A few weeks ago I posted a video on YouTube discussing some of my favorite diverse characters. It was in no way a complete list, but I was able to bring to light some of my favorite characters who just happen to fall into the “diverse” category. As I said in that video I do not normally seek out diverse characters or literature. I’ve had some time to ponder why. I’m not making excuses for myself. I consider this a learning and growing opportunity, but I’ll start with why diversity is hard for me to see the same way others see it.
Let me explain. I, myself am a white, straight, albeit overweight (a.k.a. fat) woman. I completely love finding overweight women in literature. Now let’s discuss race. I have friends and family who are of different races, or mixed race. I went to an elementary school that upon reflection had a good racial mix, my middle school was predominately African American, and my high school was predominately white. The transition to high school was especially difficult because while I was used to having friends of different races, but the people who I went to high school with were not. Now let’s discuss sexual orientation. My biological mother was bi. She obviously married my dad and had me and my sister, but when they divorced she was in a relationship with a woman. This is something I learned about and understood from very early childhood. I was 5 years old when my parents divorced. In high school I dated a boy who was bi. Years later my father remarried and her ex husband was gay. I have had gay, lesbian, and trans friends pretty much for as long as I can remember. I have one transgender friend I go to school with right now actually. So these “diverse” characters don’t seem diverse to me. They seem normal, regular, not diverse. They only reason I see them as diverse anymore is because they seem diverse in mainstream literature.
So about a week ago Adriana, fellow BookTuber extraordinaire, posted a discussion video about “How We Talk About Diversity & Queer Lit”. It was great being able to have an open discussion with her regarding this topic. This is an extension of the comments I made on her video. It also gives a bit more background on why diversity is hard for me to see the same way others see it. Regardless of the whys I took an important message away from her video and that was that we need to seek out diverse literature to let publishers and writers know we want to see more of it. We want it to become mainstream. We want books out in the world that someone of diverse characteristics can read and feel connected with.
I couldn’t run out to the store immediately and purchase a bunch of books, so I did the next best thing. I went to Amazon and added some diverse literature to my wishlist. I thought I would share some of the books I added in case you happen to be interested as well.
At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
Set during the year preceding the Easter Uprising of 1916 — Ireland’s brave but fractured revolt against British rule — At Swim, Two Boys is a tender, tragic love story and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O’Neill.
Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son — revolutionary and blasphemous — of Mr. Mack’s old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys’ burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation. (Goodreads)
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.
The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable. (Goodreads)
Empathy by Sarah Schulman
Provocative, observant, and daring, this 1992 novel by one of America’s preeminent lesbian writers and thinkers is being reissued for the Little Sister’s Classics series. Anna O. is a loner in New York, an office temp obsessed with a mysterious woman in white leather; Doc is a post-Freudian psychiatrist who hands out business cards to likely neurotics on street corners, and is himself looking for personal fulfillment. They befriend each other in the netherworld of the Lower East Side, two unlikely people drawn together by their confusion about and empathy for the world around them, and each other. This beautifully written novel is about the fluidity of desire, and how those of us damaged by love can still be transformed by it. Features a new essay by the author and an introduction by Kevin Killian. (Goodreads)
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister’s clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change-Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam’s family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives? Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen’s struggle for self-identity and acceptance. (Goodreads)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Charlie is a freshman.
And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. (Goodreads)
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Now recognized as a masterwork, the scandalous novel that anticipated Nabokov’s Lolita and is soon to be a film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
“I have long had a theory that Nabokov knew The Price of Salt and modeled the climactic cross-country car chase in Lolita on Therese and Carol’s frenzied bid for freedom,” writes Terry Castle in The New Republic about this novel, arguably Patricia Highsmith’s finest, first published in 1952 under the pseudonym Clare Morgan. Soon to be a new film, The Price of Salt tells the riveting story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover. With this reissue, The Price of Salt may finally be recognized as a major twentieth-century American novel. (Goodreads)
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
It’s Dade’s last summer at home. He has a crappy job at Food World, a “boyfriend” who won’t publicly acknowledge his existence (maybe because Pablo also has a girlfriend), and parents on the verge of a divorce. College is Dade’s shining beacon of possibility, a horizon to keep him from floating away.
Then he meets the mysterious Alex Kincaid. Falling in real love finally lets Dade come out of the closet – and, ironically, ignites a ruthless passion in Pablo. But just when true happiness has set in, tragedy shatters the dreamy curtain of summer, and Dade will use every ounce of strength he’s gained to break from his past and start fresh with the future. (Goodreads)