(Aaaaaaaand we're back. Hey.)
This is a post I've had in my head to write for a long time. It comes from a few questions I've heard asked, to me and to others, ever since I've been involved in the YA community, and moreso after BREAK sold.
1) Why aren't you using a penname? (related: You'd sell better if you didn't have a girl's name on your cover. also related, but not a question, and even more infuriating: your name is too Jewish to be on a book cover!)
2) Why are there so many books about white people?
3) Why are there so many Mormon YA writers? (related, also not a question: Stephanie Meyer waaaah waaaaah)
And, the big question, the one that, in its way, sums up all of the above and so, so much more:
4) Why aren't there more characters like me?
It sounds like a selfish question, I guess.
But...why aren't there?
The truth is, this post was hard to write because it is also a post about halfie-guilt. I'm a half-Jewish and half non-practicing Christian. Since religion wasn't important on my Christian half, I was raised largely, if mildly, Jewish, celebrating those holidays along with a nonreligious Christmas (and sometimes some candy on Easter).
I know the Hanukkah and the Passover blessings and all of that, but I don't speak Hebrew and I didn't have a Bat Mitzvah. But when I tried to get involved in Jewish life in college, neither of these things was a problem for me. The thing that was?
That big clunky Jewish last name means that the half of me that is Jewish is not my mother's half. And that is, according to (all but Reform) Jewish law, the half that matters.
I have not reconciled this yet. It's still something that I think about a lot and struggle with. I've heard a lot of people say that whenever they see half-anything characters in books, that their issues with their halfiness are way overwrought.
I need more half-whatevers. So I wrote a book about them. I'm working (and by working, I mean, desperately trying to avoid working) on an MG right now that features a half-Italian, half-Japanese main character who has issues with both communities since he looks more Japanese but speaks Italian. And he's dragging around the clunky last name, too, his Japanese, that doesn't make the other side of his family too happy.
He's not spending the whole book freaking out about it or anything, but it's there and it's an issue and it's important.
Wil, my main character in Zombie Tag, is Jewish. You would only know by his last name and by the fact that he mentions his Bar Mitzvah and his synagogue, in passing. Lio in Gone, Gone, Gone, is Jewish, and I can't remember when it comes up, if ever. I can't even remember his last name. I think he might not have one.
The point is, I throw Jewish characters in without consideration, and without there being a reason for them. It's important to me that there be Jewish characters, the same way it's important to me that I have gay characters and black characters represented in my books as well.
But I'm not fully Jewish, and I'm not gay, and I'm not black, so why were these things easier for me to write about than a true halfie?
Why aren't we writing characters like us?
Regardless of reasons, there are a lot of YA Mormon writers. So...why aren't we seeing more Mormon MCs?
Why are all of our main characters so pretty?
Why are we still writing books that take place in predominately white, predominately straight worlds, without ever noticing that that isn't the way most of the world works anymore? A gentrified neighborhood should stick out. It should warrant at least a passing reference in the book. It shouldn't be the assumption.
Why are so many books with black characters and gay characters still ABOUT being black and being gay, when we have wonderful writers who fit one or both of those descriptions who are living lives that are not defined by either of those?
I'm not saying we don't need books about struggling with identity. I wrote one about a halfie who is, after all, because that was a book I needed.
I'm just wondering why there aren't more characters like you.
Friday, January 21, 2011
(Aaaaaaaand we're back. Hey.)