One of my favorite quotes related to reading is by George R. R. Martin, “I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.” While Game of Thrones is not my cup of tea, I think that this quote thoroughly represents what I feel when I read (to the point that I think I am going to include this quote in my next tattoo). Books let me crawl into another person’s life and explore their successes and challenges. For me, reading has developed empathy and understanding for people I may have very little in common with.
The challenge in the current climate of published YA fiction is the lack of diversity. A great majority of books feature redheaded girls with green eyes and blue eyed boys with crooked smiles. Readers need to go out of their way to find books that deviate from this assumed construct. My ultimate hope is that the worlds of YA will begin to look like our actual world. That we, readers, will not need to go out of our way to find characters of color, culture different than our own, or sexuality different than our own.
Recently, we here at Bickering Books did a vlog on Jewel Parker Rhodes’s novel, Towers Falling. It was in the additional content that I found the most powerful message. Rhodes talks about her experiences growing up as a reader of color, who nearly missed her calling because of the lack of diversity in characters and writers in the classics she was reading. This experience thoroughly struck me and reminded me of how difficult it can be to find a YA fantasy book that has a leading character of color, instead of the fit pretty blond. Rhodes completely says it better than me and you can find that extended content in her novel, or read the Publisher’s Weekly article that discusses her speech on diversity. Along these same lines, there is a movement working to get more diverse in YA, called #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I encourage you to check out their website for more information.
Bickering Books has decided to also spotlight diverse novels we come across. We will be specifically spotlighting a diverse book a month. However, this is not the only time diversity will show through our book selections. We seek to review all types of YA books with all types of characters going through all types of relevant issues/chilling in fantastical worlds. I have decided to review the most recent diverse book I have uncovered, as opposed to picking my favs. I want this to be a continuous discovery, where I consistently add to my Goodreads/internal shelf.
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Nadira and her family came to New York from Bangladesh on a traveler’s visa, which expired years ago. In the aftermath of 9/11, all Muslims living in America become suspects for terrorism. Men are stopped, asked invasive questions, are held for unreasonable periods of time, and are deported. Knowing that they are currently illegally residing in America, Nadira’s family flees to Canada ask for asylum. At the border they are denied admittance and Nadira’s father is held in immigration for questioning. Nadira and her sister are sent back home to continue living life and succeeding in school, while their parents work through the immigration issues. But how can anyone go on living, with such uncertainty? The two girls fight for their family and their place in America.
What I liked: I remember these issues going on after 9/11, but I didn’t really understand everything going on (I was eleven at the time). However, after reading this, I have a better insight to what families like Nadira’s had to go through. To live in constant fear that family members will be taken away or go missing without a trace, and having no real way to fight back or knowing when your family will be reunited. This book opened my eyes to issues I truly didn’t have an understanding of and for that I am appreciative.
What I didn’t like: I felt that this book truly glossed over difficult issues. The ending felt too perfectly tied up and unrealistic. While it does give a sense of hope, I felt that hope could be conveyed in a more realistic way. Also, I wanted to be able to get into the character’s mind deeper. I wanted to know her family and environment better. I feel that this novel only scratched the surface of what this story could hold. It is an issue that needs to be discussed and worked through, I just wished for more.