If you admit to reading Young Adult fiction once you are out of high school, you will invariably be met with derogatory remarks. By refusing to read a genre because of the connotations associated with it, you are denying yourself access to a wealth of diverse literature. One huge difference between canonical literature and YA fiction is the amount of diversity which is represented in the novels. Minorities can often find a voice through telling YA stories, such as in the cases of Malorie Blackman and Tomi Adeyami. It is also in YA where these minorities are likely to find themselves represented in literature. There are certainly examples of minority characters in canonical and classical literature, though invariably the way that they are treated is problematic and they are often portrayed as caricatures of themselves with no real depth.
YA fiction’s depictions of minority characters contrast with classical fiction, such as Bertha in Jane Eyre, who is treated simply as the mad woman in the attic. Her ethnicity is only hinted at and she is demonised for being other. Her treatment at the hands of Mr. Rochester has no bearing on the way that Jane feels about him, implicating her in his racism.
Compare this with the wealth of minority characters who are present in the YA genre. Characters such as Persephone Hadley and Callie Rose (Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses), Zellie (Tomi Adeyami’s Children of Blood and Bone) and Dekka Talent (Michael Grant’s Gone) all represent varying characters and allow BAME readers to see themselves represented in a variety of ways in the genre.
In the latest book in the Noughts and Crosses series, called Crossfire, readers learn that Callie Rose, a black woman, has become one of the leading lawyers in the country. Admittedly, this is set in a society in which black people (crosses) rule whilst white people (noughts) suffer the systemic disenfranchisement that black people suffer in the real world. Seeing a successful black woman in literature could inspire BAME women to seek that success for themselves. There are certainly enough cases of people claiming that Hermione Granger inspired them to do better at school; there is no reason to doubt that similar would follow if people are exposed to other powerful role models throughout literature.
YA doesn’t only deal with racial diversity. It also provides representation for people of different sexual orientations. This is sometimes intersectional, as seen with the aforementioned Dekka Talent who is a black lesbian. Other YA novels also introduce LGBT+ characters, such as Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane (Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments) as well as Nico (Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus). This allows readers who may be struggling with their own sexuality to see themselves represented and acknowledged.
Mainstream literature can learn a lot from YA fiction about writing characters. It should be remembered that not all characters need to be straight and white. YA provides a great, safe place for BAME and LGBT+ writers and readers alike to see themselves represented.