Diversity in YA

GLBTQ characters in YA novels are becoming increasingly common, but are authors pressured not to include gay characters in their books? A recent article on Publisher’s Weekly by Rachel Manjia Brown and Sherwood Smith suggests this is sometimes the case. The two cowrote a novel, Stranger, which is told from the viewpoints of five different characters, one of whom is gay and has a boyfriend. An agent  offered to sign them on the condition that the gay character was made straight or that his viewpoint be removed from the book. The authors write: “When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.”

I firmly support Manjia Brown and Smith. Even with the increase in gay characters in YA books and on popular shows such as Glee and Pretty Little Liars (which is, of course, based on books), there are still not as many GLBTQ characters as there should be and the ones that exist are often minor characters. Manjia Brown an Smith also comment on the lack of ethnic diversity in YA – none of their five protagonists are white. It would be nice to see more non-white characters not just in YA but in fiction in general. This would be a more accurate reflection of the world we live in, and teens of all backgrounds need characters they can relate to. I hope in the future we will see more well-written protagonists who just happen to be GLTBTQ but whose sexual orientation is only a small part of the story and not the main focus. I believe there is a need for these books and I’m sure many teens would agree.

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room
Emma Donoghue
HarperCollins Canada
2010
9781554688319

Five-year-old Jack has never known a world outside of Room, the 11′ x 11′ space he inhabits with Ma, who was abducted seven years ago from her college campus. The novel, told from Jack’s point of view, follows their attempt to escape from Room and lead a normal life.

It took me a while to get my hands on a copy of this award-winning novel, given the massive holds list at my local library. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. Jack’s narration took some getting used to, and since Room is so isolated from the outside world, not a lot happens there. I was beginning to get bored with hearing the details of what Jack ate for lunch, though I did enjoy seeing the ways Ma tried to create a somewhat normal environment for him by having “phys ed” and story times. One other detail that bugged me was the constant references to breastfeeding. I suppose Ma continued to breastfeed Jack because it gave him comfort, but I found it annoying how often it came up.

For me, the real highlight of this book was the part after Ma and Jack escape from Room. Seeing Jack discover the world beyond what he has seen on TV provided a lot of humour and allowed me to really warm up to his character. It also introduced new characters, such as Jack’s grandmother and Steppa, which helped round out the story. Although I ended up enjoying the book and really appreciated that it was something different from what I’ve been reading lately, I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be given all the hype. Still, a worthwhile read.