On Writing Interracial Relationships in YA, a guest post by Kate McGovern
I get this question a lot about Rules for 50/50 Chances: Why include “race stuff” in an already heavy book?
I understand the intention behind the question. In Rules, Rose, the main character, is dealing with her mother’s deteriorating health and the looming possibility that she might have inherited the same devastating illness. That’s a lot of ground to cover already. Why also throw in sometimes fraught conversations about race between Rose, who is white, and her boyfriend Caleb, who’s black?
But even if it’s unintentional, I worry about the implication that a book that isn’t, at its core, “about race” can’t feature racially diverse characters whose racial identities affect their perspectives—and who sometimes talk about race.
That Rose and Caleb are a mixed-race couple isn’t an accident. It’s a choice I made for a few reasons. First, it’s what I know. My partner is Indian American. My ex was Jamaican British. Over the years, I’ve dated white guys, black guys, Asian guys, mixed guys—okay, let’s not delve too much into my dating history, but long story short: in the cities where I’ve lived (New York, London, Boston), dating across racial lines is nothing unusual.
That’s true for more and more teens all over the country, too. But while we’re starting to see these relationships reflected in YA literature more routinely—one of my favorite debuts this fall, Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, features a relationship between an African-American/Japanese girl and a white guy—I still don’t think we’re seeing them often enough.
And often when we do see them, they’re the central issue at play. I loved Una LaMarche’s Like No Other, in which an Orthodox Jewish girl and an African-American boy fall in love. Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly breaks my heart every time I re-read it. But I wanted to write a different kind of book—one that featured an interracial relationship in a context where it’s totally NBD that the two main characters aren’t the same race.
At the same time, I didn’t want to write a book where race never comes up. Mixed relationships come in all stripes, just like non-mixed relationships, and I’m sure there are some mixed couples who never mention race or talk about their differences. (I don’t think I know any of those couples, but hey, they’re probably out there.) I wanted race to be present in Rose and Caleb’s relationship—to be the catalyst for and the subject of some complicated, sometimes uncomfortable conversations between them. I wanted their racial identities to be what they are for most of us: pieces of who they are that do indeed affect their experiences of the world. But I didn’t want race to be the central problem of the story.
For me, that felt true. It’s been my truth, certainly—and a truth I don’t see reflected often enough on the page.
The publisher is offering a finished book giveaway to one of our readers (US only please). We’re using the hashtag #Rulesfor5050Chances if you’d like to share via social.
Want to read more? Check out the other stops on the blog tour:
11/16: Dear Teen Me
11/17: Stories & Sweeties
11/18: Love is Not a Triangle
11/19: Book Addict’s Guide
11/20: Once Upon a Twilight
11/23: Fiction Fare
11/24: Teen Librarian Toolbox
Meet Kate McGovern
Kate McGovern has written both fiction and nonfiction for the educational market, and has taught theatre, literacy, and creative writing to kids in Boston, New York, and London. She received her bachelor’s in American Studies from Yale. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit her online at kate-mcgovern.com or follow her on Twitter at @mskatemcg.
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About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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