Over the years we have actively tried to support and boost marginalized authors, but most of these authors tend to be American and I tend to lean towards reading USYA. This past couple of years or so, we have tried to read more UKYA and get involved in the UKYA blogging scene a bit more. But then we started thinking, why did we predominately read USYA?
When we started blogging we started out reading exclusively books by American authors, set in the USA. Is it because the YA market is dominated by America – even here in the UK? American YA books, for years, have dominated the YA section in bookstores and gained popularity across the UK – and the cinema. These books include Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, and The Raven Boys and many many more. Now when we think of YA we think of most American High School cliché’s – proms, basketball and American football games, and road trips. However, British schools and British youth have a massively different experience than these, but US books and authors still dominate our market and, ultimately, even my own blogging attention.
Now, this is not to say that American books are not highly deserving of praise. I’ve read some fantastic books these past few years. Some of those books include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, and most recently Descendant of the Crane by Joan He, and many other incredible books we’ve had the pleasure to read this year.
But, this past year we have actively tried to focus our attention on UKYA and trying to support UKYA books with marginalized characters by BAME authors. For those of you that don’t know, UKYA is a term and a twitter hashtag that focuses on championing UK Young Adult books. UKYA is Young Adult fiction that is written by authors that are currently residing in the UK. For those who are interested, some UKYA authors include: Malorie Blackman, Juno Dawson, Alice Oseman, Non Pratt, Lucy Ivison & Tom Ellen, Holly Bourne, Patrick Ness, Abbie Rushton, Louise O’Neill, Holly Smale, Cat Clarke, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Barrow, and many more. There are so many great UKYA authors, but it is also incredibly white. Over and over again, I’ve been asking myself if UKYA has a bigger diversity problem than America does? The answer to that is YES.
If you are part of the book blogging community you are probably aware of criticisms concerning the lack of diversity in YA. It’s led to some great movements and campaigns such as #weneeddiversebooks. Some great voices in the book community have led some great discussions on racism and diversity in YA, and a rise in awareness and an encouragement to read #ownvoices and marginalized authors has led me to reflect on my own reading and I’ve actively tried to read and promote books that feature more representation by authors of colour and other marginalization’s.
However, what I’ve noticed is that these discussions are extremely US-centric, and they only really discuss the lack of diversity in US publishing. These same discussions have not been widely applied to UKYA (That being said, anyone who follows UKYA on social media should definitely check out @helloiammariam on Twitter, who used to host #feminisminya & who actively discusses diversity in UKYA. I’d also recommend following @LucyTheReader who hosts #ukyachat which talks a lot of diversity and representation). The only UKYA people who have discussed this AT ALL are BAME bloggers & authors. It is only recently that it has garnered so much attention because of the discussions surrounding Zoe Marriott and her culturally appropriate novel The Hand, the Eye, and the Heart.
USYA is a mess, but UKYA is even worse. We need to do better as white readers. We need to actively support authors of colour and their books. When so few British BAME authors are traditionally published (less than 2%!!), when critically acclaimed British BAME authors, such as Rebecca Barrow, aren’t even published traditionally in the UK, our support is needed most. Buy those books, talk about those books, recommend those books, review those books! We all need to do better, including myself.
So while we are getting more diversity in terms of LGBTQIA+ characters, though certainly not good enough, especially when transphobic messes like John Boyne’s My Brother’s Name is Jessica are STILL being published. So, while UKYA is improving in places, there is also still a huge gap missing – and that is books by authors of colour. There is, plain and simple, systematic racism still taking place in UK publishing. A brilliant article was published on Dazed Digital about this and highlighted UKYA books by PoC that were to be released in 2018 and there were only nine! And while this year those stats are better, they are far from good, and really shows how far behind USYA we really are.
While great discussions of inclusion and representation are happening for American YA, these same discussions and standards also need to gain traction in UKYA publishing.
We, including myself, need to do better so here are some UKYA books to check out/keep an eye on (* not yet released & bolded is what we’ve read & loved):
- Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard
- Run, Riot & The Boxer * by Nikesh Shukla
- I Am Thunder & Kick the Moon by Muhammed Khan
- Orangeboy, Indigo Donut, & Rose, Interrupted * by Patrice Lawrence
- The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton *
- A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe
- The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave *
- The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah *
- The Novice by Taran Matharu
- Becoming Dinah by Kit De Waal *
- Heart-Shaped Bruise & Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne
- A Change is Gonna Come anthology
- Proud anthology
- All the Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman *
- Anything by Malorie Blackman
- Anything by Alex Wheatle
- The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta *
- The Jungle by Pooja Puri
- Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé * – okay I know this one isn’t released till next year it’s so long but I CAN’T WAIT FOR IT.
- Same with The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar *, and it isn’t even being published in the UK but it sounds great and it’s f/f
- You also need to check out You Don’t Know Me But I Know You & This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow because both are great and neither are published in the UK.
- Also, It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan, which is an anthology and it isn’t YA but Mariam does lots of great work for UKYA.