Let’s talk about diversity in Young Adult fiction

Image: Unsplash – Glen Noble

[Nariece Sanderson | Contributing Writer]

Back in December, the world was faced with a re-imagining of the characters of the Harry Potter series. The casting of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (due to hit the West End in July) caused an online eruption of opinion. The matter of an older Hermione being portrayed by a black woman (Noma Dumezweni) provoked a variety of opinions. Thankfully, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, stepped in on Twitter to express her support and “love” of “black Hermione”.  

Rowling points out, Hermione was never actually defined as white or not. With this in mind, I began to consider diversity in Young Adult (YA) fiction. Having worked in a children’s bookshop for around two years, I have realised that ethnically diverse picture books are a struggle to find. Strangely enough, the same can be said for YA fiction. However, after Rowling’s tweet, I now wonder if I just assume that most protagonists are white. It’s a strange assumption to make, being mixed-race myself. What if my shelves are actually rife with diverse protagonists?! Nowadays, I think race in fiction is all down to the reader’s perception, guided with a helpful nudge from the author’s description and possibly a front cover.

Some YA authors write race as a prominent feature of their work. For example, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series explores the conflicts and dilemmas posed by race segregation and class (amazing, by the way. Read it!) Yet, for some stories, sometimes race isn’t always an integral element of the plot. Thus, it isn’t always defined or made clear. This is also a fair choice to make.

As part of a Creative Writing module, my class was directed to read an interesting article by MariNaomi entitled “Writing People of Color” on midnightbreakfast.com. She writes that a simple name change doesn’t really change a character’s race. Race and ethnicity will greatly alter a character’s background. As MariNaomi states:

“Background can affect what this person eats for lunch, their views toward religion, politics, war, death, and pretty much everything.”

In 2016, we are seeing more and more authors write LGBT+ YA fiction. A refreshing and significant development, these books are finally getting the positive attention they need. (I keep meaning to read The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson. I shelve it every week!) However, I think it’s also crucial that teens and young adults read more ethnically diverse characters too. Maybe, once the publishing industry stops flooding book covers with white protagonists, more young readers can start to imagine ethnically diverse characters. Perhaps one day, a “black Hermione” won’t cause any debate.  

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Let’s talk about diversity in Young Adult fiction