It’s safe to say that I am an avid reader. I read about six books every month and have 105 books at my house, not including those on my Kindle.
Yet it's difficult to find books that include characters from all walks of life and portray them in a positive light.
I admit, I could buy more works that are known to have diversity (and I have bought more), but I shouldn’t have to actively search for diverse books. It should just be the norm. Diversity is normal in real life, so is it too far fetched to think it would be the same in literature? I love reading about Jewish characters—even if it doesn’t center around them being Jewish. A quick mention of Judaism in a positive light makes me feel so seen. So heard.
It is an incredible feeling to see yourself in a book. It is such a shame that so many people don’t have that luxury.
I mainly read fantasy, and in fantasy anything goes. The entire purpose of fantasy is to make your own rules. Social norms don’t have to apply. There doesn’t have to be racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. There shouldn’t be. Often times, people belonging to minorities gravitate towards one another due to a joint understanding of generational trauma. If there is no generational trauma in the story, isn’t it reasonable for characters to branch out and be friends with a more diverse crowd?
Books Without Great Representation:
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
First of all, JK Rowling is a very problematic person. She has tweeted extremely hurtful things aimed at many different minority groups. This all reflects her work. Every single main character is white and straight! Harry Potter? Straight and white. Severus Snape? Straight and white. Sirius Black? Straight and white! The list goes on and on. When Rowling did decide to add in some diversity, she just searched up “Asian names” and clicked the first ones that popped up. For example, Cho Chang is supposed to be Chinese, but both of her names are Korean surnames. She also named one of the only black characters “Kingsley Shacklebolt.” Shacklebolt. Do you see the issue?
Sarah J. Maas books
Sarah J. Maas's series like Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR), and Crescent City are incredibly well written books (at least in my opinion), but their sheer lack of diversity is astonishing. In the ACOTAR series, the entire main cast are all white. Many people see Rhys, Cassian, and Azriel as Middle Eastern, and Amren as Asian, but none have been confirmed. The one time a black character seemed to be a vital personality, she was killed off! In Throne of Glass, not one person in Aelin’s court is a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Only Yrene and those from the Southern Continent are people of color. And one character in ACOTAR is openly out, but no one in Throne of Glass is. (If there are any more, the fact that I forgot about them says a lot). Her Crescent City series has been a lot better so far, and I hope she continues to include people from all walks of life.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Although I'm happy about how the main character Evelyn Hugo is a bisexual, Cuban woman, I don't love how her love interest was biphobic. Celia, the love interest, basically says that Evelyn can’t like both men and women. Evelyn pines over the woman, Celia, despite her biphobia. It is simply dismissed and isn’t thought to be a big deal. When sexuality can play a huge role in someone’s identity, it doesn’t make much sense for a bisexual woman to be madly in love with a biphobic woman. If it caused arguments and added something to their relationship I would understand it more, but it could be removed without affecting the plot whatsoever.
Books With Great Diversity:
Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo
One of my all time favorite duologies and books is Six of Crows. Six of Crows follows six misfit teenagers from all different walks of life as they tackle an impossible heist. Every single character represents multiple groups of people. Kaz: a genius with a bad limp and PTSD so severe that touching another’s skin makes him physically ill. Inej: a Middle-Eastern girl who values friendship and religion above all else, all the while suffering with PTSD from trafficking and years serving in a Menagerie. Jesper: a brown-skinned boy (possibly Aboriginal Australian) with an interest in both men and women. Wylan: a queer boy with parent-induced trauma and a disability (it would be a major spoiler if I named it). Nina: a plus-sized girl who faces harsh prejudice for possessing magic, even getting kidnapped for it. And finally, Matthias: a boy who became a product of an unforgiving childhood with heartless soldiers, but learned that people in authority don’t always have the best morals. Bardugo incorporates all of these thing effortlessly into the story. It lets readers know what it’s like to live with a physical or mental ailment, but still go on despite them. Bardugo also treats every relationship the same, whether it‘s between male and female, female and female, or male and male; they are all written the exact way a typical straight relationship is. The sheer amount of minorities and the way they are represented is astounding, and I definitely suggest adding Six of Crows to your TBR list.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Legendborn is the first book in the Legendborn Series. It is a low fantasy book that takes place at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill where sixteen-year-old Bree discovers a secret magical society. It perfectly winds Black culture with Arthurian legend, making for a very enthralling read. Tracy Deonn proves that there is no need for token diversity, and how having a range of different types of characters improves the quality of read. Having too many characters that are similar to one another is boring! I loved reading about Greer, a non-binary character. Deonn used they/them pronouns perfectly and made it easy to follow. Deonn also didn’t make Greer’s entire personality about being non-binary or any of their friends treating them any differently. There are plenty of gay and other LGBTQ+ characters. Though the only two other people of color are Bree’s best friend, who is Asian-American, and a black professor/mentor, a central point is how Bree feels very out of place at a school that is predominantly white, so it makes sense why there aren’t a lot of other ethnic groups represented.
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
The Atlas Six centers six powerful, magic wielders, each with a unique gift, fighting for a spot in a secret society. Five prominent characters are all people of color: Reina (Japanese), Tristian (black), Parisa (Iranian), Nico (Cuban), Atlas (black). In addition to different ethnicities being included, the majority of the characters are queer or exploring their sexuality. Blake never makes experimenting with sexuality seem immoral or out of the ordinary. She makes the characters’ sexualities as much a part of them as their eyes or legs. Blake also incorporates mental illness into the story. Libby struggles with anxiety and Survivor’s Guilt after her sister’s death. Parisa is extremely depressed (which is used against her at some point…). I do suggest reading trigger warnings if you are thinking about picking this beauty up.
Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
I always put Percy Jackson in the same league as Harry Potter, only infinitely better. While both follow a young, magical boy and his friends, Riordan incorporates a lot of different groups of people. Percy Jackson, the main character and hero, has ADHD and dyslexia! In the series, ADHD and dyslexia are signs that you might be a demigod, not “disabled”. Many characters also happen to be LGBTQ+, including many of the gods and legends: Artemis (asexual/aromantic), Apollo (bisexual), Poseidon (bisexual), Loki (genderfluid), Sipriotes (transgender), Zeus (bisexual), etc. And amongst his own characters: Nico di Angelo (gay), Will Solace (attracted to men), Reyna (asexual/aromantic), Alex (transgender & genderfluid), Magnus (dating a genderfluid person & attracted to men and women), Josephine (lesbian), Piper (attracted to men and women), etc. ALos, amongst the seven main Heroes of Olympus, four characters are people of color: African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Chinese, and Native American. Children of gods are kids of color. And he also ties in their own mythology. It is simply fabulous.
Books can be incredible without diversity, but seeing people of different colors, backgrounds, sexualities, health, enriches one's reading experience—especially for those readers that fit in one of those minority groups.
Authors have gotten better about being more inclusive in their books, but there is always more room to grow. I’m excited to see where fiction takes us in the future and to read more about people from different walks of life in a positive light.
Links to buy books:
The Atlas Six (The original version was self published. I am unaware as to how many changes in plot and characters there is in the Tor version, but it should remain relatively the same)
EDT, 4:30 pm, et al. “'Six of Crows' Sets New Standard in Ya Fantasy for Diversity and Inclusivity.” Hypable, 8 June 2018, https://www.hypable.com/six-of-crows-diverse/.
“LGBT.” Riordan Wiki, https://riordan.fandom.com/wiki/LGBT.
superplane39. “You Should Drop Harry Potter and Pick up Percy Jackson. Really.” Medium, Medium, 15 June 2020, https://superplane39.medium.com/you-should-drop-harry-potter-and-pick-up-percy-jackson-really-ef6e11ed1a01.