At Slatebreakers, we’re constantly fighting against the stereotype that only male can be universal. But that’s not the only problem. It’s all too easy for books about white, straight characters to be read as the universal experience, while books about non-white and/or LGBTQ characters are pushed aside into niche markets.
Diversity in YA is an excellent blog, run by YA writers Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, that we read all the time. This summer, they challenged readers “to read books that feature a diverse world, to read beyond their comfort zones, and to just plain dive into some wonderful stories.”
So, in the spirit of the summer reading challenge on Diversity in YA, and at the terrifying recognition that Labor Day is just around the corner, we took a look through our summer reading list. These are books that both break the slate and reflect in their characters the genuine diversity in YA readership.
Slatebreaking Books to Diversify Your Reading:
8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Reggie is just trying to get through the year unnoticed, but an embarrassing incident on the first day of school makes that impossible. His best friends are supportive but Ruthie (a total Slatebreaker in her own right) can be a little too intense and Joe C. is white, which means their friendship makes some people uncomfortable. But when Reggie starts volunteering at a homeless shelter it gives him a sense of who he is and how he can stand up for both himself and what he believes in.
Abandon by Meg Cabot. In this retelling of the Persephone myth, Pierce Oliviera has to content with otherworldly repercussions after she dies and is brought back to life. Race doesn’t play a huge role in YA icon Meg Cabot’s latest novel. But it’s notable in that nearly all of the major characters are Latino, an aspect of identity that is always present but folded into the larger fabric of the story.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Beauty queens, a deserted island, diverse pageant contestants, and plenty of feminism. The Slatebreakers couldn’t love this book more. Full review here.
Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. Violet Paz is funny, awkward, and living with the craziest family in Chicago. (At least, that’s what she thinks.) She also just turned 15 and her Abuela is throwing her a quinceañera, whether she likes it or not. Violet decides to take a closer look at her Cuban culture, and turns the whole experience into comedy gold. (Review forthcoming on Slatebreakers!)
Dramarama by E. Lockhart. Sadye (formerly known as Sarah) and her best friend Demi are headed to summer arts camp at the prestigious and very selective Wildewood Academy for Performing Arts. Sarah’s a straight white girl and Demi’s a black gay boy, and although their home lives couldn’t be more different, they are kindred spirits in their love of all things Broadway. It’s a summer of challenge and growth for both as they struggle to figure out who they are as artists and where their friendship will go next.
Dreams of Significant Girls by Christina Garcia. Set in the 1970s, three very different girls develop a meaningful friendship over the course of several summers together. Full review here.
Estrella’s Quinceañera by Malin Alegria. Estrella Alvarez has been trying to dodge her culture. She made friends with the rich white girls and is trying to stop the elaborate quinceañera that her mother has planned. Estrella has to navigate complicated cultural divisions to figure out her own identity so that she can celebrate who she is and who she will grow to be.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Lai tells a deeply person story of a Vietnamese family who immigrates to the United States after the Vietnam War. Full review here.
The Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston. This book blows the slate out of the water. Kayla, an eighth grade black feminist is pushed to try out for the dance team by her best friend to expose their sexism. But when she makes the team, her understanding of feminism, friendship and family is challenged and she has to figure out how to define her identity for herself.
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Ok, technically this is a book for adults, but it was amazing and I think teens would really like it, so I’ll include it here. Dana is a modern black woman in an interracial relationship who finds herself spontaneously time traveling back to the plantation where her ancestors were slaves. Frightening and compelling narrative that deals with a lot of the social complexities of time travel in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Lanesha, a black girl living in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, is caught in the middle of the horrific Hurricane Katrina. She shows that she is a slatebreaker by emerging from the storm with strength and resilience despite devastating loss.
Pink by Lili Wilkinson. Ava is so uncertain about her own identity that she changes schools just to be able to try out a new one. But it’s not as simple as just trading in black jeans for pink skirts, and ultimately she has to negotiate who she really wants to be. Notable in that it includes not one but FOUR major characters who identify as LGBT. Full review forthcoming!
The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez. In Cuba in 1961 Lucía can see her world changing as the impact of the revolution becomes more oppressive. But she never expected her parents to send her and her brother away for their safety. Once in the United States she has to reconcile her new experiences with her family’s culture.
Really, what we want ourselves to take away from this post is this: Diversity is not just for summer reading, and it’s not something to add in just because of a challenge on another site. That’s why the kind of work that’s happening over at Diversity in YA is so important. We’re grateful for the chance to check ourselves and our reading habits and for the reminder that diversity in our reading as bloggers deserves a conscious effort. As we continue to blog here at Slatebreakers, we are making a sincere commitment to honor slatebreaking characters who present in all different ways – whether it is race, ethnicity, sexuality, or ability.
Great suggestions! I’d love to add some of these to my classroom library!*
Thanks! Did you read anything good this summer to add to the list?