I write YA and MG science fiction and fantasy. In fact, I’m supposed to be finishing up the last touches for the paperback edition of a YA space opera right now.
Instead, I’m editing an anthology. And I’m ok with that.
The project started with a simple question on facebook: Any recommendations for YA science fiction or fantasy with a female MC, without a romantic subplot?
It was harder to answer than it should have been. Friends brought out a lot of beloved stories with strong female protagonists… but then remembered. “Oh, yeah. I guess they do end up together.” “Right, I’d forgotten about that whole theme.” “Well, it’s not a huge part of the plot, but…”
Not that these aren’t great books, but it started feeling like it’s not valid for a young woman to go on a hero’s journey without also finding true love along the way.
The conversation turned to look at books for younger readers, and here we ran into a startling statistic:
According to a 2011 study of 6,000 children’s books, only 31 percent had central female characters, and even fewer featured main characters of color.
That’s of all children’s books, but from our admittedly unscientific review of middle grade science fiction, it doesn’t seem far off.
A genre that’s supposed to inspire us towards a bright future isn’t making space for half the population’s dreams. Boys go and have adventures, girls are to be defended, or prizes to be won, and the landscape is very, very white.
This can’t be healthy.
Sally Ride, first woman in space and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, famously said:
“Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Girls need to read stories where any number of possible roles are modeled for them. Just as importantly, boys need to read stories where girls are active participants in adventures. And children of all colors and backgrounds need to know the future includes them.
It’s time for a bigger universe.
We've got a great collection of 20 stories from amazing authors, ranging from Nebula and Hugo winners to relative newcomers to the field. 90% of the stories in the anthology are brand new, and 80% have central female characters. We don't have girls who are prizes to be won or waiting to be rescued. All of our heroines and heroes are on their own adventure, not a side note in someone else's. Our characters are white, black, Asian, Latino. Human and robot. Everyone belongs here.
Deborah has a story in the anthology too! When I asked her to elucidate on why she’s participating, she gave me this great quote:
A science fiction story is a pathway leading into a possible future. Let's help our young people along the way. Let's show them that no pathway is barred to them because of their gender. Let's make our characters as gloriously diverse as real life and show our young people that they can walk into whatever future they want.
A Kickstarter campaign is underway to help finance the publication of this important anthology. So far, backers who believe in the importance of diversity have committed over $2800 in support of the project, and the anthology has been chosen as a Kickstarter Staff Pick. Backers have a number of options, including pre-ordering copies of the 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, donating copies to schools or being listed in the back of the print and digital version of the book as a supporter.
*The study is “Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.” (http://gas.sagepub.com/content/25/2/197.full.pdf+html) The results are also discussed in this Guardian article. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature)