I am YA author B. A. Binns. This month I feel privileged to lead things off with a special post on multicultural romances.
I like old sayings. They usually contain a load of wisdom. One of my favorites is: De todos ha de haber en el mundo (literally, “There must be of all [types] in the world”) This is from Cervantes of Don Quixote fame and gives us another way of saying that diversity is essential. Biologists know it, economists, and so does my broker who keeps after me to increase the diversity in my account. The world would be incomplete if everyone and everything was alike.
Adding layers and conflictThese young adult romances are strengthened by exotic locations (anybody been to Malawi, Africa, the location for Laugh With the Moon?) and populated by people of different culture's and ethnicities. This adds layers of complexity to stories and builds conflict, the meat and potatoes of a good read. I'm not talking about issue books, stories where the difference is the major conflict. I'm talking about romances that show how alike we really are while using the differences to suck a reader in and provide the something extra that many readers enjoy and search for. Not to mention a new set of hero and heroine names, like Almira (Bestest Ramadan Ever), Lupita (Under the Mesquite), Malik (Being God), Meena (Same Sun Here), Soledad (When The Stars Go Blue), Yolanda (Pull), and the totally hot Prince Kai (Cinder).
Many of the standard romance tropes can be refreshed and enlarged by adding a multicultural or diversity element. For example, Bestest Ramadan Ever gives us Romance plus Muslim culture and parental issues. My novel Being God gives readers the same with a teen who is a Black Jew (a.k.a. Hebrew Israelite). Books like the Demon's Surrender take readers into the life of a Black gypsy in England who uses her dancing skills to control monsters. Ship Breaker shows a Hispanic boy in dystopian future in a triangle with a Black girl and an Asian girl as all three struggle for survival in a dysfunctional world. In my debut novel, Pull, the dysfunctional world is the present, filled with Black, Hispanic and White kids struggling with the ultimate dystopia - an American High School.
My newest novel is titled Minority of One, and uses characters from various cultural backgrounds to examine the question, deals with the question:
What happens if you are the only one of your kind?
The second main character is Neill, who has his own reason for a feeling of alienation.“Will I be the only white student in this school?” My voice remains steady. Daddy would be proud.
“Almost eight percent of Farrington’s students are white, and twelve percent are biracial.” Mom loves statistics.
Biracial. Does that mean they fit in everywhere? Have no problems? Don’t feel like the only drop of cream in a vat of coffee? Eight percent of almost sixteen hundred students. Math was my best subject, but I don’t need those skills for this calculation. Maybe a hundred and twenty of us, spread out inside that massive building.
By the end of the story a multi-racial cast of supporting characters that include doctors, educators, businessmen and fellow students help both Neill and Sheila learn they are not alone (and help them both find the guys of their dreams). While this is not a romance between Sheila and Neill, I tell people this is a twofer, two separate romantic journeys for the price of one.Every morning I wake up. Stretch. Kick off the blankets. Look in the mirror and stare into the eyes of a walking statistic.Young. Black. Gay.Three strikes against me before I’m even dressed.
The world of romance is expanding. I live in a pluralistic world, and I am happy that more books are being written that reflect that fact. Most of all, I am glad to be a part of that.
***Contest***Five copies of Minority Of One are being given away on Goodreads, and another five to people who LIKE the AllTheColorsOfLove facebook page. Enter either or both for a chance to get an early copy of Minority of One. Copies will also be available at The Woodson Library in Chicago on February 15 where I will talk about using multicultural books to reach out to reluctant readers, and at the Illinois Reading Council on March 13, 2014 where I will give a presentation on library reading groups.
Final NoteThere are still some publishers who fear that American readers, especially teens, will turn away from multicultural characters on book covers. Look look at what multicultural covers give the world of romantic fiction.
|Click on the picture to download a PDF with more information about the books shown.|
As a YA author I visit many schools and libraries. In 2013 I gave a booktalk to a predominantly white teen audience at a library. I spoke about many of the multicultural books I have mentioned in this blog post. At the end of the talk, one white girl came to me and wanted to take out Pinned by Sharon Flake, a story about a female wrestler who falls for the wheelchair-bound team manager. I told her of course she could take that book out and then I asked what drew her to a book with a cover character so different from herself. Her answer - Because I like wrestling.