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.

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