The story of Adele, a girl with a rotten family, an aching heart, and a questionable best friend, it's a witty, lively novel of growing up female, black, and middle class in contemporary London. As Adele navigates an everyday gauntlet of soccer matches, fights with her best friend, texts and furtive kisses with her boyfriend (her first!), and the travails of her screwed up family, Kalu takes us back to those tough teen years, of learning to hold things together in the midst of chaos--and sorting things out by figuring out just who you are, and who you want to be.
There are very few multi-cultural characters in YA fiction.
1 Observe from close up
It’s easier to write a multi-cultural character if you have run around with people from diverse backgrounds because then you have a fund of experiences to draw on. For instance, one good friend in my early teens was a boy called Aftab (Ed. name has been changed!). I remember being at his house when he and his father were having a furious row in Punjabi. The father, who spoke only a tiny amount of English, finally turned to me and said, exasperatedly, struggling to find the right English words: ‘Aftab ... bastard!’ before storming out of the room.
It was funny and sad at the same time. I really appreciated his dad’s effort to explain the row and I thought it was probably a fair summary of what my friend had got up to (I can’t remember now – it was either taking his dad’s car and crashing it, failing to bank the shop takings or running off with some girl instead of going to school, I can’t remember which – Aftab was a fast and loose boy in those days.)
With friendships such as those, you find draw on them and write them up as fiction. If you did not grow up in multicultural community or family, then it’s never too late to broaden your circle of friends and acquaintances. As you get to know such people better, you will get a chance to move beyond all the clichés, tropes and news headlines and gain a view of them as living, breathing, messy, contradictory, dreaming, farting, sublime people, rather than ciphers. So that’s my one, biggest recommendation.
Outside of that, I think a few things that are worth bearing in mind when developing multi-cultural characters:
2 Consider Hybridity.
I love hybridity because I think it’s an important aspect of life in UK. Young adults of diverse backgrounds often sit at the intersection of several different cultures, religions, traditions, influences, languages and histories. Showing that is important – it helps create convincing characters. So, for example, in Tariq Mehmood’s You’re Not Proper, the main character, Kiran’s dad is both a hopelessly disengaged Muslim and a fervent Manchester United supporter. In my first YA novel, Silent Striker, Marcus’s dad is both proud of his African heritage and addicted to tomato ketchup! In Being Me, Adele is both desperately keen to learn more about her African roots and proud of her Italian heritage. Showing a character’s navigation of diverse cultural influences and tensions in forming their own identity is, for me, a key part of bringing them alive.
3. Give your characters a conflict that puts pressure on their identity
From a plot point of view, I feel a full exploration of a multicultural character can only be achieved if you can place them in a situation where that identity is under pressure and they are faced with a choice. Do they accept racist behaviour or do they challenge it at potentially great cost to themselves? If a major Cup Final is scheduled during Ramadan, do they play or abstain? Will they take the summer Yoruba Language class or will they go camping with friends? Choices reveal character.
4. Let your multicultural character have at least one close black friend
Finally, I would say that it is best to have not one but two diverse characters in any book. This is because, paradoxically, if you have two black characters in a book then, when you put them together in the scne, the reader has a chance to get to know them in ways impossible if they are only shown running with white friends. (This is a variation on feminism’s Bechdel test: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test)
So in Being Me, Adele’s best friend is a black girl, Mikaela and they get up to all kinds of tricks together. The nature of their friendship is a key theme of Being Me. Of course, although this might work, it may be hard to find a publisher who will take on a book that features not one but two main black characters in it. Now that’s another issue altogether!
I give it - 4/5
My review - This was a very enjoyable story.
What I liked about this story is that it is just her life. It is very realistic and that is what I really enjoyed about this story.
In this book we follow Adele. I love how she basically says that there is no happy ending, this is just life and that is what had me gripped. This isn't like any other YA book I have read before so I was very happy for the change.
Adele is just a 14 year old girl trying to deal with life and that is what this book is. Her family life isn't great, they are dealing with various things.
I loved her and Mikaela's friendship. Yes they clash and fight but its over as soon as it begins. Which I think is a great representation of friendships at that age. It reminded me of when I fought with my friends and we made up the next day. They are always there for each other and it was kind of my favourite part of the story, reading about them two.
Being Me is about Adele's life. There are some things in the background that aren't the centre of attention as like I said this is just about her life.
Pete did an amazing job of writing this book and I think everyone needs to give it a read!
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