It’s time for another post about all the books I read in 2016! Today, I’m talking about the diverse books I read last year. Diversity in literature is really important to me and I make an effort to seek out books with diverse protagonists.
What counts as a diverse book, though? I decided to add books to my “diversity-in-literature” shelf if and only if they featured a diverse protagonist – or, if the book was narrated by several people, at least one diverse protagonist.
Here are the types* of diverse characters I looked for:
- LGBTQ+ protagonists
- Protagonists who are people of color
- Protagonists who follow a religion other than Christianity
- Disabled protagonists
*Why don’t I count books with female protagonists here? Wellll… I would need an entire post to give a thorough answer, but let’s just say that I don’t think it’s all that unusual anymore? Like, yes, there definitely are genres where women writers (+ characters!) are sadly underrepresented or devalued, but by and large it’s not that rare. Aaaand they don’t receive even close to the same amount of backlash that books with LGBTQ+ or POC protagonists get. Plus, I think that calling every book with a female main character diverse can sometimes be a cop-out because that book can still be super heteronormative, cisnormative, whitewashed, and so on and so forth. I truly don’t mind if others count those books as diverse, but I’m kind of wary of doing so. IDK, I guess the post 2016 Book Diversity by Hannah @ Hannah Reads Books got me thinking about how cool it is to see how differently everyone “does” diversity!
The following books are NOT listed in the order in which I read them – instead, they’re vaguely grouped by author, genre, subject matter, et cetera. Additionally, I’ve included my thoughts about each book/series!
P.S. Check out my previous bookish 2016 recap, about all one hundred books I read last year, right here!
Being Jazz: My Life As A (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings was a great memoir about Jazz’s childhood and activism. I was really impressed by her writing: She came across as a very mature young woman!
I was left not quite satisfied by the ending If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, but overall it was an enjoyable YA novel about a trans girl attending high school in the American south.
I feel like I haven’t shut up about Gay & Lesbian History For Kids by Jerome Pohlen since I read it this summer because AHHH IT WAS SO GOOD. I think it’s actually better suited to teens and adults because it’s written at a fairly complex level?!
Batwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology by J.H. Williams III was just as good as I’d expected it to be. I need to get back into this series because I sort of let it fall by the wayside this past year and writing about it for this post just made me remember how much I miss this character. Yay for lesbian superheroines!
I was absolutely THRILLED to find out that Amber, the protagonist of Derek Landy’s Demon Road series, is revealed to be a lesbian in the second book, Desolation. Yayyyy for super gay paranormal YA! I was getting tired of how heteronormative most paranormal YA is…
The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes To Their Younger Selves by Sarah Moon et al was hugely motivating to read. Each author had something great to say in their letter!
Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus by Rachelle Lee Smith inspired me to want to do ALLLL of the gay photoessays!
Tillie Walden’s super short graphic novel I Love This Part offered a glimpse at the day-to-day lives of two middle school girls in love with one another. I think I ultimately wanted something more from this story, but I loved the illustrations! Super cute!
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov has a gay man as the main character, which I did not expect from a book published in 1962. I have conflicting feelings about it now because from what I’ve read, Nabokov was a homophobe, but in his attempts to ridicule his protagonist I think he actually just pinpointed the idiosyncrasies of heterosexuality? I don’t know.
…does Is Your Cat Gay by Charles Kreloff even go here? Whatever. I’m counting it. My roommate gave it to me as a Christmas present and I laughed for about ten minutes solid afterward.
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney was a BRILLIANT look at life with bipolar II disorder. Points for having LGBTQ+ diversity, too!
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh is about, among other things, dealing with depression. I can’t wait for the sequel, Solutions and Other Problems, which is due to be published later this year!
I’m pretty sure my acting professor can read minds, because he assigned me a scene from Proof by David Auburn for my final exam. It’s a play about math and a family history of mental illness, which is just… well. It may as well have been my childhood that the author was writing about.
Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts is a wonderful graphic novel about a mixed-race (Mexican-American) family whose youngest daughter has cystic fibrosis. The sections about this little girl on the Day of the Dead made me cry!
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick features a Deaf protagonist and is told in the same wonderful combination of prose and illustrations as his previous novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret!
Some of the four stories in Will Eisner’s A Contract with God – which was the first ever graphic novel! ahhh! – have Jewish protagonists. I was a liiittle disappointed by how quickly each of the stories wrapped up, but I’m happy that I finally read this classic work because I’ve heard so much about it!
I HATED Sam Lipsyte’s short story collection Venus Drive, which I had to read for school, because there were some super misogynistic and homophobic parts. Like… rape jokes are never funny?! Ugh. Some of the major characters were Jewish, though, so I suppose it goes on this list anyway.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy is a wonderfully informative picture book about our nation’s first Jewish woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice! It made me super excited to learn more about her. My mom really admires her but I have to admit that I don’t actually know a lot about RBG.
I related SO HARD to Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samanci because I also really struggle to balance creativity with success. I feel like I’ve failed as an artist like 99.9% of the time…
Issun Bôshi: The One-Inch Boy by Icinori was a beautifully illustrated picture book based on a classic Japanese fairy tale and reminded me that I need to find and read more fairy tales from other cultures! Eeee!
Renee Ahdieh’s debut novel The Wrath and the Dawn was quite possibly the BIGGEST letdown of all my 2016 reads, but… hey, the concept was good. (It’s a loose retelling of “One Thousand and One Nights.” A bit TOO loosely based for my tastes, but that’s beside the point.)
Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan has four protagonists, some of whom are POC. I’m so excited for the next installment in this super weird series!
Hinges, Book One: Clockwork City by Meredith McClaren was… like… if robots met the plot of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and the whole thing was set in Japan?! It was very confusing but I enjoyed it. I think.
I got on a bit of a history kick towards the end of the year, which led to me reading Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricia C. McKissack and Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm, both graphic novels about African-American figures I remember learning about back in elementary and middle school.
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson continued the adventures of Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American girl and Muslim superheroine WHO SO DESERVES HER OWN MOVIE. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, MARVEL STUDIOS? ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?
I read Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s extremely creative novel about life in Jamaica, Trench Town Rock, for my Travel Writing class. I’m still in awe of how experimental it is! I don’t think I’m yet bold enough to write anything like that.
Saga, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan featured just as much diversity as the previous books in terms of race and sexual orientation, but this time a trans woman character was added into the mix! Ahhh! I’m so happy!
Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act – as well as its sequels, Vol. 2: Fandemonium and Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide – quickly became one of my favorite diverse graphic novel series I’ve read in a long time. Sooo many different races, sexual orientations, and gender identities are represented here! Yay for diverse urban fantasy! I need to get my hands on the fourth volume ASAP.
Last but most certainly NOT least is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was the best book I read all year. It’s an extremely powerful account of racism and police brutality told in the form of a letter from a man to his teenage son. I would recommend it to EVERYONE.
All in all, I read thirty-two diverse books in 2016! Since I only read one hundred books total, that means that 32% of the books I read were diverse. That’s not bad: I read about the same number every year. I think it would be GREAT if I get that percentage up around 50% this year, but I’m not going to write it down as a formal goal because god knows I already have enough on my plate this year. Instead, I’ll just keep that idea at the back of my mind and try my hardest, when selecting books, to pick diverse stuff.
Your turn! Tell me: What diverse books did you read last year? (And which were your favorites?) Which ones would you like to tackle this year? Did I convince you to read any of the books mentioned here?
P.S. Please leave recommendations of your favorite diverse books in the comments below… this year, I’m particularly interested in books that combine mental health/mental illness with another diverse quality such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, et cetera! Thank you so much!