A couple of weeks ago, I saw author Dahlia Adler tweet about how important it is that diverse books are finally putting more faces on some of the “same old” stories, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. From many people, especially those who have been able to see themselves represented in media thousands of times, there comes this assumption that we should all be happy with the white cishet versions of stories. But what Adler said — and I agree with — was that the creation of diverse stories within these established frameworks is incredibly important.
When I tell someone about a court intrigue fantasy I’m reading, where the princess starts falling for her betrothed prince’s sister, I get so many unenthusiastic responses of “oh that sounds like [insert one of a dozen court intrigue fantasies here], but just with two girls.” While I tamper down my initial response of, “heck yeah, it does!” and move right past my mind asking, “What do you mean just with two girls??” I wonder why that person doesn’t also object to the twelve-thousandth* YA court intrigue fantasy where a white cishet princess is engaged to a white cishet prince and ends up falling for the white cishet gardener/stable boy/musician/other prince/soldier/etc. (*12,000 might be an exaggeration. Maybe.)
Given that there are only seven basic plots (according to Christopher Booker), most books can be described as “just another ____ but with _____,” but that’s only a problem if the main characters are diverse. Even if a concept or hook is similar to another book (which, again, it always will be), the story isn’t the same. The background of the characters informs the characters’ actions in both overt and subtle ways.
To me and millions of other people, a “Red Queen with lesbians,” or an “Anna and the French Kiss with Muslims,” or a black Spider-man, or a Hispanic Disney Princess, or Ghostbusters but with all women, is everything. The first time you see someone like you playing a hero who is not a gross stereotype and getting a happy ending — hell, who is actually allowed to live until the end of the story — can be a life-altering event. While Simone Manual won “just another” American Gold Medal, seeing her on that podium was like air to so many young black girls. Rey is “just another” Jedi, but I have never seen so many little girls excitedly cos-playing at Cons before.
They aren’t “just another.” They are the first for those seeing themselves represented on the page and on screen like never before.
So yeah, I wrote “just another” prank-war summer-camp romance, but with a bi POC and a lesbian. It’s fun and a bit corny and the two girls get a happy ending. It’s the book I needed when I was a teen.
Sarah Nicolas is a recovering mechanical engineer, library event planner, and author. She lives in Orlando with a 60-lb mutt who thinks he’s a chihuahua. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing volleyball or cooking. She is a contributor for Book Riot and at YAtopia.