YA Contemporaries NEED economic diversity!

To be completely fair, it’s not as if I’ve read a great deal of YA Contemporaries and there are certainly some YA books that don’t fall into the above aforementioned category. Winner of many awards last year, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give had a protagonist who I would not label as necessarily being upper middle class or wealthy. Eleanor and Park has a girl who is poor and not in the best of family situations.

I’m just struck lately, by how many contemporaries I deign to read that have characters of the above aforementioned description though.

Admittedly a lot of it comes out of reading what’s popular. Booktube mentions: Morgan Matson, John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emery Lord, All the Bright Places, I’ll Give you the Sun, Simon vs the Homosapeins Agenda, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, ect. and of course you  want to read them to stay relevant and have some fruitful conversations. Better still if you can enjoy them so you have something to say to others about your reading experience. Some of the books on this list I like and I’m happy I read. Some of them like Simon I was absolutely ecstatic over. In no way am I saying these are bad books (although my personal opinion on these books vary), I’m just mentioning books or authors where I’m seeing characters who own their own cars, don’t worry about gas money or money to go out and have fun with friends. They might or might not work, but never are they hampered by the idea of not having enough money to do x, y, z activities that their peers are also doing; plus they have the money and autonomy to get themselves places including to that graduation trip or to up and jump in the car to drive across the state.

I’m not saying that upper class people can’t or don’t have their problems, I just think that with the amount of upper class characters in YA contemporary, there’s a whole side of hardship and adversity that we are not seeing. Let’s just use A Fault in Our Stars as an example. For some people this was a harrowing tale about a girl with cancer, and that was enough, but where was the money coming from for her treatment? Why is this issue that are never addressed in any way whatsoever? The Perks of Being a Wallflower main character certainly has his issues, but no shortage of money that he just receives whenever he asks for it, his friends also drive around without any concept of money or how much things cost. Do authors know that a person can be nuanced and have more than one problem? It’s kind of like…do authors know that a person can be intersectional and marginalized in more than one way?

I know I’m kind of being a dick about this. I also know that books exist that don’t follow this norm. I also know that authors are free to write what they want and that the publishing world is changing. I also know that I’m free to read what I want and I could even write a book of my own if I so chose. I’m not saying that authors must write to my desires, but you might find things end up a lot more interesting if you diversify what you are doing and consider diversity in economic disparity as well, as that changes a person’s reality considerably. Besides which, many YA contemporaries take place in the United States where four in ten children live below the poverty line, so it’s not uncommon!

It’s just that having grown up with very little money for the extras, needing handouts from my grandparents for school uniforms and music lessons and field trips, being unable to get periodic dentist appointments and having to choose the most hideous glasses frames because that’s all my parents could afford was the bargain wall, having to wait until the next pay day to get vegetables in the fridge, never having my own car despite living in the middle of nowhere, having to give “loans” of money from my chores to my parents (which were never paid back)…these were all a reality of my life growing up. I’d like to see more characters who reflect this aspect of my own life growing up, and characters who are nuanced and aren’t only “the poor kid”. I’d also like to see more people who aren’t poor themselves being able to understand what it might be like to live as a poor person, from nuanced fully realized characters who embody a variety of perspectives.

I’m going to use Adam from the book I’m reading currently (Release by Patrick Ness) to illustrate how you can have a nuanced character who is not in the upper class. Meet Adam and there is more than one problem he is dealing with. He’s gay and growing up in a religious family who is overly protective and doesn’t approve of his “lifestyle choices”. He also worries about his family’s financial situation and about money to go to college. He is also afraid he’s going to lose his job because his boss is the creepiest man on the block and always makes unwanted sexual advances, which he refuses and his boss subsequently abuses his power. I’m not saying that every character has to have these kinds of problems or that life situations always have to have these nuances. I mean I like my well written fluffy contemporaries as much as the next girl, but I like that, despite the character and I being different in some ways, I get a lot of Adam and where he’s coming from. That which I don’t identify with is written well, so I also understand him and his motivations as a character. THESE are more of the kinds of characters it would be great to get.

I actually wasn’t aware that other people were having this conversation until I googled it after I wrote this post. Now I’m in making an edit with some other interesting takes on the issue:

Socioeconomic Class in Contemporary YA Lit – Where are the Poor Teens at?

Socio-Economic Diversity in YA Lit

YA Fiction – Is it a Class Act?



6 thoughts on “YA Contemporaries NEED economic diversity!

  1. Yes exactly!! I don’t read lots of contemporaries so I haven’t read all of these, but the other day I was watching the TV show Rise on NBC, and there was this one high school character who didn’t have a job, his dad wasn’t around and his mom is in a nursing home basically–and he was driving a really nice Jeep, which really bothered me. I work for a nonprofit that tutors refugee kids–we have a fifth grade Burmese girl who speaks five languages and translates for her parents, who didn’t even have enough money to buy her a cake for her most recent birthday. No one writes stories about them. (/rant over lol)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! Like I was noticing when I was looking at the popular YA I read with main characters who are POC even then they are often wealthy. Everything, Everything, Lara Jean trilogy, When Dimple Met Rishi…not that I’m saying people of colour can’t be rich by any stretch of the imagination but I feel like it’s too much of a trend across the board, especially when a lot of these books take place in the USA where 4 out of every 10 kids lives below the poverty line! Honestly the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a story like your Burmese kids was in a non-fiction book about the Hmong people and their experiences navigating the American medical system. I also know about a historical middle grade called “Esperanza Rising” which is an interesting story about the hardships of moving to the states as a Mexican farm worker…but there’s nothing modern that immediately comes to mind about poor immigrant families, which is not to say it doesn’t exist but if it does it’s not getting enough press and I’ve got to dig around and find it! I think many modern more popular YA narratives often contain people of higher socio-economic status though. Obviously not exclusively, but it’s a trend that I’ve noticed and clearly others too given that I have found others who have pointed out the exact same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes!! This 11-year-old Burmese refugee that I know should be able to walk into the library, pick up a book, and read about a character that’s similar to her. But she can’t. 😦


  2. I TOTALLY agree, but…

    We need more books with economic diversity. We also need more books with racial diversity. And LGBTQ diversity. And that take place not in America. And with strong female characters. It’s just too much to care about. And in an attempt to care about all of it I’m starting to not care about any of it…

    By the way, in TFIOS the Amsterdam trip is paid for by “the fairies”, which is presumably the Make a Wish Foundation. But good point about paying for treatment. That would have been a big add to the book I think, because so many families struggle to pay for medical treatments.


    • I agree that we need more books with diversity in general, for sure! But the beauty of writing is a character can be more than one thing and I think authors often want to take the easy way and not make their characters very nuanced, when people are nuanced creatures. I decided to talk about economics specifically as I feel that it’s talked about way less than race, strong female characters and LGBTQIA+ characters (who are of course also very important).

      I’ll go back and edit that part out about the Netherlands (my bad, honestly I wasn’t a big fan of that book though, nor am I a fan of John Green in general but good catch)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: March 2018 Monthly Wrap-Up – Now All I Know is Grace

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