Let’s DIVE(rsity) right in, YA?
‘It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity
there is beauty and there is strength.’
– Maya Angelou
Welcome to our first ever discussion on the @sharpeandcook Tumblr. Are you excited? We are! So pull up a pew, grab a cup of tea and settle in for the ride. Today we are going to be looking at the importance of diversity in books. We’ll be talking about some of YA’s most loved characters like Magnus Bane, Augustus Waters, Maddy Whittier, and Ronan Lynch. All characters pulled from different types of Young Adult Literature with one very important thing in common. They’re individuals. You ready for this?
What age were you when you started reading YA books?
Selene: Oh goodness, I was 11 when I started reading altogether. It’d never really been my thing at all. Too much like hard work. The first book I ever read was based on Doctor Who and I read that in about a weekend. That was before I discovered my Twilight phase. The rest is sort of history.
Caitlyn: I can’t even remember, I think I was about 14 or 15? I’m not even sure what book it was. I was in Waterstones, looking for something new for my birthday when I stumbled across this section full of books for Young Adults. I had no idea there were areas like that. I was fresh out of my Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events stage and I picked up this book, I took it home. I think I read it in like two days? If I remember correctly it was rubbish [laughs] it was a pretty bad book. However, I liked the elements in it, the supernatural, the adventure, and ever since then that’s been my main place. When I go to any bookstore that’s the section I go to first.
Who were the first diverse characters that you were introduced to?
Selene: For me, the first character that I ever met who stood out and was something I’d never seen before in that genre had to have been Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments series.
Caitlyn: Same for me, actually!
Selene: Really? [laughs]
Caitlyn: I’d honestly never seen anything like it before. I’ve read a lot of books with a huge variety of characters, but none of them were openly gay. It was a subject matter that none of the books I’d read had ever shown me before.
Selene: It’s shame really because it was something so refreshing and wonderful that I was surprised more writers hadn’t attempted it.
Why do you think LGBT+ characters are becoming more common?
Selene: Personally, I feel that a lot of authors have seen their mistake in isolating the LGBT+ community. It’s one of those things where a lot of us at that age are still trying to figure who we are and books can be a real help in discovering parts of who we are.
Caitlyn: I think it’s also about the demand.
Selene: Why do you think that?
Caitlyn: I think it’s like, you know, for young adults in the twenty-first century we’re more open about those kinds of topics. Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to be done in that area but we’re definitely more vocal about it. So, I think writers realise that we need that representation.
As a writer, do you find a certain wariness when it comes to representing someone who does not necessarily share the same experiences that you have had?
Caitlyn: Oh my God, yes! [laughs]
Selene: Isn’t that the challenge of being a writer? We write about people that can see ghosts and turn into wolves. I mean, those aren’t exactly experiences I have had.
Caitlyn: I wouldn’t want to accidentally hurt someone or offend something with my ignorance. Of course, I’d research these things but having never lived through the experience of being gay, a different colour, etc. I would be wary about getting those experiences wrong.
Selene: It’s definitely something that carries a lot of weight and responsibility but if we were all scared about writing it then we’d never be breaking barriers like we are today.
Why do you think representation is important?
Caitlyn: I just think it’s important that everybody no matter who they are or where they come from or what they identify as should be able to open a book and find someone like them. I think, you know, people draw strength from books and characters so if you see somebody who is like you that can really help a reader.
Selene: I agree with, Cait, but I also think that in today’s society that there is still a stigma around certain topics and those young people can be drawn into thinking being gay or whatever is something to be ashamed of. That’s not the case. Ever. Everyone is beautiful and special in their own way. Having that representation in books shows people it’s okay to be who you are, it removes the taboo. If you meet Magnus Bane, Ronan Lynch, or Diana Wayburn, you find these layered and complex characters that aren’t defined just by their sexuality, skin colour or beliefs. That for me is super important.
Caitlyn: I one hundred percent agree with, S.
Has there been a particular writer or character that you’ve been extremely impressed with?
Selene: Where do I even start? Cassandra Clare, John Green, Maggie Stiefvater, so many! All of them have dealt with disabilities, sexuality, and identity. I don’t think I could even begin to list all things that I’ve been impressed by in these peoples works but I will say that if more writers were like them then we wouldn’t need discussions like these.
Caitlyn: I was super happy with Diana Wayburn in Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. I haven’t read a lot of books with transgender characters in them. I just thought it was handled so well. It was a beautiful moment.
Do you have any advice for teenagers out there trying to find themselves?
Selene: I’m no expert, other than having been a teenager once upon a time, but my advice is, don’t change who you are to suit other people’s ideas.
Caitlyn: Exactly, don’t hide what makes you an individual. It’s not healthy to hide away. In the end, it won’t make you happy.
Selene: It might seem scary and there will be times when you will be judged and criticised for those parts of you but one day you’ll see the only person’s opinion that matters is your own.
Caitlyn: People who love you, truly and unconditionally, accept you for who you are.
Thank-you for reading! If you’ve any ideas for our next discussion or have any opinions on this topic you’d like to express then hit us up in the ask box of our page!