This past week Twitter had a campaign about the diversity of books. People from around the globe tweeted about why we need diverse books. I, myself, participated in this campaign. I wrote:
#WeNeedDiverseBooks because the world’s story cannot and should not be told through one race.
However, race was not the only discussion. People also tweeted about race, gender, and sex. There is need for all these books. Everyone needs to be afforded the chance to read about themselves in literature. The realization of how lacking our literature is of diversity is represented in statistics.
In 2013, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Madison, Wisconsin completed a comprehensive survey of all published children’s literature for the year 2013. Out of 3,200 books, only 93 were about African/African-Americans. These 93 books included picture books, novels, and non-fiction. The statistics become even more depressing for other minority groups:
69 books for Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans
57 books for Latinos
34 Books for American Indians
These numbers demand to be addressed, and we must also not make the mistake of assuming one particular literature represents one specific race. My library’s teen librarian tweeted:
#WeNeedDiverseBooks because Black characters should be fairies and badass assassins too
I point this out because it seems that all literature that revolves around African-Americans is placed in a urban setting or should be about the Civil Rights movement. Yes, we need this type of literature, but we also need every-day characters of different races. This being said, I do believe that we need more urban literature for both young adults and adults.
I was afforded the opportunity to hear Jason Reynolds, author of When I Was the Greatest Speak. I was blown away by his discussion. He talked about how people today do not always understand another culture. What one might perceive as”ghetto” is displaying an ignorance of a culture. This can be portrayed by people’s perceptions of urban literature.
Characterized as gritty, violent, and over-sexualized, urban literature can be considered quite controversial to the semi-protected minds of suburbia. However, these books can and are culturally relevant to those living in an urban area. They are also going to be more appealing to urban teens more than John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Wanting to understand the appeal of urban lit to both teens and adults, Allyssa Harris, a certified women’s health nurse practitioner and Connell School assistant professor, completed several interviews about women and their reading habits.
Harris, who attempted to read an urban book and was disturbed about she read, found that most of her patients could relate to the literature. Many of these woman were avid readers of urban lit and shared their books with their friends and families. When Harris asked these women why they read this genre, the women said that the books reflected true life and accurately portrayed what happens on the streets.
While Harris questioned how these books influenced girls and their sexual activity, some of the books did act as a warning. A teen who read The Coldest Winter realized how her life paralleled Winter’s life and decided to change her ways, as she didn’t “want to be like that.” These books might not be what some considered the most ideal reads, but for others, it is a way of life.
Tyrell by Coe Booth
Tyrell and his family have been kicked out of their apartment and now are living in a homeless shelter. Trying to keep things together the best that he can, Tyrell tries to balance all aspects of his life.
This book grabbed me from page one. I was completely enthralled by Tyrell’s story and wanted to know how his story would end. Booth has weaved a plot line and characters that make you feel emotions. She actually fleshes out each character, so her reader can understand everyone’s viewpoint. You might not agree with where each person is coming from, but there is no questioning of each character’s actions and motives.
This is not a clean urban lit. This book contains sexual references, drug-use, and language. However, if a reader gives the book a try, they might discover the passion of a boy trying to handle a hard life.
The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
Winter Santiaga is a princess in the urban world. With a drug lord father and dotting mother, Winter gets almost everything she wants. Until one day, Winter’s world comes crashing down. Winter must now learn to navigate the streets without her father’s influence.
This is a gritty book. When I think of urban fiction, I feel that The Coldest Winter is the quintessential example of the genre. I think within the first chapter I was completely hooked and amazed by the language and plot line, specifically when the mother talks about her twelve-year-old daughter getting her freak on. When I asked a co-worker who was familiar with the culture about this topic, he was not shocked at all. He said that Sister Souljah captured the community accurately. The plot only becomes more intense as the pages turn.
Besides the intense plot, I really enjoyed reading about the different characters. Winter drove me bonkers. Touting herself as a street-smart girl, Winter’s only love is money and material items. Her need for expensive items continually takes her on a vicious cycle until her ultimate downfall.
I actually loved this book. I am a firm believer that any genre that is well-written can take its reader into its world and this book accomplishes this feat. I would definitely recommend this book to a teen who wants to advance to the next level of urban lit.
When I was the Greatest by Jason Reyonlds
This is an amazing YA debut novel. Set in Bed Stuy, New York, When I was the Greatest follows Ali and his two friends, Noodles and Needles, as they navigate life and its hardships.
This book is vastly different from the other two books I read, as Ali has a strong and present mother and the language is kept to a minimal.
Push by Sapphire
Precious Jones has known nothing but abuse in her life. Her mother belittles her and her father rapes her. Pregnant with her father’s second baby, Precious seems invisible to the larger world. Until one educator gives Precious and her life a new outlook.
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland is currently the only African-American soloist for the American Ballet Theatre. Overcoming socioeconomic hardship and racial adversity, Copeland has risen from living on a motel room floor with five siblings in Los Angeles to a ballerina superstar in New York City.