Book lists: Multicultural SF/F for MG and YA

ETA: If you’re just googling into this list now, please see my booklists over on Pinterest, which I keep much more up-to-date than this page from several years ago. I break them down by age group and genre. I also publish diverse science fiction and fantasy for young readers at Tu Books now. See the sidebar or the Tu Books page for more information.

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Over at Color Online, they do a meme challenge every week “designed to encourage readers to broaden their reading habits.” This week (well, actually, it was last week; I’ve been working on this list for a few days in spare moments), they’re challenging people to discuss science fiction and fantasy where people of color are the leads.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, as we’ve already discussed, but let’s talk about books I’ve already read in which the main character (not a supporting character) is a person of color. Obviously, a lot of the manga I’ve been reading lately features people of color — at least, the ones set in Japan can reasonably be assumed to be people of color. (There’s an ongoing discussion among people who know more about manga than I do that addresses this, because many people unfamiliar with manga assume that the characters are white because of the range of hair colors and because eye shape isn’t characterized with the fold that is so common to Asian people, but from what I understand, it’s just an artistic choice, not a statement on the race of the characters. It certainly makes it easier to distinguish different characters when you’ve got a range of hair colors, especially in black-and-white manga. But that’s not what this post is really about.)

So what science fiction and fantasy — specifically, for young readers — have you read lately that feature a main character of color? Here’s my list (note that even though this is a “multicultural” list, I’m deliberately leaving out fantasy inspired by Celtic culture unless it features a character of color, because such fantasy is usually the most predominant in the market. I love it, but it’s not what this list is for):

SFF books for young readers that feature multicultural characters that I’ve read

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, 2009, by Grace Lin. I’m still working on reading this fairy-tale retelling-like tale, but so far it’s beautiful.
  • Wildwood Dancing, 2007, by Juliet Marillier. This one’s a little bit of a stretch, but it is set in Romania, which is a culture we don’t see too often in non-vampire stories.
  • Book of a Thousand Days, 2008, by Shannon Hale. Mongolia-inspired. Lovely, lovely fairy tale retelling. My favorite of Shannon’s books (and that’s saying something, because she writes some good books!).
  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, 1994, by Nancy Farmer. Set in Zimbabwe in the year 2194.
  • The House of the Scorpion, 2002, by Nancy Farmer. Set in the zone between the U.S. and Mexico, main character is Latino.
  • Flora Segunda, 2007, by Isabeau S. Wilce, and its sequel Flora’s Dare. Set in a fantasy world inspired by a fun mix of medieval, fashion-forward, and Spanish-inspired cultures (Spain-Spanish, given how the language is used, I’m thinking, but I could be wrong).
  • Little Sister,1996, by Kara Dalkey, and a sequel for which I’ve forgotten the name. Japanese folklore. This is actually one of the first multicultural fantasies I discovered way back in college, and I loved it so much, but at the time couldn’t find many more books like it.
  • Magic or Madness, 2005, and its sequels by Justine Larbalestier. Reason Cansino, the main character, is an Australian of mixed race.
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin. This one has had a lot of misunderstanding over the years due to publishers in the 60s and 70s putting a white Ged on the cover, when in fact Ged and many of the other characters are dark-skinned.
  • Eternal, 2009, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Miranda is Chinese-American.
  • Tantalize, 2007, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Main character Quincie is English-Italian-Texan, and non-POV character (but featured in a graphic novel sequel) Kieren is Mexican-American. (This one’s kind of a stretch, because Quincie isn’t technically a person of color–unless that Texan part is Latino?)

ETA: How could I forget Lawrence Yep? I have one of his books, but I’m not sure where it is. The ones I’ve read of his feature Asian characters in Asian settings (Chinese? I can’t remember off the top of my head). His books are great reads.

SFF books written by authors of color (where I’ve been able to identify them) in which characters may be of ambiguous ethnicity, or ethnicity simply not mentioned

Sucks to Be Me

    , 2008, by Kimberly Pauley

Multicultural science fiction and fantasy on my TBR pile

  • Silver Phoenix, 2009, by Cindy Pon. Set in ancient China.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, 2008, by Nahoko Uehashi, and its sequel, Moribito II. Written by a Japanese author (originally published in Japan and translated to English) and set in a culture inspired by medieval Japan.
  • The Shadow Speaker, 2007, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. Set in Niger, 2070. I’ve had the ARC of this since 2007, and have been wanting to read it for forever, and keep misplacing it when I actually think of it! It’s an oversight I need to correct.
  • Zahrah the Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.
  • Extras, 2007, by Scott Westerfeld. Main character, Aya, is Japanese, I believe. I LOVED the first three in the series (and somehow have misplaced my signed copies of the first two books 🙁 ) but haven’t had a chance to catch up with this one.
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy, 2008, Justine Larbalestier
  • Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, by Cynthia Leitich Smith–the above-mentioned sequel to her Tantalize.
  • The Animorphs series
  • Chronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu
  • Doret says that she’s been told the Pendragon series apparently has a black girl protagonist, despite the white boy on the cover? I’ll have to investigate that–perhaps it’s alternating viewpoints, or perhaps she’s introduced at a later point in the series? I know there is a follow-up series once the main boy protag grows up, so perhaps she’s in that?
  • Devil’s Kiss, by Sarwat Chadda
  • Libyrinth, by Pearl North
  • The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
  • Sword and Wandering Warrior by Da Chen

Multicultural fantasy that never came to be, and I lament it

Books 7 and 8 of the Hallowmere series by Tiffany Trent, which was canceled at book 6. I was so looking forward to editing Mara’s story (former slave, probably the most interesting of the Hallowmere girls because of her backstory) in book 7 and Chumana’s story (Hopi girl who Mara was going to meet in her travels through the raths) in book 8.

And books to add to my TBR pile thanks to shweta-narayan

  • Across the Nightingale Floor and its sequels, by Lian Hearn. Japanese historical fantasy. I had a copy of this in Seattle, and I’m not sure where I put it. I think I must have lost it in the move to Utah.
  • Annals of the Western Shore series by Ursula K. LeGuin. I remember the controversy over this cover, too–originally when Gifts came out, they’d put a white kid on the cover, too, and given LeGuin’s long history of having the cover of Earthsea whitewashed, that was a pretty big fight, and the final book ended up with I believe an Indian or Pakistani boy on the cover instead.
  • Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I keep forgetting to read this one, though people keep recommending it to me. I even have a free copy from ALA a few years back.
  • The Two Pearls of Wisdom (or Dragoneye Reborn as it’s known in the US) by Alison Goodman. I’ve been meaning to pick this one up. The whole mythology is inspired by Asian culture (Japanese? I can’t remember which one).
  • Lavender-Green Magic, by Andre Norton.
  • A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith. (Is this YA?)
  • Stormwitch, by Susan Vaught
  • The Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson
  • A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer
  • The Wizard series by Diane Duane
  • The Green Boy, by Susan Cooper
  • Jin Shei trilogy by Alma Alexander
  • The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, by Virginia Hamilton
  • Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed, by Virginia Hamilton
  • 47, by Walter Mosley
  • Pemba’s Song, by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin
  • The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
  • The Night Wanderer, by Drew Hayden Taylor

There are also books in which the ethnicity of the character is neutral/unclaimed, as in The Hunger Games, in which most of those who work in the Seam are dark-skinned, but of an unspecified ethnic origin (Mitali Perkins discussed this on her blog a while back), so I’m not counting it on this list but it’s still a great book.

As you can see, there are some really great books out there already, but the list is still pretty short. Can you guys help me add to it? Especially the TBR pile, though I know I’m also forgetting books that I’ve read that I just don’t have copies of. What am I missing?