Let me just start this off by saying that it’s good that there are so many more diverse books out there. I used to have to research and scour stores in order to find good Diverse fiction and now it’s easily accessible. It’s mainstream and I’m living for it. That said, there are a lot of books I’ve been reading lately that I’m sure were written with the best intentions, but end up perpetuating stereotypes. These stereotypes can be anything from cringeworthy to harmful, depending on how far they go with them.
I’m thinking about this because of Little & Lion which has a pretty decent goodreads score, but ended up demonizing mental illness and making a love triangle with a bi character. Which yay, bisexual representation, but it feels like it’s always a love triangle. Even worse, in this one it’s the bi character who’s pursuing both people at the same time keeping up with the slutty bi person trope.
The mental illness aspect of it focused a lot more on how erratic a person who has bipolar could be and how dangerous they could become if they were off their medication. There wasn’t enough humanization of Lionel and showing how he suffered from his illness to offset the issues that his illness causes for the family later.
I feel like this could be changed by simply shifting the narrator of the novel. Instead of showing how mental illness affects the people around someone who’s mentally ill (which is a perspective we see all the time), show how it affects the person directly. Tell their story rather than their symptoms.
As for to mishandled Bi representation, I think it would have been fine if we already had a ton of books that didn’t make the bisexual character a problem or pursuing multiple people at once. Since we don’t though, it helps to tip the scales in the wrong direction.
What do you guys think? Am I overreacting? Are there other books where you’ve felt this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
12 thoughts on “Discussion: Does A Book Count as Diverse if it’s Stereotypical?”
Thought provoking… I agree that stereotyping in novels can lead to dehumanizing the characters. ?
Yeah, I worry about that. It’s too easy to fall into tropes even with the best of intentions. :/
Oof. that book sounds like a bit of mess and I’m just going to nope out of reading. Was it #ownvoices?
I think it depends on a lot of aspects – who’s writing, how they’re telling the story, etc. But I do agree, I don’t think a lot of us want the telling, we want the showing, so we can learn about the groups represented and be more educated so we are less biased.
I wonder how other people would take it, honestly. I wondered as I read it if I was just being over-sensitive because of how close it comes to my own experiences.
No, I don’t think it counts as #ownvoices. According to an interview I found, Colbert researched for the book by reading memoirs and is a straight woman. I do think she’s trying to be respectful, but there was definitely a disconnect for me.
If representation is badly done, no, I wouldn’t recommend it as an example of a book which includes [x], though of course this gets a lot more complicated when there’s representation of multiple groups and some are stereotypical and others well-done, or when I can’t judge because I’m not a part of the group myself. This requires some elaboration with the rec 😛
I think the best way to avoid stereotyping and tokenism is simply to have two or more characters that belong to the group (LGBTQ+ characters, PoC characters, disabled characters…whatever), with different personalities, so even if the writer happens to hit a stereotype with one of them, it’s clear that not everyone in the setting is the same? Just making them people, follow some stereotypes, break others, etc. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned, but I liked how it was done in The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan for example – since almost everyone has some kind of disability, there’s less of a focus on that (though of course it affects their daily lives) if that makes sense.
I’ve never heard of this book before, but it’s definitely on my list now. The Gray House sounds fascinating.
I agree with what you said about having more than one character representing. Then authors would probably naturally avoid stereotyping both since they wouldn’t want them to be too similar.
Representation is complicated and I sometimes find myself side-eying representation in books while being unsure if I’m overreacting. Maybe if it’s disclaimed in the recco that you’re not part of the group, it’ll be okay? Hmm…
Oof, I remember wanting to read this book a while back but I never did. Mostly because I just didn’t get round to it, now though I think I’ll nope out of it. That bi rep *winces* that doesn’t help us at all, like you said though it’d not be as bad if there were already a ton of books out there with good rep. But there isn’t which makes it more harmful to use that trope.
I think the stereotypical books are still diverse to a point, in my mind they usually give us a platform to talk about bad representation etc. As well as what we’d want to see, however sometimes the rep can just be harmful which really isn’t good. Hmmm I guess it would also depend on the writer, and so many other things. Lovely post!
I’m at the point with bi rep that as soon as I hear about a love triangle, I’m immediately less interested in the book. I wanted to love this one so much because I couldn’t think of another book off the top of my head that had sympathetic YA Bipolar Disorder. In other ways of representing though, it does really well! It also does a great job of having remarried parents and step-siblings, so I will give kudos for that.
I guess it depends on the author’s intent as well. Like I’ve read in interviews that Brandy Colbert was trying really hard to be a good ally and is thoughtful in that way, so I don’t hold it against her that Little & Lion stumbled hard for me. Whereas I’ve seen authors get combative or defensive about their tropes and stereotypes which would make me less likely to try any of their other works.
oh man, I was really excited for Little & Lion so that’s super disappointing to hear that they perpetuate harmful stereotypes. and I agree – diversity within representation (i.e., different types of POC/LGBTQ+/mental health/etc experiences; two people with very similar diagnoses can have very different stories to tell) is currently lacking so every “diverse” book coming out now has more weight.
one suggestion I’ve seen is to just have more diverse characters within your book – it’s totally okay to have your villains be part of some minority if some of your heroes are too. but until we reach more balance in media portrayals, the scales are already skewed and positive rep is more important at this stage.
It does okay in some aspects of representation! Like it has good family dynamics in some ways for remarried parents (without doing the ‘ooh the step-siblings totally want each other’ thing) and their’s POC representation, Jewish religion representation, and some disability representation. But the LGBT and mental health rep take centre stage so that’s what I focused on.
I really love that idea and it would make things so interesting. It wouldn’t be as damaging to see a queer-coded villain if one of the heroes was queer as well. Have you heard the argument that some people make that they’d rather leave minorities out than represent them poorly?