These past two years, we have seen a definite surge in the amount of diverse books that are focus titles. This means that they are essentially a main focus for the publisher for the season and receive more publicity and marketing that non-focus titles. I am guessing seeing a couple diverse books floating around has probably led some people to believe that all the problems in publishing and life have been solved. THE END. WE HAVE ALL THE DIVERSE BOOKS WE NEED. We’re never gonna need anymore. Well, for starters, if you take a moment to look at the CCBC stats, that is simply not true. Only a fraction of children’s literature published each year features diverse* characters and a fraction of those books are written by the people who share the identities of the characters.
Okay so stats have been laid out. Minds blown. But that is not the point I am trying to make. With more books being focus titles, there is a growing pressure for diverse books by diverse authors to be perfect. (This post is not a critique of legitimate criticism and isn’t going in that direction.) Diverse authors don’t seem to be allowed the same wiggle room, white cis-het authors are. Their books must make or break an entire genre. That kind of pressure isn’t good for the long-term success of diverse books but also, it places pressure on diverse readers!!!!!
If a diverse book comes out, diverse readers are expected to immediately want to read it and love it. If we don’t love it, or find that there are faults, then we are the bad guys.
It might seem contradictory for me to say that diverse authors should be allowed to have non-perfect books and that diverse readers should be allowed to not like diverse books but here is the thing, the pressure on both diverse authors and readers is intrinsically tied to the concept of the model minority and assimilation, in my opinion.
We are supposed to be happy with the bits of representation we are afforded in the spotlight. We shouldn’t critique the breadcrumbs we get. We should be model minorities, we should assimilate, we should try to ignore what hurts us. And if we do critique, apparently, there is no win. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But the point of wanting more diverse books isn’t that we are going to read and love every single one of them. I don’t read and love every single book I read and I certainly won’t love every diverse book I read but I want to be able to have that option and be free from the pressure to love every single diverse book.
Basically, if diverse authors are free from the pressures of having to write perfect books, – from performing the model minorities – beloved by all, then diverse readers can be freed from the pressures of having to love all diverse books. Diverse books can and should be allowed to be NOT spectacular without it being a point against the general need for diverse books and a point against the diverse readers who are deemed as not being ‘appreciative’ simply for not loving a book.
I am not even sure if my discussion post really follows a linear progression and is coherent in terms of the point I am seeking to make but like hopefully, you do take something away from my discussion about the general pressures of being a diverse reader.
*the stats collected by the CCBC don’t seem to include LGBTQIAP+ folk which is an issue and a discussion for another day (and one I actually might do in the near future??)