Reading Diversely In 2017

It’s time for another post about all the books I read in 2017! 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, say, 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!

Enjoy!

Gotta remember to pick up the sequels to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther, Vol. 1: A Nation Under Our Feet… it was amazing! I’m still so disappointed that Marvel decided to cancel the series.

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin features Braille in addition to illustrations with raised outlines, to give seeing kids an idea of what it’s like to be blind.

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall is a play about the last night of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. I’d love to see it performed someday!

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine was one of the most ingenious volumes of poetry I read all year – and since I read more poetry than usual, that’s saying something!

Toni Morrison’s A Mercy told the stories of, among others, a little black girl and a Native American woman a few years older.

Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers were reflections on race, ethnicity, gender, self-love, and so much more.

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! by Kate Schatz discussed many women of color + their contributions to the world.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara is an adorable little picture book aiming to introduce children to basic tenets of social justice.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui is an autobiographical graphic novel about a family of Vietnamese refugee… more specifically, one daughter’s attempt to figure out what on earth brought her parents – who came from disparate backgrounds and had very different upbringings – together.

I read the script of Moonlight by Barry Jenkins! FAVE FAVE FAVE.

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot put a humorous spin on the author’s experience with mental illness.

Lift Off: From the Classroom to the Stars by Donovan Livingston features the text of a recent Harvard Graduate School of Education convocation speech + is a musing on education, race, and equality! Would recommend to anyone tbh, but especially anyone who has even the slightest interest in becoming a teacher.

One of the POVs in Helen Benedict’s novel Sand Queen is that of Naema, a young Iraqi women. Additionally, several of the female veterans interviewed in her early work, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq – which inspired Sand Queen – are black or Latina.

Why I March: Images from the Woman’s March Around the World by Samantha Weiner featured photos of women on all seven continents. (Yes, even Antarctica! One of my favorite parts of the book lmao.)

Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter by Mark Gonzales is a truly beautiful exploration of what it means to claim both Muslim and Latino heritage in this day and age.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson was suuuuuper cute. Who doesn’t love gay penguins? (If you don’t, GET OUT. Lmao.)

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown told the story of legendary African-American jazz musician Melba Liston!

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Never Stopped Drawing by Kay Haring was a picture book introduction to one of the most famous modern gay artists.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young has been on my TBR list for aaaaaages and I’m so happy I finally read it! So beautifully told + illustrated.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee was a short and sweet book about two Korean kids and their adventures in a noisy, crowded swimming pool.

Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley was a SUPER inventive exploration on just how many cultures eat rice-based dishes! Even included recipes at the back of the book!

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai was a wonderful introduction to this activist and her work. Would be suitable for those too young for her memoir I Am Malala!

Finally got around to reading Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies, the grandmother of all LGBTQ+ children’s lit. A few days later I also read October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, her poetic musings on his death.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson told the story of the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest!

Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter doesn’t EXPLICITLY acknowledge that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were a couple, buuuut… I’m counting it here because we all know that the best gays are literary gays. Right?

-~-

All in all, I read twenty-eight diverse books in 2017! Since I only read one hundred books total, that naturally means that 28% of the books I read were diverse. Definitely not as many as I would have liked, but I guess I’ll add the caveat that 2017 was not a great reading year in many, many ways. It was actually rather lackluster! But I’m gonna try harder to read more diversely this year.

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… 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!

About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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2 Responses to Reading Diversely In 2017

  1. Shanti says:

    I read lotsss of diverse books last year… But I also had thoughts about the diverse books movement. For instance, I’m quite uncomfortable with the term person if colour, though it technically applies to me. I think it’s maybe more relevant on the US and not at all in my life? And I also realised that I’m much more interested in diversity as it intersects with setting rather than just isolated in a generic American smallish town where so much contemporary YA is set. Like being a gay latino man in San Francisco is different to being a gay latino man in Lahore, and when that difference of experience is not part of the diversity it doesn’t really work for me ( unrelated, I now want to read a book about a gay latino journalist who moes from SF to Lahore…) Anyway, some of my favourite diverse reads were Truth and Dare by Non Pratt ( disability and Pakistani rep yas!) and Radio Silence by Alice Iseman ( a huge variety of queer rep plus a biracial character)

  2. Mahima says:

    I think that two remarkable books I read last year were THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty and BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates. You definitely convinced me to buy Coates’ book and it was such a beautiful piece of writing that I read at the height of the summer of fear that was 2017.

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