Diversity Roll Call: Paradigm Shifts

February 4, 2010

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.

girlfriends1 front1And 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.

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  1. Vasilly

    What a fantastic post! I loved BSC when I was growing up and I think it’s what made me a reader. Sweet Valley High was okay but Jessica being so vicious and boy-crazy, turned me off to the series fast.

    I totally forgot about the series Girl Friends! The series had the diversity that BSC didn’t. I loved that series. Sadly my library only had a few of the books so after that, I stopped reading them.

    Now I want to see if my library still has this series. Thank you so much.
    .-= Vasilly´s last blog ..The Life and Times of a Book Addict =-.

    • Akilah

      Yay! I have met very few people who have heard of the series, so it pleases me that you know it! I am glad I kept my copies of the books; I sometimes re-read them. Also, I imagine that they are wicked hard to get a hold of now. Unlike, say, BSC or SVH.

      SVH did try to get with the times/diversity with Senior Year, but it didn’t have the staying power. I was going to say maybe people were just over the whole California rich girl scene, but then I remembered Gossip Girl, and, well. You know.

  2. Ali

    I hope you will get around to writing that series one day–it’s so badly needed. And just think of the writers of the future who could be influenced by your books!
    .-= Ali´s last blog ..Diversity Roll Call: Paradigm Shift =-.

    • Akilah

      Yeah, me too. Maybe when things settle down…

  3. susan


    I have to look for this. Do you think teen girls today would find it too dated?

    • Akilah

      Some of the musical references are old, old, old and it references the LA riots, but, honestly, I think it holds up well.

      It’s really, REALLY hard to find, though. It’s pretty obscure.

  4. SSee

    Love this article! I love the Girlfriends Series by Nicole Grey. I also found the diversity refreshing after reading other popular series of the day (Vampire Diaries, Ocean City series, Freshman Dorm series, Sunset Island series, etc). I also enjoyed the fact that the girls in the series are friends who support each other and that they tackled realistic subjects (drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy, racism, etc). Years later I still reread the books and they are still very good. You can get the books at a very low price on Amazon. There are 10 books in the series and the 10th book leaves on a cliffhanger. For those who haven’t read…happy reading!


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