WNDB Interns Share Their Experience: Feather Flores

by We Need Diverse Books

Feather FloresGrowing up, I was the kind of reader most large publishing houses market to. I stayed away from historical fiction. A blurb that started with “The year is [insert year]” was a guarantee I wouldn’t even finish the sentence. I was repelled by books who promised me a plot involving mental illness, family troubles, diaspora, war, or issues of race, gender, and identity in general. As you can imagine, I was very well-read in the fantasy genre.
Sitting in meetings at HarperCollins Children’s Book Group this summer meant I got to hear a lot of comments about what would or wouldn’t sell. This book, for example, is too much of an “issue book,” so its cover and marketing campaign should play up the romance aspect to make it more accessible. And that book might have a great main character, but it just isn’t high-concept enough to stand out from other books about, say, foster children. Because nobody wants to read about foster children. Unless this book is absolutely, undeniably incredible, it just isn’t going to sell well.
The worst part is that I knew my colleagues, some of the best in the business, were often right. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself getting frustrated with young readers who are as dismissive as I used to be. “This book is about a girl with autism, but it’s an amazing fantasy novel too!” I wanted to say to them. “And you may not want to give this book a chance because it’s set in Ecuador, but you’re going to end up loving it so much! And you may think you can’t relate to the main character of this book at all, because she’s black and she lives in New York City, but trust me, it’s so good that you’re going to be in tears by the end.
“Won’t you just look past your own discomfort and give it a chance?”
I am a woman of color who grew up denying important aspects of my identity without fully realizing it. Unconsciously, I felt the allure of whiteness. I felt it in my preference for the Samantha and Molly American Girls, in my willful ignorance of Addy and Kaya. I felt it in my avoidance of Khaled Hosseini and other authors whose names didn’t look like names to me. I felt it in how uncomfortable I was reading Sandra Cisneros and Pam Muñoz Ryan in class for the first time, in the sudden recognition that their experiences spoke to mine in some ways. But I wasn’t half Latina. In my mind, I was white. And that was okay, because race, and difference more broadly, didn’t matter to me. I knew that all people deserved the same respect, so it was perfectly okay for them to stay relegated to their spaces while I chose instead to read the things I wanted to read—the stories, I now understand, that didn’t challenge my concept of myself or the world around me.
We need diverse books because children like me deserve to grow up without denying parts of themselves, especially unconsciously or without knowing any better, that are different from what our society continues to perpetuate as being “normal.” We need diverse books because visibility matters, because celebrating deviation from the arbitrary norm is the first step toward eliminating the negative connotation of the words “difference” and “diversity.” And honestly, we need diverse books because the term “issue book” is a term that really shouldn’t exist.
To all of the young readers like me, please believe me when I say: I understand. I don’t think less of you for wanting the privileges that come with being “normal.” In fact, I think you’re incredibly brave. I think you’re brave enough to take this first, most important step: look past your own discomfort, and give diverse books a chance.