The Mirror of Fiction

If you’ll indulge me, dear readers, I’d like to ramble a little bit about representation in fiction.

I’m not going to dive too deeply into an analysis of why representation is a good thing; that’s been done before and better by other people — and regardless, it should be intuitively understood that seeing yourself reflected in the culture you consume is validating, normalizing, comforting. That privilege has too long belonged mostly to young-to-middle-aged cis white men, and so any deviation from that “norm” (which is, in the context of the diversity of the real world, not normal at all) is to be celebrated.

I also don’t want to dwell on representation done badly, and all the harm that can do. I’ve argued about it too much recently, what with J.K. Rowling’s latest foray into Native American mythology.

What I want to do instead is to highlight a couple of books I’ve read recently that have done a good job of representing the sort of people who are traditionally ignored or elided in fiction — because the sense of relief when you can finally see yourself on the page, know that you aren’t alone in feeling the way you do or being the way you are, is immeasurable, and if I can help others to feel that, I should.

So with that said, three books read recently where I noted a particular attention to diversity in representation:

Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution, Mike Underwood

An adventure with a meta twist. Stand-up comic Leah is recruited to the Genrenauts, a group of people who set right stories that have gone wrong. This first novella in the series takes us to the dimensions where Westerns live.

I didn’t love this book — it was fun but not particularly gripping — but I do want to highlight that the characters span a variety of different ethnicities, and that they are explicitly mentioned so as to avoid the insidious “default to white” mentality that I admit I still struggle with.

The Second Mango, Shira Glassman

I have been seeing this book (and this author) on Tumblr for ages, mostly in the context of rave reviews and praise for the diversity, so I picked it up. In terms of representation, it’s a triple crown — a very sweet lesbian protagonist with a chronic (digestive) illness and her (living, happy-to-be-in-a-relationship) love interest, a secondary protagonist who dresses as a man so that she can take up a traditionally masculine profession, and Judaism!

I’ve got some criticisms of the writing, but the book is very readable, and of good quality for an indie.

Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire

This is a lovely novella. The premise was everything I never new I wanted from portal fantasy, and the reading experience put me through the emotional wringer. And somewhere in the middle, I got caught up in the adventures of this novella’s asexual protagnist (!). Other important characters include a trans girl, a Japanese girl, a Latino boy, and an older woman, so we’ve got some ethnic and age diversity in addition to sexual identity and orientation.

In fact, Seanan does a wonderful job of including lots of diversity in all her writing. Her longest-running series, the October Daye series, manages to include significant diversity among secondary and background characters (more so as the series progresses). Of course we need books with non-white, non-straight, etc. protagonists – but it’s also valuable to have diversity in the background, as that better reflects the world we do live in.

This is only a sampling, of course. If anyone has good suggestions along these lines, drop them in the comments please!

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