I believe that representation in literature is very important. I have read a lot of books in the past six years and I have only recently seen representation in books. It is important to many readers because they want to see themselves in the books that they read. Also, #ownvoices and diverse books are equally important because they have great representations. But first, I will talk more about my experience as an avid reader for the past six years.
I have always been a reader. Before I moved to America in 2006, I used to read a lot of comic books. But when I started to learn English after I moved to the United States, I hated reading. I had to read a lot to improve my English and it felt like a chore, not a fun hobby. But in March 2011, I decided to read a book called Beastly by Alex Flinn. I think I chose that book because the movie was coming out. I enjoyed it. But to be honest, looking back, it was not a good book. Now that I am older, I have recognized many problems with that book. But let’s move on to March 2012, when The Hunger Games movie came out. I asked my mom to buy the trilogy so I could read all of the books before seeing the movie. Did I do it because the series was popular? Maybe … Okay, yes. But I do not regret doing that because it was a series that I thoroughly enjoyed. After I finished the trilogy, I did not consistently read books until the summer of 2013. In the beginning of that year, I read a book called City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I liked it. I went out and bought the second book, but I did not read it until July. I remember bringing the sequel, City of Ashes, to Vietnam and finishing it in four days. I was obsessed with the series and I only read the first two books. It was very frustrating because I was in Vietnam at the time and the bookstores did not carry the third book of the series. When I came back to America, I bought all of the books in the series and read all of them in the span of two months. After that, I started reading more book series like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Lunar Chronicles, etc. That was when I really started reading for fun. I have read a lot of books since then.
After reading so many books, I noticed the lack of diversity in them. Whenever I tried to relate to certain characters, it was only based on personality. Other than that, I never saw myself in any of the books I read. In June 2016, I finally found a book that I can “sort of” relate to. I remember being very excited over a book called Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. The main character in the short story is a Vietnamese girl. Although the author did not represent her well when it comes to her ethnicity, I still appreciated the effort to include a Vietnamese character in her work. After I read that book, I immediately looked up books that have Vietnamese main characters written by Vietnamese authors. I trust their work the most because they know what it is like to be Vietnamese.
After that revelation, I stumbled upon a book community of people recommending diverse books. Of course, that is very broad. But if you want to read a book that has a gay African-American teen as the main character, you can ask one of the people! Also, this community starts a discussion on the importance of representation in literature. Not everyone is white, heterosexual, cisgender, or able-bodied. Everyone is different and I am positive we all want to read a book that defines who we are. I want to read a well-represented book with a Vietnamese main character. I also want to read books that have characters of color, characters from the LGBTQUIA+ community, characters with mental illness, etc. It is so important to be recognized in literature because it helps the readers see that they are not alone.
In addition to the discussion of representation in literature, the topic of #ownvoices books is also brought up. They are books that feature marginalized characters that are written by an author from the same demographic. For example, a Vietnamese author writing a book that features a Vietnamese main character. That is why I said Rainbow Rowell did not do a good job representing the Vietnamese character. She is not Vietnamese. She does not know what it is like to be Vietnamese. I am adamant on finding the “perfect” book that has a Vietnamese main character written by a Vietnamese author because I want to be represented well. It is important to read diverse books but it is crucial to read them from authors who are in the same marginalization as the main character because they know what it is like to be marginalized. Also, it is always nice to support their work.
Literature has a huge impact on my life. It is the reason why I chose to be an English major. Now that I am older, I am very selective when it comes to the books I read. I won’t read books that are problematic or harmful to marginalized people. Also, I have become very passionate about diverse books because they are important. They are especially important to the young readers out there. I am sure there are many children who want to be represented in the books they read. I will make it my life mission to make sure every marginalized person is represented in literature. Including myself.