Is YA Leading Diversity in Publishing?

From Book Riot:

Conversations about diversity in publishing and literature have dominated publishing news for several years now, internationally and across all genres and age groups. Many articles have explored the sad fact that, even well into the 21st century, publishing is still overwhelmingly white-centric, with authors of color less likely to be picked up or paid equivalent amounts to their white counterparts, and BIPOC publishing professionals being underrepresented in the industry at all levels.

In the New York Times article ‘Just How White is the Book Industry?’, Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek explore the revelations of the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, started by YA author L.L. McKinney, where authors of colour and white authors compared the amounts they had been paid for advances. It revealed that BIPOC authors were often paid drastically less for the same kinds of work. So and Wezerek dug deeper into the imbalance in the publishing industry, noting that only 11% of books published in 2018 were written by authors of colour, and speculating that this may be linked to the lack of diversity in publishing itself: ‘The heads of the “big five” publishing houses (soon, perhaps, to become the “big four”) are white. So are 85% of the people who acquire and edit books, according to a 2019 survey.

This trend is not exclusive to the U.S.; UK publishing has come under similar criticism, as discussed by Arifa Akbar in her Guardian article ‘Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?’. Akbar explores ‘how intransigently white, middle-class (and further up the ladder, male) [the publishing industry] remained, from literary festivals and prizes to publications and personnel’, before looking into recent attempts to rectify this lack of diversity that, to many POC authors and publishing professionals, seem distressingly reminiscent of earlier attempts that stopped short of bringing about any significant structural change.

. . . .

Looking at YA publications of recent years, it certainly seems that there is greater diversity, both amongst characters and authors – and these books are enjoying success that counters the argument that “diversity doesn’t sell.” Books like LL McKinney’s The Nightmare-Verse Trilogy, Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, and Tanya Byrne’s Afterlove feature protagonists and characters with multiple marginalisations, being POC and LGBTQ+, without the stories being focused primarily around overcoming racism, homophobia or transphobia. These authors, and many others, share marginalisations with their characters, or experience marginalisation in other ways. While every marginalised person’s experience is different, and it is possible for authors to write about groups that they’re not part of with dedicated research and the hiring of sensitivity readers, the fact that many marginalised authors writing from their own experiences are being published is heartening, and does seem to support the idea of YA as an area where diversity is being achieved more effectively than in adult literature.

Diversity, of course, does not simply apply to characters’ identities. Meaningful diversity must include systemic change that challenges the publishing industry’s centering of white, cis het, and abled experiences and makes the world of publishing accessible to marginalised authors, editors and people working in all other publishing roles. As So and Wezerek, and Akbar’s articles indicated, the publishing industry is still majority white, middle-class, cis het and abled.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Why the YA dystopia craze finally burned out

From Polygon:

The 2010s saw the rapid rise and equally rapid fall of the YA dystopian genre, with The Hunger Games and its followers dominating headlines and popular culture. It’s been argued that the dystopia boom was inspired by cynicism and anxiety in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but for those of us who became teenagers in the YA dystopia-obsession era, the films in particular served a different function: They cultivated a distrust for the government, expressing and amplifying how millennials around the world were tired of tyrannical leaders. The Hunger Games in particular helped popularize what had already become a thriving literary subgenre, with books from Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel The Giver to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series shaping the dystopian boom. And then the wave of Hunger Games copycats oversaturated the market and killed the fad — or so the popular story goes. But there were other reasons the YA dystopia boom ended, and they were built into its premises and execution all along.

The intensity of the fad certainly contributed to its end. In 2014 alone, four would-be blockbuster YA dystopian films hit theaters: The Hunger Games Mockingjay — Part 1, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Giver. But saturation isn’t enough to kill a genre, as the last decade’s rolling wave of new superhero films proves. The YA dystopian genre died because it didn’t evolve. Book after book and film after film laid out the same tropes, with the same types of characters all suffering the same generic oppression and experiencing the same teen love triangles. The Hunger Games struck a chord because of its lurid themes and the way it intensified its era’s anxieties about capitalism, imperialism, wealth and power inequality, and technology, but its followers largely added more gimmicks and different kinds of violence, and called it a day.

. . . .

The Hunger Games emerged from similar adults-vs.-youth stories like Battle Royale, but added new layers about media propaganda and the authoritarian structure. Author Suzanne Collins was inspired by Greek mythology, reality-TV programming, and child soldiers, and she used those ideas to give her books more texture. Her protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is relatable and down to earth: She doesn’t want to become a revolutionary or a hero, she just wants to keep her little sister Primrose safe. Her deteriorating mental health feels realistic, and it was mostly unprecedented in a genre full of bold teen heroes who came through the most horrifying adventures completely unscathed.

Following the Hunger Games series, subsequent YA dystopia films weren’t as richly realized, and the creators didn’t seem to care about the traumatic experiences their young protagonists went through. It’s unrealistic to have a film about teenagers overthrowing tyrants but little to no focus on their emotions. Katniss wasn’t endlessly stoic — Collins allows her to be vulnerable, and to learn that feelings are a sign of strength rather than a weakness. Many of the smash-the-state dystopia stories that followed avoided that kind of focus on feelings — or just followed the Katniss pattern of anxiety and anguish, without finding new territory to explore.

. . . .

While actual teenagers were struggling with their own idealism and a wish for a better world, fiction was telling them that systematic oppression is simple and easily solved with a standard good-vs.-evil fight, and that nothing that comes after that fight is interesting or relevant. The stories of how these dystopic societies were rebuilt would be more novel and enticing, but there was never room in YA dystopias for that kind of thought or consideration.

Which left nowhere for these stories to go after the injustices were overturned and the fascist villains were defeated. They all built momentum and excitement around action, but few of these stories ever considered what young-adult readers want to know: After one cruel leader is gone, what comes next? Injustice rarely ends with the death or departure of one unjust ruler, but YA dystopian stories rarely consider the next world order, and how it could operate differently, without stigmatizing its people. Revolution, post-apocalyptic survival, and restructuring society are fascinating topics, but apart from the Hunger Games’ brief coda about Katniss’ future PTSD, most YA dystopia stories just don’t explore these areas.

. . . .

And just as YA dystopian stories weren’t particularly interested in the future, they also were rarely that interested in their pasts, or even their present. They almost never explored their societies in any depth, beyond declaring them to be evil, violent, and controlling. We don’t really know much about the destructive regimes in the Maze Runner or Divergent series — we just know they’re bad. The run of dystopian movies in particular only offered the quickest, shallowest explanation of why a government would force its children into mazes, or make them kill each other. The Capitol’s desire to terrorize its citizens in The Hunger Games, or The Maze Runner’s focus on population control and disaster response — these are political excuses for mass murder, but not nuanced ones.

Link to the rest at Polygon

College Admissions Fiction and the Asian American Teen Imaginary

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

“GUYS ARE LIKE school admissions,” Claire Wang’s mom tells Claire in Parachutes, a new YA novel by Kelly Yang. “Get in first. Then worry if you like them back.” The analogy is cheeky yet revealing: colleges and boyfriends function on a model of scarcity, and thus attainment is far more important than agency. Parachutes traces this logic with a critical eye, as conflicts arise not only out of relational drama, a staple driver of YA fiction, but also out of the stresses surrounding elite college admissions.

Parachutes follows the relationship between Claire, who moves from Shanghai to Los Angeles, and Dani De La Cruz, a Filipina girl who is Claire’s host sister and a scholarship student at her prep school. The book is named after “parachute kids” like Claire, who are flown in from China in order to get a better education. Ironically, Claire is not very interested in playing the college admissions game, but Dani is resolute about getting into Yale, which she believes will lift her and her mother out of the working class.

Another recent YA release, Ed Lin’s David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets Into an Ivy League College, is “college admissions fiction” at its most blatant, beginning on the first page:

I was ranked eighth out of a class of 240. If I could end the year in sixth or seventh place, that would be a major win. […] My school is a public institution based in a landlocked town in northern New Jersey known for receiving 20-25 Ivy League college admissions offers every year. […] We’re the only school on the East Coast where about 80% of the students are Asian American, nearly all Chinese, and many with immigrant parents.

Unsurprisingly, the primary tension in the novel involves David’s attempts to square his nascent romantic relationships with the all-encompassing demand to build a perfect admissions portfolio. And, like Dani in Parachutes, David is a working-class outsider enveloped in a cluster of affluence.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Categories YA