Diversity in literature is still a hot topic but many lists pertaining to diverse books focus solely on race or sexuality. I’ve compiled a list of ten books that celebrate diversity or diverse characters, including those with disabilities or mental health problems too.
Of course, this list is by no means extensive, however, it’s a good start for those looking for some other diverse reads besides the obvious ones such as The Hate U Give.
Some of these books are hugely popular, whilst others are rarely talked about. Let’s normalise other ethnicities, other sexualities and other states of mind!
NB This article was first published in 2015 but has been updated in 2018.
1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Rosie Project focuses on Don, a middle-aged man with Aspergers syndrome, who is trying to find a wife. The problem is, he’s never even been on a second date! Don has come up with a girlfriend test in order to find his perfect match but he soon finds out that love can’t be calculated in quite such a way. He is very atypical with a unique way of thinking and reacting to events. He can be incredibly blunt and as Hermione said, ‘has the emotional range of a teaspoon’. Very funny, very touching, this is a must-read for the summer!
Check out my review of The Rosie Project.
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I don’t think John Green’s best-selling young adult classic needs much explanation to be honest, but seeing two teenagers battling terminal illnesses and still trying to live their lives as ordinary teenagers is both inspirational and heartbreaking. The Fault in Our Stars is a favourite amongst many young adult readers and kicked off a trend of stories where teenagers with life-threatening illnesses find love and affection. Whilst Hazel’s illness is visible with all the tubes coming out of her body, Augustus’ is invisible, which just goes to show that appearances never tell the full story.
Check out my review for The Fault in Our Stars.
3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Me Before You is one of my all time favourite books. It is the beautiful story of a man who was once very active and sporty who is now paralysed from the waist down. This book had me in buckets – more so than The Fault in Our Stars! This can almost be seen as the adult version of TFiOS, but I actually think this is slightly better and more touching. READ THIS BOOK NOW. (Also buy a big box of tissues)
4. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The Mortal Instruments is a popular young adult paranormal series and it has been adapted into a film and Netflix series. The main characters are Jace and Clary but I know for a lot of fans of this series, the gay relationship between Bane and Alec is their favourite part of the story. This series ticks both the ethnic and sexual diversity box and I guess the paranormal one too with all the different creatures present in this series!
Check out my review for City of Fallen Angels (Book #4).
5. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Set in the 1950s when for the first time ever, black children were admitted to a white school, this book features a dual narrative told from the POV of a white girl and a black girl. Not only that, but these two girls develop a beautiful relationship that portrays the struggles they faced in what I thought was a very accurate way.
6. Ink by Amanda Sun
Most young adult books are set in the USA or the UK but Ink is set in Japan and most of the cultural references are pretty spot on! It’s is centred on an American girl and a Japanese boy and the magical ink that can make drawings come to life. In most Asian interracial relationships you’ll find a white boy with an Asian girl but Ink and Eleanor & Park (below) are two exceptions.
Check out my book review of Ink by Amanda Sun.
7. How To Be Both by Ali Smith
Written in two parts, How To Be Both explores how someone can be ever-present and yet forever-gone, both male and female, both homosexual and heterosexual etc. etc. There are some lesbian relationships in this book and the way Ali Smith writes about adolescence is really touching. Though be warned, this is an incredibly complex and confusing book. Most people I know have a love/hate relationship with this title!
Check out my review of How To Be Both.
Buy How To Be Both: Amazon
8. Tampa by Alissa Nutting
I’m not sure how much of a “celebration” this book is as I found Tampa pretty disturbing when I read it but it is a unique read. It is about the taboo sexual relationship between a teacher and pupil. The teacher in question is obviously a pedophile and her psychology is both really interesting and really frightening. If you’re a fan of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov then you should definitely add this to your TBR pile. Well worth a read!
Check out my review of Tampa.
9. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Wahey for asians in YA fiction! I’m half-Chinese and a big fan of Korean culture so I was ecstatic to find a book with an oriental teenager in it. I felt like I could relate to Park’s family life, but I also appreciated that Park being Korean wasn’t a huge deal. This is just like any old teenage love story (but better). Let’s normalise interracial couples!
Check out my review of Eleanor & Park.
10. The Immoralist by Andre Gide
This is one from my Oxford University reading list and is about a married man who begins to explore his homosexual desires that are awakened through travelling. This was written at a time when being homosexual was still taboo so this book was someone of a scandal (as you can see from the title ‘The Immoralist’). This is a fairly short story and an important part of the history of French literature so I’d definitely recommend giving it a read. Some of the descriptions are absolutely beautiful even if the characters aren’t the sort of people you want to be.
11. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles is my all time favourite Greek myth retelling. It tells the story of Achilles and Patroclus who unwittingly become the best of friends. Or even something more. Madeline Miller imagines a completely different take on Achilles’ story and writes about the gay romance between the brave soldier and the exiled prince. Whilst the Trojan War rages in the background, we are treated to a devastating account of forbidden first love between two young men. The Song of Achilles is about duty vs the heart and will captivate your heart.
Check out my review of The Song of Achilles.
12. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
You wouldn’t think that there could be discrimination against vegetarians but in Asian countries vegetarianism is incredibly rare. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is the story of a woman who refuses to eat meat after a horrible dream but the consequences in her Korean family are devastating. Written in three parts, we get an insight into the mind of our main character Yeong-hye, her husband and her sister. It’s beautifully written but some passages are rather disturbing.
Check out my review of The Vegetarian.
13. The Wangs vs The World
The Wangs vs The World is the incredibly funny story about a family that moves to America and gets rich quick. But then it all comes crashing down when Mr Wangs goes out of business. His family are used to the finer things in life but now they’ve got to pack up all their belongings into one single car and road trip to the East Coast to stay with the oldest child in the family. This is a hilarious insight into Chinese culture and Chinese parenting so is well worth a read for those interested in what happens when East comes West.
Check out my review of The Wangs vs The World.
14. House of Windows by Alexia Casale
Nick is a self-confessed genius. And he won’t let you forget it. At just 15 years old, he earns a place at the prestigious Cambridge University but he’s never been good at making friends and the fact that he can’t drink is another barrier. At first you think that Nick is just an irritating little sh*t but as time goes on, you begin to see how his dysfunctional family life and absent father have shaped him into the abnormal teenager that he is. He’s thrown in at the deep end at university but he begins to learn what life is about and find real love and friendship.
Check out my review of House of Windows.
Buy House of Windows: Amazon
15. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant leads a carefully timetabled existence and as far as she’s concerned, life is just fine. With zero friends, nobody’s ever told her that life could be better than “just fine”. With a large scar across one side of her face, few people have ever tried to get to know the real Eleanor Oliphant, the girl behind the facial disfigurement. Nobody’s ever really asked how she got it or tried to help her out of her miserable existence. Then one day, a chance encounter with Raymond from work changes everything. She’s a little strange but by no means unloveable and if you only pick up one book on this list, make it this one.
If you liked this post, check out these:
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Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning to Read But Haven’t
10 Books Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
15 Books Like Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
5 Books Like Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
Top Five Books For When Time is Short