Why We Need Diverse Main Characters

The discussion around diversity is rapidly growing, and yet there still aren’t enough diverse main characters in literature. Why do we need diverse main characters? We began thinking about this a long, long time ago, but just this morning we read a blog post on Diversity in YA and began thinking about it even more. The post–written by Sona Charaipotra, co-author of TINY PRETTY THINGS–is about championing #ownvoices novels while simultaneously writing outside of your community. We took some time to reflect upon the post, though we agreed with every word said.

And so, this is kind of a response post, if you will. After reading the post, we tweeted Sona saying why we think #ownvoices novels are important, and why we think there should be more books with Indian main characters. She replied saying she’s working on some, and–guess what?–we’re doing the same!

We think it’s important to both write #ownvoices and write outside your ethnicity. Not everything you write has to be directly reflective of your life, culture, and surroundings. There’s a fine line between writing truthfully, and writing for trends–and let us tell you, many people *still* think writing diversity is a trend. Do you see the PoCs around you? Are you a PoC yourself? That’s not a trend–that’s identity.

Which leads us to the point of this post: why we need diverse main characters, and why we, in particular, wish to see more Indian MCs. You know what the saddest thing is? Neither of us have ever read from an Indian MC’s POV. Sarena is, at the moment, reading THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN, but until she’s finished, we can’t truly say we’ve read a book from an Indian MC’s POV. And we’re Indian. We can name a handful of novels (and when we say handful, we literally mean no more than 5 or less), YA novels with Indian MCs. Sure, there are probably more, but the fact that it’s hard to name any at all is both startling and sad.

We think it’s important to mention, also, that we’re not talking about issue-based diverse YA. We want a book where the YA MC is both the hero, and diverse. She can be Indian, and the story won’t have to revolve around the colour of her skin. She can be Indian, and she can do whatever she wants.

Diverse characters are necessary in YA literature–and all of kids’ lit. It’s too late for someone to finally see themselves reflected in a novel once they’re an adult. No–kids, teens, should be seeing themselves in books. The only book we’ve read with Punjabi characters are THE CASUAL VACANCY and THE SECRET OF GRIMM HILL. The latter has a Punjabi side character, and we’ll never forget the way we felt when we first found ourselves in that book. We saw her and thought, hey! She’s like us! But having only PoC side characters isn’t enough for us anymore. We want more diverse characters all around. The publishing industry is a growing and revolving world, and we want to see diversity in all aspects.

Here’s a list of a few new YA novels written (or co-authored) by Indian authors:

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi

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MIRROR IN THE SKY by Aditi Khorana

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TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

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Do you know any other awesome Indian YAs–or diverse YAs in general–that should be on our reading lists? Until next time, readers!

-S&S

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12 thoughts on “Why We Need Diverse Main Characters

  1. NicoleLynn says:

    This is such a wonderful post! I completely agree that we need more diverse books and that writing about or from a PoC POV is not a trend–there needs to be more instances for PoC to find themselves in books. I have never had to experience this quest to find someone like me in a book and it upsets me and breaks my heart that others have had to do so. Books should be like mirrors and windows–allowing the reader to see themselves in a book or to experience the lives and cultures of others through the pages. I hope that we get more diverse reads!

    • The Writing Duo says:

      Thank you so much! Before We Need Diverse Books came along, it had never occurred to us often to look for more diverse books–or even write them. Now that we’ve written one, we really want to be able to share that story and voice and culture with the world. thanks again for commenting! 🙂

      • NicoleLynn says:

        I know I remember the We Need Diverse Books campaign and how I don’t think I ever fully thought about the lack of diversity in books before that campaign. I’m so thankful that the campaign shed light on this issue and helped me become more aware. I can’t wait to read your book! Congrats on writing & finishing your book!!! 🙂

  2. Read Diverse Books says:

    This was a wonderful post. Thanks for writing it.
    Sometimes we have to seek these books out ourselves because they may not be talked about frequently. That’s what I do to read diversely. I intentionally seek books with lesbian characters, or a Muslim protagonists, or Mexican American protagonists, etc.

    I know not everyone does this but it works well for me and I have discovered the most incredible books this way. I don’t want to wait until a book with a Latino protagonist becomes popular for me to read it. I’m glad you’re seeking out more books with Indian protagonists. This is a great thing!

    I recommend A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman. Also Alif The Unseen by G Willow Wilson.
    There’s plenty of others but YA Indian Lit isn’t my specialty. 🙂

    • The Writing Duo says:

      That’s a good way to look at it! I’m not always sure how to go about finding new diverse books besides what I see from blogs or on Twitter (especially the #WNDB hashtag!). I agree with the popularity aspect, too! We can’t wait for diverse books to be “popular” to read them. We have to read them NOW, so maybe they’ll reach a bigger audience in the future! Also, thanks for the recs, we’ll be sure to check them out 😀 -S&S

  3. Adriyanna Zimmermann says:

    Fantastic post! This is such an important topic and I’m really sad I can’t think of any YA books with Indian MC’s. All I can think of is actually an adult book: The Hero’s Walk by Anita Badami. I did use to envision Nehemia from Throne of Glass as Indian but apparently I was wrong…

    • The Writing Duo says:

      Thanks so much! It’s true; it’s pretty hard to think of Indian MCs in YA, but we still have hope we’ll see more in the future. And we’ll be sure to check that book out! Thanks again 🙂

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