I sound like a broken record but because of tech issues we are a little late this month with the Dive Into Diversity challenge. Oops. But here we are and just a few months left in the year! I can’t believe it. I’ve decided to go in a whole new direction with today’s check-in post because I was inspired (motivated? annoyed?) by a recent read of mine that falls in the romance category.
I read quite a bit of romance and I’ll sadly admit that the number of diverse characters I’ve come across is slim. (See: a lesbian/WOC supporting character in Victoria Dahl’s Flirting with Disaster and Liberty in Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy who is half Mexican.) This is why I was so excited when I found out an Asian American woman would be taking centerstage in the next volume of a series I’ve been reading. My expectations didn’t go beyond: it’s nice to know there’s more ethnicity reflected in this town than I imagined. But my excitement quickly turned to discomfort when I realized there was absolutely no nuance to her character. She was tiny and had black hair. She worked as a manicurist and then a nurse. She was over-protective of her son, and so proud she didn’t want to let anyone into her business. It was like the author had taken a list of Asian stereotypes and manifested a one-dimensional character with zero spark. She was so connected to her culture yet never questioned how her and her son were the only non-whites living in their town? The introduction of this character — through welcomed with open arms by everyone — made it glaringly obvious to this reader just how depthless this population was.
I was disappointed.
Readers are smart, and a seasoned one is going to be able to tell when the extra legwork has taken place, especially when it means researching a culture enough that it doesn’t pop off the page like a stereotype but instead is a respectful representation. Case in point: Not an ethnicity example but this weekend I read Katherine Locke’s Finding Center and stopped in the middle (for just a second), turned to my husband and said, you could totally tell how much research this author did on people with disabilities and the details of how a prosthetic would work for a dancer.
“Seeing someone who looks like you reflected in the pages of a book as a fully rendered, three-dimensional character can be powerful and transformational,” said Bobbi Dumas in this NPR blog post from 2014.
YES. YES. YES.
For more than the year I’ve been doing this challenge (and probably since the birth of Rather Be Reading), I’ve worked to make sure my reading is full of eclectic characters from all types of backgrounds. In addition to that, I try to seek out authors who are underrepresented. Awareness comes at different times for everyone but I think in the past few weeks and with the annoyance of the above reading adventure, I’ve undoubtably committed myself to seeking out books in this genre that smartly put me in touch with main characters – and authors – from all walks of life.
So I’ve added a few books to my list so far: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev; Making the First Move by Reese Ryan; Rumor Has It by Cheris Hodges; World Cup Hook Up by Katrina Ramos Atienza; The Way Love Goes by Christina C. Jones.
But I need some more suggestions! So feel free to leave some below. I appreciate it!
More reading on this topic:
- Push for more diversity in romance from Jezebel (May 2015)
- #WOCinRomance Tumblr (new releases AND fun gifs)
- Diversity in Romance survey (July 2015)
- Reading diverse books from Dear Author (July 2015)
- Romance Novels in Color
- Making strides with diversity in romance novels from USA Today
Don’t forget to jump over to Reading Wishes where Rebecca checked out the level of diversity represented on the shelves of her local bookstore. (This was such a great post!)