Friday, December 09, 2011

Characters that are mixed race/caught between cultures

I've been thinking a lot about myself and N recently. We've been married for many years now (our anniversary was last week!) and there's something I've only recently discovered we have in common.

Perhaps you know this about me already, but I'm half Native American. My mother is from the Tlingit tribe in Southeast Alaska. Before the divorce and before she moved out and away, Native American arts and crafts and that whole community was something she and I did together. When she became no longer a part of my life, I really felt a bit lost and like I was missing out on more than just my mother.

Growing up, I've always had that confusion about being mixed-race. I was never sure where I fit in, it seemed like everyone else viewed me in a way that I didn't see myself. And what I have always needed and wanted was to see more mixed race characters in the books that I was reading. I wanted to see myself in the books I loved. And I haven't come across very many.

After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel - I really wasn't sure what to make of After Obsession when it arrived for review. I hadn't heard of it before and the back cover seemed a little vague about what we're dealing with. It's actually about demon possession, and is quite good. It's written from a dual-perspective and what I found really kept me reading is the fact that one of the main characters, Alan, is half Native American. Just like me!

Hurrah! I found Alan's character to be really interesting as he embraces his Native American side and uses his knowledge and connection to his spiritual side in order to help and prevent his cousin's possession. I was really rooting for him throughout the entire book.

Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott - And in this offering from one of my favourite YA authors, Elizabeth Scott, we have something very different. Eli isn't the main character, he's the love interest. And we don't get to see any of the story from his point of view, which is a shame.

I can't quite recall the details, but Eli is this beautiful black/Asian boy who our main character, Abby, meets in a hospital as she's waiting for her sister, Tess, to wake up from a coma. She feels like some outside help would benefit her sister and she convinces Eli to come sit with Tess and talk to her. I think a lot of the story is very far-fetched and that some of it just didn't work for me, but there were bits of Eli's story which showed how conflicted he is in the way that people percieve him based on his appearance.

But what I realised recently, is that N shares a similar confusion and a sense of 'where do I belong?' in his own way. His parents are both of Indian descent and immigrated to the UK more than 30 years ago, but N was born and raised here in England. As a second generation immigrant, I think he feels caught between cultures in the same way that I do being mixed-race. He has no personal ties to India at all, but at the same time doesn't feel properly British, as that is not how he is seen by other people. I think it's quite hard for both of us.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier - I seriously love this book. It's one of those books that I continually read and re-read because I can't get enough of it. And that's mostly because of how much I can relate to the characters and the situations covered in Born Confused. I love the main character, Dimple's insecurities about herself and her size. I love her struggles and conflict with her best friend and also her parents. And Karsh is a pretty great romantic lead!

But it's really her struggle with who she is as an American born Indian that had me captivated. She had this wonderful relationship with her grandfather that transcended language differences using photography which was just so sweet and lovely. But as Dimple's parents try to set her up with a 'suitable boy' Dimple comes to realise that this divide between old-school traditional values and her more modern upbringing in the United States will have to be addressed at some point.

Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta - Melina Marchetta is definitely one my favourite authors and Looking For Alibrandi was the first book of hers that I read. I was blown away by the characters and the story and the emotion that I felt whilst reading it. I really thought that this book was incredible and it made me desperate to read everything of Melina Marchetta's!

Josephine Alibrandi is a great character as she struggles with the old-fashioned traditions of her Italian family and that of growing up in modern Australia. She's finding it hard to manage the two at school and with her family and in her burgeoning new relationships. Fantastic book, I thought it really explored this feeling of being caught between cultures really well.

Have you come across any mixed race characters or characters who are caught between cultures lately? I'd love to hear your thoughts or recommendations!


  1. I can't think of a whole lot of mixed race characters, unfortunately, but I can think of characters who are raised amongst people of a different race than them, so they have that cultural difference thing going on. For example, in the Dwarves saga by Markus Heitz, the main character, Tungdil, is a dwarf who was abandoned at birth and raised by humans. Then there's Worf from Star Trek, who is a Klingon that was raised by Russian parents. (You can tell I'm a fantasy reader when none of these characters are actually human races! :P )

  2. Brilliant post, I will look out for these books. I haven't read many books like this either - actually, I can't think of any! But I recently saw a film about a average teenage girl who is struggling between two cultures - American and Indian. It was really interesting, and a good film! Thanks for posting :)

  3. I love this post, and relate to this theme strongly. I also grew up caught between cultures, and Josephine Alibrandi could have been me! As well as this wonderful list, I loved The Good Daughter by Amra Pajalic and I highly recommend it. Randa Abdel-Fattah's books also often touch on these issues and are great.

  4. Great post! I'm well accustomed to being caught between two cultures. Randa Abdel Fattah's 'Does My Head Look Big In This?' was great at dealing with this. That is the only one I can think of which is quite sad! I wish there were more of these books!

  5. This is such an interesting post, both the book recommendations and your personal accounts. I'm definitely going to be checking out some of the books.

  6. Really lovely post. This isn't something I've experienced myself, but it's something I think about. In my family, there are currently nine children in the generation below mine, and only one of those has two parents who are white British. I think there's some real positives in terms of the diversity they're exposed to within one big extended family. I'm also aware that as they grow up, they might not find themselves represented in novels for their age group, and I think that's a real shame.

    The first book that springs to mind is Barbara Kingsolver's 'Pigs in Heaven'. Part of the story is that the MC has adopted a little girl of Cherokee descent, but since the child is quite young it's more about the adults' opinions about where she belongs.

    The second book that comes to mind is 'Pink' by Lili Wilkinson. The MC's inner conflict is a lot to do with not fitting in with either 'gay' or 'straight'.

    Have you read Cynthia Leitich Smith's 'Rain Is Not My Indian Name'? I've heard a lot of good things about it.

  7. LianneLavoie - Thank you for your comment! I actually love that you're a fantasy reader and have examples that are so very different to mine! That's fantastic, thank you. Being caught between cultures doesn't need to a condition for only human races :)

    Zoe - Thank you! Which film was it that you saw?

    Luisa - I remember you mentioning how much you related to Josephine when I reviewed Looking For Alibrandi! I haven't heard of The Good Daughter, so I shall have a look out for it. And I've read at least one book by Randa Abdel-Fattah, but I'm pretty sure it was pre-blogging. Shall have a look out for her :)

    Kulsuma - I wish there were more of these books as well! Lots more suggestions for characters caught between cultures than there are mixed-race. I *think* I've read Does My Head Look Big In This, but it was very long ago. I'm intrigued to find out more! :)

    Jenni - Thank you! I hope you enjoy them. I think these type of books are the ones I enjoy the best. Anything which feels very personal.

    Lauren - Thank you for your wonderful comment! I think there's so many diverse families these days that there is definitely a need for that diversity to be reflected in our literature. After reading your comment, I thought about my own family and I'd never really considered it, but a lot of us are mixed race! Me, my two boys. N's two nephews. Our five second cousins on his side. Looking at my side of the family, all 5 of my first cousins are mixed race and that's carried onto their children. I find that a wonderful thought. But it also makes me YEARN for more exposure of mixed race characters! It definitely IS a shame that there isn't more.

    I've read Pigs In Heaven, and really enjoyed it. I hadn't considered adult books that I'd read at all when writing this post :) And I have Pink on my TBR shelves, I really do want to read it soon! And no, I've not heard of or read Rain Is Not My Indian Name, sounds interesting from the title alone! Thank you again for the comment.


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