The topic of the current diversity roll call is paradigm shifts, more specifically:
Have you ever read a book and the character’s perspective opened you to ideas, beliefs or realities that you had never considered? Tell us a about a work or an author whose body of work changed how you looked at the world, others or yourself. Have you ever read a book and had a paradigm shift because of it?
It took me some time to come up with my answer to this question. I have read a lot of books. A LOT. My main love, though, is series fiction. The Baby-Sitters Club was my gateway drug into the world of series fiction, and then I moved on to Sweet Valley High before stumbling upon Katherine Applegate’s Ocean City and then Boyfriends/Girlfriends (now Making Out) series. And I liked Applegate a lot because she always featured a minority character, which was a welcome change from SVH and its focus on the blonde twins and their ultra-white friends.
I recently reread book one in the Girl Friends series, a ten-book series most people have never heard of. It was extremely popular with me, of course, but one person does not a successful series make, and author Nicole Grey’s contract wasn’t extended, so the series ends on a wicked cliffhanger. I had stumbled upon Girl Friends in 1993, voracious bookstore goer that I was. And at first, I thought it was my pick for the paradigm shift because of what I said at the end of my review there. Namely:
Empowerment through female friendships. I’d be lying if I said that this series hasn’t inspired my dissertation topic focusing on female friendship. If I didn’t love these books with all of my heart, I doubt very seriously that I would even think about or consider friendships between girls as much as I do.
But that’s not even it. Because Applegate had strong female friendships, and the BSC is founded by best friends. No, it’s more than that.
In his memoir Bad Boy, Walter Dean Myers talks about his experiences reading. And he says that he read a wealth of writers, mostly white and male. But it wasn’t until he read James Baldwin and Langston Hughes that his world changed because they talked about Harlem, and he so strongly identified with their writing about it because that’s where he lived. He saw himself and his family and friends in their writing. What he said, and I’ll never forget, is that reading Baldwin and Hughes gave him permission to write the stories he wanted to write about the people and places he knew.
And that’s what Girl Friends did for me. I always wanted to write a book series because that’s what I liked to read, but I didn’t live in a world like BSC and SVH. I lived in a world with lots of people of color. A world where there would only be one white main character, if there was one at all. (Janis, the only featured white character, is introduced last. LAST. Most of the series fiction I’ve read centers around a blond white female. And if not blond, then still white. The first character introduced in GF is Stephanie–who is Chinese-American.) It wasn’t until I read Grey’s series that I felt like anyone would read or write a series populated with girls of color or a series that talked about the things I saw going on with the people I knew. It was the first series I read where it felt like a world I lived in, and that blew my mind.
So, not only did it impress upon me the importance of female connection (note: none of these girls were ever in competition with each other over a boy), nor did it just open my eyes to true contemporary realism in series fiction, but it also showed me there was a place for me and the people and situations I knew in series fiction. And that gave me permission to dream, for real, about writing my own series one day.
Which I may get around to doing one day.