Esther, a white girl, stands up for King-Roy Johnson, a black teen accused of murder. Fatima is a Hazara girl, raised to be obedient and dutiful. THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS by Sarah Ockler, Simon Pulse, 2015.Samiullah is a Pashtun boy raised to defend the traditions of his tribe. Christian is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming.While diversity and the interracial nature of their relationship was not my primary focus I did try to represent fairly the kind of discrimination and social contempt my characters would have suffered, particularly as Kula’s looks reflect her heritage.Additionally, in a parallel and cross-generational backstory, Kula’s mentor Miss Everts fell in love with a Chinese man in her youth, which would have been way outside the cultural norm.But I didn’t want race to be the central of the story. It’s been my truth, certainly—and a truth I don’t see reflected often enough on the page.
Mixed relationships come in all stripes, just like non-mixed relationships, and I’m sure there are some mixed couples who never mention race or talk about their differences.
, Rose, the main character, is dealing with her mother’s deteriorating health and the looming possibility that she might have inherited the same devastating illness. Why also throw in sometimes fraught conversations about race between Rose, who is white, and her boyfriend Caleb, who’s black? That’s true for more and more teens all over the country, too.
But even if it’s unintentional, I worry about the implication that a book that isn’t, at its core, “about race” can’t feature racially diverse characters whose racial identities affect their perspectives—and who sometimes talk about race. But while we’re starting to see these relationships reflected in YA literature more routinely—one of my favorite debuts this fall, Nicola Yoon’s breaks my heart every time I re-read it.
Before you assume that this post is merely a means to flaunt those rave reviews, pay attention to what exactly this lack of racial commentary might mean.
First, some context: In the dystopian world of , extreme solar radiation has wiped out most of the white race whose lack of melanin causes them to succumb to the Heat.