A Top Fifteen List of Diversity in YA Science Fiction & Fantasy by Kristyn Dorfman
I often see, at conferences, in conversations with colleagues, and on social media people lamenting the lack of diversity in the publishing world. This refers to the people who are publishing books, the people who are reviewing books, and really anyone involved in the process from ideation to finished product. This has been especially pertinent when talking about children’s and YA literature.
Our readers need to see and hear diverse voices and perspectives. It is imperative that everyone have the opportunity to see themselves and, of course, that everyone have the opportunity to see outside their own cultural and social lens. These are the things we are talking about, that are important and vital, and we are, hopefully, growing and evolving. In that same vein, we are not simply relying on ticked boxes. We need books that tell a story inherent to that experience. A character that is not a stand alone trope but embodies what it means to have these particular qualities.
We need to hear diverse voices in all types of books. Speculative fiction, in particular, is popular in children’s and YA literature. These are books that show readers what could be not what is. They do not have to be rooted in reality and because of that are free from many constraints. Despite this freedom to reach outside of the tried and true we are seeing the same worlds populated by the same types of people and similar types of stories.
Speculative fiction is amazing because it can take the experiences and problems of our current world and investigate them deeply under the guise of a world not our own or a world long past. Alternate history fiction, forces us to think about how the past impacts who we are and where we are today. Science Fiction and Fantasy create worlds either completely free of the restrictions of our own or similar to our own but allowing for distance, forcing us to dig deeper.
Readers unfamiliar with these experiences may enjoy the story and believe they are this other world’s problems, but if they stop and think about the concerns and experiences they may not have thought about before and learn and grow from them, all the better. At the same time, readers familiar with these experiences, are shouting yes, finally, a voice for who I am and what I feel. A story that speaks to what I know.
It is important for readers to read and feel these diversity of voices and experiences in speculative fiction. When we think about popular series we imagine a white, straight, able default. Why?
We are making amazing strides, though let’s not applaud ourselves yet, we have a ways to go as many publishing statistics have pointed out. (https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp & http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/)
Let’s keep pushing those boundaries!
Here is a Top Fifteen List of Diverse Science Fiction/Fantasy YA books:
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
A fantasy world based on African folklore that interweaves issues of race and power.
Also check out this Q & A with author Tomi Adeyemi from CBC Diversity
Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza (Blood of a Thousand Stars)
A multicultural Science Fiction revenge story. What could be bad?
The Reader by Traci Chee (The Speaker)
Safia is a survivor who is searching for who kidnapped her Aunt and murdered her Father.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (A Crown of Wishes)
A beautifully written fantasy world heavily influenced by Indian mythology.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
A fantasy world where a select few, the belles, have the power to control beauty but they are in turn powerless and fetishized.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cόrdova (Bruja Born)
Alex comes from a family of brujas, in modern day Brooklyn, but when she tries to reject her powers she accidently sends her family to Los Lagos, a purgatory, where she must now save them.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
An East Asian inspired fantasy about Xifeng, the ultimate anti-heroine, who fights for her destiny.
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
A detailed and diverse Science Fiction story set in the future with an Autistic protagonist, written by an Autistic author, discussing among other things the question of human worth.
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (The Ship Beyond Time)
A biracial time traveler trying to save her mother at the risk of her own existence.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
An alternate American History, involving the walking dead, that is just as brutal and violent as reality.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (Shadowhouse Fall)
Sierra’s family are shadowshapers, who connect with spirits through murals and music, but her family and friends are slowly disappearing at the hands of an evil anthropologist who uses their cultural magic for his own nefarious purposes.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Warrior)
Albino Nigerian-American Sunny, living in Nigeria, discovers she has magical powers and must stop a killer.
Want by Cindy Pon
Jason must stop the corruption of a near future Taiwan.
Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Feral Curse & Feral Pride)
A supernatural suspense story set in an alternate Austin filled with shapeshifters trying to find the truth.
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Aaron considers memory alteration to erase the feelings he has for a male friend, that does not fit into the world he knows.
Don’t stop here though, there are so many amazing stories out there. Keep going. Keep reading.
Please include all the ones you believe should be here in the comments!
Kristyn Dorfman is a Middle and Upper School Librarian (grades 5-12) at The Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She is a native Brooklynite and the mother of two amazing little people. You can often find her behind a book, behind a cup of coffee, or singing Broadway musicals off key at inappropriate times.