Rayna Recommends: Diversity

Hey guys, welcome to another installment of my sporadic series, Rayna Recommends! This is a time where I recommend books, movies, and TV shows to you based on the genre or type of books I wanted to talk about.

Today I’m going to recommend to you some of the diverse books, movies, and shows I’ve seen and read. I really enjoy reading and watching this kinds of things, but I still feel like I don’t get enough! With all of the diversity talk that’s been going around lately, I thought that this would be appropriate, so here are my recommendations:

Books

  • None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio is a YA book about a girl who is intersex. Now, I’ve never heard of the term “intersex” until I read this book, and it really opened my eyes to it. It follows a girl who also didn’t know she was intersex until an unfortunate sexual time with her boyfriend that was extremely painful to her and her journey in the beginning stages of accepting who she is and how she can still have a normal life despite it all. It was very interesting and I definitely recommend it.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Need I say anything more? It’s hilarious, heartwarming, charming, and everything I could’ve asked for in a LGBT+ read and more. Seriously, check this one out. You won’t regret it. It’s about a high schooler named Simon who isn’t out of the closest yet, and how he’s being blackmailed by another kid so his secret is in danger. It’s really awesome, so go read it – right now!
  • My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga has a suicide trigger warning on it, I just want you to know. It’s about a girl who is dealing with a lot of suicidal thoughts and depression, and she meets a kid who also wants to commit suicide with someone else. It follows them and how she realizes how much more life has to offer than what’s going on there. It’s really something very close and personal to my heart and I highly recommend this book.

Movies

  • Beyond the Lights is a movie about a young woman in the music industry who is saved by an officer from committing suicide. The two fall in love and in the process, she realizes that hiding behind all of the makeup, glamor, and fame is so much more to be had. I really enjoyed this movie and thought that it was really well done. Cheesy in a few parts, but overall enjoyable. I love seeing movies with singers/dancers/artists that strive to be their best even when there’s bumps along the way, and to see a cast of colored actors is always awesome as well.
  • Blue is the Warmest Color is an international movie set in France and it follows a girl, Adele, who is discovering who she is as a teen when she meets Emma, a girl with blue hair. The two end up falling in love, but of course there are repercussions in Adele’s life because she was “supposed” to be a straight girl. It’s a really long movie (three hours), and there’s a lot of graphic sexual scenes that I had to turn the volume down on, BUT I really did enjoy it and I really want to see the second part since this is only the first half. It ended on a cliffhanger (kind of) and I need to see how it ends!

TV Shows

  • Orange is the New Black definitely has a diverse cast of characters, and it’s about women in prison. Honestly, that’s a crap ton of diversity if you ask me. Now, I don’t watch OITNB, like, at all, BUT, my husband does and he’s really into it. I’ve watched bits and pieces and from what I gather it’s a really interesting show and one that a lot of people are really into.
  • Good Morning Call is a Japanese drama that’s based off of the manga and it’s adorable and funny and GO WATCH IT. It’s available on Netflix, so really, no excuse. It follows a girl, Nao, and how she rents her dream apartment, but comes to find out she’s stuck with rooming with one of her high school’s hottest guys: Uehara. It’s dramatic, funny, adorable (like I said), so go check it out.

I’m literally drawing blanks now on other movies and shows, but these are just some of the diverse things that I’ve personally enjoyed and that I think you should definitely check out.

Let’s Chat! ≧◡≦

Do you have any recommendations for me for diverse reads, movies, or shows? I’d really love to hear it! Also, have you read/watched any of the items on my list? Let me know your thoughts!

The Importance of Diversity

If you’ve been around Twitter and YouTube in the last week, then you’ve probably seen the very heated topic of diversity popping up constantly. I’m not naming names or anything like that, but there was a very controversial video that included a lot of ignorant viewpoints on diversity and how it’s not “needed” or “important” in literature. That we should be sticking to a status quo of sorts when it comes to books.

And oh how wrong that is.

I’ve talked about the importance of diversity in children’s literature before, but this is a more general, encompassing talk today.

As a white female, I’m privileged. No doubt about it. I’ve been raised in a good home with a good family and have a good life. I shouldn’t have much to complain about, but I’m only human so it happens. I suffer with depression, and occasionally anxiety.

But there are things that I have been realizing more and more as I stay longer in this community: there is more out there than what I know.

Of course I enjoy reading stories about a white boy and white girl having drama, falling in love, and lots of kissing. Of course I enjoy reading about a white girl out to save the world. I can relate to it not because I’ve saved the world or anything (or have I?), but because I’m a white girl.

I’d love to be able to read books with black women protagonists who kick ass and who are confident in themselves, or books with Asian male protagonists who are both sensitive and athletic and might have a mental illness, or books about gay religious hispanic men getting their flirt on at a college campus and how they deal with their faith in all of it.

And I’m sure these books are out there!

So why is it that they never seem to “stand out” among the crowd when new books are being marketed to the public? How come it takes so long for these kinds of books to be raised to the surface and have people buzzing about them?

It’s like they aren’t going to sell as well because their main characters aren’t white.

And of course I’m not saying this is the case for all books and situations!

But every voice deserves to be heard. Every person of color, every disabled person, every religion, sexuality, gender, situation, mental illness: it all deserves to be heard. It all deserves to be told.

So why do people think that we should only be sticking to some certain status quo when it comes to books?

If I had been able to read a book about a girl with depression when I was younger, maybe I would have developed better coping mechanisms as a result. Maybe if I had been able to read a book about a girl who struggles with her sexuality then maybe I could have come to terms a lot sooner than I did. Hell, maybe I still wouldn’t feel so lost sometimes.

And I know that there are so many people out there of varying skin colors, genders, sexualities, etc, who need these stories in their lives. And when people say that diversity isn’t important, that it’s the “worst word in the English language,” that it shouldn’t really exist, then it’s like they’re saying that all of those people don’t matter.

And they for sure do.

So what can you do to introduce more diverse books into your life?

  • Well, there is a readathon coming up from September 12-19 that is hosted by four lovely ladies on YouTube (Joce @ squibblesreads, Monica @ shemightbemonicaMonica @ shemightbemonica, Christina @ Christina Marie, and Whitney @ whittynovels) called #DiverseAThon and there’s no challenges or anything, but there’s an optional group book they have up which is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. They only hope that you pick up at least ONE diverse book to read during this time to show support for the cause of diversity.
  • Challenge yourself to read at least ONE diverse book a month. And if that’s too much for you, then spread it out, but there are so, SO many out there to choose from.
  • Ask around! There have been tons of threads on Twitter about different diverse reads, plus there’s the infinite blog universe you can look into, as well as YouTube and other places. Ask around and you’ll find someone that has read something diverse.
  • Start with a topic that is important to you. For me personally, depression/suicide are very important topics to me, and I definitely want to read more books involving them, especially from the protagonist’s point of view. (If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!) But if you’re someone who is struggling with sexuality, then find a book that has confident characters in that sexuality that you believe you identify with, or if you’re looking for something that has kickass lesbian black female heroines, then search for them!
  • Branch out from there. The world of diversity is a hidden gem, but once you find it, it’s beautiful and it really deserves to shine.

Diversity is so, SO important. Don’t ever think that it’s not. Your race, sexual identity, gender, etc is not the only one out there; all voices deserve to be heard because all voices are important.

Let’s Chat! ≧◡≦

What kinds of diverse books are your favorites? Do you gravitate more towards a certain kind, or do you really try to branch out and read different things? What is your stance on this whole diverse topic? Let me know!

Armchair BEA 2016 Days 1 & 2

ArmchairBEA LogoExample

Made by Amber

Hey peeps, I’m joining in on Armchair BEA once again this year! If you don’t know what that is, it’s a way to join in all of the bookish fun from home while Book Expo America (BEA) takes place. I, like many others, couldn’t attend, so this is just a fun way to join in somehow! Since I totally forgot about this event with all of my excitement yesterday (more on this to come in my wrap up), I’m starting a little bit late. But that’s okay!

Day 1: Introduction & Diversity in Books

So the first day’s fun things include an introduction, so, here’s some things to know about me:

  1. What name do you prefer to use? Rayna is perfectly fine.
  2. How long have you been a book blogger? It’ll be two years in July. Crazy!
  3. Have you participated in ABEA before? Yes, last year!
  4. Do you have a favorite book? If you can’t pick one, then pick your most favorite of this moment. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas is DEFINITELY my favorite right now.
  5. If you could recommend one book blogger, who would it be and why? I’d recommend Dani @ Dani Reviews Things because she’s so upbeat about so many things, and she gives really well written reviews and topics. She’s a very nice person!
  6. If you could create a playlist that reflects your bookshelf, what would be the first song on the playlist? Man! I Feel Like a Woman by Shania Twain. I’m not even kidding. I’m pretty sure 97% of my shelf is by female authors with female main characters who kick ass in some way. WOMAN POWER, WOO!
  7. How do you arrange your bookshelves? Is there a rhyme or reason or not at all? I try to group my books into sections… like, my top shelf is some sci-fi and favorite fantasies, contemporaries… The next shelf is some favorites, the next is more fantasy, then more sci-fi/fantasy, then Harry Potter, urban fantasy, and more fantasy. Then the next is contemporary, lots of mix, but mostly fiction and contemporary, manga & comics, vampires, then a mix. Just look at the picture (this isn’t all of my books, just so you know, and it’s overflowing….):IMG_3143
  8. What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far through your reading this year so far? I think I’ve learned that I’ve become a little tougher when it comes to rating books and I try to really think about it more. I’ve also learned that I’m very, very passionate about certain books and my feelings about them. I think that tends to reflect in my reviews, and I love that.

The second part of day one is a discussion on diversity in books and the publishing industry. Whose voices do we see? Whose voices do we need more of? Where do we find representation lacking and what can we as bloggers do to address that? What about negative or stereotypical representation?

I personally have seen a lot more authors of color, religion, etc. start to become published more often, especially in the YA world. I think a lot of people anticipate for it, and I, for one, enjoy the author’s work that are published! I don’t generally look to see if an author is of a “minority” or whatever it may be, but rather if I’m interested in the story and characters themselves. But I do understand the importance and I think it’s fantastic that there’s more diversity being introduced more and more.

As far as lacking, I think it’s lacking a lot of things. Like, a lot. I’d love to read more about people of different religions, cultures, race, gender, sexual identity, etc. I think that as bloggers we can really voice our concerns on as many platforms as possible until a change is made.

And as for the negative and stereotypical representation: it’s always going to be there. I’m sorry to say, but it will be. Not everyone is of a like mind, or can be, for that matter. But we can still make leaps and bounds to erase it as much as possible.

Day 2: Aesthetic Concerns – Books & Blogs

This topic is all about how we look at books and blogs: pretty covers draw us toward the books, and pretty, clean, organized blogs make us coming back for more. But is that really all there is?

The Books: How often do you judge a book by its cover? How often are you surprised by what you find? Do you strategize and make sure every book in your series has the same cover design (as far as you are able to) and type? How important is it for the visual art on the outside of the book to match or coordinate with the literature art on the inside?

I don’t know that I judge a book by its cover, if I’m being honest. I seriously don’t! Okay, if a book cover is kind of hideous I’m just like, “What is that?” But I… okay, yeah, I judge. Shush. But sometimes I am surprised when it comes to books because they can have a really hideous cover and have some of the best content, and then some of the most beautiful covers are just…not good inside.

Oh man, I try SO HARD to make sure my covers match in some way, but I know that that’s not always the case. I love it when a series flows so, so nicely. But then sometimes the publishing industry just loves to see us readers squirm and change the covers mid-series. Like. No. But as far as the art matching the words on the inside, yes, I do think it’s important. Don’t have just random colors and big font. Try to make it look at least decent.

Some good examples of the art matching the content of the book:

Like, look at those covers. Not only aesthetically pleasing, but also matching to the content! I love it!

So yes, I do think that aesthetics are important, but they aren’t everything, necessarily.

The Blog: As a book blogger, in whatever form that takes, branding is important. Your colors, your fonts, your style of review, all of these things come together to make the “brand” of your blog – something that makes your reviews and posts and websites, all your various content, immediately recognizable to the people looking for you. What do you do to create a brand on your site? Do you think about these things?

I’m going to be honest: I don’t think about it super often. Like, I love the fonts I chose for my blog for the titles and the body of my posts. And I love my minimalist theme because I don’t want to be distracted by colors, personally, on my own blog. I’ve changed my banner and icon a couple of times, and I’m still not satisfied, so I think that’s one thing I’m going to change several times, probably.

I don’t know what I’d call my brand, actually. Simple? Clean? Long-winded? I try to make it easily accessible and organized to the best of my abilities, and that’s what I look for in my own blog. When I write reviews, I focus mainly on the characters because they’re, you know, the biggest part of the story. I then try to focus on the plot, or certain aspects of the plot where I can’t spoil things for people (at least not majorly).

As far as recognizability? I don’t know if when people see my blog they instantly think of it as being my blog? When I look at other people blogs, I notice colors or certain fonts or styles in which they write their posts, so I’m assuming it’s the same for people who read my blog?

Let’s Chat! ≧◡≦

So that wraps up the first two days of Armchair BEA! I’m sorry this is kind of late, but better last than never, right? Tell me all of your thoughts on book aesthetics, as well as blog aesthetics! Do you think about them often and do they affect what you pick up or look at? Also, what do you think about the diversity being shown in books and the publishing industry today?

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Diverse Characters

Welcome to another Top 5 Wednesday! Today’s topic is all about our favorite diverse characters. What is a diverse character? Any character who is of a different race than white, is LGBTQIA+, minority religion, has a mental or physical disability, etc. So here’s my five:

5. Lara Jean from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Lara Jean, though frustrating, was still just a teenage girl trying to keep her traditional family values in place and alive throughout the story while also dealing with a lot of things on her own. I love that there is mention of her Korean heritage throughout the duology and how it is represented.

4. Eleanor from Eleanor and Park

Why did I pick her? Because she’s a heavy set girl, aka she’s fat. How many fat girls do you see in YA? Not enough. So I had to pick her because not only does she have an extremely difficult home life, but she’s also a girl that can represent large girls, and I was so happy to read about a girl who is heavy set because, well, I am, too. Plus I just love her personality.

3. Shahrzad from The Wrath and the Dawn

Even though I have a really hard time pronouncing her name, I love how Shahrzad is written and how she represents a whole slew of people. She is also strong, stubborn, and independent, which I think is important to show girls.

2. Simon from Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Well, you know, he’s hilarious and I love him to bits, plus he’s gay, which is even better. I don’t know why that makes it better, but it does. I just love this book and I love Simon and I just love everything about it.

1 . Jubliee Chase from This Shattered World

A kickass black girl who is the captain of her section of the army? Yes please. She’s fierce, smart, strong, brave, and just an overall amazing character. I really loved her and I want more from her.

So there you have it! Five of my top favorite diverse characters. Who are some of yours? Let me know!

Let’s Talk: The Importance of Diversity in Children’s Literature

Recently there was a lot of angry talk on Twitter about something an author said about diversity in children’s literature and how she basically said that anything written about a queer black kid belongs in a pamphlet, not a book.

Um, sorry, what?

Edi from Crazy QuiltEdi did a post about the whole talk on Facebook that occurred over the weekend and I thought that it was a great to read about her perspective on it. The whole topic of conversation was sparked over a self-published children’s book about a black boy who loves the color pink, but you know, boys aren’t supposed to like pink… right? So it’s a story about fear and how this child wants to escape to Mars to be accepted by others.

I think that sounds like a great story! Regardless if the child is black, white, Asian, polka-dotted, whatever, it’s a story that should be shared with any and all children that go through much the same thing.

But for a white female author to go on and say that this kind of material should be in a pamphlet, not a book, because (according to her) books should have a “philosophical, spiritual, intellectual agenda that speaks to many many people – not just gay black boys” is really, well, absurd. Children need this kind of material to not only understand more about themselves, but to be able to grow compassion and empathize with those that go through the same kinds of problems.

Yes, authors of color have been trying to get published more and more, and stories about people of color have been trying to get published more and more, but there’s still not enough out there. The story and journey of a white boy or girl is fine and all, but we need more diversity. More Native Americans and traditional cultures and values; more Latinos and how they grow up in the U.S. or elsewhere; more queer black kids just wanting to be accepted and loved by others; more positive spins on Muslims, Buddhists, and other religious minorities, and heck, even majorities; more about bisexual white females and males, or really more about anyone, regardless of race, who is LGBTQIA+. We need these stories for our kids, and if people don’t begin seeing that, then where do we stand?

It’s sad to think that in the publishing world there is still such a stigma for POC authors and characters.

“It won’t sell.”

“It won’t be a best seller.”

“No one will relate.”

I beg to differ.

We want more, crave more, and need more. As a white female I, too, want to read these stories and be able to understand the mindsets, the cultures, the worlds in which these kids – and adults – live in.

Let me know your thoughts on diversity of kid’s literature. Is there enough of it? Do we need more? What kinds of topics do you want to see written about?