The topic of Ethnic Diversity in the YA Novel is a very large one and therefore I have applied some limits to my discussion. I am looking at contemporary YA novels set in the UK and, inevitably, I am not covering all published YA books, but those that I am familiar with.
Society in the UK is multicultural these days – following a census in 2011, the Office of National Statistics published data stating that the White Ethnic Group accounted for 86% of the population. The remaining 14% was split between Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, Asian/Asian British, Black/African, Caribbean, Black British and Arab/other Ethnic groups. The largest of these groups was the Asian/Asian British at 7.5%. However, these figures are already out of date and a study by the University of Leeds in 2013 projected that ethnic minorities will account for 20% of the population by 2051.
The question is: is this ethnic diversity reflected in the books written for Young Adults? To consider this question carefully, I am excluding books that specifically cover topics about immigration, asylum seekers or racism to concentrate on fantasy/adventure/detective/romance books where the protagonist is not White British. It is not that books that cover sensitive topics like asylum seekers, refugees and racism are unimportant – teens do need to read these book – they are informative and thought provoking. In fact some excellent titles in this group include:
- Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah
- Hidden by Miriam Halahmy
- An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons
- The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo
However, how many books (fantasy, adventure, romance) include a character from an ethnic group other than White British as a main character? One of the most influential books to do this is Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – a dystopian book where the main characters are both black and white. The book is an excellent adventure book but it is also a book that challenges preconceptions and makes the reader think about their views on race. In many ways it is a bit of a crossover book – being both an adventure series and a book about diversity.
Are there any books that don’t touch on the topic of race or stereotype but just deliver a great story where the protagonist just happens to be other than White British? I only came up with one book – an excellent book, recently published:
- Running Girl by Simon Mason – a whodunit with a teen detective – the characters are multicultural. Garvie, the teen protagonist, is of Jamaican decent and DI Singh is a Sikh.
This can’t be all the books – either I’ve overlooked some or I haven’t read the right books. At least I hope so, because I would like to see teenagers in the UK reading books that reflect their society and I would like all teenagers to find books with characters and settings that they relate to.