Sunday, February 13, 2011

Latinos Don't Fall in Love, Asians Don't Tell Jokes

Catchy title eh? We also don't have friendship or sibling drama. No instead people of color live intense lives of prejudice, drugs, alcoholism, abuse (but not mental illness because for some reason no one wants to talk about that particular topic. humph). We never have any fun. There are no wealthy people of color, and there are no people of color who happen to be middle class.

I'm so freakin tired of that message that is constantly echoed over and over again in YA contemporary. I can understand the appeal of fantasy, especially the lighter aspects of paranormals. Sometimes it's nice to just curl up with a good book that's FUN. What a novel concept. I've been blogging for about a year and a half and I'm never able to post about my favorite love stories that feature people of color because at most I can think of about ten (well ten that I think are of good quality). I want to post my top ten favorite YA romances but there aren't enough to choose from. Although I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Don't even get me started on the large number of YA contemporary romances that are published (probably ten a week!). I've said it before but I'll say it again, I don't like comparing books written about Native Americans/Latinos/Asians/Black people to books written about white people but where are our Gossip Girls? Who is our Sarah Dessen (no offense to Sarah Dessen but I've read three of her books and I don't recall any of the characters being from different cultural backgrounds)?

Honestly though, about half of this post isn't really about me. Yes I've always mourned the lack of funny YA books about poc, but I never would have noticed how few YA romances there were about poc if my younger sister hadn't pointed this fact out to me a little while ago. She loves to read and I'm always giving her books I receive that I don't have time to read right away. but she ALWAYS asks me if I have any romance YA books for her and the answer 99% of the time is no. Which is really upsetting to me. My sister loves to read, but in the genre she loves most, she can never read about a Blatina like her finding love. I don't normally curse but that infuriates me, WTF. She loves the Perfect Chemistry series. A biracial romance between a Latino and a white girl. I loved it too. The first romance book we've ever talked about. I gave her If You Come Softly, another biracial romance, she really liked it but wanted less of a sad ending. I gave her A Wish After Midnight, she needed more romance (and here I was just hoping she'd learn something ;) Other was pretty good, paranormal with some romance, but again, romance wasn't the main factor same with Silver Phoenix. Perfect Shot also hit the nail on the head, quick read and very cute. She adored the book. But she's still waiting for her Black/Latina Sarah Dessen. Obviously each writer has their own style and so she will (thank goodness) never find a carbon copy of Sarah Dessen. But there has to be an unpublished (or even published) writer out there whose writing smart, funny romances for girls like my sister. Sarah Dessen writes more than romances, her characters are nuanced and they go through some hard times but the hard times are a little easier for her, a middle class girl to relate to, than say the hard times a working class guy faces over whether or not to deal drugs because of the need for money. She swoons over plenty of guy characters in books (too much so for my liking) but is it selfish of me to hope that one day she will excitedly tell me about this really cute Black guy she fell in love with through a book and hey he didn't fall in love with a white girl (because while I'm all for interracial relationships it can be a blow to continuously see in real life and in books, guys only going for girls of the same race and/or body type)? Speaking of interracial relationships, can anyone think of a YA book where the guy is white and the girl is Black? Hmm.

By that same token, why are interracial (interracial meaning Black-white or Asian-white) relationships the main focus in YA books? I NEED more intercultural relationships a la Girl Overboard (Asian-Latino, well a sort-of relationship) or even Wait For Me (Asian-Latino) or even same cultural relationships. It's as if writers are afraid to now only write Asian-Asian relationships for fear of backlash saying that Asians don't only have to love Asians. Obviously that's true, but it's also realistic, that many Asians still fall in love with other Asians (and please realize you could replace Asian with any other ethnic group). Personally I'm still waiting for my Black-Latino/a relationship (Bleeding Violet satisfies me on that end because it's completely awesome but it didn't satisfy my sister on the romance. However it's the probably the only book besides Silver Phoenix that she didn't care as much about the romance). But I'm also tired of the biracial relationships between a white person and Black person being so controversial. I get why it's such a tough issue when it's a white person and another culture, but I think Black-White relationships have been talked about enough on TV that we should all be able to move. Feature the relationships, but race shouldn't be a huge issue anymore. There will of course still be subtle incidents, but it shouldn't be the main focus, in my opinion. Bicultural relationships should be explored too; there are tensions between Blacks and Latinos, there are even intercultural tensions because many cultures value light skin over dark skin. People have been forbidden to date based on the SHADE of skin color. Yea how many times does that come up in YA? Doesn't need to be mentioned a lot, but it's an issue many teens of color may have to face, that should be reflected in books written for us.

And how about the humor? I L-O-V-E sarcastic/snarky main characters. Maybe authors don't want to perpetuate stereotypes that Blacks and Latinas are sassy, but y'know what, I think our people are funny. You have to develop a sense of humor to deal with all the extra stupidity we get. Luckily Mitali Perkins compiled a list of funny books featuring multicultural protagonists, and I definitely recommend Whale Talk, The Absolutely True-Diary of a Part Time Indian, Does My Head Look Big in This? and the Making of Dr. Truelove. But even Mitali's list is rather paltry, I believe there's only 19 books on the YA part and 16 for MG (on that side I definitely recommend Operation Redwood, 8th Grade Superzero and Watsons Go to Birmingham). Not to be greedy, but I need some more. When you compare the number of humorous titles about white people to the humorous titles about poc OVER TIME the numbers of deplorable. My brother and I both have a really good sense of humor and I 100% believe my brother doesn't read a lot of books about poc is because they aren't funny enough for him. He needs a slightly modified poc version of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Publishers before you say no to yet ANOTHER chick lit (and not to get off topic but I have some thoughts on all things Jane Austen but that's for another post) with lots of romance, friendship and family dramas or a book with a snarky main character, re-consider saying no, if the main characters are protagonists of color, give that book a chance. Trust me, there are at least three kids in my household who want to read them.

I'm starting Daughter of Xanadu which sounds promising because I could use some good historical fiction and hey, it has romance. As for my sister, I'm giving her Jazz in Love and Fury of the Phoenix to read next. I think she'll really like them both.

Romance (might be a little, might be a lot, there's not enough to choose from to really distinguish)

His Own Where by June Jordan

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Perfect Chemstry series by Simone Elkeles

Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger

Wait for Me by An Na

The Agency series by Y.S. Lee

Silver Phoenix series by Cindy Pon

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer (my #1 favorite romance, regardless of race)

Billi SanGreal series by Sarwat Chadda

Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (if this book doesn't break your heart....)

Mismatch by Lensey Namioka

Perfect Shot by Debbie Riguad

Girl vs. Boy by Yvette Collins & Sally Rideout

Other by Karen Kincy

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

She's So Money by Cherry Cheva

Duplikate by Cherry Cheva

Hotlanta series

It Chicks series

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson

Toads & Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by Brenda Woods

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Belle by Beverly Jenkins

Subway Girl by P.J. Converse (the only romance book I've ever been beyond excited for the release)

Please help me add on to this list. I want to have at least 30 books on here so I can eventually read them all and by the time Valentine's Day rolls around next year, I can list my top ten favorites.

PS Now that I'm done rambling, read the much more eloquent Neesha Meminger express what I tried to say.

PPSS Am I the only who always wondered why the S.A.S.S. series never had a book set in Africa or South America?

28 comments:

  1. Butterfly Swords, its a asian fiction.
    (i have silver pheonix on my kindle to read yet!)
    and i agree with you, i wish there were more books with native american protagonists =(

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  2. Here freaking here!!!!
    I think about this stuff ALL the time. I find it hard to believe no one is writing this stuff. I think that the big stores are refusing to stock them. Or the publishers simply won't buy them.
    And that's sad. :(

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  3. Yay! I'll definitely be using this list as a jumping off point, I loved JAZZ IN LOVE, SECRET KEEPER, and BORN CONFUSED. Wasn't so fond of WAIT FOR ME on the whole, but the romance was fantastic.

    I love that you wrote this post, because it's getting to me how little diversity romances have, period. There are so few characters of color, so few low-income, so few LGBTQ, so few with disabilities, etc. etc. etc. Grrr. Publishers, really, we'd buy books with diversity that aren't "issue" books!

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  4. You're so good! How did you get so wise and intelligent in so few years?! I liked Perfect Chemistry, Secret Keeper and Perfect Shot and I have When Stars Go Blue on my list to read in the next couple of weeks

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  5. I just remembered that the book I finished today would count: Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea. Basically, it's Sex in the City taking place in Saudi Arabia, except there isn't any sex because it's Saudi Arabia. That sounds odd, but it's all about romance and relationships, modern Saudi style

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  6. Speaking of interracial relationships, can anyone think of a YA book where the guy is white and the girl is Black?

    A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by Brenda Woods? It's just one of the subplots, but it's the only YA book I can think of. You're right; I hadn't thought of this before, but white guy/Black girl is probably the rarest romance in YA fiction. Some adult romance titles come to mind, but not YA.

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  7. I agree! People should be able to find themselves in whatever books they like to read - romance, humor, fantasy, mystery, whatever - and the published stories of people of color should come in a great range, just like people's real experiences. I also love Neesha Meminger's post.

    As far as books, Toads and Diamonds has some sweet romance in it. Lots of manga has romance, and often centers on Japanese characters - I love Ouran High School Host Club, which is also hilarious, and has neat stuff about Japanese culture, too!

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  8. While I commend your super cool post, I had to say: I'm Latina and I don't feel that.

    Happy Valentine's Day :D

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  9. Brava! I believe YA authors are trying to include a more diverse cast but may not be aware (until they read this post) that they’re employing racial stereotypes. I enjoyed Perfect Chemistry, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is one of my favorites. This is the perfect Valentine’s Day post. I love it!

    As for more romances of color books, The Notebook series by Laura Resau features a relationship between a biracial girl and a boy adopted from Ecuador. I reviewed it here: http://blog.sarahlaurence.com/2010/09/indigo-notebook-and-ruby-notebook-by.html

    My friend and YA author Maria Padian’s WIP is about a white boy who falls for a Somalian immigrant girl in Maine. It won’t be out for another year and will be published by Knopf. Her soon to be released Jersey Tomatoes are the Best has a Cuban American friend. I’ll be reviewing it on March 2nd.

    I have a YA manuscript on submission (“as u like it”) in which the love interest is African-Japanese-American and his sister is also a secondary character. Their family is middle class and untroubled. It’s the white MC’s (sorry) family that’s caught in a scandal. Fingers crossed that my agent will find a home for it. My current WIP features a half Chinese female MC with white love interests and funny/sassy friends of color.

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  10. Interesting Thoughts Ari!

    (could you email me plz... your email from me is bouncing)

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  11. Girl V. Boy by Yvonne Collins has a latina protagonist who falls in love.

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  12. Okay, seriously... How much do I love you and this post? :)

    Happy Valentine's to you, Ari! <3

    1) Brilliant title!

    2) I enjoyed reading all your points. You've given me some more food for thought, as usual - I agree on pretty much everything, and there are some new things for me to chew over too. Although this:

    "I get why it's such a tough issue when it's a white person and another culture, but I think Black-White relationships have been talked about enough on TV that we should all be able to move. Feature the relationships, but race shouldn't be a huge issue anymore. There will of course still be subtle incidents, but it shouldn't be the main focus, in my opinion."

    Much as I agree that we SHOULD all be able to move on, I'm afraid I don't see that reflected in society around me - even in a city like London. Interracial relationships (white/black or white/asian for example) are STILL causing problems. I've experienced it personally myself, so I'd still like to see more of this in fiction until the change in attitudes (on all sides) really starts to become more widespread. But, yeah, it's good to think about and I totally agree that there should be OTHER types of romances portrayed in YA books too. So I guess I'm not disagreeing with you - just continuing the discussion. :)

    3) I know we're talking about mostly contemporary here, but I have to tell you that Navin (in The Iron Witch) is both Asian AND funny. heh. *tries not to look like she is plugging her own book*

    Kaz

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  13. This is a fantastic post, thanks for opening my eyes to yet another thing I should have been able to see before now.

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  14. I've been looking for a POC version of Sarah Dessen for years to no avail. It's probably why my characters are POC who are from the suburbs(like I am) who dealt with familial,friendship, and academic issues. That's what I was exposed to so that's the kind of contemporary YA I write.I rarely dealt with race issues and def no drug/abuse stuff either.
    Also, I love interracial relationships and this post rocks.

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  15. I don't write YA contemporary, I write lower YA fantasy, but there is a white guy/brown girl romance in ARROW, my latest. (And the girl is a faery. And she's from a wealthy and powerful family. And her mother, who has dark brown skin and hair, is considered the most beautiful woman in their homeland, despite the majority of the population being pale-skinned and pale-haired.)

    My other favorite white-guy/brown-girl romance? Arthur and Gwen on MERLIN. But that's TV, of course, not books...

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  16. Hear, hear! Publishers, listen to this wise teen, would you?

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  17. But you are VERY eloquent!

    I know you've blogged often about the lack of well-written romance books featuring POC. I know you've read 'Belle' by Beverly Jenkins but have you read her other book, 'Belle and the Beau'? It's a love story set in antebellum Kentucky during the slavery era. I really like the purity of the cover image...reminds me of the old Mills and Boon books, lol.

    http://www.amazon.com/Belle-Beau-Beverly-Jenkins/dp/0064473422

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  18. @LunaMoth-Oh is Butterfly Swords YA?? That would be marvelous. I shall investigate. I assure you, you will enjoy Silver Phoenix! And yes more AUTHENTIC Native American protagonists are needed.

    @Ronni-This has been bouncing around in my head for awhile and I agree, these stories are being written. They jsut aren't being bought, in the never ending cycle of publishers not buying them because bookstores won't stock them or vice versa. *sigh*

    @Maggie-The list is not long enough yet for me to point out my favorites but yes Wait For Me was just ok. I felt that even the romance was rather fast.

    And YES we don't always need issues books. I could just as easily fall in love with a guy whose deaf, so why not
    show that in YA? ugh

    @Summer-I feel as though I write conversationally, which is not always good. I didn't know Belle and Belle and the Beau were different. I thought I'd heard that they were same? But I guess not since Belle and the beau is not set in Kentucky. The cover is really cute, I'm not familar with Mill and Boon, lol.

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  19. Million Dollar Girl by Anne Wilde

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  20. I also wanted to add--I was breezing through Twitter conversations and saw one between--I think it was between people who were NOT of color, and they were saying things like (and don't quote me on this, I'm paraphrasing) "I want a book where the color of the skin is only as important as the color of the character's hair."

    I had to sit back and think about why that bothered me. I thought about it for days. And then it hit me. Of COURSE, if all the books are representing the majority, and you are a part of the majority, then the color of a character's skin WOULDN'T matter as much, right? But when you're a a minority, your race is at the forefront of your mind almost all the time--at least that is MY experience--so why SHOULDN'T it be a big deal for a character of color?

    I wouldn't want to read a book where a person was blaming his/her race for all the problems in his or her life, but the reality for people of color is that their race/skin color/etc. is a big part of who they are. I think it should definitely weigh more than the color of a character's hair.

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  21. Also, She's So Money by Cherry Chiva has a cute romance component.

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  22. Hi Ari!

    I totally agree with you on the larger issue, but I did want to pipe up with some romance and/or Gossip Girl type stories for your sister--apologies if y'all have seen these already:

    Played and Jason and Kyra by Dana Davidson are almost totally romance.

    _Jason & Kyra_ especially is a really sweet romance with the classic 'geek-girl-and-jock-fall-for-each other' plot. Played has kind of an urban fiction-y cover, but it's really more of a straight-up romance.

    In the "Where is the black _Gossip Girl_ category?", she might want to try the Hotlanta series by Denene Milner and Mitzi Miller (rich twin sisters at a fancy private school), or the It Girl series (set in a performing arts school) by Tia Williams. Some of the Kimani Tru books might fit as well, although I think some are more romance-y than others.

    Tanita Davis's book _A La Carte_ has a romance component too, if I recall correctly.

    And _you_ might be interested in Alison Whittemore. Her books Sweet Thang and Hollywood and Maine are sweet, somewhat humorous family stories set in the 70s, while Life is Fine has a quirky, literary heroine who talks to animals at the zoo and has a crush on her 70-year-old English teacher.

    --Erin (a teen librarian)

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  23. Oop, I just double-checked in my library's catalog, and it's Alison Whittenberg, not Whittemore. Sorry about that!

    Also, I just learned about a new title by Lori Aurelia Williams called _Maxine Banks is Getting Married_, that sounds like the kind of fun romance your sister might like.

    --Erin (again)

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  24. Now I feel like a dork--I just noticed Jason & Kyra is actually in your list!

    That'll teach me to read more carefully!

    --Erin (who is going away now!)

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  25. @Erin-Leave as many comments as you like they are much appreciated :) I have heard of Maxine Banks and I've reviewed the first book in the Hotlanta series as well as Played by Dana Davidson. You are so right they both fit chick lit with diverse casts and I love that. I'm also a big fan of the It Chicks series.

    I read Tutored by Allison Whittenberg and I wasn't a fan. Have you read Tutored? If so, would you recommend trying her works again? I feel like every author deserves another chance and Life is Fine does sound intriguing (a crush on a 70 year old, what??)

    This is why I love teen librarians, so helpful :) And I must read A La Carte, I love the new paperback cover so that should push me to pick it up soon.

    @Helen-Push up When the Stars Go Blue! haha it's that good. Girls of Ridiyah sounds excellent, I can't believe the author is going to return to Saudi Arabia after writing that book :o More power to her. wouldn't it be considered adult though since it sounds like the girls are in the 20s? Regardless I'm so glad you put it on my radar because I definitely want to read it now.

    @Trisha-Right?! I was just typing this post out when that thought occured me. The only book I can think of is one by Virginia Hamitlon I think and I'd count Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame since subplots are fine but it'd be nice to see it as the main focus of a YA centered around romance.

    @Nic-How oculd I forget Toads & Diamonds? It does have a sweet romance, such a gorgeous cover too! Oooo I'm not familar with manga at all, I'll add it to this list.

    @Juju-Thank you for stopping by anyway and hey, that just shows that we are not a monotholic group :) Perhaps I feel this way in part because I'm so mixed up? :p

    @Sarah-It's slighltly depressing for Valentine's Day though. haha. You can't comment and talk about your WiPs! I just want editors to hurry up and read them and start a bidding war so I can then read them...=D

    Friendly warning: do watch the sassy friends of color thing though. It can be super tricky to naviage.

    Ooo a book feturing an interracial romance with white guy, Somalian girl set in Maine? Does Maine have a significant immigrant population? Interesting.

    I'm adding Jersey Tomatoes to my TBR, that's exactly what i'm talking about! A YA about friendship with one of the girls being Cuban but dealing with the universal issue of hating her body. And she's a ballerina, I love dance novels so double yay!!

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  26. Ari, thanks, your enthusiasm is very encouraging! I shall keep your advice in mind while working on my WIP. Later today I’ll answer your poetry question over at my blog. I’ve gotten behind in replying to comments after just finishing up a draft of NOT CRICKET. It’s being fact checked in England over vacation and then will go through more drafts and tests on teen readers before I show it to my agent.

    There is a large Somalian immigrant population in Maine, and Maria went to their community to do research. My son has a couple of Somalian friends at his high school. I can’t wait to read it too.

    The 2 MC’s in TOMATOES are white: a ballerina and a tennis player. The Cuban American is a new friend at tennis camp. There is quite a bit about Cuban culture, food, dancing and body image, but it’s a secondary plot string. The tennis coach is also described as brown like an otter. I do think you’d like this book.

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  27. "Personally I'm still waiting for my Black-Latino/a relationship"

    Check out Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper :)

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  28. What about "Flygirl" by Sherri Smith (not a "romance" per se, but has romantic elements between a Black young woman and white man, and deals with gender, race, poverty, war, loss, etc.) And, "Standing Against The Wind" by Traci L Jones. The "romance" is part of the story, not the sole focus, but it is also another powerful book. Both are very well written and have become favorites of mine.

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I love to hear from you!! Thank you for sharing :) And don't be Anon, I try to always reply back and I like to know who I'm replying to ;)