"After the storm deaths came other casualties: deaths by debris, cuts, tetanus, or loss of blood; suicide, heart attacks caused by stress or loss, or stress of rebuilding, or just as often from the lack of medicines used to treat common ailments. The list of no-longer-treatable diseases grew: diabetes, asthma, cancer. Domestic violence rose, along with murder."
So begins the new book Orleans. Author Sherri L. Smith adds a dystopic twist to the post-Katrina disaster tale we (unfortunately) have come to know so well.
When I started this column on race in dystopian YA literature, a reader recommended I check out Shadows Cast by Stars, Métis author Catherine Knutsson's dystopic tale set on Canada's western coast 200 years from now.
In the book, a plague has ravaged the world. The only cure is antibodies found in the blood of aboriginal people (or "Others" as they are known by non-aboriginals).
Being queer at a private Christian school, I thought I'd heard homosexuality compared to just about everything. But I was caught off guard by the recent remarks of Dr. Erik Thoennes, a professor at my alma mater, Southern California's Biola University. At a panel discussion nominally on homosexuality—a discussion that conveniently didn't feature even one LGBTQ-affirming speaker—Dr. Thoennes likened homosexuality to racism.
I've never read a single books published by romance giant Harlequin and so I carried Julie Kagawa's The Immortal Rules to the library checkout counter with some trepidation. Would this be a romance novel with a veneer of vampire smeared on top?
Today is Equal Pay Day, the day in 2013 that the average woman in America has made as much as the average man did in 2012. With women earning anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of what white men do, our fiscal year needs an extra three months to make up the difference.
When I checked Marie Lu's Legendout of the library, I hoped that the main girl character (June) would be Asian. After all, Lu herself is Chinese, born in China and influenced, as a young child, by the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests. From the age of five, she lived in the U.S. and, unless she lived in an alternate U.S., probably also didn't see herself reflected in the books on her library and school shelves. So wouldn't she use this opportunity to add one more Asian girl to YA litdom?
In Cinder, the familiar glass slipper story is set in a dystopian future Beijing 126 years after World War IV has ended. Cinder's author, Marissa Meyer, is white. Meanwhile, Chinese-American author Malinda Lo award-winning 2010 retelling of Cinderella, Ash, takes place in a kingdom that resembles a fairy tale Europe.
What do these choices say about each author? How do their ethnic backgrounds affect their retellings?
The last (and only) time I ever read George Orwell's 1984 was my senior year in high school. I haven't thought much about it since. Then my daughter brought home Lauren Oliver's Delirium from her middle school library and enthusiastically recommended that I read it. Delirium kicked off a very popular YA series—Fox just bought the rights to turn the trilogy into a TV pilot.
Delirium is like a 1984 for tween readers. But, reading it as a mother of color with a biracial daughter (and rereading it to examine how Oliver addresses issues of race and gender), I noticed that, like so many other YA books, the author creates a future society populated almost entirely by white people. Did Oliver intend to do that? Probably not, but that's one of the benefits of whiteness in the U.S.—one doesn't have to consciously think about race in their creations.
"I'm looking for a book for my 12-year-old daughter. She likes dystopic fiction," I said not too long ago to the clerk in a children's bookstore. As her eyes began to scan the wall of Teen Fiction, I added, "With people of color as the protagonists."
"I feel you," sympathized the clerk, who was also a woman of color.