In the past week, I’ve read two books that have really resonated with me. The first one being Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, and the second being Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. Frankly, these books have absolutely nothing in common. The genres, themes, and characters are nothing alike. Nevertheless, I found a piece of home in each story, and was inspired to truly reflect on my experience with diverse books.
For the last few years, I have been trying to read a wider range of books, books with characters who are not straight, or male, or white. To me, it is important to engage with diverse texts that do not revolve around whiteness, or maleness, or heterosexual relationships. So when I picked up Akata Witch and SIMON, I felt confident that reading these books would be a positive, healing experience. My experience with these stories was extremely emotional simply because these are books I wish I could’ve gotten my hands on when I was younger. I always wonder who I would’ve been (or what I would’ve been like) if, as a child, I were able to read books with characters I could identify with. Would I have been more confident? More self-assured? More comfortable in my own skin? Would I have chosen to write a book at an earlier age, assured that it would be successful even though the characters may not have been male, white, or straight? What happens to children when they are able to consume positive media representation? Does it change them? Does it affect their self-concept? If our quality of representation changed, would young adults be able to imagine themselves achieving more, striving for opportunities that seemed inconceivable?
I often reflect on these notions. I think about them in relation to my students, who I push to read, and especially push to read books with main characters who look, think, and act like them. I know what it’s like to be hungry for a character I can relate to. I also know what it’s like to be fed table scraps in the form of the quirky black friend, the sassy gay friend, the black basketball star/drug dealer/criminal, or the ambiguously brown kid who has two or three lines. It is exhausting and alienating. At times, it has kept me (and I’m sure many others) from enjoying literature and media to the fullest extent.
I say all this to say that I’m thankful for the brown, black, and queer writers who tell these amazing stories, and create vivid characters that carry pieces of all of us. It’s an honor to read these stories, and I constantly feel compelled to add to this narrative, to create and promote more diverse art. We all deserve to feel at home in the stories that we love.
(What was your first experience with a diverse/multicultural book like? Leave a comment below, tell me about it! OR, recommend a good book for me to add to my shelf!)