Diversity in the genre of young adult literature can be hard to come by. Worse, the more specific you get about what you’re looking for in diversity in young adult literature, the harder it is to come by. Especially in the LGBT+ area.
It’s important to have diverse reading material because of the perspective it allows readers to gain. For instance, I am a straight, Hispanic young woman, attending college and doing so with the support of my family. Without diverse literature, it would be hard for me to understand what life is like for boys. Or, boys who are say, African-American, from a small town, and want to attend college but uncertain that the small school they attend will get them there. That’s just one possible perspective that without diverse reading material, I wouldn’t have.
Another example of diverse reading material would be what life is like for a young woman in a small town in North Carolina, where she and her best friend are the only students in their high school class, because most of her classmates have dropped out. Where most of the town is either hooked on hard drugs or barely making ends meet with what few jobs they have. Or, the perspective of a young woman who is dealing with the fact that her best friend, who is gay, was horribly beaten in what may have been a hate crime and is presently in a coma. That is a world I could not even begin to imagine with full detail. But that is the world I get to delve into in the book “Shine” by Lauren Myracle.
Although the book is indeed headed by a white, straight, female character, her world is pretty upside down, and the people around her also make for some diverse stand-ins. Cat, the sixteen-year old lead, has just gone through some rough stuff. Her best friend, Patrick, has been beaten down allegedly in a hate crime against his identifying as gay, and she has some personal issues as well. With most of the town merely “tut-tutting” about what happened to Patrick, Cat is certain that she has to take it into her own hands and explore who is responsible for what happened to Patrick.
As far as diverse literature goes, I feel as if this book definitely provides a unique perspective on a multitude of issues. One of the most central issues is that of sexuality in a very conservative and Christian community, where being anything but the norm does not bode well. Yet, the book shows that up until the beating, Patrick was succeeding. He had a job, he was in school, and he had friends. Patrick was confident, and he was exactly who he wanted to be to the world. However, Patrick was still hurt badly over it, apparently for being gay and open about it. The author Lauren Myracle, is smartly bringing up one of the issues Americans teenagers who are LGBT – or different in anyway – are struggling with. If they openly pursue what they want – being themselves and acceptance for it – will they ultimately be persecuted for it? And why? The answer to that may be found in the fact that we often put restrictions on ourselves, a theme that shows up in multiple characters, Cat included.
I’ve pointed out that Cat appears to be the stereotypical main character of young adult literature, but something in her past points to her nuances and how they’ve affected her. She has started secluding herself from the friends she has had, including Patrick. There are parts about her that she is unwilling to show because she is afraid of how they’ll affect her life. She thinks that if she keeps her head down she can leave once she’s finished high school, but then what happens to Patrick occurs and she starts to see why keeping her head down won’t exactly work. What’s wrong with keeping quiet about your true self? As Cat learns throughout the book, it isolates you and takes a major toll not only on yourself, but on the people around you. The book shows why life isn’t made to be lived in the dark, hence its title.
“Shine” works well in encouraging its theme of acceptance. Not just of sexualities, but of any part of who we are, and who the people in our lives are. The fact that it offers several diverse perspectives on it and embraces certain issues that LGBT+ teenagers experience today brings the whole point to a powerful smash.