Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guest Post by Blogger Lisa Marie Pottgen: What I Would Like to see More of in YA Novels


I suppose first and foremost, I should introduce myself so you all know who I am.  My name is Lisa, or Just Another Rabid Reader, or Destinyisntfree on the Twitters.  Some of you have seen me around.  Some of you may not have.  If you aren't sure, I am that chick whose always talking about landing in Twitter jail.  It is inevitable that it will happen every time I do a group chat.  It is just a fact of life and I have accepted and even embraced it. 

I have begun to notice a trend in young adult novels, or at least in the young adult novels I have read anyway.  And before we even get into the meat of it, I love reading YA, and it is the main genre that I read.  I have loved a majority of the books I have read and this is not meant to be a dig at the genre or the writers.  I also write Young Adult, so I would never in any way try to say anything negative about my brothers and sisters in arms.

But here is the thing.  How often do you see a main character in YA that is a disabled person?  How often is it blatantly obvious that the main character is a minority?  I can tell you, I could count the combined total in the books I have read on one hand.  And that makes me sad.  Let me explain.

I am the parent of a child on the autism spectrum.  I also have another child with ADHD.  Two of my 3 children are mixed-race and favor their father's heritage and so have darker skin.  In a perfect world, race would be irrelevant, but since we do not live in a perfect world, I just think that it would be nice if they had books about characters that they could relate to as they hit their teen years.  Maybe I will have to be the one to write them.  Who knows, it could happen.

But I am going to focus more on the disabilities angle for this post.  As the parent of a young child who has both autism and what is suspected to be a mild cerebral palsy, where are all of the young adult characters that have had to overcome a disability and are thriving?  Where are the heroes and heroines who have to struggle to do things?  Is it that people do not want to read about characters like that?  Does that make it all too real?  I don't know.

It is those facts that have prompted the story I am currently working on.  I have published already a short story that is the prequel, if you will, to the novel.  My main character is a teenage boy who is autistic.  <Gasp> Yep, I am going there.  My main character was nonverbal his entire life, until he was a teenager, and in the course of the story, he finds his voice and finds out that just because he has difficulties, that does not mean he cannot accomplish great things.  These are the kinds of stories I want to see available for my children.  They need to have characters in stories they can relate to.  No one else is writing them, so I will.  And my hope is that, maybe, if I start writing characters like this and people see that there are people who want to read them, then more stories with characters with challenges will start to appear in the stories that we read.  I would read them.  Would any of you?




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35 comments:

  1. You know I haven't really paid that much attention but you are probably right about the dearth of minorities depicted in YA - I don't see much in adult fiction either. Not that I go looking for it but I would suspect they'd be hard to find if you did.

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    1. Most books the characters are so ambiguous, and you just can't tell. It is like they shy away from it because of fear of .. Well, something.

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  2. Yes, I would. My son has Asperger's and my sister has a fully-autistic son. So... I totally relate. They can be heroes too! :-)))

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    1. I recently found out that Asperger's is prevalent in my family. My youngest has full out autism, right down to the repetitive hand movements and the hitting herself when she is frustrated. The only difference between her and how autism is usually depicted on TV is that she is not nonverbal. It is so misunderstood and these kids need someone to look up to, as well! It's why I focused on this in my post.

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  3. Absolutely! Books sometimes get stuck in trends and do a lot of the same. It's nice when I read a book that stands out.

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    1. Exactly! It feels like a lot of fiction lately fits a cookie cutter mold. My intention is to shatter that mold.

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  4. +JMJ+

    The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is a Middle Grade novel with one protagonist who seems to be on the autism spectrum. (What he has is never named, but he has trouble reading faces, calms himself with repetitive gestures, etc.) He has a cousin who is half-Pakistani and part of the novel deals with the difficulty minority and mixed-race teens have in school. I didn't think about these issues when I was reading, but when it came time to blog about the book, I realised that Dowd had made quite a statement about modern British youth!

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    1. Wow. I was not aware of that book. It is rare to see a novel that addresses both the minority and the disability angle all in one fell swoop and I will definitely have to read this one!

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  5. Thanks for the giveaway!! I have been wanting to read Scorpio Races and Crewel for awhile. Both of them are on my wish list!!!

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  6. I absolutely agree with you that more diversity is required in YA. I think it is happening and that more and more books are starting to include minority, disabled and LGBT main characters in books. You are not alone! My current WIP features a gay, half Native American character who has dyslexia! :)

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    1. Awesome! I think that there are some people that believe discussing homosexuality in a book encourages the behavior, and in reality it just doesn't work that way. Maybe the same people also think that shying away from minorities and disabilities makes it seem like they don't exist. I think it is time for writers to take a stand and write outside of the mold.

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  7. Yes, I would read it. I have no problems...

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  8. I would love to see more YA books with disabled people. It would be very interesting to read about!

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  9. I'd love to see more diversity in books. A few people cant see the point in taking the time to research such books. But I think it's important in all aspects of multiculturalism that all different types of diversity should be present in books.

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    1. I agree. I suppose, in my case, it is a little easier for me to write autistic characters because I have first-hand experience. I have an autistic child and several relatives with Asperger's syndrome. Perhaps for the same reasons, it would be easier for me to right about the challenges faced by kids that are mixed-race because I have two children with those circumstances as well. For others, there is maybe a bit more legwork involved in writing those characters and it does not come as easily for them. Time will tell, I suppose.

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  10. I would definitely read them. It's true that it's not often you find that type of book, but there are many authors now who write books like that. I think it's great that there's an increase in them. I love that you write books other authors haven't. You make your children proud. (: Good luck with writing!

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    1. Thanks. I just think these kids, maybe more than anyone else, need a hero they can look up to, you know what I mean?

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  11. I completely agree about the lack of disabled or minority protagonists. That is why I prefer to specifically search for those books on my own. I don't understand why more people don't write about them since almost shook that I've read are amazing books.

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    1. I have only found a very small handful of books that fit those descriptions and it makes me sad. It is why I have decided to focus my main characters on those specific characterizations. My current main character for a short story is a teenage girl living with leukemia, and while that is not specifically a disability, I felt it still is something that needs to be written.

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  12. As someone who has suffer partial lower-body paralysis since age 17, I wholeheartedly agree. I assume the reason you don't see many wheelchair-or-crutch-bound protagonists is because they aren't physically capable of the requisite butt-kicking that YA dystopian, fantasy and paranormal tend to display. So why aren't there any contemporary disabled protagonists? I don't read much contemporary, but I would if there were a disabled protagonist, simply because I'd like to see how well the story would speak to my own experience.

    Another issue, I think, is that people are uncomfortable thinking of disabled people as attractive or even remotely sexualized. I was cheering like a madwoman when Peeta lost a leg (spoiler?) in The Hunger Games, but was sadly not surprised when this was left out of the movie. Heaven forbid we have a disabled love interest.

    Visible and non-visible disabilities present their own unique challenges, but it does seem we are finally beginning to see reasonable portrayals of mental illness. I'd point out Adrian Ivashkov of the Bloodlines series, who gets to be a sex symbol as well as mentally unstable, but in a realistic way, rather than contrived.

    I will say that Rick Riordan is amazing at diversity. His characters have learning disabilities and in the Heroes of Olympus series at least 2 out of 3 narrators are always non-white. I understand that you can't have physically disabled demigods because they wouldn't survive more than three chapters.

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    1. Thank you for reminding me of Riordan. I forgot about the learning disability premise in that book, and I will have to read through those again for some basis in my own writing as well. I think the reason I focused so much on this is because of the way in which disability has touched my life both personally and as a parent. I have some physical limitations due to something that happened when I was 18, myself. Kids need the reinforcement that just because they don't do things the same way other kids do, that does not mean that they CANNOT do amazing things.

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    2. I love how Riordan took his own son's ADHD and dyslexia and turned it into a demigod power. I'm glad you're tackling these issues as well.

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  13. Yes, I would read those books. Frankly, some of my favorite books feature disabled characters (i.e. The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie, where the hero is autistic or something similar to it or Simple Jess, where he is mentally retarded). When written well, it creates a story that is unique and heart-wrenching.

    I've recently read an interview with Stacia Kane who writes UF, and she said something similar. Her protagonist is a woman struggling with drug addiction and is not *perfect*, so many fault her for writing it, which is ridiculous, IMHO.

    To conclude, yes I would read it and like it probably.

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    1. Thank you for weighing in. And I am going to have to look for the books you mentioned.

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  14. I had never really considered these things before...it's interesting to read a different perspective.

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  15. I would enjoy seeing a main character with a disability. I don't know if it is one, but I have read a book with a girl who had a severe case of OCD. I enjoyed the book and it made me want to read more books with people who have a disability of some kind.

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  16. As an African American female, I'm more than familiar with the lack of minority protagonists in YA. When you do find them, it's in an issue novel or they have been assigned European characteristics. My resolve to write a minority-lead novel sprung from a post I read on Amazon by an African American teen seeking books where the characters looked like her, but were not problem books.

    Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool is a middle grade novel whose protagonist, Early Auden, is autistic. Also, Merlin, the protagonist of Merlin's Blade by Robert Treskillard, is blind.

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  17. Nice! I follow the blog Disability in YA, and they have some pretty good resources there. I do inwardly cringe every time I pick up a book with a disabled MC but only because I'm so afraid the author will botch everything up. I don't want an angelic or "magical" MC. I just want a real person dealing with real issues, even if he or she also happens to be fighting dragons or aliens or whatever.

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  18. I would love reading about a main character with a disability or something such as a lost limb or a disease. I haven't read many books like that but I would like to. If anyone has any recommendations!!

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  19. I would love to read it and I have seen you on twitter! Thanks~

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  20. Agree 100% that we need more diversity when it comes to YA novels... Great post and thanks for the giveaway.

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  21. I love to read YA books featuring minorities - like Gone series by Michael Grant, that has a lesbian and an autistic child! But surely there should be more books with minorities covered.

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