Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Is The Color Of Heroism?

The Atlantic Wire has a series they call YA for Grownups.  In April, 2012 they published an article called The Greatest Girl Characters of Young Adult Literature. Never mind that this is one person's opinion. Never mind that many of the heroines in the list were actually from children's or middle grade fiction. Never mind that every heroine on the list was white.

Only I can't ignore that last one.

According to the author every "great" girl character has been white.  Pardon me, but I beg to differ.  There may be fewer of them, and they may never find their way onto classroom reading lists, but they do exist and many of them are powerful heroines. When my daughter was a child I searched out books about heroines featuring heroines of color. Books like Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace, and Patricia McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind so she could read about strong girls who looked like her.

Fortunately I have kept the books in my collection, because I have a grandchild on the way and I want to besure he or she will have books about themselves to read and love.

Books with non-white heroines ARE still being written.  PULL has Yolanda Dare, not your typical heroine, but she's ready to change her world and stand up for her friends.

Last year I reviewed Something Like Hope that whose heroine was Shavonne, an African-American.

Next week I will be reviewing Tankborn, a dystopian novel featuring Kayla, a heroine in a world where skin color defines your caste, and it doesn't pay to be too dark OR too light-skinned.

In a world where some viewers of The Hunger Games movie were upset about some important characters being black, even though they had supposedly read the book, maybe its not surprising that publishers put out so few books featuring non-white heroines. Nor is it totally surprising that so few of the books that do get printed are noticed.  I'm dedicating today's blog to those books, and to finding more of them.

My question to you readers. What books with non-white heroines do you know and love? Leave me a comment about the book and heroine. Or just tell me your opinion of the issue. On May 30, I will be drawing from all the commenters, and one commenter will be chosen to win an arc for my new novel, BEING GOD due out Nov. 2012.

Update 5-9-12 - I went back and looked at my bookshelves and I'm adding a few more favorites.

As long ago as 1969, back before dystopian was even a word, there was a black heroine in a dystopian novel. Amhara, a member of the African elite in The Day of The Drones by A. M. Lightner discovers there is still someone alive in the nuclear wastelands of Europe 500  years after a nuclear war left the world outside blanketed in radiation.

Cynthis Liu brought us CeCe Charles, a sixteen year old adopted Chinese heroine living in the United States who wants to search out her heritage.

Anything you want to add? Can we keep the list growing?


Connie Gillam said...


Octavia Butler wrote about young black characters in unusual circumstances. She wrote fantasy. Fledging, her last book, was about a young black girl who had no memory of who she was. The story journeyed her growth into a power house in her community and family.

Pamala Knight said...

Great post Barbara. When my sons were younger, I'd read to them and our selections consisted of a variety of folk tales and books with diverse characters. Books like Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea chronicles, the historicals (Jackie Robinson, MLK, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, etc.), Neil Gaiman's Stardust and The Graveyard Book. Junebug by Alice Mead was a particular favorite of my youngest son.

Now that my older son is a teenager and reading his own selections, he still favors books with interesting and diverse casts, like PULL.

Diane Burton said...

You bring up a very good point. Girls of all colors need heroes they can identify with. I'm ashamed to say I couldn't think of a book with a young black female. Has anyone written a bio about Sojourner Truth in her younger days? One of the reasons I liked the movie "Mulan" so much is that she was a kick-butt heroine without the Barbie figure of so many Disney princesses. I hope you get many responses.

James Kennedy said...

Great idea to put together this list, Barbara! The heroine of The Order of Odd-Fish is biracial.

Sheila said...

Thanks for this idea! How could any list not include the heroines in these books?

HUSH and I HADN'T MEANT TO TELL YOU THIS by Jacqueline Woodson

HEAVEN by Angela Johnson

Danitra Brown series by Nikki Grimes and her A GIRL CALLED MISTER

VIVE LA PARIS by Esme Codell

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

ZEELY by Virginia Hamilton

And there are the wonderful fantasy novels by an SCBWI-IL author whose name escapes me . . . help!

Sandy said...

Barbara, I'm so glad to hear that you are writing stories for children of all skin color. My niece adopted a little girl from China. They are making sure she learns her home language and the traditions.

All children should be shown they are important no matter their skin color.

Wonderful post.

Sheila said...


I found the author I was looking for: Nnedi Okorafor. The book I read is Zahrah the Windseeker, and Zahrah is quite the heroine.

perisquire30 said...


Off the top of my head, I'm struggling to think of an African American MC.
My all-time favorite books growing up featured non-white heroines:
Scott O'Dell's The Island of the Blue Dolphins and Zia (indigenous/tribal heroines---I can't recall the tribe right now) and Jean Craighhead George's Eskimo heroine in Julie of the Wolves. A more recent non-white, kick-butt heroine I enjoyed was Carrie Asai's Heaven in her Samurai Girl series.
In my current story, my MC may be white, but she's surrounded by African, Asian, Native American and Latina secondary characters because I do believe that non-white characters need to be represented more prominently in books. Being white myself, I haven't attempted to write a non-white MC yet, but I may in the future!
Thanks for the great post!

~Roni Lynne

YA Adventures in the Paranormal...and Beyond!

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Harley Brooks said...

First, I loved PULL and it helped me get into my boy character's head and push out the middle aged woman trying to sound like him. Thanks! Wow, I can't believe this is the case in children's (teens) books. I looked through my own YA bookshelf and am ashamed to find only one. Simone Elkeles, author of the Perfect Chemistry series about three Latino brothers, yet, it wasn't until her last one, that she added a Latino heroine instead of the white girls she'd used in the other books.