At the We Need Diverse Books: In Our World and Beyond panel at BookCon 2015, Shadowshaper author Daniel José Older advocated for counter-narratives in sci-fi and fantasy that push back against the status quo. Authors can achieve this, he said, by considering “diverse rhythms, diverse narrative structures, diverse ways of being, diverse conflicts.”
When it comes to the creation of characters and cultures, homogeneity stands in the way of greater diversity, and vague descriptions surrounding characters of color feeds directly into that problematic homogeneity. Readers searching for their reflection in the books they consume bring their own assumptions and preferences to the character; and while vagueness regarding a character’s race can allow a wider range of readers to identify with a book’s protagonist, it can also weigh a character description in favor of white readers, sometimes leading to extreme cases of book covers being whitewashed.
That’s part of why Court of Fives, Kate Elliott’s first YA novel, is so refreshing. While its heroine, aspiring athlete Jessamy Tonor, is biracial, there is no ambiguity about her racial identification. Furthermore, the fact that her family is mixed-race is the crux of the novel’s dramatic conflict, making for a unique yet still universal story.