The Kids are Diverse

Photo by Patty Nason

Remember how time felt when you were a kid? A year was the longest thing you could think of; so massive it barely fit between your ears. But as an adult, inevitable months, distinct and determined, line up and drop like stones. Perhaps novelty explains this shift; kids are flooded daily with new experiences, must constantly absorb fresh ideas and situations, whereas adults are on autopilot. We know what to expect. Maybe this also explains why, when I ask adult students to name an all time favorite book, most cite one read in their youth. But what if a young adult cant find fiction that represents her particular race, religion or sexual orientation?

Malinda Lo Author of Ash, a lesbian take on the Cinderella story, wants to make diverse fiction available to all young adult readers. To this end, she founded Diversity in YA Fiction, a website to unite a positive assembly of readers and writers from all backgrounds. Now, along with friend and fellow YA writer Cindy Pon, Lo is personally conveying her message to readers across the US.

The Diversity in YA Fiction Tour which arrives at Chicagos Barbaras Bookstore, May tenth, brings together a mix of writers all determined to present YA fiction as diverse as its readership.

Our Town What inspired Ash?

Malinda Lo Cinderella was my favorite fairy tale when I was a little girl, and I always wished that Robin McKinley — who has retold a number of fairy tales — would retell it, but she never has. So, I decided to write the book I had always wanted to read. The lesbian aspect actually surprised me; the book started as a heterosexual retelling, but it became very obvious during revision that the main character was much more interested in another girl than in Prince Charming. That’s when I decided to just go for it and write a lesbian Cinderella.

OT What other YA fiction inspired you growing up?

ML I was and still am a huge fan of Madeleine L’Engle, especially A Ring of Endless Light.

OT What books do you recommend for LGBTQ YA readers?

ML Julie Anne Peters has written some amazing books about lesbian teens. I especially liked Pretend You Love Me, and her novel She Loves You, She Loves You Not, which comes out in June. I also love Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club and its sequels, and Sara Ryan’s Empress of the World.

OT What was the catalyst for forming DIF?

ML My friend and fellow young adult author Cindy Pon and I decided to launch Diversity in YA when we realized we both would be publishing Asian-inspired YA fantasies at the same time. We had joked before about going on tour together, and this just seemed like a once in lifetime opportunity to join forces. We’re so happy so many amazing authors have jumped on board with us!

OT Why is Diversity in YA necessary?

ML [Its] a reality, [and] I would hope fiction would reflect that. The United States is moving toward a population that is majority nonwhite, but theres still institutionalized racism throughout our society that prevents minority voices from being heard. Diversity in YA seeks to celebrate the different voices already out there in young adult fiction.

OT Was it difficult to assemble authors for the tour?

ML Cindy and I put together a dream list, ranging from bestsellers to major award winners, and set about inviting each one personally. We were amazed that the vast majority said yes right away even really famous authors! It’s been a really positive experience.

OT Who will we see in Chicago?

ML Cindy and I will both be at the Chicago reading. Her first novel, Silver Phoenix, is an Asian-inspired fantasy named one of the Top 10 Fantasy Novels for Youth by Booklist. [Also], Nnedi Okorafor, an award-winning Nigerian-American novelist who has written both adult science fiction and books for younger readers. Her most recent adult novel, Who Fears Death, was a James Tiptree, Jr. Honor book. Claudia Guadalupe Martinez is also a Chicago-area author; her award-winning first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume, is about a sixth-grade nerd and soccer player.

OT What are your future goals?

ML This summer, Diversity in YA will be sponsoring a Diversify Your Reading Challenge for libraries and readers everywhere. We’ll have some great book prizes to encourage folks to read about different people and cultures. And this fall, we’ll be doing some events in conjunction with the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego. Our website,, will have all the details.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. Shes kind of looking forward to it actually. IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn’t support comments. Join in the conversation by followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

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