Discussion: Seeking Diversity

A discussion between P.E. and Mari.

P.E.: I believe that the idea of needing diverse books is accepted by now. I read a comment somewhere that now, readers should start reading them. So, Mari, do you read diverse books?

MARI: Fascinating subject. I am super pro-diversity and I'm very happy to see diversity as a growing member of the community. I want diverse authors, diverse readers and diverse stories and characters. To answer your question yes and no. I read Outlander which is set in Scotland and features Scottish, English, Spanish and French people. I read I Hunt Killers which features a fantastic black character.

No, I don't or have not read books that are solely "diverse" which I think is slowly catching the meaning "about minorities". Diversity to me means not pushing aside the traditional white character, Caucasian people and characters are awesome and must be in book but what needs to change is the surroundings. Books need to realized that the main character can be of a "diverse" background and still associate with Caucasians. Or we can have Caucasian characters who have a diverse group of friends. It's the representation that is important. I want to read a book and be able to envision someone of my background there as well.

Lastly, I will read what catches my eye and if I should start reading diverse books, then those diverse books better start working for my attention.

P.E.: I'm curious: have you encountered books where white characters are pushed aside? I think it's valid to have books where there are not many white characters just because that is just as realistic as when there are mostly white characters, except much less represented in YA.

I guess what I'm thinking is that a book's marketing is often based on how much money the publisher will spend on sending out review copies and promotional material. Publishers will only promote books if they believe there is a market for them, and I think readers must be active in deliberately seeking out diverse books. What do you think?

MARI: I think readers have shown that they are indeed interested in reading diverse books which is the only responsibility they have in this process. The rest is business, a process of supply and demand. Readers demand it and now the onus is on the publishing companies to find the book, market it, and make it available for readers. If readers don't pick it up then it's a failure in the publishers side. They provided a good that customers didn't enjoy or want. This has nothing to do with the general topic more the specific venture. I think more effort needs to be put into it. And readers should be respected as the consumers they are who should have the highest expectations from the businesses that are supposed to cater to them.

As for books that have pushed whites aside, there are many (Before You by Amber Hart) where white people were pictured as Christian, racist and rich. I think the concept of diversity also owes all races a chance to be different from the stereotype.

P.E.: Yeah, but diversity doesn't mean the stereotypes don't exist. It means they aren't all that there is, which is why racist, Christian, rich white people isn't too unbelievable to me.

And what I'm thinking is that we've all said we want diverse books, but I disagree that we've clearly shown it. I'm thinking of what Natalia Sylvester said in this post about how end of the year book lists show a lack of diversity. Diversity is one of those things that everyone agrees must exist, but it's not like we're going from zero diverse books whatsoever to representative YA. Diverse books have always existed, and we're trying to say we need more of them, but are people actually reading more diverse books?

This is definitely a false equivalent, but maybe it will help clarify my argument: are readers actually seeking out diverse books, or are we those people constantly on diets saying we need to eat healthier, but reverting back to fast food because it's accessible and everywhere? I think it's too simple to blame publishers for the lack of diversity in books. Readers should be reading more diverse books, and if we're not buying it, it ain't happening. Consumers often demand something vocally but put their money towards nothing else. Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are a perennial loser team, and their fans are always angry, but they still make the most money in the NHL and their revenues increase every year.

Personally, I can't say I'm doing all I can to support diverse books. I believe I have read more diverse books than in the past, but that was such a shoddy amount to begin with that I don't feel like it's worth any pride.

Mari: Reflecting on my own end of the year book list, I agree, I could've read more diverse books. But how many have you seen that you are very interested in reading and that are readily available for you to read? Accessibility and interest are important. A perfect diverse book society for me would be seamlessly integrated into all books and not require us to take note of how diverse our reading list is. Diversity is life and just like we don't take note of how many "diverse" friends we have, I would like to do the same with books.

I guess what I'm trying to say is it's a three way road. Publishers, readers and authors have to work together for this transition. Great stories with representative characters have to be written, published and marketed with the help, interest and reviews of the audience. I will try to be more aware but I don't read to change the world. I read to enjoy myself and if a book with no evident diversity offers that for me then that's where my ship sails.

P.E.: I agree in some ways just because I'm not a huge contemporary reader and that's where the majority of diverse books are. I'm looking for more sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal diverse reads. It's hard to find them, but as We Need Diverse Books is growing, the visibility and amount of these titles is also increasing. For example, how good does Song of Blood & Stone look? I think the visibility is where we, as bloggers and members of the book community can come in by supporting the really good diverse books by giving them lots of press.

Books like Pointe, How It Went Down, Otherbound, and even undertones in The Walls Around Us give me hope because these are all books with phenomenal characterization, and diversity is a part of that. I'm looking forward to reading even more diverse books in 2015. Ideally, equal representation is seamless, but right now it isn't, so we need to work to make sure it is.

One idea I've always had is having more books from authors of different countries translated to English so we can read them. It feels like so many books are by Americans or take place in America and the American point of view is incredibly prominent in my reading. Now I want to explore the Chinese point of view, or a Middle Eastern perspective.

What do you think?


  1. Great discussion post. This is very interesting and also, diversity representation and seeing it in books is important. I became tired of the same type of countries and Anglo-based characters and cultures..
    To add something more on top off this/ let's say we are seeing a slight increase in diversity in books, (mainly I'm into what PE is, that is..more in genres like Fantasy and sci-fi and paranormal YA). But consider this, look at the diverse books you've Read. They're all by white or authors that are not of the races of the entire book. How do u feel about that?
    There was recently a book about this and I was conflicted bc I am part middle eastern and I just wanted to see the culture rep. But in a way I felt weird bc the author wasn't of the culture. Is that biased of me?
    I think I'm going to make a discussion post on this aspect! I want to go deeper into this.
    Like you said, Mari, it's a three way road. All the people have to be motivated for the change: the authors, pubs, and readers and marketers. I think readers and bloggers and marketers are..but it is a risk - is it not? So it's tricy. But the world is growing more diverse so we need that in our books so we can continue to identify!

    ;) diamond @ Dee's Reads

    1. Hm, this is absolutely something to consider, and the way I've always seen it is akin to world building. If an author wants to write a fantasy, they have to know the world and its parameters. This would be what writing in a diverse setting, or about a diverse character would entail. It would probably be a little harder, and the author would have to do their research to make sure they're not misrepresenting anything. It's really hard to judge though because it's not obvious whether an author has firsthand experience with a certain culture based on their very short author bio.

      I, also of Middle Eastern descent, don't mind if someone that is not from the Middle East writes about the Middle East as long as its not factually incorrect. The other part of it is, even within a culture there are different opinions about that culture and they're all valid. So, for example, if the author wants to write about someone in the Middle East that despises their government and is having their rights trampled, they can do that because it does happen. It is not the only experience of the Middle East, and I think as a reviewer regardless of if I feel that is a stereotype or not true for my case, it is true for other people, so with that there is a great deal of room for an author to craft a good story.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion!


  2. Great discussion. It's always tough to talk about issues that involve race and other demographics... But that's precisely why it's so important to! You two have done a smash job of stating your opinions reasonably and responding to each other respectively. Hopefully you're continuing to listen to each other and consider each other's perspectives. And hopefully all your readers will too!

    When it comes to diversity and publishing, it's really a chicken vs. egg dilemma. (Or, like Mari said, a 3-way road.) No one side can wait for the other to make things happen; successful diversity in literature will take effort from everyone. Readers, writers, and publishers. No party is any more or less responsible than the others. Pretending otherwise is just deflecting one's own accountability.

    And like P.E. said, it's not just about talking the talk; we've all got to walk the walk too. Saying "I want to read diverse stories" but then not buying them or discussing them? That's not real action; that's lip service. (Hence why we joined the YA Diversity Book Club. There's also a great Dive Into Diversity initiative for 2015: http://ratherbereadingblog.com/dive-into-diversity-intro-sign-up)

    "I read to enjoy myself and if a book with no evident diversity offers that for me then that's where my ship sails." -- That's a fair statement... But if there is a book with no evident diversity, we must ask ourselves, Why does this book lack diversity? There likely isn't a good answer.

    1. I think that's really a testament to our friendship. We discuss pretty much anything. You should see our debates on Russia!

      I'm not sure I believe that the burden of responsibility is equal because readers can influence what will be published, but they can only do that by reading what is already published. Self-publishing changes this dynamic a little, but I don't know how much power they really give the reader. It's something I haven't thought about too much, but it would make for an interesting study,

      I agree with your last statements. I've generally noticed that the more diversity people read about, the more unsettling it is when a story lacks it.


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  4. Rereading this post (because we keep thinking about it, and plan to reference it in our post tomorrow!) and just wanted to add (because we forgot to say it the first time around) that like P.E., we'd love to see more books translated from other countries. For YA Diversity Book Club, we read a French book (translated) about two Muslim sisters, and that was such an interesting experience!

    We also agree that diversity, for now, tends to be centered in contemporary stories, but we would like to see it expand to more genre stories. There are a few awesome examples already though! The Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson, the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo, Otherbound (as you already mentioned), and even the Raven Boys (to some degree) by Maggie Stiefvater. :)


What do you think?