I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until I was 14 or 15-years-old that I realized that I wanted to actually become a writer. I can write about anything from politics to music to over the top analyses of Harry Potter, but a part of me has always been drawn to the idea of writing a YA novel.
My dream isn’t totally smashed, but I know that something is off when I want to write YA, but I can barely stand to approach the YA section of a bookstore without sneering. Why? Because I’m so turned off by that massive wall of book covers displaying straight white stock photo teen hotties.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the publishing industry wants us to judge a book by their cover so that we feel compelled to buy it! So judging a book by its cover is all a part of the plan to get me hyped enough about the newest YA series.
Too bad it’s backfiring.
Seriously, 90% of YA book covers feature white models. I’m sorry but, uh, yikes.
Honestly, this goes far beyond book covers. I think that this entire genre needs more diversity. Seriously, just about every major YA craze of the last few years has been about straight white kids, maybe with a few non-white characters on the side or a token lesbian (maybe). It’s just like the lack of representation in TV and movies, but a little sadder because this is happening in a totally fictional realm where anything and everything is possible. And yet, when it comes to the book covers, we’re bombarded with the same visuals and beauty standards that plague magazines…and when it comes to the actual content the diversity is just as lackluster. It’s embarrassing that in 2013 we have to search high and low to find books that don’t center around straight white characters.
The publishing industry is tough…it’s also racist and sexist and every other “ist” you can imagine. It’s sad, but true. Skeptical? Consider the fact that J.K. Rowling used a gender neutral name to help herself get published. Consider the fact that we’re so used to books that are all about white characters that we assume that a character is white unless otherwise stated. Consider the fact that even if a book is about somebody who isn’t white, they’re replaced by white people on the book cover.
I know, some of you are going to say, “Well, maybe if more non-white, non-straight people wrote YA–”
Hey, there isn’t a lack of people writing this genre. It’s not like straight white guys are the only ones who ever want to publish a book about and for young adults. The publishing industry is hard for everybody, but unfortunately, this seems to be especially tough on non-white and/or queer authors and who write stories that just aren’t as marketable as a story about a white guy or a white girl who fall in love or something typical like that.
This practice is so discouraging for readers and writers alike. It’s as if our stories aren’t worth being told or worth sharing with the rest of the world. Aren’t we already bombarded with that everywhere else? We have to deal with that crap in the book world, too?
Don’t get it twisted: Some of my favorite YA books that have had the biggest impact on me have been about white characters and teen girls falling in love with teen boys. But I’m not the only one who is so fatigued by this. Whether a book is about vampires, dystopian realities, fantasy worlds or every day life, chances are that white characters are the main features and the book cover will portray some sexy or bubblegum sweet white girl. Yawn.
Call me when the next big YA hit ventures away from this theme. Otherwise, I’m not interested.
Do you think that a lack of diversity is huge in the YA genre? Do you have any YA book recs that are about non-white or LGBTQ characters? Tell us in the comments!