Monday, July 20, 2015
Ten Books That Celebrate Diverse Characters
I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.
Given that I spent the entirety of last year trying to diversify my reading, it's a little hard to know how to choose just ten books for this category. That project specifically focused on racial and national diversity, though, so I'm going to see if I can come up with books that represent a variety of different types of minority (or otherwise underrepresented) characters.
1. All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
This is a very sweet book about a family of five girls and the various everyday adventures they have. They also happen to be Jewish, and we hear about how their religion and its traditions are interwoven into the fabric of their lives. It seems oddly rare to find a book with Jewish characters that's not set during World War II.
2. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Many of the people that main character Opal meets in her new town are those that others look at suspiciously, such as the woman with a history of alcoholism whom the neighborhood kids call a "witch," and the intellectually challenged pet shop manager who has a criminal record. When Opal takes the time to look beyond the stereotypes, she learns valuable life lessons and builds strong friendships.
3. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
What's great about the world that Levithan creates in this book is that the plot isn't driven by the fact of the main character's sexual orientation — that's a non-issue at the high school where nobody bats an eye that the homecoming queen and the star quarterback are the same person (Infinite Darlene, formerly known as Daryl). This way, we can see that even gay boys who aren't struggling with social acceptance can still find themselves caught up in good old-fashioned relationship drama.
4. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Rowling may have gone a little overboard piling in every dark, brutal thing that was too raw for Harry Potter, but this book still provides a valuable opportunity to get inside the skin of those whose stories aren't often told, such as those whose opportunities are curbed by both poverty and stereotype, and those who self-harm to chase away their internal pain. Brace yourself for the darkness before diving into this one.
5. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
I had to read this twice for school, and I can't say I loved it either time, but I do remember the lessons it was used to teach. When the main character returns from a World War II POW camp to his Laguna Pueblo reservation, he has to figure out how he fits into the present-day culture. Should he try to assimilate into mainstream White culture or retreat into the past by clinging solely to Native tradition? Will the pressure to find a balance between the two drive him to want to numb himself entirely with alcohol and violence like his friends have done? This book is a good reminder that a single narrative cannot capture the experience of an entire group.
6. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg
Based on the author's own struggles with schizophrenia, this is the story of a sixteen-year-old's experience in a mental hospital and how she is slowly brought back to "normal" over the course of three years. Although I don't think her experience mirrors the experience of most psychiatric patients today, the opportunity to live inside this character's mind was a valuable way for me to gain empathy toward those dealing with mental illness.
7. A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Moss
I think I knew a little bit about synesthesia before reading this book, but it remains the only book I've ever read with a character who has this condition. I recently found out that a coworker of mine has synesthesia, and he said he'd never known anyone else with it, so I pointed him to this book. This is one of my favorite books — but make sure you have some Kleenex handy.
8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Not only does this book focus on a quadriplegic character, it overturns convention by making him a love interest rather than a prop to teach the other characters life lessons. On top of that, it provides insights into why someone might consider euthanasia, even against the wishes of everyone who loves them. I didn't fall in love with this book the way many people have, but it's definitely still worth a read.
9. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
After reading Roots (and various other books set during the period of chattel slavery in America), I thought I had heard all the different ways people coped with being slaves during that time period, but this was something else entirely. I had a vague idea (maybe from The Pox Party) that Britain promised slaves freedom if they helped the redcoats during the American Revolution, but I didn't actually know how that played out. Aminata, the main character of this book, not only serves the British but helps record the names of all the men and women who also did so and earned passage to Nova Scotia. Then another opportunity is offered, to settle in the new colony of Sierra Leone, even though it means the risk of being recaptured and resold into slavery. This was a fascinating and educational read.
10. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Although there are people in the world with severe facial deformities, they rarely show up in novels, and when they do, they're typically characterized as freaks or villains (think Phantom of the Opera). Not so in this book, where the character in question is a 10-year-old boy who just want to be treated like a normal kid. And we get more than just his perspective — we find out what it's like to be the sister, classmate, or friend of someone like Auggie.
What are some other great books that feature diverse characters?
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