|Cover by Amanda Rainey|
I love reading because fiction offers experiences that would never be possible for me: visiting other worlds with a spaceship or through a magical wardrobe, solving mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes and the Hardy Boys, saving the world with a group of wisecracking friends.
Although middle grade and young adult (YA) books are enjoyed by readers of all ages, they are especially important and meaningful to their target audiences — typically young people figuring out the world and their place in it. Books offer some of the answers they're looking for, open up new possibilities, and make them feel less alone. Reading also helps us develop empathy for others, by expanding our knowledge beyond our own limited life experiences.
However, lately writers and readers alike have pointed out that there isn't enough diversity in YA fiction (and admittedly in all forms of mainstream and popular media). What does that mean? Simply put, there are few writers of diverse backgrounds (e.g., people of color, QUILTBAG, differently abled), and few stories about diverse characters being published today. Compared to what? Well, as Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward point out in their book Writing the Other, the dominant paradigm in today’s society is a person of “unmarked state,” i.e., white, straight, and able-bodied (and in many cases, male). Regardless of the realities of who is consuming media, the bulk of it seems to be created for and marketed to this assumed majority.
Addressing this lack of diversity was the driving force behind campaigns like Diversity in YA and #WeNeedDiverseBooks, which highlight the disparity in representation, promote the diverse authors and books that are out there, and encourage publishers to address the need. This was also the idea behind the crowdfunded anthology Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, out today from Twelfth Planet Press. Editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios wrote:
“We’ve always been interested in promoting diversity. Julia is a bisexual woman of color, and Alisa is a Jewish Australian feminist, so in some ways this is a purely selfish drive; we want to see ourselves reflected in the stories we read. But it’s not limited to that; we also want everyone else to have the chance to see themselves, and we want to see stories about people who aren’t like us.”
In Kaleidoscope, they have given voices to twenty authors of very different backgrounds, who present twenty unique experiences for young readers. This remarkable anthology collects fiction from authors like Garth Nix, Karen Healey, Sean Williams, Sofia Samatar, Ken Liu, and more. (Full disclosure: I’m honored to be a part of this anthology with my story “Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell.”)
More than most books, there is something here for everyone. And while diverse characters were a necessity in each story, emphasizing that diversity is not the focus of the stories. The diversity also extends to a whole range of types of stories, all under the speculative fiction umbrella. (Remember, YA is not a genre; it encompasses other genres like fantasy, horror, mystery, contemporary, etc.) I have only read a handful of these so far, as I work my way through the collection, but each one becomes my favorite in the moment that I read it: I loved Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cookie Cutter Superhero,” which presents a fresh take on the superhero subgenre while also critiquing its attitude toward women. “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams is a clever and disturbing exploration of parallel universes and memes, set in his Twinmaker universe(s). "Chupacapra's Song" by Jim C. Hines tugged at the heartstrings of this dog owner. Shveta Thakrar’s “Krishna Blue” is a lovely, dark tale about a “color vampire” — a feast for those who hunger for stories that draw on non-Western influences.
Kaleidoscope provides a smorgasbord of diverse stories, but it's also an appetizer for more to come. Buy it, read it, tell your friends — there’s a lot more where that came from, if we keep asking for it.
Kaleidoscope is available in ebook and print on Aug. 5, 2014 (Oct. 1 in Australia). You can get it from any major online retailer, order the print version from your favorite book store, or order it directly from Twelfth Planet Press.