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YA Fiction

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I realize I’ve let quite a bit of time lapse inbetween posts, and being that this is only my second post, I’m not exactly off to a great start.  I’m going to proceed slowly with this though, I don’t want to mess it up and I don’t want to get burnt out. 

I read an editorial recently, the name of the author and the website I read it on escapes me, but what she had to say was of interest to me.  She was commenting on the dearth of color in the current crop of YA books and how recently it seems that we’re seeing a greater “whitewashing” of YA fiction in particular.  And so I checked it out, I ambled down to my nearest Barnes & Nobles and conducting my own personal and highly un-scientific evaluation of our YA section. 

My first thought was, “Wow, it’s gotten small…. Is everyone right, do young-un’s not read anymore?” Second thought was more along the lines of, “Wow, look at all the scantily clad white girls….”   I’m turning into an old fogie.

But after my initial perusal of the section, I very methodically went through each shelf, and by the time I got the end, I had a total of 9 books in my hand. 

I have to admit that I was bit affronted.

NINE.  That’s it.  Out of those nine, seven were black, one was asian (japanese specifically, and the other was east Indian.  And out of those seven, by reading the synopsis on the back, 1 was about a 15 year old quitting school and possibly becoming a stripper, another was a modern day romeo and juliet w/ interracial love and gang-banging, and there was another about teenage girls at a prestigious performing arts school and the only other one I can recall was one about a boy living in some urban city dealing w/ family in jail, non-existant father and overworked mother, and him getting into some type of trouble… I can’t recall the others…

The only one that really appealed to my inner teen was the one w/ the girls at performing arts school, I can imagine sheer drama and cat fights and I wanted to read the one w/ the 15 year old stripper because it was horrifying to me and I was secretly praying inside that they didn’t glorify it.

There was a brief convo in my head to rationalize it away, after all, I live in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s not exactly a bastion of diversity.  On top of which, I live in a fairly small city.  Also, I didn’t exactly read any black YA fiction growing up.  And that’s when I had to stop because the more I started thinking about the fact that I DIDN’T read any black YA fiction growing up, the more it upset me.

Alot of thoughts are running through my head.  Such as:  maybe this is why our black young one’s don’t read, is there black YA fiction being written?, and if so where is it and why isn’t it being sold in my local bookstore? And even if there are black YA being written, is it being read? What do young black people want to read about?  Or is the current crop of “urban” fiction all they want?

I don’t have children, but the thought of some future child of mine, who is 13 or 14 reading, “The Vixen Diaries” by Superhead does not appeal to me whatsoever.  And I say that as someone whose parents growing up had absolutely no clue as what I was reading.  And I can say that yes, I did read some things that were entirely inappropriate for my age, but those books was never tell-all type smut or urban thugging-hoeing smut. 

It was usually Stephen King-like smut.

One Comment
  1. I completely relate to your experience. My husband is 6th grade math teacher and i went to B&N to pick up some books for the younguns to read while in home room. I wanted them to have some interesting lit to read outside of Lord of the Flies that they could relate to. Imagine my dissapointment when I found the 13 year old equivalent of ‘Thong on Fire’ repeated over and over on the shelves.

    The reason you probably don’t remember reading any Black YA fiction in your day because there wasn’t any outside of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It’s really sad how what has been deemed ‘Hip Hop Fiction'(publishers are no better than TV Execs with their narrow view of those other than white) has seeped onto YA shelves.

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