Diversity in YA Lit–We Need It!

DiversityHello everybody! >throws snow in your face< Seasons greetings!

Heh heh. Aren’t I hilarious?

So when I first started Girl Knows Books, when I was but a wee elementary school student who was vastly dorky and ignorant of many, many things, I did not see the book world as incredibly complicated. At all. I had a vague idea of the process that goes into creating a book, and that those books got shipped to bookstores and stuff and people bought them, and they liked them or didn’t like them, etc., etc. But over the years, it’s being revealed that there is so much more–more and more facets to consider and pay attention to. The book industry is a big place, and there are many different things that are a part of it and the books we read.

One of these revelations came when I was surfing the Internet (as I am terribly wont to do) and I came across this amazing Tumblr, created by Young Adult authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo. This Tumblr focuses on the diversity found in Young Adult literature, and, too often, the lack thereof. And there is a lack, trust me.

Take a look at this picture:

"Diversity in Children's Books" by Tina Kugler
“Diversity in Children’s Books” by Tina Kugler

Then take a look at this infographic from First Book:

Lack of Diversity--First BookBoth of these show deeply troubling facts about children’s books–there is a distinct, gaping hole in their diversity. A HUGE hole. A MAMMOTH hole.

A VERY VERY VERY VERY NOT GOOD HOLE.

While these aren’t dealing with YA literature, the same is true there, as well–while YA is full of vastly different stories, plots, and settings, the diversity of its characters is. . .well.

But it’s not even just in YA or children’s.

In the Combined Print & E-Book Fiction (adult) bestsellers list of The New York Times, out of 124 authors, 3 were people of color. And there were NO African Americans.

There are more and more examples of similar situations. (Like this.) It’s definitely a problem.

I think one of the best things about books is the fact that you can see yourself in them. When you’re reading about a character and you realize that they feel something you thought only you felt. When you don’t feel alone. When you see your culture represented. When you see yourself in the book.

That feeling is great. But without diversity, how are more people going to be able to experience it?

Diversity--GlobeNot to mention the fact that it’s pretty amazing to be able to look at a bookshelf in a library or store and see all the different colors and facets of the characters, white, black, Latino, Asian, straight, gay, transgender, boy, girl. Humanity, reflected in the written word.

This problem even extends to book covers, too. There have been books that feature characters of color that have white people on the covers, or covers designed so that the race of the model is hidden. Author Ellen Oh writes here about the huge amounts of gorgeous white girls on books. It’s just more disheartening.

We need diversity to show the beauty of the many, many cultures present on Earth, and to help show that everyone (everyone) is beautiful, no matter what they look like, what they identify with, etc.

Luckily, though, there’s hope. The Diversity in YA Tumblr, for instance, is great for getting the word out about diversity-related issues, and also spotlights diverse books and book covers. (Here, they’ve collected diverse book covers from 2013 YA lit.) Getting people to know about it is important to finding a solution. While the lack of diversity is incredibly sad, and it would be great to see the numbers increase, there are a lot of amazing books that feature diverse characters. Maybe they just need more attention, so they can reach more people. There’s Walter Dean Myers’ books. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman. Two Boys Kissing by David Leviathan.

Really, this is just sort of a post that resulted from me wanting to talk about this, and I apologize if it’s disorganized. But seriously, check out those links. There is A LOT to see. (You can also see more about that illustration and infographic here and here.)

What diverse books do you know of? If you leave them in the comments or email me, I’ll put them together into another post!

Have a great day!

Literary Quote of the Day: “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” –Maya Angelou

P.S. Two posts? IN ONE DAY?! >falls over< You probably shouldn’t get used to it.

So I’ve Been Thinking About Gay Rights

Hi everyone! Before I get started. . .

HAPPY BANNED BOOKS WEEK!!!!!!

Yay!
Yay!

Yep. It’s that time of year again. That post is forthcoming (hopefully), but that’s not what I’m focusing on today.

So right now I’m reading a book called The Miseducation of Cameron Post, written by Emily M. Danforth. Cameron, the main character, is a lesbian adolescent living in Montana. Eventually, she’s sent to God’s Promise, a facility dedicated to eradicating “homosexual sin” in the “disciples” it hosts. Cameron participates in one-on-ones with the people in charge, support groups, etc. And, of course, it got me thinking about what gay people have to deal with, gay rights, and stuff like that.

Then, today, I saw pictures on Tumblr of people in Russia who have been protesting the anti-LGBTQ actions that have been taking place there. They’re being violently assaulted, arrested, and all manner of awful, awful things are being done to them. This ticks me off SO MUCH. (Trust me; I’m punching my keyboard pretty hard right now.) It’s just. . .AGH. It needs to stop, as soon as possible.

Many books have been banned for homosexual content, also. One such book is And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. It’s a book about a baby penguin being brought up by two adult penguins in a zoo. . .but both of said adult penguins are male. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Steven Chbosky’s famous book about Charlie, a freshman in high school, has also been banned for homosexual content, among other things.

If you believe homosexuality is a sin because of your religion, that’s okay with me. But if you think that it should be illegal for gay or lesbian couples to get married, I start to really want to have an argument. Forcing your beliefs on others like that just isn’t okay in my opinion. If a gay couple is in love and wants to get married, why the heck not?All Out

Homophobia isn’t just a problem in Russia, it’s a problem across the world. All Out, an organization hoping to stop this, has a website that shows that in 76 countries, being LGBT is illegal. In some, it’s a valid reason for a death penalty.

These people aren’t wrong or “tainted” by how they feel about members of the same sex; they just want the same rights, and to be allowed to marry those they love.

Allout.org has a lot of ways you can help with the fight for gay rights. (But, by the way, Stoli vodka is made in Latvia, not Russia. Don’t hurt the Latvians by boycotting it!) I definitely suggest you go check it out! They’re doing a lot of great things to try to solve the horrible problems some people are facing. This video of theirs sums it up pretty well, and what they’re doing is really awesome:

Anyway, I guess that’s about it for today. If you want to, feel free to email me and I will gladly send you a detailed rant expanding on this. (I’m only sort of kidding.) Hopefully there will be a Banned Books Week post coming soon? I hope? Heh heh.

Have a great Friday everyone!

Literary Quote of the Day: “We are political novelists who do not wish to be political.” –Author David Leviathan, on gay writers

Hey! Hey! You! Look At This Cool Thing!

Hi everyone! I know I just posted yesterday, but I found something that I think is really neat and special and I thought I’d post a link to it.

There’s a blog on Tumblr called Diversity in YA, and what it does is talk about, well, diversity in Young Adult literature. Or, too often, it’s talking about the lack thereof.

I’ll probably write a longer, more detailed post about this at some point, but for right now I’ll just give you the link. It really is a cool blog, and I highly recommend you take a look. Have a great day everyone!

P.S. Here’s another cool thing you guys might enjoy: Refuting the Intolerably Stupid. She reviews Young Adult books, too, and it’s really a great blog. Go check her out!

Good Omens

Jeez, you’d think since it’s summer I’d be posting more often. . .I apologize! Now that I actually am posting, the book of the day is Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. And there’s one thing I would like to say right off the bat: I have never read any other book that made the end of the world so funny. So that is a definite plus! Besides that. . .well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, obviously, the world is going to end. And in Good Omens, it’s going to end in just a few days. But we humans aren’t the only ones who aren’t exactly keen on everything going BANG. Aziraphale and Crowley, an unlikely duo made up of an angel and a demon, would rather the Earth stay intact also. Unfortunately, fate isn’t really on their (and our) side.

This book is kind of hard to describe, really. It features Anathema Device, who’s “psychic, you see.” It features Newton Pulsifer, Witchfinder Private, and his superior, Shadwell, Witchfinder Sergeant. It features the Them, a small gang living in the village of Tadfield in Oxfordshire, composed of Brian, Pepper, Wensleydale, and Adam, their leader. Oh, and another thing: Adam’s the Antichrist.

So this book isn’t about any one, or two, or three characters specifically. It’s about the Apocalypse and what happens to the characters as it approaches. And this book is good. It is most definitely good. The characters, the plot, the creativity shown throughout. . .it was great. Even if I didn’t get some of the references. Because they were British. And I’m not British. >cries<

Ahem. Anyway, the book was really enjoyable (in case you didn’t get the point). It’s funny, it’s smart-aleck-y, and the plot is really good. To me, Aziraphale and Crowley are the real stars of the novel; their scenes are most definitely my favorites, and I did find myself getting somewhat bored when they were out of the picture for a while. But really, that’s my only complaint. Overall, Good Omens is a great read, and I definitely recommend it. And no, it doesn’t feature zombies.

Literary Quote of the Day: “Just because you’re an angel doesn’t mean you have to be a fool.” —Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Eleanor & Park

GAH. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. Ergasmergh. Just. . .just ergasmergh. Really.

OK, collecting my thoughts, collecting my thoughts, gimme a sec. . .JUST ONE SEC. . .OK. I think I’ve got it. Let’s do this.

So, just a little while ago I started hearing really good things about this book. It’s currently being featured on Figment (a writing site for teenagers), and has gotten a ton of good reviews. (Including one from John Green, might I add.) So I decided to get it from the library and read it. (Plus, look at the cover art. That is some EPIC cover art.)

Eleanor & Park, written by the talented Rainbow Rowell, is the story of two sixteen-year-olds that meet one day in 1986. Eleanor has just moved to Omaha and needs a seat on the bus. Park is the only one who lets her sit down, very reluctantly so. Eleanor, well, she’s weird. You can tell. And Park, as one of the very few Asian kids in his entire school, already doesn’t fit in. And some chubby, oddly dressed redhead isn’t really going to make life easier for him. So he plugs in his Walkman and drowns everything out. Eleanor doesn’t talk to him, and he doesn’t talk to her.

Gradually, though, they do start to interact a bit. It starts with comics. It gains speed with music. And before you know it, they’re in love.

The one thing that really stuck with me about this book was the characters. Not just Eleanor and Park, but the others as well. Eleanor’s only other friends at school, DeNice and Beebi, are funny and extremely likable. The other kids on the bus, as well as the schoolteachers, are striking and unique. But Eleanor herself was probably my favorite character. In the second chapter, when she’s deciding to brave the bus and the merciless kids who tease her, and thinks, “Oh, fine. The children of hell shan’t go hungry on my watch,” I immediately thought, “I love her.” Her sarcastic comments are some of my favorite moments throughout the whole book. The things she and Park go through together are also amazing, and some of the things they say to each other might have made me actually stop reading and go, “Squueeeee!” Because they were–and are–that fabulous. And squee-inducing.

And though the ending might make you cry, or at the very least make you want to eat a whole tub of ice cream, reading this book is just so incredibly worth it. The main characters, though imperfect and not your oh-so-conventional pretty-girl and pretty-boy couple (which is great, because I wouldn’t like them nearly as much), will have you cheering for them the whole time. And their story is one that is entirely worth your time. So read it. Excuse me, I need to go eat some ice cream now.

Literary Quote of the Day: “‘The least boring Batman story ever, huh? Does Batman raise both his eyebrows?'” –Eleanor in Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

P.S. If you STILL aren’t totally convinced that you HAVE to read this book, take a look at John Green’s review in the New York Times.

The Fault in Our Stars

Okay, so I know I mentioned this in my last post, but I just loved it SO MUCH that I feel it deserves a review of its own. Plus, I just finished another book by the author, the incredibly awesome John Green, and then was reminded of this book, and one thing led to another, and POOF! New post.

This book is titled The Fault in Our Stars, and tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who spends most of her time inside rereading (and rereading and rereading and rereading) the same book over and over. That, and watching episodes of America’s Next Top Model. Until her mother convinces (or forces) her to start attending a cancer kids support group. It is at one of these meetings that Hazel makes the acquaintance of Augustus Waters, a  former osteosarcoma patient who immediately starts hanging out with her. And–

Okay, here’s the thing I’ve realized about this book: It’s an amazing book. It really is. And it is also a ginormous pain to describe. Like, I could write “And Hazel and Augustus embarked on a long journey of self discovery” or something equally formal, but that wouldn’t really fit in with the rest of the post, now would it? Basically, this story of Hazel and Augustus has a lot of stuff in it, like big ideas and champagne and romance and epicness and all that jazz that makes it so awesome and sad and thought-provoking. It’s a really good book. I love the writing, the story, and the characters (particularly the character’s names–John Green is a genius with names), and I think that other people would, too. It is totally worth a read. So go. Get it. Now.

Summer and Bird

Hello again! Happy December! The topic of today’s post is Summer and Bird, written by debut author Katherine Catmull. At the center of the story are two young girls, sisters, named (can you guess?) Summer and Bird. At first glance, the girls seem to live a fairly carefree life in the country with their parents. But let’s face it, life is never carefree, especially in novels. As the girls soon discover when they wake up one morning to find that both their mom and dad have disappeared overnight. Surprisingly, they do not take this opportunity to throw a huge party and wreck the house (guess they’re not old enough yet?). Instead, they set off on a search through the forest, but end up in quite a different place–the world of Down. Where lots of weird things happen. This book is full to bursting with fantastical imagery, and the adventures the girls go on are certainly creative. My only problem was that it wasn’t particularly gripping for me, but as far as books go, it’s definitely above the bar. Not one that especially sticks out, but it’s a good choice for fantasy lovers.

This Is Not A Drill

First of all, I’d just like to say that this book had me from. . .actually, the summary. Yeah, I know, that’s technically not even part of the story, but come on, haven’t you ever read the summary of a book and the idea was just so dang good that you just had to read that book because in your mind it was already awesome? No? Oh, god, that’s awkward. . .ahem. Anyway, then it can be a heartbreaking letdown when the book is actually bad (like, stomping-around-and-punching-pillows letdown), right? But (and I am thanking my lucky stars for this) this book was not a letdown, not to me at least. But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? First of all, the book in question is This Is Not A Drill, by Beck McDowell. At the center of the story are Emery Austin and Jake Willoughby, two high schoolers who are currently tutoring a first grade class in French. Which, when you think about it, is not necessarily easy in light of their recent breakup. But they’re managing it, despite the awkwardness. So of course the world decides to send them a curveball one day in the form of Brian Stutts. Brian Stutts, who happens to be a former solder form Iraq and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. And he’s in a room teeming with adorably innocent (kind of) first graders. With a gun. Yikes. . .but it is an awesome idea for a plot, don’t you think? The problem and tension only escalates as the day goes on, building up to the climax. As I have already stated, the plot is awesome, and the writing isn’t half-bad either. So go check it out. Now.

(Please?)

Revolution

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. . .such a good book! As in, it’s really good. It’s Revolution, written by Jennifer Donnelly, and the main character is Diandra Xenia Alpers, or just Andi. Andi has found herself a wreck for the last two years, ever since her brother Truman’s violent death–a death she blames herself for. Her parents are divorced, she’s popping antidepressant pills like chocolate chips, and, oh yeah, she’s about to be expelled from one of the most select and expensive schools in Brooklyn Heights. What a fabulous life! But things are about to get much more shaken up. Suddenly, Andi’s father appears, fully prepared to whisk her away to Paris for winter break with him so she can finish her outline for her senior thesis (or else). Obviously, this isn’t optional. But in Paris, Andi makes a discovery she didn’t expect–the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a teenage player who lived during the French Revolution. Her story is one of first poverty and ambition, but soon becomes danger-wrought and increasingly treacherous. Andi becomes more and more sucked into the diary, silently cheering Alex on, despite the fact that the events described took place 200 years ago. But one night, the past and the present merge, and the result is. . .well, slightly strange. Okay, a lot strange, and more than a little frightening. This book was, as I think I pointed out before, awesome. While it may be considered thick by some (“How do you read that?!”), and perhaps a little confusing, it’s well worth the effort. The plot is definitely done well, and the writing’s great. All in all, a solid young adult novel.      So. . .go buy it. I command thee!

Odysseus in the Serpent Maze

As I’ve said before–and if you’re actually following this blog, you should know this–I am a mythology nut. As in, you’re reading something written by a kid who takes LATIN, even though it’s practically a dying language (Sorry, Ms. K., it’s true!). But anyway, this is one of the best mythology-based books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot). Odysseus in the Serpent Maze, a collaboration between Jane Yolen and Robert Harris, follows the adventures of young Odysseus and his best friend Mentor, and is one of those books I’ve read who-knows-how-many times. Odysseus is well known for being mischievous and getting into trouble a lot, but it still comes as a shock when he and Mentor are kidnapped by pirates, and meet Helen of Sparta and her clever cousin, Penelope. Eventually they find themselves on the island of Crete, home to the infamous Minotaur. However, the Minotaur is dead–the question is, what new terrible monster now dwells inside the maze? This book is full of action, danger, and just a bit of romance. It’s one of the reasons I got so obsessed with mythology when I was younger, and I think both boys and girls will enjoy it. You should definitely go take a look. (Oh, and there are other books, too! Just not about this particular hero.)

P.S. There was no image available at Powell’s Books for a link, so it’s here it is.