When I first revealed the cover for my YA fantasy novel, “Return,” on Facebook, the first three comments all remarked on the ethnicity of the heroine, Ashlyn Li. In contrast to her lethal skills as a ninja, Ashlyn is pretty and delicate in appearance, with long, straight hair and dark eyes. She is also unmistakably Asian, although in my fantasy world she is from a fictional kingdom called “Toryn.”
I was surprised by my friends’ remarks regarding Ashlyn’s ethnicity. The comments weren’t offensive, but the fact that they’d noticed her ethnicity at all gave me pause. Toryn’s culture is very much inspired by ancient Japan, and making my heroine Asian (or Toryn, rather) was done without a second thought. I didn’t stop to consider that an Asian heroine is fairly uncommon in YA fiction, or that her relationships with Drake and Vargo, her two Caucasian love interests in “Return,” would be considered interracial.
Now that it’s been brought to my attention, however, I’m ridiculously happy about Ashlyn’s ethnicity. I’m proud that she’s different. More than that, I’m proud that Ashlyn’s heritage and relationships are a direct reflection of the modern-day real world, where new generations are embracing diversity and tolerance without reservation.
Today I’ve accrued a list of some of my favorite ethnic characters in young adult fiction. Do you have suggestions on characters to expand this list? Let me know in the comments!
1. Nora, “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion
In this post-apocalyptic, zombie-fied version of “Romeo and Juliet,” a supporting character named Nora was an immediate stand-out for me. In the book she is described as African-American, and her wit, quick thinking, and loyalty were qualities worthy of any lead heroine.
2. Rue, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
This list would not be complete without Rue. As the most unlikely-to-win tribute in the 74th annual Hunger Games, Rue relies on her sneakiness and survival skills to make it through. There’s something compelling about the underdog in any story, and Rue fits the bill perfectly.
3. Laurent, “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer
Laurent made it onto this list for one reason: Edi Gathegi, the actor cast to portray Laurent in the film version of “Twilight.” In the book, Laurent is described as having olive-toned skin. When Gathegi was cast, there was an uproar from fans over his obviously African-American ethnicity, but Gathegi shrugged it off with possibly the most awesome quote of all time: “Black olives, anyone?”
4. Bright Morning, “Sing Down the Moon” by Scott O’Dell
I’ve read this book more times than I can count, and it’s been a favorite since I first picked it up in the third grade. Bright Morning is a young Navajo girl who encounters slave trade, prejudice and the mistreatment of the Native American people in 1860s Arizona. While Bright Morning’s inner dialogue can sometimes be terse, her strength and courage are unwavering.
5. Tove, “Switched” by Amanda Hocking
Tove isn’t exactly ethnic, but he does have olive skin as a result of his Trylle heritage. He is a secondary character but is nonetheless essential to the storyline of the Trylle trilogy, and after his introduction in “Switched,” his role becomes more prominent in the two sequels.
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Lady of Toryn trilogy
Genre: YA fantasy
Number of pages: 263
Word Count: 74,459
For the last three years, eighteen-year-old Ashlyn Li has been running from her destiny. A free-spirited ninja, Ashlyn would rather loot an abandoned city or challenge a fiend to battle than assume leadership of Toryn, her father's kingdom. However, when a series of attacks reunites Ashlyn with the friends who helped her save the sun three years ago, she discovers that her kingdom is at war and her father has presumed her dead.
Suddenly Ashlyn is faced with not only fulfilling her birthright, but also making sense of her feelings towards two very different men- Drake Lockhart, the enigmatic vampire who captured her heart three years ago, and Vargo, the charismatic assassin who was once Ashlyn's sworn enemy.
Will Ashlyn ascend the pagoda and become Lady of Toryn?
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/L9nqfxGbuOY
About the Author:
In February 2011, Charity Santiago's 7-month-old son was admitted to the hospital with severe respiratory issues. While Charity stayed at his bedside, she kept them both entertained by downloading several books on her new Kindle and reading them out loud. It was during this time that Charity learned about Kindle's self-publishing program, and realized that she had an opportunity to share her writings with the world.
Charity is a native of southeastern Arizona, and a writer since childhood. She wrote her first manuscript, Guinea Pig Code, at age nine. When she’s not writing books, Charity spends her time reading on her Kindle, wrangling children, watching Sylvester Stallone movies and pursuing a degree in Education.