BY LONDON MACKALL
When I was in high school I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Ally Carter, and she gave me an amazing complement. She told me that I looked like my favorite character in her book, Rebecca Baxter.
Rebecca was not the main character of the book by any means, but nonetheless she meant so much to me. She was strong, smart and passionate. She was unapologetically confident and she was a black teenager just like me.
Seeing characters like oneself is a feeling unlike any other, but it is a rarity for many people of color.
According to Allison Flood, a writer at “The Guardian,” a study published in 2013 revealed that “of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 93 were about black people, 34 about Native Americans, 69 about Asians and 57 about Latinos.”
People of color can be more than sidekicks; they can and should be the main characters as well. Below are seven of my favorite books that feature a person of color as the main character.
- “The Summer of Chasing Mermaids” by Sarah Ockler. Singing meant the world to Elyse, but after an unthinkable boating accident, her most prized possession, her beautiful voice, has vanished.
With dreams of becoming a famous singer shattered, she leaves her home on the island of Tobago to stay with family friends in Atargat Cove, Oregon, with hopes of distancing herself from her grim past. Elyse passes her time by working at a quaint shop in town and writing poetry. When she meets Christian and his younger brother Sebastan, her days of moping become non-existent and she is forced to face the mysterious past that she ran away from. The setting of “The Summer of Chasing Mermaids” is a small beach town in Oregon that was predominantly white. Not only does the main character, Elyse, have to grapple with the grief of losing her voice, she also has to come to terms with the fact that there is only one other Afro-Tobagonian girl, Kirby, who lives in the small town.
This is definitely a optimal setting for a book that centers around finding one’s voice.
- “Princeless” Volume #1 Issue #1 by Jeremy Whitley. Princess Adrienne always questioned and critiqued the damsel in distress stories that her mother told her growing up. Unfortunately, that did not stop her parents from locking her in a tower on her sixteenth birthday. Now Adrienne must wait for a brave prince to save her. However, before any prince is able to come to rescue her, Adrienne saves herself and goes on the adventure of a lifetime. “Princeless” intelligently reimagines the princess archetype. Adrienne does not need saving and she certainly does not need a prince to make her feel complete. This refreshing comic book balances drama, humor and adventure in the best way possible.
- “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” by Mindy Kaling
Known for her roles in “The Mindy Project” and “The Office,” talented actress, writer and comedian Mindy Kaling dishes out advice and anecdotes in her collection of laugh-out-loud essays.
From summer camp and the freshman fifteen to first apartments and award ceremonies, Kaling gives her fans an inside look at her life and how she became the successful woman that she is today. Getting a glimpse into the life of a celebrity is always exciting, especially when she is an amazingly talented comedian and actress. Mindy had to make time to pursue her dreams and they never came easily, and college students can relate.
- “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” by Misty Copeland. Misty Copeland always knew that she loved dance and choreography, but it was not until she stepped foot in an after-school ballet class that she realized that she was a ballet prodigy. Copeland quickly became entranced in the world of ballet and the new opportunities it could offer her. Unfortunately, her dream world soon collided with her less-than-glamourous home life, which led to a bitter custody battle. Through this memoir, readers are able to understand the struggles that Misty endured to become the first African American soloist in American Ballet Theatre history. Misty Copeland is an accomplished athlete, author and businesswoman. Her inspiring book will surely encourage readers to find out what their passion is.
- “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. When Suyuan Woo, Lindo Jong, An-Mei Hsu and Ying-Ying St. Clair immigrated to San Francisco, California in 1948 their lives changed forever. When the four women have head-strong daughters of their own they worry that their girls have become too Americanized and are not in touch with their Chinese heritage. This multigenerational story of strength and struggles recount the lives of the women before their life-changing journey to the United States and the lives of their adult daughters. This story exemplifies the strong bonds between mothers and daughters and reading about these strong women will surely remind readers of the importance of family, hopefully giving them a renewed appreciation for strong female characters.
- “Tiger Lily” by Jodi Lynn Anderson. First love has never been so heart-achingly beautiful. In this retelling of “Peter Pan” the reader learns that Peter had a love before Wendy Darling came to Neverland. Her name was Tiger Lily and she was a 15-year-old Native American girl. Although Tiger Lily is betrothed to another man, she must choose between her father’s wishes and the uncertainty of first love. Tiger Lily was an original main character. She was adopted as a child, which always made her feel like she never quite fit in with the other children and contributed to her shy personality. It is always refreshing to read a book where the shy, introverted main character actually gets their story told.
- “Furious” by Jill Wolfson. Meg never came close to fitting in with her classmates. She lived in a foster home with a woman who made Cinderella’s stepmother seem like a saint. Meg always managed to embarrass herself in some way at school and she never knew the birth parents that she inherited her caramel skin and untamable hair from. Meg realizes that fitting in is overrated when a strange new classmate reveals to her that she is really Megaera, one of the three furies of Greek legend. These furies immediately punish bullies and wrongdoers, but their thirst for vengeance quickly escalates and the line separating what is just and what is unjust begins to blur. Reading a book or novel where the main character’s race is unknown is a rare, but it also makes the reader think “Race plays an integral part in many of our lives, but what would it be like to not know what race you are?” Belongingness and the need to fit in are overarching themes in this novel, and subtly including race in a book about finding where one belongs was a great touch.