Tuesday, 1 September 2015


When I was thirteen, I read a couple of books by the Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattah. They're titled Does My Head Look Big In This, and Ten Things I Hate About Me. Though they are standalone novels, they have quite a few things in common: the main characters are teenage muslim girls from Arab ethnic origins whose families immigrated to Australia. 

I've lived in London my entire life, which means I've been lucky enough to grow up in an incredibly diverse part of the world. However, as I've gotten older I've realised that this diversity isn't depicted in most of the novels I've read. Not even close. A few books like the one's mentioned above stand out. Randa's novels were read by so many muslim girls around the world because we finally had something we could relate to! Muslim girls born and raised in Western countries with immigrant parents who grew up with an entirely different culture, and religion to those around them. Yes, we have our own personal battles with religion and culture, but we're also just like everyone else. We have the same anxieties as every other teenager: school, homework, exams, university, friends and frienemies, falling in and out of love, and just trying to fit in. 

In every stage of my life I've been surrounded by such a huge range of people from different ethnic origins. People from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ghana, Japan, Morocco, Turkey, Somalia, Jamaica etc. The list goes on. But where are we in novels? Where do WE come in? Yes, there are novels with black and brown protagonists, but those novels are created with the explicit purpose of discussing some pretty intense topics about culture, religion, and identity. Those novels are mainly read by POC (people of colour) because we're always looking for something that reflects us. But where are we in contemporary? Where are we in fantasy? Where are we in dystopia? 

Cait actually wrote about something pretty similar, and her post title 'I want diverse books that are not about being diverse' is spot on, and exactly what I'm trying to get across to you here. While Cait spoke of diversity in all aspects, I want to focus specifically on POC. 

The Western world - particularly Britain - is a very diverse place. Yes, we POC may technically count as a 'minority' but we're a pretty humongous minority. We're everywhere! So WHERE are we in books? Where are we in books that are read by MILLIONS around the world? Let's take The Fault In Our Stars as an example. Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't remember there being a non-white character in the book? And why not? Why couldn't Hazel have been Nigerian? Why couldn't Augustus have Turkish parents?

Are authors afraid to write about characters from different cultures? But if that's the case, since when do authors stick to their comfort zone? I'm not saying that all our books need to tackle issues to do with dual identity, culture, and religion. But why not write a coming of age contemporary in which the main character just happens to have an ethnic origin that isn't caucasian? 

Some have tried. J.K Rowling for example has dotted a few characters from eastern parts of the world into her hugely popular series, for example 'Cho Chang' and 'Parvati/Padma Patil'. Cho is a great Quidditch player, and Parvati likes to giggle with her best friend Lavender about all the normal teenage girl things! I can appreciate Rowling's effort, though I can't help but squint at her almost comical choice of names. 

When POC are mentioned, they're usually portrayed as 'exotic', and 'rare'. But when trying to portray a 'normal' everyday girl who just happens to be 'pretty without knowing it' we don't seem to fit the bill. We simply don't match up to universal standards of beauty, which novels are reinforcing every day by creating short, pretty, slim, and almost always white main characters! As a result, little children from different backgrounds will only ever read about pretty white girls, and will believe that there is no other type of beautiful.

As an aspiring writer myself, I'm very much aware of the lack of POC authors, and even more so the lack of female Muslim authors. I feel as if I'm split in half. One half of me wishes to write and read about all the things I loved when growing up: Fantasy, romance, adventure! But the other half is painfully aware of the lack of POC representation in the arts, and I know I should use whatever platform I have to write about issues within our own communities, as well as the obstacles we face from the outside. 

Novels are beginning to be far more generous with their representation of the LGBT community but again, the characters are not usually POC. Black, Brown, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh. We exist. We are here. We have always been here. 

Representation matters.

Here's a list of a few YA books I've come across that have diverse main characters:

To All The Boys I've Loved Before 

Does My Head Look Big In This 

She Wore Red Trainers 

Brown Girl Dreaming 

Fake ID 

I haven't read them all myself, but I am DYING to read Brown Girl Dreaming! Just the title alone has me swooning.

Also, for those of you who are interested, here's an article I came across about a POC author's experience as the only POC at a book event.

Also, check out WENEEDDIVERSEBOOKS. What a great campaign! Honestly, I came across the whole movement after I'd written the 'first draft' of this post, and while casually scrolling through Tumblr! The lists are small but you can find a range of diverse books/authors on the website, and there's information provided about what the whole thing's about/why it's important. Go on, have a little scroll :)

- A HUGE thank you to Kainat aka dupatta diaries for creating the gorgeous visual piece you see above! I asked her to create something that represented her as a woman of colour but also something book related, sounds challenging but Kainat accomplished it beautifully! Be sure to check out her blog as well as her instagram for more :)

"We should embrace and promote books by diverse authors. And we should be aware of cliquish tendencies, check them at the door, and make sure our actions match our words when we say we support diverse books and the authors who write them."

Did you guys notice the lack of diversity in mainstream novels? And have you read any wildly popular books with POC main characters? If so, please leave a comment letting me know the title of the book/name of the author!



  1. Aww I loved this piece. I want to write a response to this and Cait's if that's okay? And OMG, I read 'does my head look big in this?' when I was in secondary and I loved it. Only now do I realise why I loved it... I had never read something like that before.

    1. I'd love to see your response!

      It's sad that we had such a limited variety of books that gave us something to relate to, I don't want the next generation to go through the same thing :/

  2. "Muslim girls born and raised in Western countries with immigrant parents" Oh god, yes, that's basiclaly me and I have to hunt for books featuring similar characters with my eyes peeled. Even more difficult to find a book of us just living our lives and not struggling to overcome a major cultural issue because let's be real, we don't do that every single day. We're pretty normal and some books should portray us as just that.

    I mean, is it really that hard to turn your contemporary romance between 2 white people into one between 2 black people? There might be minor relationship changes with the family and home-life but so what? Isn't it fun to see a different lifestyle with a familiar story?

    One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva basically does that: the Armenian main character talks about his life and falling in love with a guy and it's all everyday and casual. He goes to summer school, skateboards with friends and watches movies with friends. All while his Armenian culture is portrayed in his everyday actions. I want more books like this gem.

    1. Omg that sounds like the perfect example of a perfectly diverse book.

      It's actually very frustrating to think about how long it's taken the west to wake up to the issue of diversity -_-

  3. Ooh, thank you for linking to my post! :D And honestly?! I think you're 100% right here too. Although there is one thing I kind of hesitate to fully agree with, hehe, it's just that, I think authors should write about POC even if they don't have experience. BUT! At the same time! I think it's fair that they don't, sometimes?! Because is it worse to have your culture misrepresented or overlooked?! I mean, both are not okay, obviously, but...I've read so many HORRIFIC caricatures of Australians in books that I Just wish non-Australian authors would really leave us alone. We don't all say g'day and "crickey" and we don't make jokes of everything. -_- Most of us don't even have the "trademark Australian accent". *sigh*

    I guess people still refer to POC as minority (even though statistically you're not :P) because they are in the "western" countries? I guess? Omg, I want to look up stats for this now. but anyway. Regardless of all the things: THERE REALLY SHOULD NOT BE A VOID OF POC CHARACTERS IN LITERATURE AND IT'S SHAMEFUL THAT THERE IS. *nods* I love this post. I need tweet it and share it all the places.

    (Oh oh and I don't know if you read Rick Riordan? But his Heroes of Olympus series has POC characters in there who aren't the "quirky" or "exotic" people. Thankgoodness. And his newest book Magnus Chase is all about, ya know, adventure and action and stuff, but one of the MAIN characters is a muslim girl who does magic and flies and stuff AND IT WAS SO REFRESHING I'M SO PROUD.)

    1. You're totally right, misrepresentation is incredibly frustrating, and at times borderline insulting. Sure writers shouldn't now feel like they're forced to write about things they're not comfortable with, but open mindedness should definitely be encouraged so that EVENTUALLY writing about people from a diverse range of ethnic minorities doesn't seem like a strange/alien burden you know?

      OMG I've not actually read anything by Rick Riordan but I can't believe there's a muslim main character in fantasy?! THIS IS SO RIDICULOUSLY EXCITING I WANT TO CRY. Can't wait to get my hands on it :D Thanks for letting me know about it Cait!

  4. Great post! I totally agree with you. I was reading a lot of diverse books before I started reading young adult fiction, but they would definitely be classed as historical/cultural fiction - which I love to read, but it's so true that POC are completely underrepresented in contemporary, fantasy etc.

    I recently read an article talking about this subject and it was basically saying that if readers are not seeking diverse books, then it will be even harder for diverse books to be published. Which is a valid point actually. A lot of bloggers and YouTubers have a great opportunity to speak about this and influence people, but I don't see that happening often (of course, I'm totally generalising here, I know some bloggers/YouTubers do talk about this subject).

    As a new Muslim and particularly because I don't know many Muslims, I was desperately seeking fiction books with Muslim characters and again, found a lot of cultural/historical fiction, as well as non-fiction (I won't go into that!!) but little/no contemporary. It must have been completely alienating for you to grow up and not see yourself represented in fiction, particularly popular fiction that everyone around you was reading.

    1. First of all, assalamualaikum! I'm so pleased to welcome you to Islam!

      It's totally true, I've hardly read ANY fiction novels with muslim characters, and yes looking back I can see the negative effects that had on me growing up. The stories I used to write as a child all featured thin, middle class white females because that's the only version of 'beauty' I had read about. There's something very wrong about that.

      No matter what, there NEEDS to be more diversity in mainstream fiction, because we live in a diverse world, and every little girl and boy should know that people like them exist. And that they are also worthy of being great hero's/heroines.


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