In case you couldn’t tell from my previous posts, I love books with magic and adventure in them just as much as I love realistic fiction. I can tear through many teen fiction books in a single day- and it’s not because they’re short, or mindless in any way. In fact, they’re far from it, something I’m planning to discuss today.
Something many stories are lacking is diversity. Sure, we may see the occasional token person of some ethnicity, but they’re often ill-portrayed- until now. 2016 has been a new era for stories, and I couldn’t be happier.
Meet the heroes and heroines of today. They’re strong, brave, clever, and kind- and they’re not all white people. We’ve got Latina girls finding magic in Brooklyn, Muslim superheroes tearing up the streets of New York, and LGBTQA+ kids finding love, well, everywhere. In this new era of YA, anyone can pick up a sword and fight for right. Anyone can be blessed with the gift of magic.
Take Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor as your example. Magnus, our lead character, is a self-proclaimed atheist, which you don’t usually see spotlighted in stories. He finds it hard to think of the Norse gods as, well, gods, despite their power and omnipotence. He’s also a pretty accepting character- as he discovers more secrets about his friends and all of the things he took for granted, he just kind of rolls with it.
His best friend and Valkyrie, Samirah al-Abbas, is a devout Muslim girl. She wears her hijab every day (handily doubling as a robe of transformation), and carries a prayer rug around in her backpack. Possibly my favorite scene in the entire book is when, in the midst of battle, Sam stops, rolls out her rug, asks Magnus to guard her, and does her noonday prayers. Then, she jumps back up, pulls out her sword, and gets into the thick of things again.
We also meet Alex Fierro, my new favorite literary hero. She is fiercely independent and incredibly comfortable in his own skin. That’s right- Alex is transgender and genderfluid, and will mess you up if you mess up her pronouns. He’s a mixed girl with green hair and a fantastic bad attitude.
I just love superheroes, don’t you? Their stories may be a little hard to believe, but there’s nothing like the brightly colored and action-packed pages of a comic book to empower you. Superman and Batman, Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk are classics, but there’s a new girl on the block who’s turning Marvel on its head.
Kamala Khan is a teenage Pakistani girl living in New Jersey. She tries her hardest in school, gets tempted by things like bacon sandwiches, and lives her life as part of a devout Muslim family. Saving the day and still making curfew on time, Kamala is honest and polite. She’s a real girl as well as a superheroine.
Ms. Marvel’s new image has had a lot of impact outside of the comic book world as well. Last year in San Francisco, Islamophobic ads were posted on the sides of buses. Soon, these ads were covered in images of the new Ms. Marvel, accompanied by slogans such as ‘Calling All Bigotry Busters’. This story has been more groundbreaking than it should have, but it’s the perfect one for right now.