Books With Diversity: Cross-cultural Relationships

In this moment when diversity is finally getting the attention it deserves, and publishers and readers are discovering books that represent diverse cultures, I’d like to make mention of young adult novels that feature cross-cultural and/or interracial relationships.

My interest in the subject stems from my own work. In my backstory construct of FORGIVEN, I imagined that Kula Baker’s great-grandmother was Alaskan Athabaskan, and married Kula’s Caucasian great-grandfather, who then brought her back to California. In the novel itself Kula, searching for a way to help her father, goes to San Francisco and meets and falls in love with David Wong, a Chinese-American boy. While diversity and the interracial nature of their relationship was not my primary focus I did try to represent fairly the kind of discrimination and social contempt my characters would have suffered, particularly as Kula’s looks reflect her heritage.

Additionally, in a parallel and cross-generational backstory, Kula’s mentor Miss Everts fell in love with a Chinese man in her youth, which would have been way outside the cultural norm.

Below is a selection of novels that also feature interracial relationships. Most of these novels are recommendations from a handful of YALSA librarians, so thanks go to Mary Plews, Susan Schab, Christina Kelley, Dhonielle Clayton, Yesha Naik, Nic Willcox, Naomi Bates, Tracy Weikel, and Brenda Kahn.

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015. Flora and Henry, African American girl and white boy, are pawns in a game between Love and Death.diversity

A SUMMER OF KINGS by Han Nolan, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012. Esther, a white girl, stands up for King-Roy Johnson, a black teen accused of murder.

THE SECRET SKY by Atia Abawi, Speak, 2015. Fatima is a Hazara girl, raised to be obedient and dutiful. Samiullah is a Pashtun boy raised to defend the traditions of his tribe. They were not meant to fall in love. But they do.

THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS by Sarah Ockler, Simon Pulse, 2015. Christian is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat native Tobagan Elyse like a glass statue.

LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche, Razorbill, 2014. Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together.

WHAT I THOUGHT WAS TRUE by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Speak, 2015. He’s a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners to her island’s summer population.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE by Mel Glenn, HarperTeen, 1999. When students from big-city Tower High School spend a weekend in rural Hudson Landing with the students of the local high school, an African-American boy from the city is accused of murdering a local white

NAUGHTS AND CROSSES by Malorie Blackman, Simon & Schuster, 2005. Callum is a naught, a second-class citizen in a society run by the ruling Crosses. Sephy is a Cross, and daughter of the man slated to become prime minister. In their world, white naughts and black Crosses simply don’t mix — and they certainly don’t fall in love. But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits–smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY by Jacqueline Woodson, Speak, 2010. In one frozen moment their eyes lock and after that they know they fit together — even though she’s Jewish and he’s black.

PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles, Bloomsbury, 2015. In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep white Brittany and Latino Alex apart.

ROMIETTE AND JULIO by Sharon Draper, Simon Pulse, 2001. Romiette is African-American and Julio is Hispanic, and the Devildogs, a dangerous local gang, violently oppose their interracial relationship.

LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley, Harlequin Teen, 2014. Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.diversity

SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER by M.E. Kerr, HarperTeen, 2007. The start of a romance between a young Colombian who came to town to work and the daughter of a local contractor whose crews are entirely Latino.

MISMATCH by Lensey Namioka, Delacourte, 2007. Sue Hua just moved from racially diverse Seattle to a suburban white-bread town where she feels like the only Asian American for miles. Then she meets Andy, a handsome and passionate violin player who happens to be Asian American.

CHASING SECRETS by Gennifer Choldenko, Wendy Lamb Books, 2015.  Ignoring the rules of race and class, Lizzie and Noah must put the pieces together in a heart-stopping race to save the people they love.

Have I missed something? Can you add any titles to this list?


7 Responses to “Books With Diversity: Cross-cultural Relationships”

  1. Bobbi Miller

    You might find my books interesting: Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House 2013), featuring Annie Christmas as the hero who saved the protagonist, River. Annie was one of the original heroines in African American folklore, and a favorite character of the creole and the American blacks in pre-Civil War river regions. In my book, she’s queen of the river. Her twelve sons were also her crew, one of which becomes River’s intended. And in my book, Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House, 2014), one of the three protagonist is a free black, daughter of a landowner, and her relationship with the daughter of a merchant during the Civil War’s bloodiest battle.

  2. Rosanne Parry

    Hi Janet, I met your friend Swathi this morning. We had such good time over breakfast and then met some of my favorite Portland booksellers. Good times!
    If you are interested in younger books I’d love to see a MG version of this list. My upcoming book The Turn of the Tide is about cousins one American and one Japanese-American raised in Japan who spend the summer together and navigate a number of cultural misunderstandings. I’m working at the bookstore this afternoon I’ll have to see what else I come up with in interracial friendships in MG. Anyway, this is a great list to have. I’ll print it out and put it in our bookseller file.

    • Janet

      That’s fantastic, Rosanne! Yes, I’m very much interested in featuring younger books – I think CHASING SECRETS may actually be closer to middle grade. I’ll start collecting those titles now!

  3. Susan Lynn Meyer

    Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s middle-grade novel BLUE is about two girls in a polio ward in 1944, one white and one black. May I also immodestly suggest my MG novel BLACK RADISHES, which centers on a friendship, in Nazi-occupied France, between a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl? And ooh, here’s another great one, SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER by Bette Greene, about a Jewish girl in the American South from an abusive an unloving family who falls in love with a German Prisoner of War in the days after WWII. There’s also HABIBI, by Naomi Shihab Nye, about a relationship between a Palestinian-American girl and a Jewish boy, and Terry Farish’s THE GOOD BRAIDER, which is about a Sudanese refugee girl who comes to Portland Maine and has a relationship with a white American boy.

  4. Susan Lynn Meyer

    One more: E.L. Konigsburg’s Jennifer Hecate William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth is a MG novel about a friendship between two girls, one white, one black–but that’s hardly the focus of the story: Elizabeth is much more preoccupied by the fact of Jennifer’s magical powers!