Given the popularity of this demand, you'd think that everyone and his brother would be out there "doing diversity", writing that big bestseller that features a collection of characters right out of Dinseyland's It's a Small World ride. So why aren't they? Maybe because they're not as cynical as I am. Or maybe because my joke reveals a kind of truth: a lot of writers are afraid of making characters that seem like cartoon caricatures of "diversity."
One writer I know went into a panic recently thinking about the "best friend" character she'd created in a series of books. If her main character is white and her best friend is African American, she worried, does that make the best friend the token "black best friend" figure in these stories? Another writer worries that a character she's developing in her work-in-progress could be construed as the "sassy gay friend" because he's sort of sassy and, after much animosity between them, is befriended by the protagonist. Does this automatically slot him as a stock character?
No one wants to write stock characters and no one wants to be accused - or have it gently pointed out to them - that they've missed the mark with any character they develop, and it's an especially sensitive issue when there are so few "diverse" characters. This is not to bemoan the hardships of the well-meaning white writer in a PC world. And white writers aren't going to solve this problem alone. We need many more voices like de la Pena's and other writers who can bring their experience and perspectives to YA books and share them with a variety of readers of all ethnicities and creeds and orientations and abilities. That's what reading is all about, isn't it - opening up your world?
A few days ago, Jessica Pryde wrote on Book Riot about "Why We Need Inclusive Lit, Not Just Diverse Lit". She calls for "more stories, period" written from a variety of perspectives. Not just "gay books" and "wheelchair books" and "deaf Chicana transgender polo player books" but all of these books. Put all kinds of characters in your books and strive to make them more than one-dimensional and you won't incur the wrath of some imagined PC posse ready to hang you from a rainbow flagpole for violating some code of diversity. Include characters as they would appear in the real world - multifaceted, multidimensional, multiethnic, multi-human.
Before I sign out, I want to extend a big green hug and welcome Spider Man to the team. He is indeed a "little bean of a person" but occasionally humorous. He's certainly no more annoying than Iron Man.