Black or White

Multiculturalism and YA fantasy. You don’t find these two phrases lumped together very often. Does that surprise you? Or, have you ever really given it much thought?

Think about the popular Young Adult Fantasy books out there. Harry Potter, Twilight, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Eragon…these are books that stir the reader’s imagination, books that keep you up at night, eager to discover what happens next. Twilight ignited the fantasies of millions of young (and not-so-young) women with a love triangle that made us choose between a good-hearted shape shifter and an overprotective, vegetarian vampire. Ahh, I just love a good love triangle….

My point? Oh, yeah. Sorry. I got a little carried away back in vampire-land. I was getting to the point…eventually.

The point is this: readers like to put themselves firmly in the shoes of the hero or heroine. This is especially true with romance novels. Women want to be able to sympathize with the heroine. They want to live the story through the heroine. They want to become the heroine, at least for a little while.

Readers want to identify with the main character. If the reader has dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair, does it make it difficult for him or her to identify with a rosy-cheeked, blond, blue-eyed character? Is the reverse true? I think the answer varies according to the reader, but if an African-American young man wants to read a book featuring a strong African-American character he can identify with, shouldn’t he be able to find one?

In the real world, there are young adults in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Where is diversity in fantasy novels? Try this: go to Amazon.com, type in the phrase ‘young adult multicultural fantasy,’ and see what pops up. Not much. This is a shame.

But, times are changing.

When I wrote The Claiming Words, I meandered through the first few chapters, letting the characters evolve as they may. I ended up with a multicultural character list, and that was not entirely an accident. When my extended family gets together, we look like a meeting of the United Nations. My husband is from West Africa; my sister-in-law is from Australia. Naturally, my melting pot family managed to bleed into my first novel. I ended up with two female heroines: one black and one white, as well as a whole group of folks from various backgrounds. (It sort of reminds me of my family table at Thanksgiving.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more melting pot Fantasy novels? Wouldn’t it be great if young women could read about strong African-American heroines they can identify with? Or, if young men could read about multicultural heroes with good moral values and amazing magical powers?

Guess what? There are books out there. I told you about mine. Let me tell you about another:

In the field of YA Paranormal Romance, there isn’t much variety. It’s a pretty vampire-heavy genre, but if you’re looking for something a little different, Michel Prince has a book coming out in April that not only deviates from the over saturated vampire market, but also features a cast of multicultural characters. Chrysalis is her first novel for the Young Adult market. She also has an adult Paranormal romance series which also branches out into the multicultural arena.

It’s about time!

So, spread the word. Let people know there are multicultural books out there if they know where to look. But, more importantly, demand more from authors and publishers. Say, “We want diversity in YA fantasy. We want to have a choice.”

After all, Fantasy is for everyone. Fantasy should not be black or white.

2 thoughts on “Black or White

  1. I was reading an article about a white male who was reading from the perspective of a mixed race(African and European descent) female and he said he couldn’t connect with the protagonist because that was a large part of the plot and being a white male he had never no deal with being non excepted. It had me thinking “what a shame”!

    In school It was never required reading to read anything but characters with white characters that lived very different lives than my own but you know what? It didn’t mean I couldn’t relate to them in some kind of way. Black readers from a young age are expected to read books that don’t feature characters that look like them and the only way to read books that do are up to them. I’m not sure why some readers can’t connect with people that don’t look like them? Minority readers have been doing it for decades…

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  2. Do you remember when Hunger Games (movie) was first released? Some readers said they didn’t feel sympathy when Rue was killed because she was black. When they read the book, they envisioned Rue as white, thus her death was more tragic. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/hunger-games-racist-tweets-rue_n_1380377.html

    Human beings should have empathy for all human being, regardless of color. And, like you said, minority readers have had to do that for ages.. I’m sure non-minority readers can find it in their hearts to do the same.

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