Are all diverse books worthy of praise?

Are all diverse books worthy of praise?
(Photo: Eleanor Doughty)

I'll start this post in the best way saying that I have no idea where this is going to go. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and I have made it a point to follow people who are of like mind and I know, I know, you're supposed to surround yourself with people with different points of views to help you grow and because life isn't filled with people who think the same things and believe the same stuff as you but hey, if you can't build a bubble for yourself on social media, what the heck is it for? Plus, who says we don't learn anything from people like ourselves? I learn plenty. I have found a community of writers, readers, librarians, educators, lovers of cat memes, makers of puns...I have found my people.

Twitter is also weird because a lot of us treat it like a 280-word diary entry. And through these entries and reading much more in the past few years than I used to, I have seen something occur in the world of writing that I find problematic.

I started reviewing young adult and middle grade novels for a review journal earlier in the year. A couple months ago, I received a book that I could not, in good conscience, recommend because of grammatical errors (it was a corrected proof), abrupt scene transitions, plot holes, etc. Even though the decision should have been clear, I had a really hard time deciding whether to reject the book or to just write the thing because as a fellow writer, the last thing I want is to reject someone else's work. What made it harder to reject was that it was written by a woman of color.

I am a woman of color. I am a minority.

Image result for diversity in books

All of these things that contribute to my identity made me feel that as one woman, as one writer, as one person of color to another, I should have written the review. I didn't want to contribute to an already deplorable statistic of books written by minority writers that weren't getting as much praise as those by white authors. I mean, look at this 2017 infographic.

To be clear, this isn't about that particular book or that author. I could be the only person who couldn't get past the issues to appreciate the story. It's about the issues that arose because of the conflict I felt even though the answer was perfectly clear and the reasons were valid. I wondered that if I, as a PoC, felt guilty for rejecting a work that I genuinely believe needed work but almost reviewed anyway, how were others feeling when they found themselves in the same situation? How many people wrote that positive review anyway, how many felt like they should recommend it to others, how many published a book because a part of the author's identity played a big role, etc.

And are any of those a bad thing?

I don't know the answer to that.

When talking about diversity, a librarian expressed how she wished that diversity was just a given instead of something we always had to keep in mind. I want it to be like common sense, too. Regardless, I wholeheartedly believe that diverse voices need to be amplified.

Personally, I am seeing more books written by minority authors. I am finding names like mine on the spines of books. I am seeing family dynamics like mine buried in their pages. But I can't help but wonder if the attention that is finally being placed on minority voices through wonderful movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices is also compelling a few to praise some books even if the quality is lacking. Are we feeling a subconscious pressure to publish books by minority writers because of their diversity alone?

I don't think this is where we are but I do think it's something we need to think about as writers who are diverse and write diverse books. There is an abundance of fantastic books out there and the cry for diverse books is sorely needed and overdue. Diverse books are needed, but quality is too.

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