Tag Archives: Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers

Beyond Diversity 101: On Bisexual Characters and YA Literature

By Malinda Lo

In response to my posts on Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellersbisexual-books asked:

Malinda, could you please expand/clarify the following?   I’m not sure what you are trying to get at here.

diversityinya:

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pretty Little Liars has made a very comfortable home for itself on those lists, because I’m often asked whether having LGBT main characters is a problem. I know that the B is not the same as the L, G or (especially) T, but still: I’m thrilled to see a bestselling series with a queer girl lead selling so well.

This is a complicated question with a complicated answer, and I’ve been mulling it over for some time because I want to make sure I answer this as well as I can.

Please note that I’m trying to write this both for a general audience who may not have detailed understanding of these issues, and for the specific audience that asked this question: the people who run Bisexual Books. So I am focusing primarily on bisexual issues here, even though I touch on other issues as well to provide context.

First, let’s think about the acronym LGBT. That stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. Those are four different identities that have their own individual histories, issues, complications, and stereotypes. (I’ve decided not to delve into Q/queer here, because that’s a different discussion.) The primary thing I’m saying when I say “the B is not the same as the L, G, or (especially) T” is that each of those identities warrants separate consideration because they are separate identities. (I will address that word “especially” later on in this post.)

Yes, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people do encounter some of the same issues, partly because they are grouped together under that LGBT acronym. All folks within the LGBT acronym can face homophobia, even if it’s not accurate homophobia. That is, a transgender person could face homophobic discrimination even if they are not gay. And it’s useful for LGBT people to band together to fight certain kinds of discrimination, such as the movement for marriage equality.

However, the LGBT acronym also has the unfortunate side effect of blurring together distinct identities and of erasing some identities. I can’t tell you how often representation of or discussion of “LGBT” people in the media is actually about gay men only. Oh wait, I wrote a blog post about it back in May 2012: Queer women and (in)visiblity, in which I discussed an NPR piece I heard about the impact of television on public opinions about gay people. That NPR piece basically dismissed and then proceeded to ignore the incredibly significant work that lesbians and bisexual women have done for LGBT representation.

Relatedly, when I did my analysis of statistics on LGBT young adult books published in the U.S. from 1969 to 2011, I determined that 50% of those titles were about cisgender boys, with only 25% focusing on cisgender girls, and only 4% on transgender characters. That post, despite its flaws (which I still, at some point, hope to remedy), is probably my most widely linked-to post. It still gets hits from random places on the internet today, one and a half years later. The big takeaway from that post, though, was my conclusion that less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.

Hidden in that conclusion is this fact: less than half of one percent of YA novels have lesbian/bisexual female characters, and even less than that have transgender characters.

“LGBT” is a problematic term because it erases those distinctions. I understand why the term exists, but I often find myself extremely frustrated with it, because the experiences of L, G, B, and T people can be so different. Within the “LGBT community,” I’ve rarely seen extensive social mixing across the letters of that acronym. That could be because I’m in San Francisco, and there are so many of us that it’s a lot easier to divide into niche groups here than it would be in a small town where the LGBT folks stick together because there simply aren’t that many of them.

But the fact remains that the needs and experiences of the lesbian community often differ significantly from the needs and experiences of the gay male community. Sexism alone makes the lesbian and gay male experiences vastly different.

Additionally, transgender people have been misunderstood and stereotyped to a degree that is rarely addressed in the mainstream discourse on LGBT people. When I said “especially” in regard to the T part of LGBT, I meant that trans people face particular and difficult challenges in fair and accurate representation, though I do believe things are moving in a positive direction. This is due to longstanding and entrenched transphobia throughout society, but also because the trans rights movement hasn’t been active as long as the gay rights movement. Even though T is part of LGBT, that doesn’t mean their stories are being told; the T is often silenced.

When it comes to bisexuals, there are a whole lot of issues around biphobia that are not faced by lesbians, gay men, or non-bisexual trans folk. There are so many awful stereotypes about bisexuals as promiscuous, deceptive, or just plain confused. Sometimes the very existence of bisexuals is challenged by lesbians or gay men (“bisexual is just one step on the way to gay”). Sometimes queer folks feel threatened by bisexuals because they fear their bisexual lovers will leave them for a straight relationship. And then there’s the extreme sexualization of bisexual women on the part of so much mainstream heteronormative media. All of these stereotypes are messed up, and they are distinct to bisexuals.

Finally, I think there may be a perception floating around our culture that bisexuals are sort of a watered-down version of gay, and this is a big problem. This perception enables mainstream cultural creators to think: Oh, I should have some LGBT representation, let’s stick in a bisexual girl (this would never happen with a bisexual boy, because of a host of issues around homophobia). Then that bisexual female character can have a fling with another girl to attract attention/check the “diversity” box, but meanwhile she can mostly be involved in a relationship with a man, so she largely appears straight. (This has been the story line of so many TV shows involving “bisexual” characters over the decades.)

In case it’s not clear, I want to underscore the fact that I think this is wrong. This kind of representation of “bisexual” women essentially erases the existence of people who are bisexual. It’s flat, two-dimensional, bad storytelling based on stereotypes that primarily serves to underscore even more stereotypes.

Luckily, I think this is slowly but surely changing. Recently on TV, we’ve seen some much more complicated and nuanced representations of bisexual characters, for example on Pretty Little Liars (based on that bestelling book series) and Lost Girl (one of my favorite shows).

In terms of YA, which is what this blog is about (except for today’s lengthy digression!), representations of bisexual characters remain few and far between. (I do recommend Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World, Laura Goode’s Sister Mischief, and Nina LaCour’s The Disenchantments for a variety of representations of female bisexuality. The only representation of male bisexuality I can think of in a YA novel is Cassandra Clare’s series that includes secondary character Magnus Bane.) I tried to think through possible technical reasons for the lack of bisexual characters, perhaps because of YA’s focus on specific ages and narratives, and maybe those reasons do exist, but honestly…I think the lack is probably due to heteronormativity combined with biphobia. Bisexuality challenges the hetero/homo binary, and a lot of people (on both sides of the binary) are uncomfortable with that.

Personally, I believe that sexuality can be fluid, and very little is final when one is seventeen (although it may seem that way at the time). I even wrote my novels Adaptation and Inheritance partially to be a metaphor on bisexuality. Even more personally, I used to identify as bisexual myself. (I identify as a lesbian now, but call me whatever you like.) So to be honest, when it comes to bisexual characters in YA, I have a horse in this race.

I love the fact that Pretty Little Liars, one of the biggest bestselling YA series of 2012, has a bisexual main character in it. The series’ popularity is certainly significant. It means that YA readers are more than ready for bisexual characters; they already know and love them. I hope the publishing industry notices that.

Beyond Diversity 101: More on Representing Latinos

Submitted by Emily a DiYA reader (whose identifying information was deleted when Tumblr queued this — sorry! I don’t understand Tumblr. Grr.) in response to Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers

It seems your breakdowns are frequently linked to things I read regularly (YALSA Hub, PW’s Children’s newsletter) and I really enjoy your breakdowns. I read all 4 parts of this series, and while I enjoyed it all, I was especially interested in some of the comments regarding characters of color on book covers.

This is a topic I have paid attention to since the Liar cover controversy several years ago.  As a librarian serving teens in a public library setting, I am very aware of representation on covers of books I display and recommend.  I think visual diversity on book covers is extremely important, and I remember a really interesting post you did a while back on the trend of characters in color in silhouette or outline only [DiYA: Was it this quote that we posted?], so that their race was not known by looking. (Putting makeup on the fat boy comes to mind.)

Let me stress again that I agree that characters of all looks and backgrounds belong in our books and on our covers.  But I have to say one thing that bothered me, just a little, from part 3 of this series.  On discussing characters of color on the covers, Perfect Chemistry is given as an example where character Alex Fuentes could look Hispanic or could be a white guy with a tan. I’ve read all three books in this series and all three brothers are clearly Hispanic in ethnicity.  My issue here is that some argue that he doesn’t “look Hispanic enough.”  Again, I reiterate that I understand and wholeheartedly agree that people of all backgrounds belong on book covers.  But what exactly does “look Hispanic” mean?  Quite honestly, not all Hispanics look the same.  Not all Hispanics even have dark skin.  My husband is from Mexico (meaning born and raised there.)  His parents were both born and raised in Mexico.  Their parents were all born and raised in Mexico.  I admit, my knowledge of his family tree ends there but that’s 3 generations born and raised in Mexico, yet if I put him on the cover of a book featuring a Mexican main character, many would probably say he doesn’t “look Hispanic” or look Mexican.”  As much as we have to place people from a wide range of backgrounds on the covers of our books, we also have to realize that not everyone looks exactly as we think they should for their heritage, that doesn’t make that heritage any less real.

Malinda Lo responds:

Thanks for your thoughtful submission! I wanted to note that I totally agree with you that not everyone who is Hispanic looks like stereotypes of Hispanics. The issue of passing as one race or another is fraught with many complications (I’m actually biracial myself, but I  pass as Chinese), and I hope that what I wrote about the book cover of Perfect Chemistry is not being misunderstood. I was attempting to be brief (because the series of posts was already extremely long), but sometimes being brief leads to mistakes. So let me elaborate.

I wanted to clarify that the reason I did not include Perfect Chemistry in the “undeniably includes person of color on cover” category is because I am aware that the public’s perception of Latinos (and every other race) is skewed by stereotype. As I said in the post:

“The boy on the cover looks like he’s of color to me (in the book he’s Latino), but I can easily see someone arguing that he passes as a white guy with a tan.”

As you can see, I’m not saying that I personally see him as “a white guy with a tan.” Additionally, I used that phrase deliberately because it sounded ridiculous to me, and yet I hear that kind of thing often in discussions about book covers, race and representation. It’s a mistaken belief that people of color are all dark-skinned.

While many of us understand that’s not true, in the posts on diversity in 2012 YA bestsellers, I was attempting to look at the covers of PW’s bestselling YA books from a mainstream consumer perspective. What does “mainstream” mean? In this context, it means a white, middle-class reader, probably female. I believe that some of those mainstream readers would see the boy on Perfect Chemistry as being Latino, but I also believe that some of those mainstream readers would not. You only have to think of the public reaction to the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games to know that race is not always seen, even when it seems perfectly clear to some of us.

Similarly, even though the cover of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince features the character Jem Carstairs as portrayed by an Asian model, Clare has had her fans tell her that they don’t think Jem is Asian. She told Racebending.com: “He speaks Chinese, he is from China, he is portrayed on the cover of Clockwork Prince by an Asian model. And yet people still come up to me and say –or Tweet me and say–that they were shocked to hear he was Asian, or even that they are displeased that he is Asian.”

Basically, I wish everyone understood that being a person of color does not mean you fit into certain stereotypes of appearance, but the fact is, many people do categorize people (and representations) based on those stereotypes. I’m not saying it’s OK; I’m pointing out that it happens.

Beyond Diversity 101: Representing Latinos

Submitted by Liza in response to Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers

I’ll be honest. I hate the depiction of Latinos in the Perfect Chemistry series. It seems that it takes a white girl to save a Latino boy, who obviously must be in a gang, because he’s Latino. At least that’s the impression the first two books gave me, and I have no desire to read the third in the series.

It just seems to me it’s difficult to find good YA titles with Latinos. I know there’s Matt de la Pena. The Border Town series by Malin Alegria. Illegal, which is a great novel and very topical at the moment and Ashley Hope Perez’s What Can(t) Wait. (Though having just found this blog I’m hopeful to find more titles.)

Most other novels seem to be about a Latino boy or girl having to choose whether or not to join a gang, and I’m sort of tired of that depiction as if that’s all there is to being Latino.

As a blogger I’d love to simply review more diverse books that resembled my past and heritage. I’d like to see a Latina like me on the cover of a book as selfish as it is. Though, being a “white complected” Latina, I sort of doubt that’ll happen anytime soon. Aside from wanting to see more brown Latinos, there are also white and black Latinos out there who are either underrepresented or forgotten in the media and in YA. It’s like we’re an oddity, because we don’t fit neatly into a black, white, or brown role that society wants to label us with and if there is a white or black Latino it’s automatically assumed they are biracial, rather than being simply Latino.

I know, this is a long post. I apologize for the length, but you gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for the neat insights.

Thanks for your thoughts, Liza! We’ll have more on Perfect Chemistry and this subject tomorrow. — DiYA

Beyond Diversity 101: The House of Night

Submitted by Kim in response to Diversity in 2012 Bestsellers

(Spoiler warning for The House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast!)

Just an aside about The House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast: in addition to the biracial Jamaican American character Shaunee Cole, another supporting character is Damien Maslin, who is openly gay from the beginning of the series.  For a few books he had a boyfriend, Jack, although neither Damien nor his relationship has ever had anywhere near the screentime or development given to the straight main character or multiple other supporting straight characters and their relationships.  Also, the authors killed off Jack a couple books ago, and at this point Jack is one of the few characters whom they are leaving permanently dead rather than somehow resurrecting or reincarnating him.

Especially frustrating to me was the fact that the authors’ opening dedication to the book in which they killed Jack included an “it gets better” support-type message.  I felt as if they were saying, ‘Hey, hang in there QUILTBAG kids, because you can have a happy life … but in the meantime, read our book in which we kill off half of our underdeveloped gay couple! And, because Jack’s such a super-special guy, we’ll suggest in the story that Damien will get to reunite with Jack at some vague future point, probably in some kind of afterlife after we’ve killed off Damien too, and that means we can leave Damien alone and pining until whenever that is!  Isn’t it great that we’re supportive and inclusive?’  Ahem.

Beyond Diversity 101: Tackling the Tough Issues

By Malinda Lo

So, wow! The response to the Diversity in 2012 Bestsellers posts was incredible! Thank you for your thoughtful notes and comments. I’m going to answer some of your questions today and will be posting some longer responses over the next few days.

The first thing I want to mention, though, is that I noticed your responses have moved well beyond Diversity 101 — something that I’m really excited about. I think it’s important to talk about introductory issues with regard to race and representation, but after awhile, in order to move the conversation forward, we do have to start digging into the really meaty, messy issues — and you totally did that.

(I’m not saying that I don’t welcome more basic questions/responses — I do! And we’re working on putting together resources for those of you who wrote in asking things like how do I write diverse characters? Hang on!)

That said, this is where things get really sticky. Sometimes in internet discussions on race and representation, I get the feeling that people are playing Gotcha! Like, they’re waiting for someone to slip up and say something offensive. I understand the desire — I get it too. But since the very beginning of Diversity in YA in 2011, Cindy Pon and I wanted to make sure DiYA was a safe space for many different perspectives. We wanted to emphasize positive change, and while that approach may not work for some people, we think it’s necessary in order to create a space where all of us (and I mean all) can have discussions about race and representation. We don’t want people to be afraid to speak up for fear that they’ll put their foot in their mouth.

And honestly, I am perfectly capable of putting my foot in my mouth, too. Nobody is perfect, and discussing these issues is one of the quickest ways to mess up in public. But I think this is a discussion we all need to have — not only in terms of YA, but in terms of everyday life.

That’s why I’ve personally made the decision to try very hard to not be offended in these discussions. Sometimes that’s impossible, but I hope I’m able to temper my response — to take a moment to think about why I’m offended if I am, and to think about why that person (who is a human being) said whatever they said. Did they say it out of malice or out of simply not knowing any better? I think the latter is better addressed with generosity than accusation.

That’s what I’m trying to do, and I hope you’ll keep that in mind too as we delve into some really advanced issues about race and representation in YA.

But first up: I answer some simpler technical questions about the Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers posts.

Over at my website, Donna asked: How did you figure out which books included diverse main or secondary characters? Did you look up the titles online? or were you familiar already with the majority of books?

My answer: I found out about the diversity through a variety of means. I’ve read some of the series, but also I googled. The good thing about limiting myself to the PW list is that these are major bestsellers, and most of the books have specific wikis devoted entirely to them, with character descriptions galore. That’s not something you have with books that aren’t bestsellers.

lilomedina commented: Um, does it count for diversity that in the Lorien Legacies, the characters are not from Earth? (They’re aliens, sshhh!!)

My answer: I actually seriously thought about this, because science fiction and fantasy rely heavily on metaphor, and aliens are a clear metaphor for difference. However, I did read I Am Number Four, and the aliens in that series are distinguished by…their French accents. (It struck me as kinda funny when I read it.) So these aliens resemble Europeans and explain their difference by being vaguely European. Of course, Europe is a big place, and plenty of Europeans these days are not white. But the vaguely Europeanish aliens in the Lorien Legacies certainly seemed (to me) to pass as white, and the story did not engage with issues of race, sexual orientation, or disability as far as I could tell. (Which is fine! Not every book needs to to do this. I’m not saying this book is bad because of that.) So that’s why I did not include the Lorien Legacies as “diverse.”

halfasleep-hearingvoices asked: Hi! I was reading your Diversity in 2012 YA best sellers posts and was wondering where the Rick Riordan books were. The link to Publisher’s Weekly page had Mark of Athena as #1 on the Hardcover Frontlist (viewpoints of a Native American girl and a Latino boy) and Serpent’s Shadow as #3 (told in alternating perspectives of biracial siblings). While Rick’s original Percy Jackson series may be middle grade, I believe the length and character ages put these two series firmly in YA. Thanks!

I primarily determined which books were YA using the publisher’s categorization of the title. The Mark of Athena is published by Disney Hyperion, which categorizes the book as for ages 10 and up. Technically, this does include YA, but by starting the age range at 10, the publisher is primarily targeting middle grade readers. This may sound really weird, and it is really weird, because YA and MG often overlap in the 10–12 age range.

So for books like Rick Riordan’s, I also look at trade reviews and where the book is categorized by bookstores. Barnes & Noble categorizes The Mark of Athena as for ages 9–11, which is definitely middle grade. While I couldn’t find reviews of these two titles because they’re later books in the series (often only the first book in a series is reviewed), the first book in the Kane Chronicles series, The Red Pyramid, is categorzed by Publishers Weekly as for ages 9–12, and by School Library Journal as for grades 4–9, both middle grade (see B&N for those reviews).

I’ve also read The Red Pyramid, and to me, it felt distinctly middle grade, not young adult. However, this doesn’t mean it can’t be read by teens, and I’m sure it often is. I’m actually really impressed that Rick Riordan has been so inclusive of diversity in his main characters, and I hope that since it’s obviously possible to have middle grade bestsellers with main characters of color, young adult will get there soon, too.

Diversity in 2012 YA Bestsellers, Part 4: Covers and Conclusions

By Malinda Lo

In Parts 1, 2, and 3, I examined diversity in 2012 YA bestsellers in individual titles and series. Today I’m looking at representation on covers, and then drawing some conclusions.

Among all of the titles surveyed, only two had covers that clearly conveyed the diversity of its content:

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  1. Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare — This is the only YA bestselling novel to unarguably feature a character of color on the cover.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie — The diverse content is clearly telegraphed on this book cover by the title and the illustration.

Two books feature debatably diverse covers:

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  1. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles — The boy on the cover looks like he’s of color to me (in the book he’s Latino), but I can easily see someone arguing that he passes as a white guy with a tan.
  2. Fated by Alyson Noel — The dream catcher/feather earring is a well-known and often clichéd indicator of American Indian mythology. The girl could be Latina; or at least, she’s not unambiguously white.

Conclusions

In Part 2, I noted that 17 individual titles on the PW list, across all formats, included diverse main characters. That list included 109 individual YA titles overall. What proportion of the YA titles on the PW bestseller list, across all formats, were diverse?

There are two ways to count this, both of them imperfect.

1. If you count every title on the list individually, meaning every single Pretty Little Liars book is counted separately, then it turns out that 17 out of 109 titles is 15.6%.

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The problem with this percentage is that it does count every single title individually. So for example, there are 10 Pretty Little Liars books on the PW lists, but there is only one Emily Fields; it’s not like there are 10 different minority characters.

2. If you condense the series so that those 10 Pretty Little Liars books only count as 1 series, and do the same with all the other series on the PW list, that adds up to 53 total YA properties (I know, I had to come up with a word). Those 53 include both standalone books such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and series such as The Infernal Devices. After condensing the list, you arrive at 7 diverse properties out of 53, or 13.2%:

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Now, I have been working on these spreadsheets for weeks, and I lost all my data at one point. Luckily my Mac allowed me to revert to previous editions, and I think I corrected my mistakes. However, I was the only person working on this. I didn’t realize what a giant project this would turn out to be. So I could have made mistakes — I probably did! Nevertheless, I don’t think I’m too far off with that 13.2%.

And after spending way too much of my time scrutinizing these numbers, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • These days, it’s totally normal to have diversity in the supporting cast of a bestselling YA series. While I personally am tired of having minorities relegated to best friend status, I do think this is a good step toward increasing diversity among main characters.
  • Cultural appropriation remains a real problem, particularly for representations of American Indians. There are three books or book series on the PW lists that feature American Indian characters and cultures: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, and Alyson Noel’s Fated. These books vary widely on the scale of cultural appropriation vs. cultural authenticity, and yet they all do contribute to increasing visibility for American Indians in YA literature. Whether or not that visibility is positive is a different issue (one that I’m not going to delve into here because it is too huge).
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pretty Little Liars has made a very comfortable home for itself on those lists, because I’m often asked whether having LGBT main characters is a problem. I know that the B is not the same as the L, G or (especially) T, but still: I’m thrilled to see a bestselling series with a queer girl lead selling so well.

TL;DR: There’s more diversity in the PW lists than I initially thought there would be, but some of that diversity is problematic. Does this sound like a mixed bag to you? It sounds like that to me, too. What did you think about this series of posts? Feel free to share your responses with us, or if you have questions about my methodology etc., please ask. I’ll post some of your thoughts over the next couple weeks as they come in.

Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 3: The Minority Best Friend

By Malinda Lo

In Parts 1 and 2, I focused on books with diverse main characters. As you could tell from the last two posts, the majority of PW’s YA bestseller list is dominated by series. In this post I’m focusing solely on diversity in YA series.

While only two of those bestselling series — Pretty Little Liars and The Infernal Devices — include diverse main characters, I wanted to find out how many of the other series included secondary/supporting characters of color or secondary/supporting LGBT or disabled characters.

The good news is that among the top 10 bestselling YA series (incorporating PW’s sales figures across all formats), 8 out of 10 include diversity in their supporting cast — and they’re the top 8 bestselling series overall.

1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; 27,700,000 sold) — Supporting characters include Rue and Thresh, who are black; Peeta Mellark and other characters deal with disabilities. There has also been a continuing discussion online among readers as to whether Katniss is biracial, although Suzanne Collins has said “They [Katniss and Gale] were not particularly intended to be biracial.”

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(Amandla Stenberg as Rue, Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh in The Hunger Games movie)

2. The Divergent series by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins/Tegen; 2,054,302 sold) — Supporting characters include main character Tris’s friend Christina, who will be played by Zoe Kravitz in the upcoming movie.

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(Zoe Kravitz has been cast to play Christina in the Divergent movie)

3. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown/Tingley; 1,129,754 sold) — One of the two boys the main character Bella Swan is in love with is Jacob Black, a Quileute Indian, although there has been widespread debate over the representation of the Quileutes in the series.

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(Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, and other actors portraying Quileutes in the Twilight movies)

4. The House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast (St. Martin’s Griffin; 878,014 sold) — Supporting characters include Shaunee Cole, a biracial Jamaican American.

5. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner (Delcorte/Random House; approx. 846,034 sold) — Supporting characters include a boy named Minho, who is of Asian descent.

6. The Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen; 781,972 sold) — One of the four main characters is Emily Fields, who is bisexual.

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(Shay Mitchell as Emily Fields [right] kissing Lindsey Shaw as Paige McCullers [left] in the Pretty Little Liars TV series on ABC Family)

7. The Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/McElderry; 756,712 sold) — Supporting characters include Alec Lightwood, who is gay, and Magnus Bane, a bisexual half-Asian warlock, with whom Alec has a romantic relationship. Notably, Magnus Bane has become so popular he will have an entire series of ebook short stories about him published in 2013, The Bane Chronicles; he also appears in The Infernal Devices trilogy.

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(Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane in the City of Bones movie)

8. Fallen by Lauren Kate (Delacorte/Random House; approx. 737,684 sold) — Supporting characters include Arriane Alter, who is a lesbian (she comes out in Fallen in Love), and a gender-nonconforming character named Randy.

9. The Matched trilogy by Ally Condie (Dutton; approx. 684,711 sold) — As far as I can tell, there is no diversity in this trilogy.

10. The Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore (HarperCollins; 613,653 sold) — As far as I can tell, there is no diversity in this series.

In Part 4, I’ll look at representation on covers, and draw some conclusions about YA bestsellers and diversity.

Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 2: Main Characters Only

By Malinda Lo

In Part 1 I looked at diverse YA Hardcover Frontlist bestsellers. In this part, I’m ranking all diverse YA bestsellers across all formats: hardcover frontlist and backlist, paperback frontlist and backlist, and ebooks.

However, I should note that ranking all the titles in one list comes with some problems because the titles aren’t completely comparable for several reasons:

  1. Not all of the books are new; that means some have been on sale for a lot longer than others.
  2. I don’t have sales figures across all formats for every book (remember, only print sales ≥ 100,000 made it on PW’s print lists).
  3. Some of the books are in series; others are standalones. (In part 3 I will be looking at series only.)

That said, I was still interested in finding out which 2012 bestsellers, in all formats, featured diverse main characters. So, using the figures I do have from the PW article, here are all the bestselling YA novels of 2012 that feature main characters of color, LGBT or disabled main characters:

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There are 17 individual titles on this list. Sales in each format are noted by different colors, and for the bottom 10 titles, only ebook sales were provided to PW. That doesn’t mean these books didn’t sell any printed copies; only that they didn’t sell more than 100,000 copies in each print format.

In more detail:

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton) — The widely acclaimed novel about two teens falling in love while dealing with cancer and disability.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown) — First published in 2007, the main character is an American Indian boy named Arnold Spirit Jr. The author is also American Indian. (Note: no ebook sales figures were provided.)

3. Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — First published in 2006, the series is told from the perspectives of four girls, including Emily Fields, who is bisexual.

4. Stunning (Pretty Little Liars #11) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

5. Fated (Soul Seekers #1) by Alyson Noel (St. Martin’s Griffin) — The first in a trilogy featuring half-Hispanic main character Daire Santos. The author is also half-Hispanic.

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6. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

7. Burned (Pretty Little Liars #12) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

8. Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare (S&S/McElderry) — The second book in The Infernal Devices trilogy, which is about a white girl named Tessa Gray. Part of Tessa’s story involves a love triangle with two boys, including half-Chinese Jem Carstairs. Written in the third person, the books feature some scenes from Jem’s perspective, but more importantly, Clockwork Prince is the only YA bestseller that unarguably shows a character of color on the cover. Although you could argue that this book doesn’t belong on this list because Jem is not the main character, I erred on the side of generosity in this case because of the book cover.

9. Ruthless (Pretty Little Liars #10) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

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10. Flawless (Pretty Little Liars #2) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

11. Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare (S&S/McElderry)

12. Perfect (Pretty Little Liars #3) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

13. Legend by Marie Lu (Putnam) — The first in a trilogy about a dystopian future Los Angeles, from the perspectives of two characters including Daniel “Day” Wing, who is half-Mongolian. The author is Asian American.

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14. Unbelievable (Pretty Little Liars #4) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

15. Twisted (Pretty Little Liars #9) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

16. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (Walker) — A contemporary romance about Mexican gang member Alejandro Fuentes and white cheerleader Brittany Ellis, told from their alternating points of view.

17. Wicked (Pretty Little Liars #5) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen)

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Once again, Pretty Little Liars leads the pack here in individual titles. Tomorrow in Part 3, I’ll focus solely on series, and address the trend of incorporating a minority best friend.

Diversity in 2012 Young Adult Bestsellers, Part 1: Overview – UPDATED

By Malinda Lo

On March 17, Publishers Weekly posted its accounting of the bestselling children’s books of 2012, including young adult titles. PW does this every year, and I’ve always wondered what proportion of these bestselling titles include main characters of color and/or LGBT characters. I’ve always assumed that very few of the bestsellers would prominently feature diversity, but as a former economics major I also know that I really shouldn’t make those kinds of assumptions.

So last week I sat down with the list, some spreadsheets, and crunched the numbers. The results both confirmed some of my assumptions and surprised me. This week, in four parts, I’ll be unpacking my findings. Here’s what I’ll be examining:

Part 1: Overview — Defining the terms of the analysis, plus the top 4 diverse YA bestsellers.

Part 2: Main Characters Only — Bestsellers featuring main characters of color or LGBT characters.

Part 3: The Minority Best Friend — Bestsellers featuring secondary/supporting characters of color or secondary/supporting LGBT characters.

Part 4: Covers and Conclusions — Representation of minorities on covers, and my conclusions.

UPDATED 4/2/13 11:27 am: Someone pointed out that I had not included The Fault in Our Stars by John Green when the characters in that book are disabled. Yes, that person is right, and here’s why I omitted it at first. So now this post and the other forthcoming posts have been updated to include TFIOS.

* * *

Part 1: Overview

Before I get to the top 4 diverse YA bestsellers, let me set the scene for the analysis. You can skip to the first chart (under “Diverse YA Bestsellers”) if you’re not interested in this.

The Data

The PW list is comprised of publisher-provided data on sales. The complete children’s list counts bestsellers in five different categories:

  • hardcover frontlist (new hardcover books, presumably published in 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • hardcover backlist (old hardcover books, presumably published before 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • paperback frontlist (new paperback books, published in 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • paperback backlist (old paperback books, published before 2012) with sales ≥ 100,000
  • ebooks (published anytime) with sales ≥ 25,000

There are some things to note:

  • Ebook sales only need to top 25,000 to appear on the ebook bestseller list. This is obviously much lower than the number for printed books (100,000).
  • A lot of books that made the ebook bestseller list did not make the printed lists. Presumably, those books could have sold up to 99,999 printed copies without landing on those lists.
  • The vast majority of bestselling children’s books were not young adult. Instead, they were board books, picture books, middle grade, or nonfiction titles like Justin Bieber’s celebrity memoir.

What does “diverse” mean?

By “diverse,” I mean: Books in which the main character or one of the primary point-of-view characters is a character of color, LGBT, or disabled. Note:

  • This is a very narrow definition. It does not include books that feature diverse supporting casts, but I’ll address that in more detail in Part 3 of this series. For now, I’m talking about main characters.
  • This also does not mean that these books feature well-written minority characters. They could be chock full of stereotypes, but they are clearly minorities.
  • I could not find any YA bestsellers that featured disabled main characters or supporting characters. I might have missed them, though; if I did, please let me know!

Diverse YA Bestsellers

Here are the proportions of diverse YA novels across all formats that PW tracks (Note: this chart has been updated to include TFIOS):

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The “Other Children’s Lit” category includes board books, picture books, and middle grade. As you can see, the majority of children’s books bestsellers are non-YA, except in ebooks, which makes sense. Younger children are currently not likely to read ebooks.

Looking more closely at the proportion of new YA books that were diverse, here’s the percentage of 2012’s YA hardcover frontlist bestsellers (new books) that were diverse (Note: this chart has been updated to include TFIOS):

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Honestly, 17% 22% is (a lot!) better than I expected. But there were only 23 titles on the bestselling hardcover frontlist, which means it only took 4 5 diverse titles to make that 17% 22%:

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  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton) — The widely acclaimed novel about two teens falling in love while dealing with cancer and disability.
  2. Stunning (Pretty Little Liars #11) by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — The eleventh book in the long-running series that is now a TV series on ABC Family. The series has four point-of-view characters, including Emily Fields, who is bisexual and has been since book one.
  3. Fated (Soul Seekers #1) by Alyson Noel (St. Martin’s Griffin) — The first in a trilogy about Daire Santos, a half-Hispanic 16-year-old girl who discovers she’s descended from shamans. Additionally, the book draws heavily from Native American mythology, though it has also been criticized for its stereotypical depictions.
  4. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard (HarperTeen) — A companion novel to the Pretty Little Liars series.
  5. Burned (Pretty Little Liars #12) — The twelfth book in the Pretty Little Liars series.

That’s right: three of the four five diverse bestselling hardcovers are from the Pretty Little Liars series. There are even more of them coming up in the next posts.

Tomorrow in Part 2: Main Characters Only, I take a look at all the diverse 2012 YA bestsellers across all formats.