of my reading pet peeves is a lack of minority characters… and it also frustrates me when when I finally do find a story with lots of diversity, only to discover that the plot is, well, dismal.
My reading requests are quite simple, to tell the truth:
- I want lots of diverse characters in fiction
- I want those diverse stories to have fun, creative plots
- I want diverse stories to acknowledge what makes their characters “different”
You see, the idea for this post actually came from two places: The post mentioned above, and an earlier posted titled LGBTQ+ Stories Should Not Gloss Over Real LGBTQ+ Experiences.
In that post, I talked about how I’m tired of hearing readers – heterosexual readers – say they want stories in which the protagonist “just happens” to be queer. I don’t want to rant about it too much here because that would make this post unnecessarily long (and I’m trying to cut back on the average length of my posts), but the gist was that I am TIRED of reading stories that claim to have diverse characters… but instead, the author mentions a particular character’s minority status ONCE and then never mentions it again.
I don’t want to read stories that gloss over their characters’ diversity. I don’t necessarily want the diversity to make up the ENTIRE story, but I do want it to play a BIG role in the story.
In the case of LGBTQ+ novels, this could include frequent (and thorough!) discussions of coming out, falling in love with someone of the same gender, homophobia, transitioning, beginning to immerse oneself in queer culture, et cetera. There are soooo many possibilities.
I definitely don’t want stories where the characters “just happen” to be queer; that’s lazy, lousy writing. I want stories in which characters’ queerness is important and necessary to the plot. But their identity certainly doesn’t have to form the ENTIRE plot.
It is surprisingly hard to find stories like this.
I’ve noticed that a lot of stories have either a great plot or lots of diversity: I haven’t read many that include both. Very few popular YA standalones/series have diversity.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is an excellent example of the first type of story: She creates GREAT plots. She developed richly detailed histories for each and every character, gave those characters marvelous and meaningful names, and created a complex, fascinating magical society. She writes amazing plot twists that leave me sitting there, open-mouthed, going, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming. I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.”
She also SUCKS at writing diversity.
She didn’t include any canonically queer characters, and is only marginally better at including characters of different races. This is one of the reasons I slowly drifted away from the Harry Potter fandom and eventually left it altogether – because that’s just not what I want from the fantasy I read.
David Levithan’s books are a perfect example of the second type of story: Many (all?) of his novels have diverse protagonists. I REALLY appreciated the amount and variety of queer characters he included in Two Boys Kissing, for example, but the plot itself put me to sleep.
I love the amount of diversity in his stories. I don’t love how dull his plots are, though… and it doesn’t seem like he puts very much effort into thinking up a brand-new plot for each novel?! The first Levithan book I ever read (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) was boring, and then all the others (that I’ve read) were the same! It made me a VERY SAD ENGIE because I was expecting… um, I don’t know, a bit more pizzazz?
So I just gave you two examples: One author who has wonderful plots but lackluster diversity, and another author who has wonderful diversity but lackluster plots.
Are there any authors who create wonderful plots and include loads of diversity? WHY YES THERE ARE. I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED. I haven’t found nearly as many authors whose books belong to this third group of stories, but they definitely exist. It’s just a little harder to find them.
IMHO, the best in this tiny group of authors is Malinda Lo. She has published four novels (of which I have read three), one novella, and a smattering of short stories. AND THEY’RE SO SO GOOD.
Ash is a lesbian retelling of “Cinderella,” and Huntress (the one I haven’t yet read) is the prequel. Adaptation and Inheritance are a dystopian fiction duology with a bi main character. Her novella and short stories are also either fantasy or sci fi, and feature queer characters as well.
- Her characters are HELLA DIVERSE
- Her plots are fun, creative, well-written, complex, intriguing, et cetera
- Her stories don’t gloss over her characters’ queerness (or race!) ; instead, they explore how those attributes affect the lives of those characters
Her stories are emphatically not “Ooh, let’s put in some diverse characters and WHO GIVES A CRAP about having a halfway decent plot?!” No. Ash has all these wonderful themes about love and loss and loneliness and various other thingies that don’t begin with the letter L. Malinda Lo weaves this subplots in and out of the standard Cinderella story, all the while making frequent mention of her protagonist’s interest in other women.
Adaptation and Inheritance, meanwhile, are about aliens. And government conspiracies. And Area 51. And natural disasters. And in the midst of all those glorious plots and subplots, Lo finds time to discuss things like gender and biphobia and the mass media’s fraught relationship with queer celebrities.
I love this. I love what she’s doing in the world of YA fiction. It really makes a difference, having diverse stories that A) don’t gloss over their characters’ minority status and B) have fun, creative, unusual plots. I’ve had to reimagine many of my favorite stories because at times it seems like straight characters/couples get all the good plots. But there are definitely some diverse stories that meet these criteria, that meet my criteria. There may not be as many of them as I’d like, but thank god they exist… it’s just taken me a while to find them.