I started this project two weeks ago. So far I’ve read:
- Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, by Sy Montgomery (a bit of a cheat, since Grandin didn’t write this herself, but Montgomery interviewed her extensively and much of the book, as well as the introduction, is in her words)
- half of Jasmine, by Bharati Mukherjee (which I am giving up on — meh, adult books)
- Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai (which I loved and will review shortly)
Next up: Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, which I’m very excited about! Thanks to everyone for the wonderful recommendations. Special shout-out to my co-worker Emily and her co-worker at the Brookline Public Library for an excellent list.
It can be uncomfortable, deciding which books “count.” In the process of searching out a broader range of storytelling voices, I’ve put myself in the position of researching more about an author’s life than I’m used to. Why should it be my business whether an author is transgender or has a disability? Can one always tell racial identity from a photo? (Spoiler: nope.) I’ve settled on the principle that if a part of an author’s identity is so public that they share it in their backflap or Goodreads profile or website, it counts; otherwise I’m not digging further or making assumptions.
I know authors who would, I think, be uncomfortable with the entire premise of this exercise. They want their work to speak for itself, and feel icky about their personal lives being bound up in public reception of their writing. When that occurred to me, it gave me pause, and I’ve thought about it a lot since.
Ultimately I still think there’s something to my realization that my reading was character-diverse but not author-diverse. That means that a lot of the recent relative explosion of middle grade/YA novels with diverse characters are still being written by white, straight Americans. Why is that? Does it speak to a failure of the publishing industry to find, sign, and promote talented diverse authors, or to translate the works of international authors? I think it does. Even Tu Books, whose whole mission is to publish multicultural genre fiction, has signed an awful lot of white American authors. There’s no reason white authors should populate their books exclusively with white characters, obviously! (Or that straight people shouldn’t write about gay kids, or or or…) I’m glad diverse characters are popping up in everyone’s books. But I do still think it matters to hear and support the voices of diverse authors.
Honestly, I’m having a hard time filling my to-read list with well-reviewed books I’m excited to read and promote to my kids. That’s a problem.