This year I’m embarking on a personal Diversity and Inclusivity Challenge. This involves trying to ensure at least half of all the books I read each month feature either diversity or an inclusive, accepting world. I’ve defined diversity as involving books focused on one group (non-white because too many books have already featured enough white only characters) or featuring a varied and diverse cast. Inclusivity here refers to worlds that accept the differences between people/creatures with no or very little disparaging remarks. So, how did I do in May?
I read 7 books, 5 of which were a diverse or inclusive read. Considering May was a flurry of end of school year activities for both kids (plus my daughter’s preschool graduation) and preparations for re-enrollment in the classroom for the upcoming school year, I’m surprised I really read anything, much less so many that fulfilled my challenge this month!
The Diverse Books
Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera is set in a fictional predominantly Dominican part of NYC. It’s centered on a mother and daughter, in which the daughter was raised to be more American and spends much of the book dating a white man her mother despises because he’s building luxury condos in their neighborhood and forcing them out. I loved that this focused on Dominican Americans and a bit of what their experience in America is like, but really focuses on Dominicans in America. This family is one of black Dominicans, who surprise several very minor characters when they start speaking in Spanish, their first language. But this book also features a romance between a black Dominican woman and a white man, which was really only opposed by the mother.
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah is an Arabian-inspired fantasy novel that also drew on inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights. Simply put, it’s a quest story centered around a merchant and her mysterious bodyguard, a prince, and a thief sent to protect the prince. While all the characters are Middle Eastern (I presume), there are two groups of beings: humans and jinn. There’s no love between them, generally, and both groups regularly hunt each other, so I’d say there’s diversity, but definitely no real acceptance of either group by the other.
The Daughters of Firth Tales by Willow is a collection of four connected tales that follow after the events of On a Blue Moon. Set after Willow is taken to Earth from the Blue Moon along with a couple of other Blue Mooners, these tales feature a diverse cast, including Black, Asian, and Indigenous peoples. They’re brought together across time and space by meddling creatures and left to be pawns in their games. Sometimes they were on the same team, sometimes they were rivals, but there was an incredible message of hope, love, and family that permeated the entire collection.
The Inclusive Books
Not this time.
The Diverse AND Inclusive Books
From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper is the second in this series about witches living in a small Midwestern town. This one features a romance between a young Black man, Rowan, from a family that specializes in life magic and a young woman, Isidora, from what appears to be a Russian family that specializes in death magic. There are also some really fun glimpses of the couple from the first book, Emmy and Talia, so it was great to see a little more of their very sweet relationship. Other than some of the characters wondering why Issa is falling so hard for someone she’s completely at odds with and who she hates with a passion, all these relationships are just completely normal for this town.
Piano Zen by Thomas Rheingans is a cross between an introduction to a piano teaching method and children’s fantasy, but I thought it worked really well. There isn’t much beyond a young boy, William, learning to play the piano through the Piano Zen method, but his adventures in a fantasy world with talking animals and patient and wonderful masters was a lot of fun. The diversity and inclusivity, though, can be found in his real world, the City of Nightengale. It sounds like an incredible fictional city in the Pacific Northwest where much of the city’s success actually rested on the partnership between a white man and a Black man, whose descendant ends up being a close and dear friend to William. Even the marketplace they frequent highlights a variety of cultures, and I only got the sense it was very much appreciated and well-loved.
None here this time.
The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston is a fantasy novel that revolves around gambling games and card sharping. The world appears to be Spanish and French inspired, but I struggled to find any specifics beyond titles for the more affluent characters. The characters themselves were also mostly nondescript, with one appearing to be a blond middle-aged man and another a severely pale skinned woman of a group of wandering people everyone despises. This is probably pretty good if you’re interested in card games, gambling, and cheating at those games because that world is incredibly in-depth, but the story itself really struggled with pacing and probably bit off more than it could chew.
The Splendid City by Karen Heuler is my current read, so I’m reserving judgment on where to place it. So far, it appears to be set in a bizarre little city full of misinformation that everyone just goes along with. But there’s a witch and her cat-who-used-to-be-human (her fault he’s a cat now), so it’s an entertaining read, though I’m thinking there isn’t any diversity here.
Thanks for reading!