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Saturday, February 1, 2014

It Takes All Kinds To Make A World

Hi everyone!
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 conflict

These 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?

This question speaks to the source of so much teen angst that finding an answer is practically part of the rite of passage into adulthood. Since I want books that any teen reader can see themselves in, I gave Minority of One a diverse cast. One cast member is Sheila, a white student starting a new school that is predominantly Hispanic and Black.
“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.
The second main character is Neill, who has his own reason for a feeling of alienation.
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.
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.

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. 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Minority Of One by B.A. Binns

Minority Of One

by B.A. Binns

Giveaway ends March 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Final Note

There 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.
These are the same publishers who don't believe kids of color read and that white kids will only read about other kids like them. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have found the opposite. I have heard teacher's say how their Black students devoured were in the Hunger Games, and how they mourned when Rue died.

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.

8 comments:

Diana McCollum said...

Wonderful blog post! Diversity is America. So glad you write the wonderful books you do. Reaching our young people is so important.

Piper Huguley said...

Hello,

It is wonderful to read about how accepting young people are of difference and I am hopeful that attitude will spread to older folk as well. I look forward to your book and to the rest of the line up this month as well--such great authors!

B. A. Binns said...

Thanks Diana and Piper. It is good to see how accepting young readers are. I see their interest all the time. Unfortunately I also see parents who assume their kids won't like the book and steer them away just because of who is on the cover. But I write for the youth, so I keep on going.

Sarah Raplee said...

As a woman who was the only white girl in her fifth grade class, I can relate to your characters in Minority of One. I agree that young people love books for many reasons, and that the fiction they read can have a huge influence on their level of empathy and understanding for others. Having characters in books who are diverse adds a richness that can't be achieved any other way.

Wonderful post!

Judith Ashley said...

I am so glad you had the time to start off our Highlighting Multi-Cultural Romance Author month, B.A. A powerful post with so many truths - the main one being diversity enriches the world on every level. You may have seen the new Super Bowl Coke ad (I think it was Coke and not Pepsi). Just saw this a.m. that it has drawn a lot of fire but also a lot of support.

And General Mills has continued with their multi-racial family in their commercials despite the initial uproar. I'm not a big cereal fan but I just may buy a coke/pepsi and a GM cereal to support these companies public display of diversity. (Yes, I know it is to sell their product but they are major advertisers and have accepted that our countries demographics have changed).

B. A. Binns said...

Judith, I saw those Superbowl commercials (I's a Seahawks fan and loved every minute of that game) I really liked that General Mills Cheerios commercial. This was actually their second commercial featuring that interracial family. There were a lot of negative comments after the first commercial, and what I like best is the company said they were going to run this one anyway, because it fits their philosophy and it's the right thing to do.

brendamaxfield said...

I've lived in other countries and know what it feels like to be the odd one! I really appreciate your work. Our teens need to really know they're not alone and that they're unique and valuable no matter what their background, ethnicity, culture, etc. :-D

PJ Sharon said...

Timely post, B.A. I'm writing the third installment in my Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy and there are a host of bio-diverse characters in this series. The best part for me as a writer is that my characters come as they are--I don't intentionally make them white, black or Asian, etc. They are who they are. As it should be:-) Thanks for writing fabulous books with wonderfully heart-felt characters. I love the excerpt "three strikes against me before I'm dressed." Classic teen angst!