Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Books that Celebrate Diversity

Top Ten (Twelve) Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Here at We Live and Breathe Books, two of us choose five books each week. This week, three of us chose more than 10 books because we really care about this topic!! This weeks topic is...

Books that celebrate diversity!

Noor's Picks

An Ember in the Ashes
Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I haven't read this book (it's on my increasingly long list though) so I can't speak for whether or not the content celebrates diversity or not but I wanted to include this on my list because celebrating authors is just as important as celebrating characters. Sabaa Tahir is a Pakistani American author and while she grew up in California herself her parents were immigrants and she has commented that "Books were everything to me. I turned to books to deal with this feeling of being an outcast. And I particularly turned to fantasy because in places like Narnia and Middle Earth I wasn't a scared little brown kid. I was brave and strong. I was never afraid." An author who is a woman of color who used her experiences feeling out of place to create her own fantasy world accomplishing her way into the limelight is a huge achievement in the celebration of diversity and it's important to listen to what these people have to say instead of basking in the words of white male authors (who aren't even a majority in writing but still seem to get a lot of attention).

Scott Westerfeld
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

We reviewed Afterworlds here and I loved it for a lot of reasons highlighted in my review, and something that contributed to that was definitely the fact that the main protagonist was Indian American, (kindof spoiler ahead maybe) exploring her place in the LGBTQ+ community (spoiler over it wasn't that big you can read it tbh) and learning about her parents' religion (Hinduism) for use in her book. It was just really realistic -- there are a lot of teenagers out there who don't really associate with the religion and culture of their parents but still consider themselves something other than completely American, still take something away, and there were a lot of themes explored in the book that I liked. -Side note from Amrutha- THERE'S AN INDIAN LEAD IN THIS BOOK AND I SWEAR THAT NEVER REALLY HAPPENS.

It's Kind of a Funny Story
Ned Vizzini
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Diversity extends past race -- intersectionality means focusing on issues of gender, sexuality, mental health, everything on the spectrum. I wanted to highlight books that focus on different topics, and this one follows the depression of a 14 year old boy. This was such an excellent novel, and I loved the way Ned Vizzini wrote about his depression in such a subtle way. It wasn't this internal monologue of "woe is me I'm sad all the time and my life is the worst ever" it was this dull pain you could feel in his writing. He was sent to stay in a psychiatric institution and everyone he met there was also so dynamic and diversely written. His roommate was Egyptian and in this slump until he brought him some music from Egypt (I mentioned this in my full review) and I liked this because there's a stigma about mental health with Middle Eastern and South Asian people especially so it was nice to include that character. Also, Ned Vizzini himself suffered through depression and based the book on his personal experience which really added to the reading experience.

R.J. Palacio 
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I haven't read this one either but I want to soon because I received a companion novel (Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories) at BEA and I'd like to read the original first. Anyway, I've heard a lot about it and I know focuses on a boy who has a facial abnormality and his experiences dealing with that. This is such an important story to tell because we use people as inspirational stories, like "wow look how they overcame this battle look at this sweet story aww how cute," we share links on Facebook, we do all that but we forget that people are real and living lives and this gives some insight into that. I look forward to reading it some time and reviewing it in full for you guys.

Boy Meets Boy
David Levithan
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I love David Levithan a lot. He's one of my favorite authors. And I think this was the first book I read by him. It's not just about a boy meeting a boy (you can guess from the title where the diversity in this one comes from), it's about the football team's quarterback going by Infinite Darlene and dressing as a girl (I don't remember if infinite Darlene was trans or just liked to crossdress (also I'm not sure if that's the proper/unoffensive term so if it's not let me know and I'll change it)), it's about ex boyfriends and religious parents and joy scouts instead of boy scouts. A lot of people don't like this book because it's too gay, not in the sense that they're homophobic, in the sense that it's unrealistic. High schools aren't like that, entire towns aren't like that, but in my opinion, we've stories out there about the gay teenager who wasn't accepted and found his place, or didn't find his place, or whatever. It's okay to have some fun and have this ridiculous, out there town and this ridiculous, super gay story and just have fun and celebrate the gay. Also, I feel like this book embodies the song "Everyone is Gay" by A Great Big World and that's a great song and a great band and this is a great book and a great author and just read it and have a good time.

Marlon's Picks

None of the Above
I.W. Gregario
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Since I reviewed this pretty recently (here), the novel is still fresh on my mind and still in my current personal Top Ten. It's pretty groundbreaking as it traces the journey of an intersex person, which has been very rare thus far. Kristin's journey is quite important because it is realistic. Understanding and accepting her diagnosis is not easy on her, and it isn't easy on most people in real life, either. We her at her absolute worst, and until she learns she can still be loved for who she is, she's actually pretty tough to swallow. She often insults herself and other queer people and is often bitter about everything. And this makes a lot of sense. It's important to consider the lives of those who diverge from the social norm and how they must cope with it, especially when they didn't know to begin with. Kristin is an attractive white girl in a relatively well-off neighborhood. It's as dry as it can be, story-wise, and then this bomb is dropped that she has testes and we get to see her deal with the consequences in a way most books just skirt away from. Anyway, this is getting long and preacy. The book is great! 

The Iron Trial
Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
The Magesterium, # 1

(We've reviewed this one too, here.) It's pretty important to me to have diverse books for children's lit, even though much of the non-normative books are YA. When I first picked up The Iron Trial, I absolutely knew it was going to be great. I consider it diverse because one of the three main characters is a woman of color, and the protagonist has a disability. To top it all off, the book considers a lot of tropes from this kind of fantasy, like the absolutely heroic and good protag, and work against that. Love it!

The Ables
Jeremy Scott
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

We haven't reviewed this, because I just heard about it a couple of days ago and I've been plowing through it. It follows the journey of a group of disabled kids in a superhero school. Basically, they have to go through the special ed treatment for superheroes (or "custodians" in the book's lingo). As the plot unfolds and we see them go through their training and learn to cope with other people and create their self worth while also learning to use their powers in creative ways, we also get to see some awesome butt-kicking. This book is packed with laughter, and it should be, because it was written by one of the guys from Cinema Sins (if you don't know what that is, I highly recommend you google it.)

The Lover's Dictionary
David Levithan
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Another really important facet of diverse books to me is the normalization of it. Because in real life . . . diversity is the norm. LGBTQ+ people, people of color, neurodivergent people, disabled people . . . they all exist in good numbers in our society. When we read of their stories, it can be great to see the book not explain itself, not try to make a platform for anything, and just represent these people's lives. Books that do this amazingly are The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie and White Teeth by Zadie Smith: both contain a high level of religious and ethnic diversity that is normalized in the novel. Most of these other books do it pretty well, too. Most of this book is short spurts of poetry about the protagonist's relationship with his former romantic partner.

Amrutha's Picks

Third Daughter
Susan Kaye Quinn
The Dharian Affairs Triology
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Okay. so I haven't read this book yet and it was actually recommended to me this morning, but, Kiersten did a review of it here, which is super rad and I highly recommend reading! But, it has really stellar reviews and what's more is that I have searched high and low for books with Indian or Indian American leads in them. There are actually really little resources concerning the subject and what's more is that there are actually really few books with Indian leads. This is something that has bothered me and my friends for years and I'm so glad to see more books with Indian influence coming out! If you are interested in other books with Indian leads (see Afterworlds above) and check out this list that I contributed to a bit, made by the lovely Nicole

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
John Green & David Leviathan 

!!!!!!! This book is two of the most fabulous authors combined into a really great book which also happens to have an LGBT main character (one of the two Will Graysons). To be quite honest, there is so much I could say about this book and how genuinely phenomenal it is, and how I think the progression of the plot is so very real and the dialogue is actually amazing. But let me cut to the chase and tell you the best part: it's a great book, not taking diversity into account. I once saw someone tweet /paraphrasing/ "don't rec books as diverse books, but as good books that are diverse. Books that  are recommended as good only as diverse books creates a separate but equal situation." I think that's what's most important about this whole list, and about this book specifically, is that these are all genuinely great books, with killer dialogue and plots and everything you could ever want in a book, while also representing diversity in many ways.

Say What You Will
Cammie McGovern
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I reviewed this here! While the plot of this book somewhat deteriorates towards the end, the actual voice of the third person narrator makes this so worthwhile. Our two main characters, Amy and Matthew both face their struggles with disabilities -- for Amy, it is cerebral palsy, and for Matthew, it is coming to terms with himself (and other stuff that I won't spoil). Honestly, before this book I had never realized that I wasn't actively seeking out books that had people with disabilities as their main characters. It's just something that never crossed my mind, but after reading this and McGovern's really great writing style, all I wanted was more. I have a ARC of her latest book, A Step Towards Falling, which also features a lead character with developmental disabilities, so look out for a review of that soon!

What are your favorite diverse books?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. I LOVED Boy Meets Boy! <3 I think my favorite diverse book at the moment is Americanah. Not YA but fantastic!

  2. I'll Give You the Sun is just so beautiful and it features a gay MC. Flat-out Celeste was fabulous. The MC is somewhere on the spectrum and so awesome. I really loved The Year We Fell Down. The heroine is just so fierce, not letting her paralyzation get in the way of the things she wants. Loved her! I really appreciate that It's Kind of a Funny Story made your list, because Vizzini's account of his depression was really honest and point on.