by Rajdeep Paulus
Rajdeep Paulus writes Contemporary Young Adult Fiction and blogs weekly at In Search of Waterfalls. Connect with her in on:Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram! Her debut novel, Swimming Through Clouds, released June 1st with Playlist Young Adult Fiction!
Bringing Rainbows to Young Adult Fiction
As a new writer, only having completed about three full manuscripts at this point, I found it only natural to introduce characters of my ethnic background. (I was born in Punjab, India, but celebrated my third birthday in New York!) My first book, the one that will probably never leave the archives, is told from the point of view of a North Indian girl who grew up in Chicago named Rani. She even resembles me with her long straight dark brown hair.
I think everyone wants to read a story they can identify with. Not just on an emotional level, but just like very few of us resemble Barbie growing up, we all need to identify with characters and stories that remind us of ourselves physically, culturally, and ethnically—to name a few categories.
On a hunt for these very stories, as a senior during my undergrad years at Northwestern, my one Indian English Professor, Madhu Dubey, agreed to help me craft a senior project centered around the ten or so South-Asian authors I was able to find at the time. Authors who wrote in English. And wrote stories that took place in America. The thing is, as is with so much of cultural fiction, the running theme repetitively centered around living between two cultures. The “hyphened” generation, if you will. And I get that. Many of us whose ethnic roots lie across the oceans are only a couple of generations away from our parents as immigrants. So the stories were needed (and still are,) but, there are so many other stories to tell. Tales that include ethnic and cultural details but center around the more universal experiences of life. That’s my goal as a writer. To introduce colorful stories that no matter what your background is, you can step into them and feel connected, make friends, and fall in love.
I grew up in Windsor, Ontario which wasn’t that diverse. Then I finished high school in Livonia, Michigan, and I think I was one of three or four brownies in the whole school. Not until I ventured off to college at Northwestern and fell in love with Chicago did I get to immerse in diversity. And my friends were from all over the globe, and that’s how I always imagined my life. Happened to marry a guy from India, but his family is from the Southern most state of Kerala while I was born in Punjab, in the north. A North meets South love story I like to tell people. And if you’re talking India, that pretty much means two different countries. We call our kids Malayabis or Punjialis, since he’s a Malu! :)
I think that’s why I love being a New Yorker best. The world has showed up here, and I can’t wait to write their stories. We’re friends with so many couples who are married interracially, that when I spin my head, every other kid has a beautiful mix of features on his or her face. In my own family, many of my nieces and nephews celebrate at least two cultural backgrounds, sometimes three. And the world is changing more than ever. Diversity is accepted and celebrated more than ever. Why shouldn’t literature reflect this? I think it should!
And you? Do you have a favorite YA read that featured a diverse band of characters? Or is there a story you're itching to write? Maybe a buff Eskimo dude meets a lost Caribbean teen who wanders off from her Tour Guide group and knows nothing about how to weather the cold let alone how to dress for the Arctic! Make your own up! I'd love to hear what ideas you amazing teens come up with!
We're super excited to give away a free download of Rajdeep's debut novel, Swimming Through Clouds. Here's how you can enter to win: