Student and Professor insights on why people need to read more diverse stories, inside and outside the classroom
By: Angelina Salvador
After reading plenty of young adult literature and coming of age narratives, a pattern is suddenly brought to my attention, especially when these are novels assigned to us throughout our entire lives in school. The majority of YA novels I’ve racked up in my brain all have one major thing in common: a white protagonist.
There is nothing wrong with having a white character or a suburban love story dealing with mental health, but there are too many of the same stories out there that only a few can relate to. This is why people need to broaden their choices in novels, write their own stories, and even push for more diverse characters.
Novels, especially young adult narratives, tend to always revolve around white characters. Often, the environment of the novel offers little to no diversity. This becomes tiring in the world of avid readers since they’re forced in schools to read the same plotline or characters that hold the exact characteristics.
Diversity in literature means that we need to shine a light on all the novels that have been shunned by schools with biased opinions. This means to have more books that have Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, etc. characters and plots inside our schools, syllabi, and libraries at home. Let these stories be read.
Without the diversity in libraries, in our schools, and homes, we would be enforcing the idea that only white characters, authors, and stories are the only type of literature that is acceptable. And it’s not. It needs to be ensured that teachers are providing students with a wide range of novels with various backgrounds.
It all starts in schools.
English Professor Lara Saguisag of College of Staten Island explained how important it is to read diverse literature. For Saguisag, it starts with creating a list of novels for her classes every semester, and looking back to her past personal experiences.
Professor Saguisag says, “In a way, I’m pushing back against what I experienced in graduate school—most of the children’s literature courses I took focused on “the classics,” which are written primarily by White authors, feature White characters, and reproduce racial and gender stereotypes.”
Choosing novels for her classes, she makes a conscious effort to pick stories that focus on experiences of the voices of youth that are often marginalized in terms of race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, and economic status. Diving deeper as Professor Saguisag says that a lot of her students told her how much they appreciate the choice in texts and how diverse the stories and characters were, which led them to learn more about unfamiliar cultures.
“When I taught Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves a couple of semesters ago, a few students remarked that the book taught them about the horrendous history of the residential boarding schools that tore apart and traumatized Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.”
Having teachers like Professor Saguisag create a diverse list of (young adult) novels, will help students learn more than just English in their classes. It creates conversations, spark interest in learning more about a certain topic the novel touched on. Most of all, it can inspire students.
Novels like Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang are some that Professor Saguisag has taught in her English 323 Coming of Age Narratives class at College of Staten Island, and are recommended to read.
Diana Arena, an English major at St. John’s University expressed the importance of representation in literature. Arena says, “having diverse characters allows for previously inaccessible insight that readers of a different background may not experience or understand.”
Students like Arena have constantly voiced their opinions on why people need to expand their choices in literature. Arena continues, “there’s only so many renditions of the same story with the same character(s) one can read. Not only is representation important, but it can inspire creativity and being a breath of fresh air to a reader!”
The options and experiences are endless if you open yourself up to other stories. Give these books a chance, because they might inspire you.