I am so thankful that these books exist. They tell specifict stories and break stereotypes not because the characters do the opposite of what we expect them to, but because they are nuanced and have so many aspects to themselves. I think we are starting to see that minority characters are here not to make a book diverse, but that they can have full range in their own right. The characters in each of these books is flawed, complex, privileged in some way, and most of all, they are fighting internal battles. All of the struggles compounded to make the stories here very powerful, heartbreaking, but also more realistic.
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
I loved this book about resistance. It’s set in 1940s India, a time when Indians were fighting for independence from the British as well as fighting internally between Hindus and Muslims. They are also acknowledging the inequality within Indian society, namely the Untouchables, a group that can never change their fate. It was interesting that the main character is super privileged, a Brahmin girl, and she had to acknowledge that her savior attitude was actually harmful to the people she was trying to help. It was very honest the way Anjali was called out for calling the Untouchables “God’s children”–the term was dishonest and in fact, insulting. They preferred to be called the Oppressed, or Dalits. Only when we acknowledge things for what they are can we begin to make changes. Ahimsa can be used to introduce kids to activism and talk about how to check your privilege and the angle you are coming from, as well as recognize intent vs. impact.
After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
Oh my gosh, this was such a powerful book. This book is NOT reductive and you won’t find black/white conflicts. Rather, you will see the ways that varying opportunities and privileges strain relationships within the African-American community. Every character here is different: Bunny, the talened basketball star with promises of going pro; Keyona, the girlfriend who is grounded and sensible; Wallace, the orphan who has been abandoned by every one; and Nasir, Bunny’s best friend and Wallace’s cousin who is torn in the middle of it. None of these characters are perfect or token anything and I think that is the best thing about this book.
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
My first thought reading this was “How does the author know so much about us?” It does have the same narrative vibe as Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Gilbert writes about high school life in Cupertino, CA and it was just spot-on in describing the Asian American high school experience. Students are ultra-stressed and there is tremendous pressure to excel academically. College admissions is such a huge part of life and it affects social life and all your high school relationships. It resonated with me so much that I felt like I knew these people. I knew Regina, and Harry, and Danny. The best thing about this book is that it is not only about Asian Americans OR queer friendships, but also about immigration status, mental health, and teen challenges. It is one of my favorite books because it does such a good job of describing the uncertainties of life and how nothing is as it seems.
Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
One conversation that’s been going on is that diverse books should not only feature the struggle of minorities, but also allow them to have joy and the full range of emotions and experiences that protagonists usually do. Taja, the main character in this book, is a good example of that. She experiences doubt about going her religion, loses her virginity, breaks up with her boyfriend, and applies to college. She doesn’t find herself in extraordinary situations, but her story is still worth telling because many teens do experience those exact same things.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
I still have to finish this. Really glad that these YA characters are multi-dimensional and not limited to their tragedies or their one strength. ❤