Read #OwnVoices

If you’ve ever checked out any of my book reviews, you’ll be able to guess I’m a pretty big reader, and I read a pretty wide variety of genres. Though my favorites tend to be science fiction or fantasy, I read some contemporary and historical fiction too. I read at a lot of different levels, middle grade to young adult to adult. Basically, I’ll read anything and everything.

But there’s a particular category of books I’ve been trying to find more of lately, and I would encourage everybody to read more of: #ownvoices. It’s a term you might not be familiar with, so let me explain.

First of all, to understand #ownvoices, you need to first know that in recent years there’s been a bigger push for greater diversity in the publishing world, especially for YA (Young Adult) fiction. Representation, that is, seeing a character that looks, thinks, or acts like you in movies, TV, and books is really important. It’s especially important if you’re part of a marginalized group, like many people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, people with physical or mental disabilities, and more.

Think of it this way: My favorite Disney princess growing up was Ariel. Why? She had red hair, just like me! It’s gratifying and encouraging to see your favorite characters reflecting your own traits, and shows that you can be a hero too!

Okay, so back to #ownvoices. See the problem with representation is that it can be really difficult to give good representation if you’re not from a certain marginalization. I’m not saying it’s impossible; if you do your research thoroughly, it makes a huge difference. But when you’re not living the experiences of another person, it’s hard to replicate them. And that’s where #ownvoices comes in.

The #ownvoices movement is a push for increased fiction (and non-fiction) published by marginalized people about marginalized people. For instance, a black woman writing a black female character would be an #ownvoices book. A bisexual guy writing about a bisexual guy or someone in a wheelchair writing about a character in a wheelchair. That sort of thing.

Now, before you get worried, let me be clear: The point of #ownvoices is not to prevent non-marginalized authors from publishing or from writing characters with different racial identities, sexual orientations, or other characteristics that don’t match the author’s. It just encourages marginalized groups to write their own stories, and even more important, encourages publishers to publish those stories. The publishing industry still has a lot of unspoken and unseen barriers when it comes to categories like race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. But the #ownvoices movement is working to change that!

Our world is incredibly diverse, and the USA is known for being a “melting pot” of different cultures. The #ownvoices movement is working to reflect that in the publishing industry so that everyone can read about heroes or protagonists they can identify with.

So next time you’re looking for something to read, check out one of these awesome #ownvoices picks:

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz- A coming of age novel about two Mexican-American teenage boys who spend the summer trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into each other’s lives.

  • When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin- I just finished this one and I LOVED it. Inspired by Chinese folklore, this middle-grade novel is all about stories, immortality, and what it means to be brave. A great fantasy if you’re looking for a quick read.

  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo- A book about a transgender girl written by a transgender woman with a transgender model on the cover. How cool is that?! This is a contemporary boy-meets-girl sort of story, a really eye-opening and important story.

  • The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig- One of my favorite fantasy books of 2016, complete with time travel, beautiful writing, and a mixed-race protagonist. I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel to this one.

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie- Partially based on his own experiences growing up on a reservation, Alexie’s book, which is part diary and part comic strip, is both laugh-out-loud and makes-you-tear-up. At a fairly easy reading level, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read this one sooner.

  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi- This one is inspired by Indian mythology, a forbidden-love romance set in the richly detailed double world of the fantasy Akran and the human realm. An arranged marriage turns out to be everything Maya doesn’t expect, but it might cost her life.

There’s way, way more than these six #ownvoices reads out there, and I would encourage you to go check them out. (It was really hard to narrow down to just six…) The world we read should reflect our own, and that means reading widely and diversely!