Jiddy Vardy by Ruth Estevez
Full review to follow
Jiddy is a survivor. Rescued at birth, she grows up in Robin Hood’s Bay, a village harbouring a dangerous secret. Just as romance blossoms and Jiddy finally feels like she belongs, figures from the past threaten to tear her world apart… A thrilling tale of one girl’s search for identity and love, set against a backdrop of smuggling and viole.
Diversity in YA Fiction
I believe there are many young people who aren’t reading because they don’t see it as an option. This could be for many reasons, access to books, difficulties reading, economic, it’s not a tradition in a family or environment to read, there are no role models who love reading, or you just can’t find anything you want to read.
Often, you just want to find a book that you relate to but can’t find it. A character with the same name as you can be enough to pick up that particular book. It could be set where you’re from. I picked up The Ballroom by Anna Hope because it was set in an old Victorian Mental Institution, as they were called, near where I used to live. My friend’s mum went in to do the inmates’ hair as they were called then. My friend Andy, used to drive us in his mini into the courtyard and out under the bridge to scare us. From what, I’m not sure, but it was dark at night and it was a thrill. So, to find a story set High Royds, made me want to read it. I picked up Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, Ruth in a second hand bookshop, because well, I’d not seen another book called Ruth and that name’s special to me!
I’d like to think everyone out there could find a book with a name the same as theirs or a friend’s name. Or that it’s set in a place they know. Or it’s about how they are feeling and experiencing the world.
We love to say, ‘Yes! I feel exactly like that!’ It’s important in YA fiction for readers to be able to see characters and scenarios that you are going through so that you can see choices, solutions and how others cope with similar dilemmas.
And for books to be authentic, we need authors from diverse backgrounds, whether that be culturally, economically, socially, gender and sexual orientation, size, shape, skin colour, health-wise, in all ways. Personal experience makes a story ring true.
So…diverse writers need finding and encouraging. And how do we do that? Readers shouting what we want?! Writers writing about what’s important to them? And people in the publishing industry listening to that call.
With The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time all best-sellers, to name a few, and Meredith Rosso’s If I was your Girl, the first book written by a trans-gender author, the diverse stories featuring diverse characters are opening out. There are still many unheard voices out there of course.
I used my own experiences to write my YA novel, Jiddy Vardy, which is about a girl who is a foreigner in a tight knit community. I know my mum felt like this when we moved from the city of Bradford to a small rural village, when I was two. I felt like this when I was the only girl who went from my primary to secondary school. I could translate the feelings I felt to how Jiddy fought to belong.
One of the reasons, one of my main characters in my next book, The Monster Belt, is a redhead is because I am a redhead. Or, I should say, was – because my hair has changed colour, grown darker and duller over time. No actually, I change that back to ‘am.’ I am a redhead because I hold in me as an adult, all that being a redhead as a child and teenager has made me. And I’m not writing about a redhead that I so often see in fiction, plucky and fiery and not much said about her skin. Dee is a redhead who burns in the sun and I’m going to talk about it. And she is a brilliant character though I say so myself! There. Got that off my chest! Everyone needs representing and I have plenty of insider information on redheads. We want writers with plenty of insider information about their specialist subject! Because readers need to see themselves authentically in print.
There is also another reason why we need diversity in YA fiction… ‘no-one is an island.’ (Something my mum used to keep telling my sister and me.)
This can be translated as, we want and need to learn about other ways of being, other places and experiences, so that we can feel connected to everyone else. Reading outside our own experience and comfort zone helps us expand as human beings. We all want to grow and see other worlds, so that we can understand each other, don’t we?
Whichever way you look at it, it’s a win-win situation to have diversity in YA fiction. YA audiences are hungry to read about themselves and about different worlds and lives as well. And we need writers of all diversities to provide readers with that. So, publishers, nourish these writers. Please think long term and help these writers to grow and share their unique voices for all the unique readers out there.
And for those of you who don’t see anything for you right now, take up the challenge, pick up your pen, or start tapping on that keyboard and get writing yourself. There are organisations like We Need Diverse Books and Diversity in YA who work to give opportunities to those interested in publishing from minority backgrounds. Manchester’s new publishing company, ZunTold is engaging with young people through interactive story-telling on their website. Everywhere, there are initiatives. Find them. Let’s really make sure there is something for everyone and so readers can find a book they want to read.
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