Diversity in Fiction - Not everyone is white, wealthy and straight

Diversity is more than a movement in young adult fiction, it's a need for readers to be represented by all walks of life rather than just the token character. In recent years, there has been a call within the young adult reading community for authors to create realistic fiction that represent teen communities. But when does a movement become real change and what can you do as a reader to help?

I asked our teen and young adult community for their thoughts on relatable characters, representation and how we can support the call for diversity beyond a trending hashtag. Please be mindful that readers are sharing their personal journeys.

Hannah - #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Actually buying diverse books is a very, very important way to help. The success of this movement rests on supporting creators and publishers who are putting out quality diverse content, preferably by diverse creators. Moral support is important, but monetary support for creators helps ensure their ability to work, and strong sales numbers allow publishers to bring on similar projects when they might have received resistance before.

If you read a particular diverse book that strikes a chord in you, please recommend it far and wide.

Visit We Need Diverse Books Website  Twitter  Facebook

The Publicist

Publisher’s certainly look at what’s getting traction with readers when considering whether to acquire a book, so if there’s a high demand for titles told from a particular perspective or exploring a certain theme, this will certainly work its way into the acquisition discussions. That being said, originality is a big factor too. We all like to read something new, whether that be a character we haven’t seen represented before or a theme that hasn’t thoroughly been teased out in the genre yet. In this way, diversity finds its way into acquisition meetings and can actually become a selling point for the book. Particularly when it comes to literary fiction, a genre people expect to push the boundaries a bit.

Kynndra - Emotional Support

Diversity is a slow factor in today's YA novels, there's no doubt about it. Over the years, I've seen books adapting to this movement - but I don't think we're there quite yet. As a teenager, I always found it unsettling and common where I'd read a book only to discover that I couldn't feel anything relatable in the characters or stories I read. We've all been there, I'm sure of it. Where you've come out of a book and found you took nothing from it on an emotional level. Everything and everyone was made to be so perfect. I can't tell you how important it is for a kid to see themselves portrayed in the media - whether it be in books, movies or television shows. Teenagers are naturally sheltered creatures - we have a knack for pushing our feelings / true selves all deep inside for fear of judgement either by our parents or our peers. It doesn't matter what spectrum of diversity they fall in, it could be in aspects such LGBT, race, mental health, religion, abuse, or disability. There is a never ending list of what accounts as 'diverse'.

I only just started getting back into reading in 2014, my eleventh grade of high school. I went back to reading because I was going through a really hard time at that point. Throughout my junior and senior year I suffered bouts of depression and anxiety due to my poor home life and about a hundred other issues. Books were, and still are my escape to this day. When I shut myself up in my room I sought out the characters and the stories that allowed me to see myself within those printed words. I sought out the fictional boys and girls who had struggles and tribulations much like my own because I drew strength from their experiences. While I know it's all make belief, these diverse and relatable stories are what got me through the darker times in my life, just like I know they've helped out thousands of other people too.

Diversity is so important for the Young Adult crowds because it reminds us we're not alone. It reminds us that somewhere out there - regardless if it's in a fictional world or the real world that there is someone who's going through the same things we are. If a kid is somehow diverse, often times they are the outcasts, or are ridiculed and bullied for that one thing that makes them them. And if they can somehow feel more included, more prevalent by reading what their going through in a book I promise that it does make a huge impact on their lives. I speak from personal experience and nothing more. When I found YA books that dealt with depression, and abuse I took so much comfort in those words because for once I could see me. I, as a teenager cannot stress how vital it is for a kid to be seen and acknowledged in a world that is so afraid of difference.

Find Kynndra via Twitter  Tumblr  Goodreads

Daniel - Race and Sexuality

I'm a Korean - Canadian male teenager, and it's safe to say that there's not a lot of 'me's in YA literature. Most of the lead characters nowadays are female, and even when they're male, they're most certainly not Korean. In fact, the only Korean male I've ever encountered is Minho from The Maze Runner. Would I like to see more Koreans in YA literature? Sure.

But here's the thing. I don't find race diversity quite as important as something like diversity in sexuality of YA characters. And here's why. Right now, in YA books, your background and ethnicity doesn't really seem to influence your character. In other words, characters' identities don't seem to be shaped by their beginnings. I'll use Minho as an example. The fact that he's Asian doesn't really change anything about who he is. Even if he were white, or black, readers would have fallen in love with his sassy, strong character just as easily.

I agree that we need to acknowledge all races in YA literature, and it is important to feature characters from various backgrounds, but in terms of relatability, race doesn't really appear to matter. Let's look at diversity in sexuality. THAT matters. Sexual orientation is a massive part of your identity, and makes a character instantly relatable to readers. But race? Not as much. I didn't relate to Minho more because he was Korean.

And here's the problem. The problem is not just the fact that we need more characters of different races and backgrounds, but also that authors need to find a way to make their races matter. As a Korean - Canadian, I can say that my race matters to me - I would be a completely different person if I were not from Korea. I embrace my background. In order for authors to create more relatable ethnically diverse characters, they need to make race and background a bigger part of the characters' identities. So, author, you've chosen to include some black characters, some Asians, and some Latin Americans in your book. Great. Why?

Why does it matter that they're white, or black, or Asian? How does that shape who they are? If authors want to succeed in creating relatable characters of different backgrounds, these are the kinds of questions they should be answering. In short, it's not enough to just throw in diverse characters for the sake of diversity. Everyone's race impacts them in some way, and authors have to find a way of displaying that more in their works.

Find Daniel via Sporadic Reads  Twitter Goodreads

Chiara - The Importance of LGBTQIA+

The diverse book movement in the YA community has been pretty big as of late. There’s been the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks that took Twitter by storm, and there have been countless posts around the blogosphere consisting of lists of diverse books.

When there’s diverse talk in terms of LGBTQIA+ novels, I typically see the same few books on everyone’s lists. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because at least those books are getting their deserved spotlight, but it feels a bit repetitive. Like everyone sees these same few titles and think that they’re the only LGBTQIA+ YA novels out there.

And yet, I see people calling for more LGBTQIA+ novels. But still sharing these same titles over and over again. What about all the other LGBTQIA+ novels that have been released, and have gone by without a second glance from this community? Why isn’t anyone reading them?

There are numerous LGBTQIA+ novels out there. Definitely not nearly as many as cishet (cisgender/heterosexual) novels, but enough that if you genuinely want to read more LGBTQIA+ novels, it’s really not that hard to find some. You might have to traverse Goodreads for a few minutes, instead of just immediately seeing the book in your feed because everyone and their dog is adding it to their TBR.

Instead of simply calling for diversity and making lists and reading those same few titles that everyone else is, we need to support what diversity is already out there. Publishers aren’t going to increase the number of LGBTQIA+ novels they publish if those novels don’t receive the same kind of support as any cishet novel they publish. If you want a diverse book, go out and get it. Don’t just wish there were more, because chances are you haven’t read all there is. Because those few titles you see are not the only ones. I promise you.

If you want diverse books, you need to read them. Borrow them from the library. Buy them. Review them. If they’re wonderful, shout about it from the rooftops. Make a list of diverse books that include titles that aren’t on everyone else’s lists.

You can’t sit back and wait for change to happen. You’ve got to help push it along. Because your voice in this community matters. Because readers need to see themselves in the books they read – their identities and their experiences. Because books need to represent reality. Because we need diverse books.

Camryn - The voice of her generation

There aren’t many YA books that I can relate to. I don’t read them to relate to anything, actually, because I usually can’t connect to what the characters are going through. Girls fight over horrible boys, kids are out saving the world, and none of them have friends who look like me.

Except, I can’t go around saying that anymore, because it isn’t completely true. Now, we have characters who look like me and save the world. We have girls who look like me, but don’t talk like me. Characters that I should be able to, but can’t.

Part of the issue is that a lot of adults get into writing so much that they forget about their audience. I think it’s easy to get so into a story and forget who you’re writing it for. I’ve seen it lots of times during discussions online, where other teens and myself will try to participate and are excluded. It’s always made me feel odd, because we’re the demographic that these books are for, yet they don’t want our opinions.

It’s equally as weird when it has to do with both diversity and being a teen. I’ll say "Black teens don’t act like that," and I get shot down for being a teenager but also because I’m a black teenager that speaks up about these sorts of things. I’m always hearing about how black teens don’t read, not as much as white kids anyway, and I can’t help but think it would be different if the books were different.

I know that I get tired reading about the same stories over and over again. No, I cannot relate to a rich white girl who fights over a boy with her best friend, even though he sucks. I can’t relate to a teenager who steals a car and doesn’t get in trouble because their skin is white. I can’t relate to towns filled with white people.

Perhaps it’s just my own problem, but I’ve actually been avoiding these stories. The basic rule is that, if a book only features white characters, I stop reading. There are exceptions, but I don’t want to ignore the books written by people like me or even not like me.

Justina Ireland tweeted the other day about how people of color have had to basically live as white people to be taken serious and listened to for many times throughout their lives. They have to "embody whiteness" at work or at school to be taken seriously. That’s why a person of color can write a white character easily while a white person cannot do the same for a POC character. No one is asking them to bend to the methods and ways of POC, or even pay attention to us. I’ve noticed, because some white people get angry when I demand that they notice me.

Reading YA is fun a lot of the time because I can’t relate to what’s going on. I don’t always want to be reminded of my situation, after all, and a lot of the fun of reading is escaping to other worlds. But my favorite books are the ones that whisk me away while still connecting to me. I can read about princesses and understand their isolation. I can read about kids in magical corn fields and understand what it feels like to be noticed but not seen.

Most of all, I want to read stories about kids who are different from me, but they aren’t what we call the "norm"- straight, white, cisgender, etc. I want to read stories about non-binary kids and Indian kids and Jewish kids. I want to read stories about kids who are Muslim and kids who don’t know what they are yet.

There are so many different types of people, and the teenage years are a time of discovery. We don’t all discover the same thing, and yet we’re always told the same stories.

The most important thing is that the stories are told well. Often times, when we ask for diverse stories, we get authors who don’t know what they’re doing. They usually have a significant amount of privilege that allows them to be heard over other voices that actually aren’t part of the "norm." Lots of times, white authors write horrible black characters after refusing to research or listen to sensitivity readers. Cisgender authors don’t know enough about non-binary people and do a horrible job at rep.

I want to hear more stories, but I want to make sure that they’re told well. Teens deserve that much.

Find Camryn via Half Monster Girls  Twitter

Final Thoughts

As an adult who reads young adult novels, I want to thank teens for sharing their space. But as adults, we also need to recognise that we're not the intended audience and therefore may not find characters relatable, having grown up in a different era from the teens of today. Applaud great writing and authors who are advocates for inclusion and representation but as adults, we need to be mindful that authors first and foremost are writing for teens and they deserve to have their voices heard.

Thank you to Hannah, my publicist contact, Kynndra, Daniel, Chiara and Camryn Garrett

How do you feel about the current diversity we find in young adult reads? Do you find characters relatable?


  1. THIS POST IS SO ON THE POINT! I love everything that everyone said because it's so true! Just because you add an African American, or a Korean, or a Hispanic, etc, into a book, doesn't make that character anymore relatable if you don't discuss HOW they're different, what makes them different, how their upbringing has changed them. That's how you bring diversity into YA. This post is EPICAL! And I'm definitely going to bookmark it! <3

    Thank for your lovely thoughts, guys!

    1. Completely agree! Diversity should be celebrated and not just written as an afterthought or to placate readers for popularity.

  2. Great post! I especially like what Chiara was saying about LGBT+ books. There ARE so many titles out there, but people do tend to focus on the same ones. It makes sense though - they are the most popular. But dig and find the other titles out there and make sure they get love too! But in general, we do need diverse books. For teens and adults, but teens DEFINITELY could use more because this is the age of growing up and coming into your own (most of the time). Honestly, I feel like some of the books were a bit more diverse when I was growing up, or maybe I just didn't focus on what was necessarily popular and read whatever I wanted. I feel like those books were more diverse in race, especially.


    1. I can't tell you how many times I see a reader asking for a LGBT+ recommendation and the first book mentioned is always Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I haven't read it myself, but surely there's others beyond the mainstream, popular books that we can recommend. Or are readers not willing to take a chance and purchase a little known book? I think Aussie books in general are wonderful at showcasing our diversity. Not only background, but socioeconomic as well. That's one of the reasons I love Aussie YA so dearly, it's realism and representation.

  3. Oohh this is interesting. :) I really liked Chiara's point about reading what diverse books are already OUT and promoting them so that publishers know what we want! THAT IS SO TRUE. I think it's sad when only, like, a very few diverse books rise to the top and the others sort of just fade to oblivion. I do think it's important that people can "find" versions of themselves and people to relate to in books! Although I do think, sometimes, with diversity...we can lose sight of the fact that you can be part of a minority and your life can still be completely different to someone else in that same minority. I see a lot of books get slammed for being diverse because it's trendy and not representing it "right"...but there is really not ONE experience in the world. I think we should be more accepting of that!

    1. So true. But I think when you have more diverse and varied characters, there's a bigger chance that teens might be able to relate to character traits or the situations they find themselves in. The focus firstly should always be on great writing, and promote books beyond the same titles. It seems as though teen voices are being lost a little within the market as more and more adults read YA.

  4. Diversity is so important in books and television, especially YA. I don't see a lot of Asian characters in YA and when I do, it's a historical fiction in China or in Asia. I don't see them doing mundane things or saving the world in the latest dystopian. What's even worse is that sometimes the media white washes culture and characters, sometimes seen in book to movie adaptations. Some recent diverse reads I recommend are THANKS FOR THE TROUBLE by Tommy Wallach (mute MC, MALE MC, Mexican MC!!, and also Asian and Mexican side characters--so good; actually my favorite book of 2016 so far) and YOU KNOW ME WELL by Nina LaCour and David Levithan (gay is basically the new straight in this one).

    Jess @ POB!

    1. I loved Thanks For The Trouble too, such an amazing read. Completely agree. I think Hollywood underestimates the viewing public, that we need characters to be white to be likable and relatable which may be true for older generations, but the world is a different place now and we celebrate multiculturalism. I want to read about well researched cultures, characters that are different to myself but only if they're well written and not being passed off as diverse for the sake of a hashtag.

  5. This post is everything. But I often wondered if there is such a thing a racist reader? I mean those who prefers to read books with characters of the caucasian race? At the same time, readers are going to read whatever they want and it is not up to us to censure other people. I guess it's also up to us to seek books that offer more than what has been popular for many years. Great post, ladies.

    1. Probably more so a case of reading what they find relatable, which you can understand as most of us tend to gravitate towards the popular reads which are usually lacking in diversity. Myself included. I'm trying to read and purchase more backlisted Aussie books this year. I find that authors here are pretty good with showing how multicultural Australia is but still being genuine.

  6. Diversity is absolutely something we should see more of in books. I saw one blogger's post complaining about diversity being "shoved down our throats" in books - I stopped following her. I know authors who had to change their gay character, even though it was barely mentioned in passing. It also doesn't help when readers complain about an author writing about something they're not. Like, a white author writing about an Asian character, an author w/o OCD writing a character w/ OCD, and on and one. Most recently there were people saying how Jojo Moyas had 'no right' to write about a character in a wheelchair because she's able bodied. Wtf? I don't know, it seems like people and publishers are making it more difficult than it needs to be. If an author writes a character with a certain ethnic background or sexuality, leave it alone. People will read it. I can't even tell you how many times I've read books were the ethnicity wasn't even mentioned until halfway through the book. Do you think people suddenly stopped reading because they found out the heroine was Japanese? No. Idk, I'm rambling. lol.

    1. Great point Christy. I don't have an issue with able bodied authors writing about a character with a disability, or diverse characters as long as they're well researched and culturally sensitive. If a popular author can open the door for other authors to take advantage and put diverse books in the hands of readers, it can only be a wonderful thing.

  7. Can I print this out and put this on my wall? I feel like highlighting all of this...it's full of great wisdom as to why we need diversity in our literature. Recently I've been reading Orientalism by Edward Said and in his introduction he states all the different definitions of Orientalism, one of them being how the West has created this fantasy-element Other in order to further show how brilliant the West is in opposition to it. Orientalism, the book, is just essay upon essay debunking as many books as possible. Literature is so important in shaping our views as a society, and with how widely YA is being read I'd say it's all the more so important to get more characters (and stories) onto the YA platform.

    1. I couldn't agree more Mawa. And it's important that with diversity also comes sensitivity and research as well. That being said, we also have books being published worldwide in so many other languages that are written by wonderful authors that should be translated into English as well. Those are the kind of stories I want to read. Diversity from those who live it.

  8. Diversity is a subject matter close to my heart, especially the racial diversity since that's the factor that I relate to the most. I always try to read existing books on the market and promoting them - as Chiara said, as I think this is the most effective way of getting publishers to see that they will sell and they should print more. I especially love finding lesser known titles and talking about them, as like Chiara has mentioned, a lot of the same titles are recommended again and again - which is good for them, but it also makes the point of views portrayed quite limited. Fantastic post and I hope to see more discussion posts from yourself in the future as you're clearly great at doing them <3

  9. This is an INCREDIBLE post. And I so agree that authors need to make a character's race MATTER. Having them black or Asian is not enough - it can't just be diversity for diversity's sake, it has to be real. And white/straight/cis/able authors have a lot to answer for in terms of misrepresentation. Diversity ftw.

  10. This is a lovely post! I think it was such a great idea to have so many people contribute to it, too- it's so necessary to hear from different perspectives when it comes to diversity. I think one of the things I often try to wrap my head around- and fail- is that if you think about it, diverse books look different to everyone. Because everyone has such a different story, a different outlook, a different connection they're seeking out in a book. I always worry that no matter how far we come, someone will feel like they aren't heard, and that makes me really sad- and I can't really figure out how to solve that, other than encouraging diversity at every turn, reading/featuring/purchasing diverse books, etc. It's like- we've come a LONG way since when I was a teen and there was almost NO diversity in YA (which... "YA" wasn't a thing, but you know what I mean), but there is still SO far to go. BUt discussions like this are SO important in fostering the communication that can lead to more and more diversity, so GREAT, great post- and thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts, it was super important to read!

  11. Loved the post Kelly and hearing everyone's different opinions on diversity and why it's important to them. Daniels pov in particular really interested me especially being an Asian in a Western country, i really don't see many characters who are me on fiction but Romeo actually has that same point of view as well. I do think representation across all areas is important.


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