A Top Fifteen List of Diversity in YA Realistic Fiction by Kristyn Dorfman
Hello again! You may recall I recently posted about Diversity in Speculative Fiction but I felt like it was also important to highlight some amazing realistic reads.
I firmly believe that everyone should be able to see themselves in the stories they read and, of course, also see, lives different than their own. There are so many amazing stories out there in the world that should be shared but often, we only see and hear an echo chamber of the same experiences and worldviews.
I was recently listening to a podcast, and there was a conversation about publishers dismissing a book because they “already published a book with an Asian protagonist” or that a person can only encompass so many identifiers in one story. Can you imagine the same quote with, “ we already published a book with an able-bodied, cis, straight, white female.” It’s almost laughable…almost.
I also think about covers of books as I copy and paste these cover images. I think in the past 10 years that I have worked in libraries, there has been a shift, albeit a small one, in what we see on the cover of a book. I think about my New Fiction book shelf now, that faces my desk, and the books facing out include The Poet X, The Children of Blood and Bone, The Place Between Breaths, Aru Shah and the End of Time, and Tyler Johnson was Here. I feel like in the past, even if the book had a person of color as a protagonist that wouldn’t be advertised on the cover because, “the just wouldn’t sell.” I think about If I was Your Girl, a book by a trans women that has a trans woman on the cover and think maybe we are making some progress. I mean, 9 years ago Liar by Justine Larbalestier had to fight for their cover. However, some progress should not delude us into thinking total progress.
There are situations and experiences that are inherent to certain identifiers and these should be expressed, noted and shared. These are different than the problem novels of yore and help readers feel less alone in the world. Readers enjoy reading things that reflect their lives and experiences back to them. Readers from different identifiers should also have a look into lives that they would not otherwise be able to fathom. Recently, at the School Library Journal Day of Dialog, I heard Tahereh Mafi say, and I’m paraphrasing, “You don’t realize what you don’t have until you have it.” What a beautiful moment it is to find it.
There are lot of different pieces and directions I could jump in but I think rather than going off on various tangents I’ll just jump right in and give you another top 15 list with 2017/2018 pub dates.
I’m gone throw in my favorite quote ever as well because it seems most appropriate. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi
Tareq has become a refugee after his home in Syria is bombed.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
A novel in verse about Xiomara who puts all of herself in her poetry while fighting to be truly heard by those around her including her strict religious mother.
Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
Scott is a known quitter who decides to take a roadtrip to Washington, D.C. to seek out a professor who writes about grit, and gets more than he bargained for along the way.
Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Maya is torn between the world her parents want for her, that of a good Indian daughter, and her dream world, that does not fit that mold, when a terrorist attack alters the life she has always known.
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Leah is less privileged than her group of friends, growing up with a single mom, who is the only that knows she is bisexual. With senior year upon her she finds that things are more complicated than she is prepared for. (Companion to Simon vs. The Homosapien Agenda)
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Mei Lu is a freshman, a year early, at MIT and her parents have a lot of expectations for her. Mei does not have the same dreams as her parents and hopes to forge her own path without losing her relationship with her family.
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
The only deaf student in a mainstream school, after being suspended from her original school and majority deaf environment, for covering up a slur with her graffiti, Julia uses graffiti to express herself but finds herself in the middle of a graffitti war.
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Danny is a second-generation Chinese American dealing with a lot including, his father’s job loss, guilt about a friend’s death, finding a deep family secret, and trying to understand his feelings for his best friend Harry.
Let’s Talk about Love by Claire Kann
Alice is a freshman in college and is all about love, however, she has no interest in sex and does not understand why the two have to go hand in hand. Everyone knows she is bisexual, it’s the asexual part that’s hard to share and when Alice meets Takumi she rediscovers who she is.
From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon
Twinkle Mehra is an aspiring filmmaker who has the opportunity to direct a movie for a Summer Festival with the twin brother of her longtime crush.
The Place Between Breaths by An Na
Grace is interning at a lab working on finding a cure for Schizophrenia but when it seems like pieces are starting to fit together Grace also begins to feel like she’s falling apart.
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Moss is suffering from panic attacks after the murder of his father by Oakland police while also dealing with the police terrorizing him at school.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
A novel in verse about Shawn who plans to avenge his brother’s murder but meets seven ghosts from his past on the elevator ride down.
After The Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
Bunny has transferred schools for a better opportunity at receiving a scholarship but in the process leaves his best friend Nasir behind and when Nasir’s cousin Wallace gets into trouble he asks Bunny to do something that could change his life forever.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce is one of the best in his class at the elite private school he attends but it does not stop him from dealing with discrimination from his classmates and from the police.
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 show tunes off key at inappropriate times.