I’m Sick Of Reading YA Books About Hot White Kids

YA books need a serious dose of diversity. | Source

YA books need a serious dose of diversity. | Source

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.

Oh, marketing.

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!

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  • RM

    I wonder…*are* there as many non-white writers as white? I don’t have any statistics in front of me, but maybe white writers are just writing what they know? I certainly can’t speak to the experience of a young Asian man or a teen girl of African-American descent. And I wouldn’t want to misrepresent a culture or insult anyone. So that’s why my own characters tend to be white or of something resembling Hispanic descent (I’m 1/2 and 1/2, and write fantasy).

  • cutegeekgirl

    YA books are for young adults but they are mostly represented as white young adults were is the mixed culture if america is a melting pot were are the melted books the blended culture there needs to be a change and i just don’t see one.

  • Leila

    I speak for myself and only myself, my opinion is just as relevant as anyone else’s. I agree on both sides of this field. The writing industry is just like the lottery–you gotta be in it to win it. I agree with lack of LGBTQ as well as the lack of diversity. But, with that being said, I also agree that publishers would accept white and straight much more than anything else, it’s basically like getting some lottery tickets. People would prefer a winning lottery ticket. It’s a sad thing, but true. Apparently no matter how diverse our would is irl, it’s a white’s world in writing.

    HOWEVER, as a writer, I won’t give up on a bestselling book series with the of a different race than the normal. Keep writing, one day they’ll get the point.

  • Julie

    Speaking of, have you heard of the author Nicole Bailey Williams? She’s my African American lit teacher and she’s written some books with the main characters being someone other than white. I’d think you’d enjoy it very much!

  • luv dystopian ya books!!!

    i really feel we need more protagonists in ya books from ethinc minorities like southern asian or arab stylee but not a stereotypical one about arranged marriages, terrorists etc. i mean like a pakistani 16 year old girl in something like the hunger games. it would be really cool!!!

  • JayLove

    I definitely understand where you’re coming from with this post. As an African American female, it would be great to see more diversity in YA lit, especially on covers and in movie adaptations (don’t get me started with the choice of Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games). But at the end of the day, we continue to read about each of these white characters. It shouldn’t be about race period. Just a good story and being able to relate to the characters. Emotions don’t know race/religion/sex, etc. I think the message of the story is what should be most important, not the color of the skin of the characters whether white, black, pink, yellow, etc

    • Unfortunately, publishing houses have to make money and books about non-white characters usually aren’t as profitable, so it’s never just about a good story to them. There are a lot of reasons for this and each is really upsetting and just makes me want to shake my head. It’s a shame and it shouldn’t be the norm, but until they start providing more diverse content, race, sexuality, etc is always going to be one of the most important elements of a story for publishers.

    • Nadia Kery

      Wait, what’s wrong with J.L in the Hunger Games? I think she’s amazing and strong. I’m on here saying we need more diversity in YA but I wanna know what in the world is wrong with J.L.

  • Rick

    I’m not saying this as a defence or anything, but I think it should be said that publishing companies aren’t doing this out of racism. They’re doing it because it’s a business, one with publicly traded companies and stockholders. The goal of these companies is to sell as many books as possible, and straight white people make up a giant segment of the reading population in North America. That’s why this happens.

    Do you think if, magically, America was made up of 75% African Americans that the publishing companies wouldn’t be putting black teens on the covers of their books? Of course they would, because that would make them money.

    Diversity is wonderful. It’s the ideal situation. But until black people and homosexuals and handicapped people and any other minority become the majority, this isn’t changing.

    • Claire

      White ppl aren’t even 75% of the population. Lolz not even close. Yet 93% of ya books feature white protags. Bullshit. The publishing industry is racist.

    • Imani-Allyse

      Black people don’t just read about black people, Asian people don’t just read about Asian people, Latino, LGBT, etc. So white straight people can read about characters other than white straight characters, ok.

    • Nadia Kery

      That’s true but how about them taking a risk (I know it’s business and it’s tricky to take risks…maybe some would think it’s even dumb)? Making it what’s available (along with the stereotypical books out there, cuz I know those are popular and needed) would make more readers have a variety. It could be idealistic but maybe it’s worth a try. hopefully!

  • Lake

    Fiction in itself is ridiculous. Like the fact there were only white people in Lord of the Rings and it’s about elves, hobbits, and magic. Keep posting, I’m glad this was brought up. I’m honestly waiting for a PoC protagonist film but people are telling me that it won’t happen.

    • Cin

      Actually there are not just whites in Lotr. You just have to read the books and analyze each race. Some are described as being darker than most. I thought that too up until two years ago and was surprised with what I found!

  • Jules

    I think this is an interesting issue to talk about. Something that really bothered me is the movie adaptations of these kinds of books. With The Hunger Games and The Host the female protagonist is described right there in words as having naturally darker and tan skin. Then a white girl is cast in the movie and they just dye her hair and put a bunch of fake bronzer on her. Reading the books I had looked forward to seeing someone who looks like me be a lead in a big movie but it rarely happens.

  • Anne

    Wow! Now I see why I’ve always been uninterested by that kind of book!

  • Jays

    abloobloo write your own books.

    that being said, I worked in an inner city school and the few students that did read seemed to have no problem finding trashy young adult urban romance books. they seemed to favor the ones that centered around gangs.

    http://www.amazon.com/Books-About-Gangs-Street-Violence/lm/RIR2738597B3X

    look at all of these books about non white teenagers. wow, it’s like you haven’t even bothered to look past the YA display at barnes and noble’s….

    • Yes, and now compare that to the list of YA books about white teenagers.

    • Brandy

      Wow way to be so rude. BTW that should tell you something when there has to be an urban section. Why can’t it just be y.a. oh cause publishers only want books about poc in gangs or suburban white people. I wonder what came first the lack of supply or the high demand. Did you ever think those kids read those books because they had characters that looked like them or shared some culture? BTW do you think working with inner city youth makes you an expert, girl please. I bet you use the i have a black friend excuse when someone calls you racist.

      • Jays

        wahwahwah

        want more books?

        the brief and wondrous life of oscar wao

        anything by maya angelou

        I know where the red fern grows

        song of solomon

        othello

        snowcrash

        anything by octavia butler

        again, abloobloo trashy cookie cutter new teen literature that doesn’t depict 99% of the world isn’t catering to me! waaaaaahhhhhhhhh! I hate straight white people! You know what else the young adult books on the display cases don’t show? poor people, people with disabilities, fatties, anybody not straight, anybody not a superficially smoking white person. what a ridiculously monolithic view of a race, to assume that just because someone’s skin matches the model on the cover of a book they can identify with the character at all.

        PS, I’m black. Growing up I didn’t give af about young adult fiction because it all centers around straight relationships, mainly from a female perspective, and I am gaygaygay/male.

        • Imani-Allyse

          1) You realize most of the books you listed where made in the 20th century or older. 2) She mentioned that it is only showing STRAIGHT PRIVILEGED “SEXY” WHITE TEEN CHARACTERS.
          So your argument is invalid. Good day sir

  • Giselle

    There isn’t anything wrong with wondering why there is such a lack of diversity in YA books? Why is everyone so upset by this. She’s got a valid point.

  • LittleRedWolf

    I’ve been reading this series called the Legend series, and one of the main characters, Day, is mixed raced with his primary ethnicity as Mongolian.
    Also, check out the ‘Gone’ series by Michael Grant. Yes, there are white characters, but there are also Asian, African Americans, kids from the Middle East, those of Hispanic descent, gays, lesbians… quite a diverse cast of characters, and it’s pretty refreshing.
    Malinda Lo’s books are great, too, with characters of different sexual orientations and races.

    I do agree with you, though, and to the people complaining about this for whatever reason, listen up: It IS an issue. As I said in a previous comment, it’s not that having books about straight white people is a bad thing. That’s fine. But there needs to be more diversity. To the person who said “No one’s going to pick up a book and put it back down because the characters are white” you’d be wrong there. Some people really are tired of reading basically the same old story. Ashley is right: It’s 2013 and the YA industry should be WAY farther along than it is right now. It is SO rare to find YA books with characters who aren’t white on the cover. Being white is NOT a bad thing, and that’s not what’s being said here. What’s being said is that people who aren’t white and straight feel incredibly unrepresented. When you’re a teen, being able to read fiction you can identify with is so important, and for many people, it’s hard to find. It’s limited. The industry would not lose money or suffer for having more diversity. It would help. They would sell, because there are thousands of teens who aren’t white, who aren’t straight, and would buy those books faster than they could be printed.

  • Hailey

    Your posts are really starting to annoy me. Every time I come on here all I see is you whining about diversity. Why do you have such an issue with white people? I mean honestly…

    • Unless you’re adamantly opposed an increase in diversity then there is no reason why these posts should annoy you.

      • Hailey

        I’m not opposed to it. I just don’t think it’s as big a deal as your making it out to be. Why should it matter the skin colour of the people on the cover of a book? You’re really coming off as having an issue with white people. If everything you have to say has the same “down with the whites” vibe, than doesn’t that make you kind of racist?

        • LittleRedWolf

          She isn’t saying that there’s anything wrong with there being books about white people, it’s that there isn’t enough diversity. I’m white, and getting really tired of the “hot white girl meets hot white boy” theme. It’s fine that there are books about straight white people, but there needs to be more with people of different ethnic backgrounds, more for LGBT people. I’m gay and it’s SO hard to find good lesbian fiction out there, YA or adult. I’ve got a small collection now but I want to see that grow.
          Basically her point is “There needs to be something for everyone” without having to dig so deep. It should be easy to walk into the YA section of a bookstore and find plenty of books with all kinds of different characters, not just one.

        • Kelly L

          Look, I don’t want to be mean but no white person should ever complain about people being racist towards whites.

        • Nadia Kery

          It doesn’t even seem like whining. I honestly thought she was white 😀 and just saying diversity in fiction would be great. I’m technically in the white race category and was born here in California, but agree there should be diversity. Maybe that’s because I grew up in Los Angeles with a lot of diversity. LOL

    • Giselle

      What’s wrong with wanting some diversity? Open your mind a little.

    • Sophie Zanla

      There not always about that. She is jut trying to make a valid point. If you have a problem about that then don’t read her posts! Simple as that.

    • Brandy

      Because the white power structure is killing my freedoms, that’s why. Because being a pacifist, apologist, token got me no where in life. Because I used to think that affirmative action was no longer necessary until I did the research and good lord is it needed. Because in an econ study on labor markets and statistics no matter what you accomplished or grew up it took people with “black sounding names” five times as longer to get jobs though they were three times as qualified then there white counter parts. That kind of hopelessness and lack of social mobility will kind of make a person pissed. You haven’t heard WHINING! It’s that kind of language that revives the SOJOURNER TRUTH in me. So sit down, lean in and shut up.

  • Alexis

    Does it really matter? Honestly, no one is going to pick up a book and put it back because the main character is white. And to be honest, books about gay couples sell to a smaller audience, so logically advertisers aren’t going to spend more money on advertising for them. Writing is an industry, people have to make a living off of it. Authors write what makes money, not what’s politically correct.

    • LittleRedWolf

      There are so many authors out there who write what matters to them. It’s usually only the big names, like James Patterson or Nora Roberts, who are going to write more as a business person rather than an author. Authors are like artists. They’re usually on a different field from those who aren’t. You write about what you want and if it sells, awesome. The books about gay kids have a bigger audience than you think, too. There just aren’t enough of them out there, especially by the Big 5 publishing companies, to draw as much attention. Not to mention a lot of kids are still too afraid to really come out at that age and be open about buying or reading them. If they didn’t have to be afraid we’d see how big that audience really is.

  • Kelly

    This is stupid…

    • Wanting diversity is stupid? Okay then…

      • Nadia Kery

        I definitely agree there shouldn’t be such a “fear” of straying from what writers really want to include, like 1st or 2nd generation Americans, lgbt characters, ethnic people, etc. For example, I’m working on a book (yes, the MC is a straight/ possibly bi white girl character:D) and thought of writing one from a difference ethnic background like Asian – Of course I’m wary about writing any main characters as Asian because many people say they can’t relate to a character written by someone who doesn’t “live his/her life.” They wouldn’t relate and/or think I’m a fraud…Meaning, since I’m not Asian, I think I’d find a lot of readers (Asian or otherwise) criticizing the idea. 🙁 I have to look into it more.

  • Rory

    You should check out Mortal Instruments, there’s a gay couple but sadly no cultural diversity really.

    • LittleRedWolf

      You forget, Magnus is Asian, and if I remember correctly, Maya was African American (been a while since I read it so I could be wrong about that one).

      • Lo

        As I remember that series, there were about 40 different characters in that novel and only 2-3 were poc. Very interesting.

  • Sharon

    The marketing may not show it, but they’re out there. Look past the covers. The publishing industry is catching up. They’re gobbling up more and more diverse books that will start hitting shelves in ’15, ’16. (Remember, publishing is SLOW.)

    Here is a list with more than 400 titles. https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/16026.Diversity_in_Young_Adult_and_Middle_Grade

    Don’t write an article saying there isn’t something out there without doing your homework. We need more, obvs. But writers and publishers are embracing this.

    • I never said that there weren’t any out there at all, I’m just saying that it’s ridiculous that it is 2013 and I’m still being told to wait patiently to see more representation in the book world. It’s nice that things are improving but come on, that doesn’t change how embarrassed this industry should be about being so slow with this kind of progress.

  • Tanya

    Why do all YA books have to center around having a relationship? That is what I want to know. At that age, it’s unlikley you’re going to even have a boy/girlfriend at all, much less one that you eventually marry and have kids with.

    • LittleRedWolf

      There are definitely quite a few out there that aren’t about romance, or else don’t have romance as they key plot but rather as a little side thing. Looking in the “Fantasy and Adventure” section is where to find them. And actually, considering that most of these books have characters age 15-18, that is a rather common age to have bf/gf. It’s DEFINITELY the age where teens are having crushes, falling in love, and experiencing all those emotions for the first time.

  • Jo

    YA books are ridic, like even if a book is about werewolf fairies living 2000 after a meteor kills all humans, the werewolf fairies are white.