• LaTonya
  • "Don't Dismiss YA! Top Ten YA Books Written by Women of Color"
"Don't Dismiss YA! Top Ten YA Books Written by Women of Color"
Written by
November 2009
Written by
November 2009
Recently I visited a blog that was hosting a reading challenge for 2010. The challenge focuses on a particular ethnic group. When I asked about writers who write YA, the host responded that she preferred writers of the specific ethnic group but not YA authors. I replied that I was disappointed that Young Adult literature was not welcomed. I view the response as the slight it is. If I’m being oversensitive, I’m not without reason. The host tried to smooth things over, but for me it’s like trying to smooth things over after telling someone their baby is ugly. Often those who dismiss YA as juvenile, bumble gum stuff that real writers and serious readers don’t consider legitimate literature, are adults who haven’t read YA since they were adolescents, and let me resist the urge to rant about the journalists, who aren’t even book critics, yet they feel free to make sweeping, disparaging remarks about the genre. If you’re going to critique literature at least educate yourself. Read before you offer your analysis. Not doing the research is disrespectful to both readers and writers. I am a literacy advocate. I mentor teens and young adult women so I read a lot of YA. I read a lot of YA written by women particularly women of color. I know young adults have standards even when it comes to the fluff. Just like we enjoy our mix of guilty pleasures and ‘serious’ literature so, too, do young adults. With YA readers, you better be on top of your game. Young adults give you about twenty pages to hook them. With these readers regardless of the theme or style, they expect you to meet or exceed expectations. Look, I didn’t care for sugary nonsense when I was a teen and I don’t read it now. That doesn’t mean however I don’t put light fare on our shelves. I’ve learned to meet my readers where they are. Criticizing someone’s reading preferences is no way to get them to expand their reading habits. I’ve also learned that being disingenuous will get you nowhere with young people. I’m up front about what my preferences are and I also make it clear that I respect their individual choices. Before I tell you why a read is sub-par, I’m going to do my homework (reading is a wonderful thing) and I’m also going to share my opinion only when you ask for it. If you haven’t read YA published in the last decade, you are by no means qualified to speak on what the genre provides or the quality of the writing. Young Adult literature is one of the fastest growing, evolving genres in the marketplace today. And YA is not just for young adults. One of the earliest works that would be marketed as YA today would be the classic, Catcher and the Rye. Is this work not real literature? Writers like Kekla Magoon (The Rock and The River) and Zetta Elliott (A Wish After Midnight) aren’t writing vampire tales or syrupy love stories. Magoon’s book on the Black Panthers fills a gap on a group that has rarely been written about. Elliott writes speculative fiction that includes time travel and asks hard questions about terrorism and what we do in order to survive. If you’re looking for the Gossip Girls steer clear of these two. I’m not arguing everyone should read and love YA. I am arguing the genre is diverse and the writers are equally dynamic, complex and well worth reading. Today’s YA critically examines social mores, gender roles, identity, race, faith, culture, family, rape, domestic violence, addiction and mental illness. I’ve read amazing works ranging from the ordeal of female genital mutilation to life in the child sex trade, the trials of being a trans-gendered teen, the cost of love between teens of different races and cultural conflicts as seen through the eyes of a young person. YA like all good literature allows us to see ourselves. It challenges us to re-examine what we believe and to question how we behave. Does this sound like literature that should be overlooked, mocked and dismissed as a whole? I’m inviting you to expand your reading habits. Many of your peers here write YA. They deserve our respect and support. If you’d like a jumping off point, here are a few of my favorite works published in 2009: The Rock and The River by Kekla Magoon A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott Jumped by Rita Williams Garcia A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar Liar by Justine Larbalestier Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger Ash by Malinda Lo Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim *Justine is an Aussie. Her character is poc.

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  • LaTonya

    For graphic novels and comics, Rich Watson at PopCultureShock rocks. Also check out Guys Lit Wire. Ana at at things means a lot is incredible resource for fantasy and graphic novels and she's keen on multicultural lit.

    Pardon me, just remembered you're more middle school. Look at these blogs:

    Minding the Middle
    Charlotte's Library
    Asia in The Heart, World On The Mind
    Into The Wardrobe

    I'll be back. Need to eat. :-)

  • LaTonya

    Hi Catherine,

    I work primarily with girls and I read a lot of new writers, those who are under the radar. . In the last year or so, I've been trying to read more for boys. I can list a few choices but one of the best resources to check out is a young woman I mentor. Our relationship started out me mentoring her but you know the saying about the student being the teacher. Check out Ari at Reading In Color. She reviews poc books almost exclusively. This young woman is amazing. Do check out her Male Monday feature.

    My daughter likes Sharon Draper. I read some of her but she's been around since I was a teen. She doesn't need me to promote her. She's an icon with reason. There is a next generation writer though Jacqueline Woodson. She is amazing and she is a writer you want to know especially for reluctant readers. Most of her works are slim volumes. She covers serious topics without being heavy or preachy. She's prolific and well-established so she hardly needs me to toot her horn either but when it comes to reluctant readers, she is golden for me. Her books tackles the difficult topics that older, below reading level readers would enjoy without the text intimidating them.

    Back to boys and reluctant readers in general. I highly recommend graphic novels, comics, verse novels and poetry. All have worked for me and 99% of the kids I work with are reluctant or non-readers.Walter Dean Myers is a staple. Neil Gaiman rocks. He's not poc but he resonates across race and gender.

    Would you like a list of titles, too? Catherine, I can talk about YA with poc all day long. Ask and if I don't know, I know who to ask.

    We have a list of writers at Color Online. The majority of our writers write YA and children. I'm working on adding more adult writers.

  • Catherine Anderson

    Thank you for the list--as a literacy teacher working with 6-7-8 I am always seeking the right connect for my students--who are predominantly people of color, and are all two-to three grade levels below. I am a huge Mitali fan, she came to speak at our school last year. I am also a big Sharon Draper fan. What is your take on her? She has a new work out this year--which is not on your list. From Somalia with Love by "Na'ima Robert--is a big hit with my 8th grade girls at the moment. I would love to hear your preferred choices for reluctant readers of the male variety who are also men of color--if you'd be willing.

  • Martine Joelle

    Hey! I just made the connection! Great to see you here too.
    ;-) You have been a patient cheerleader and inspiration. For months I've been trying to create better time management for online communities and have been focusing on human rights and nonprofits and neglecting writing. Sad face. I've decided something needs to give so I'm going to cut out Facebook and focus more on my writing web community building and make SheWrites my daily space. I also just started interning with Women News Network so I'll try to send out info on women's rights news as well.

  • LaTonya


    Girlfriend! Don't you know I'm thrilled to see you here. You're starting your blog? Finally. Thank you, Maude. You know I will be there supporting and singing you praises. In the meantime, when are you going to guest blog at Color Online? :-)

  • Martine Joelle

    Thank you so much for beginning this dialogue, LaTonya. I read both Malinda Lo and Zetta Elliot's blog regularly and it is interesting what conversations and learning have come up for me in hearing about the bias of publishing houses on POC YA. I love the transformative power of literature through both reading and writing--especially for/about youth because I believe the lives of young people need to be investigated and respected for the inherent power and wisdom they have. I love these recommendations and will certainly add them to my reading list. I am launching my blog on youth, (YA) literature and human rights soon and will certainly reference your post.

  • Nadine Bouler

    as a writer, there is much to be gained in writing for young adults. The ability to change a young person's perception about books is huge. They are, after all, future readers. Why not make them love reading?

  • Patricia A. Farnelli

    Whoops, where did that d come from in genre? Sorry. I have 8 kids, seven girls and one boy, and six of them are in the young adult or adult category. It is great to get a list of recommendations. I am a reading specialist and do some work with gifted students. I really enjoyed your article as well, and it challenged me to check out this year's crop of young adult fiction.

  • LaTonya

    Thank you all for reading and commenting. I am glad to learn so many members here are open to revisiting or exploring this genre for the first time. I love talking about literacy, YA, women writers, poc and anything else that revolves around broadening our reading habits and supporting one another.

    If anyone is ever interested in recommendations or has suggestions for YA, please don't hesitate to drop me a PM, email or comment here.

    Thanks again.

  • Patricia A. Farnelli

    This is great writing about a great genred that will affect future generations. Every point is very well stated. I'm glad you offered this list of YA books currently out there, as well.

  • Rachel Kramer Bussel

    Thanks for this list - I'm a huge YA reader and I adored Skunk Girl. (About to read A Map of Home and Liar). There's so much really powerful YA out there.

  • Christina Brandon

    I also haven't read a lot of YA for a while so I'm glad you reminded me that it's definitely not all like 'Twilight.' And for providing a recommended list to get started reading. Thanks!

  • LaTonya

    Thanks Willona.

  • LaTonya

    I was very involved in the Liar controversy. I regularly read Justine's blog.


  • Willona S.

    I think you are very right to raise this point. I volunteer with a youth literacy program and I think it's so important to have good books that are appropriate and engaging for young people, esp. girls. Thanks for the list. I havent read a lot of YA since I was an adolescent but reading was so important to me then and I cherished the experience. I've have to check out some of these titles.

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Also, don't miss Erin Hosier's "Cover Girl" blog called White Wash -- she shows the cover the publisher originally wanted for LIAR, with a white girl on it, and describes a bit of the controversy. http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/cover-girl-whitewash

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    LaTonya, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this list, and for the guidance it gives our community as they choose their "holiday book gift" on our December 18th day of action! Thank you for your leadership.

  • LaTonya

    Thanks Carleen and Priscilla,

    I appreciate you taking time to read and comment.

  • Very nicely spoken!

  • Carleen

    Excellent post!

  • LaTonya

    Eileen, it's not marketed as YA though it would fit for my library. I have not read it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Eileen Granfors

    Have you read "My Abandonment"? I'm not sure it is YA. . . maybe though. Wonderful book. I love YA and think kids want to be pushed to view the larger world. e