2015 Dive Into Diversity & LGBT Reading Challenges: September Recap

October 1st, 2015 11:01 am by Kelly Garbato

This month’s Dive Into Diversity & LGBT Reading Challenge roundup comes with the usual disclaimer: In several instances, I’m not 100% certain that the book’s diverse enough to be included in the challenge (for example, how to judge a book of short stories? Is one or two diverse tales out of a dozen or more acceptable?) – so I’ve included a brief note about each book’s qualifications at the end of the post, so you can judge for yourself.

Pro tip: these notes may contain spoilers.


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  • Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer (2012)

    Diversity: Yes. This futuristic fairy tale mashup is set in New Beijing – built on the ruins of Beijing, which was destroyed in World War IV – so most of the characters are presumably of Asian descent, including love interest Prince Kai. Cinder’s long-dead father found and adopted her in Europe, so I assume she’s white. The Lunars all seem to be white, some of them Nordically so. And the accent adopted by Rebecca Soler, who narrated the audiobook, suggests that Dr. Erland is Russian (or could easily pass as such).

    Please note that I “read” the audiobook – mostly while doing swim therapy with my dogs – so it’s possible that I missed a few things. Or a whole lot of them, since I wasn’t exactly in a position to take notes.

  • The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore (2015); reviewed here

    Diversity: YES! The Palomas are Hispanic or Latino, while the Corbeaus are French with some Romani ancestry. While many are pale-skinned with either blonde or brown hair, Cluck – the Romeo figure – is dark, with black-blue hair and dark brown skin. He takes after his grandfather in looks, and is one of the few members of his family to also honor his traditions. Cluck’s dark looks betray the family’s gitano blood – which they’d rather forget – making him a target of abuse and ridicule. Older brother Dax repeatedly abuses Cluck as their mother Nicole turns a blind eye. When they are fourteen and nine, respectively, Dax breaks three of the fingers in Cluck’s left hand; he’s left-handed, another quirk that marks him as “bad” in his family’s eyes. The breaks are never treated, and so the fingers are permanently curled under, like a claw – hence his nickname.

    On the Paloma side, Tia Lora suffered several miscarriages due to physical abuse by her now-dead husband. Lace seems to be on her way to developing an eating disorder; during the day, she starves herself so that she can fit into her tail, and then binges on junk food after the show. After the “accident” at the chemical plant, Lace shows distinct signs of PTSD; every time it rains, she panics, convinced that the rain will melt her skin. She’s also very self-conscious about the physical scars she suffered, particularly the heart-shaped burn on her cheek and the feather on her arm.

    Traveling performers, both families face suspicion and prejudice in the towns they pass through.

    Each chapter heading features a saying in either Spanish or French, along with a translation, and the text contains a number of words and phrases in Cluck and Lace’s native (second?) languages as well.

  • The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson (2015); review coming soon

    Diversity: Yes. The story is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1898; all of the characters I encountered (I DNF’ed at 31%) are Asian. Additionally, Li-lin alludes to the misogyny and racism she experiences as a widowed Chinese immigrant with yin eyes – the ability to see the spirit world. See my review for more.

  • The Merman: A Novel by Carl-Johan Vallgren (2015); review coming soon

    Diversity: Nella and her brother Robert live in poverty. Mom Marika is an alcoholic who’s likely to spend the family’s public assistance on booze over food, clothing, and school supplies. Oftentimes the only meal the kids eat in a day is the school’s free lunch. Otherwise, Nella resorts to shoplifting to feed herself and Robert.

    While their mom is neglectful, dad Jonas is abusive. He hits Marika on one occasion and bullies his kids frequently. He breaks Robert’s free-from-the-nurse, taped-together, coke-bottle glasses and gives him a new pair of reading glasses, which he insists the boy wear – never mind that they aren’t the right prescription. Dad’s also an alcoholic, as well as a drug dealer. When we first meet him, Jonas has just been released from a one-year stint in jail for possession of narcotics. Jonas reports that his father hit him, thus hinting at the generational cycle of domestic violence.

    Mom and dad frequently let strange men crash at their house. At least one propositioned Nella – who’s just 15 – and she says that she often feels them leering at her, undressing her with their eyes. When in need of money, Nella briefly considers turning to sex work.

    Whereas Nella is mostly ignored, Robert is the constant target of bullies, with his ugly glasses, eczema, learning disorder, and tendency to wet his pants when scared. Kids call him names, spit on him, and hit him with snowballs. Things escalate even further when Gerard – who thinks Nella is a snitch – and his cronies set their sights on Robert. They sexually assault both Robert and Nella, pulling their pants down and (in Nella’s case) attempting to shove a pine cone inside her rectum.

    Nella’s friend the Professor (Lazlo) was in a car accident that broke both his legs. He’ll have to walk with crutches for the rest of his life.

    The book is rife with offensive (but context-appropriate) language: bitch, cunt, retard, cripple, mong, Jew, kunta kinte, and (of course) the n-word. Various forms of violence – animal abuse, domestic violence, racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. – are shown as interconnected: all pieces of the same puzzle.

  • A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernandez (2015); review coming soon

    Diversity: Yes. The author is a queer (bisexual), second-generation Latina (her mother and father are from Colombia and Cuba, respectively) who writes about her struggle to assimilate, and the impact it had on her family; coming out as bi; racism, inducing during her internship at The New York Times; the impact of slavery on religion; the effect of NAFTA on the economy, as illustrated by her parents’ experiences in the work force; her father’s alcoholism and the physical and verbal abuse he subjected her to; and more.

  • The Unquiet by Mikaela Everett (2015); review coming soon

    Diversity: Not much in terms of the characters, though the author is a woman of color. Aunt Imogen is an alcoholic and drug addict, and real Gray (and then sleeper Gray) is abused by his father. Gigi dies of some unnamed illness (cancer, maybe?).

  • Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1) by Ryan Graudin (2015); review coming soon

    Diversity: Yes. Set in an alternate universe where Hitler won WWII, the book’s protagonist is a Jewish woman named Yael. She escaped from a concentration camp when she was only seven, thanks in no small part to the experiments conducted on her by Nazi scientists that gave her the ability to skinshift. She joins the Resistance and, at seventeen, she enters the Axis Tour in the hopes that winning will get her close enough to Hitler to assassinate him. Half of the twenty contestants are from Germany while the other half are Japanese. All of the Japanese contestants are named. Yael occasionally assumes the face of a woman of color, such as during her rendezvous in Cairo.

  • Glitches (The Lunar Chronicles #0.5) by Marissa Meyer (2011); review coming soon

    Diversity: Yes. This short story is a prequel to Cinder, a futuristic fairy tale mashup that takes place in New Beijing – a city built on the ruins of Beijing, which was destroyed in a world war (IV?). Eleven-year-old Cinder travels from France to China to meet her new family, which is presumably Asian, as are many of the characters in Cinder. Shortly thereafter, her stepfather Garan dies, leaving her at the mercy of her cruel and bitter stepmother Adri.

  • The Queen’s Army (The Lunar Chronicles #1.5) by Marissa Meyer (2012); review coming soon

    Diversity: This short story set in the universe of The Lunar Chronicles takes place on Luna, where a young boy has just been conscripted into the Queen’s Army. Physical descriptions are scarce, but two of the characters have Jewish names: Ze’ev and Jael the Thaumaturge.

  • Beside Myself by Ann Morgan (2016); review coming next year

    Diversity: Helen and Ellie’s grandmother suffers from dementia, as does their elderly neighbor Mrs. Dunkerley. Their uncle Albert sexually abused his sister Margaret when they were kids. Margaret suffered from depression after her husband, Helen and Ellie’s bio dad, committed suicide. He suffered from bipolar disorder, as do his twin girls. After the swap, Smudge/Helen begins hanging out with older kids, experiments with drugs, and is repeatedly raped by her friend Mary’s older brother. Mary’s father sexually abuses both Mary and her brother.

  • Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace (2016); review coming next year

    Diversity: Yes! Breezy Lin is biracial: her mother is Irish and her father is Chinese; he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 18. Breezy is bisexual; when she was younger, she had a crush on her mom’s best friend, Karen Garrow, a physicist. (Breezy’s mom is in neuroscience and kept her last name when she married.) Karen is also biracial (and a survivor of domestic violence): “tall and dark haired, with copper skin and gray eyes. My sister Sunny told her once she looked like Nefertiti, and Karen had laughed and said she had her father to thank for that, whoever he was.” Breezy has to deal with racism as well as slut-shaming.

    Breezy’s friend Maria Garcia (whose life she cribs to make her patchwork girl) is Latina; she has family in Mexico. When Breezy tells the ghoul Jake about how she kissed her best friend Melanie on her last night as a human (and received a slap for it), he sympathizes: something similar happened to him wen he kissed a guy friend. One of Breezy’s classmates came out as trans the summer she died. Pastor Willow’s father abused (and ultimately murdered) his wife; Breezy laments her lack of a name in Willow’s memories.


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