In the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about how we need to see more diverse books. There’s a huge We Need Diverse Books campaign dedicated to exposing excellent diverse books for children and teens. There have been author panels about diverse books at writing conferences–some of which were highly criticized for containing only or almost entirely white men.
There is no doubt in my mind that we need more diverse books, but there’s a statement I think is even more true: we need to spend more time reading, reviewing and celebrating the excellent diverse books out there. Many times this means purchasing books from small presses but there are many diverse books which have also met with great success.
Over the last several years I’ve read a great many books with varying levels of diversity, and today I’d like to honour some of the best diverse books I’ve read. What qualifies as a diverse book? Well, for the purposes of this list I’m focusing only on books that have viewpoint characters who are not white men; the ones at the top of the list are the most diverse, while the ones at the bottom are the least diverse.
There are still a couple problems with this list. A great many of them are about white, straight women. There are few people of colour and even fewer LGBTQ+ people. Most of these books are also YA, partially because I mostly read these books and partially because the adult books I have read have been primarily about white men. I’m also sure that there are many books I’m forgetting the titles of, but that’s probably a good thing because this list might be impossibly long if I remembered them all.
So, without further ado, here are my favourite diverse books:
This series is definitely one of the most diverse series I’ve ever read. The primary viewpoint character is a (white, straight) girl named Clary. Many other important characters are women, and while there aren’t a lot of people of colour in these books they use mythological creatures to tackle the issue of racism quite nicely.
Another reason why I’ve put this series at the top is that it actually has gay characters and–gasp–even a bisexual warlock. This is a big deal because while recent years have seen an explosion of LGBTQ+ romance and erotica novels, authors in other genres seem to be casually ignoring the existence of gay people. Oh, and because the bisexual warlock is such a well loved and developed character that he got his own anthology.
It’s also important to note that this series is also one of the most popular on the list, with over thirty million copies sold worldwide. ABC has even announced a new show based on the series.
All right, these books have gotten plenty of celebration, but it’s worth noting that such a popular series is also quite diverse. In fact, in the books Katniss herself has olive skin. Many other characters throughout the trilogy also have dark skin, including Gale.
There aren’t any openly gay characters in this series, but I suspect that’s partially because most of the main characters are frankly too messed up/busy fighting a revolution to have relationships.
I read the first book in this trilogy, Inkheart, many years ago and recently decided to reread it when I discovered that there were two sequels. The first book is a bit younger than the other books on this list(it’s more on the older side of middle grade) but the books grow significantly darker as you go on. I’m loving every minute of this book, especially because of the diverse points of view.
The primary viewpoint character in the first book is Meggie, a 13 year old girl. Other viewpoint characters include an Arabian boy named Farid, an old woman named Elinor, and Meggie’s father(who yes, is a white dude, or at least I assume so because Meggie is frequently described as pale). I’ve read lots of series with multiple viewpoint characters, but this is definitely one of the most diverse groups I’ve encountered.
Probably one of the most underrated science fiction novels of all time(Amazon calls it a classic but I can count on my hands the number of people I’ve met who have read it), Woman on the Edge of Time centers around a poor Mexican woman named Connie living in New York. She is unjustly committed to an asylum. During her time there Connie makes contact with an envoy from the year 2137 who introduces her to a truly utopian world where all races and sexes live together in equality.
Not only is this book a mind-bending look at what humanity might have to do to create an actual utopia, it’s an excellent example of diversity in fiction. You meet many different types of people as Connie survives life in the mental ward and explores 2137. This book definitely changed the way I see the world and deserves to be celebrated.
This is one of the books I remember most clearly from my childhood bookshelves. It’s an incredibly skinny book jam packed with fascinating stories of life in rural Vietnam. This book gave me a deep seated fear of wild boars(long before Robert Baratheon got killed by one) and a glimpse into a completely different way of life.
While the writing style of this book makes it seem like it’s really more intended for kids, this book is fascinating and I would highly recommend it to adults as well.
I find that when I like a Mercedes Lackey book, I love it, and this is one of the ones I loved the most. The main character is an Indian woman who also happens to be a female doctor in a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to practice medicine. She struggles to safely maintain her practice, adding an extra layer to an already interesting story as she searches for the magical secrets of her heritage.
Mercedes Lackey has written quite a few books with female viewpoint characters but in the interest of time this is the only one I’m sharing here. I urge you to take some time to look through the rest and pick out a few to read.
7. First Frost
I had the great honour of reading this book when I worked for Musa Publishing. It’s one of several Musa books I read and definitely one of my favourites(which is why I interviewed Liz… Twice). I haven’t actually gotten around to reading the rest of the series, but I’m excited to pick these up the next time I go on a book binge.
These books aren’t crazy diverse but the main character is a young woman whose family has run a fairy tale museum for generations. This series is real world meets fairy tale in the best possible way.
These are some of my all time favourite books, to the extent that I’ve based portions of every magical system I have ever(yes, I really mean ever) created on the extensive Charter Magic vs. Free Magic system used in these books. Some of this was conscious but a lot of it was subconscious stuff I didn’t realize I had based on these books until I reread them.
Oh, and all of these books feature badass female protagonists.
A popular series in its heyday, this is a series of novels about a girl who becomes a knight, pretending to be a boy/man throughout her training and most of the series. Alanna is an excellent, well rounded character and these books are quite honest about the challenges she faces as a female knight.
I’ll be honest: I read these books so long ago that I don’t remember too much about them, but the scenes I do remember will be stuck in my head for many years to come. And this is one series I’d definitely jump at the chance to reread.
If there’s any book I think should be mandatory reading for little girls(and probably boys too) everywhere, it is The Ordinary Princess. This is the story of a princess who is cursed to be ordinary. While her sisters are the most beautiful maidens in the land she is strikingly ordinary in both appearance and ability.
As she grows up and fails to find a husband her life gets pretty miserable. She finds out her parents are considering sending her away and escapes the castle, setting out to create her own life.
I love this book so much because while it’s fine to tell kids “you are beautiful” what matters even more is saying “you don’t have to be beautiful to be awesome”. And that is what I learned from this book.
What diverse books do you love? Tell me about them in the comments section below & I’ll add them to the list!