Growing up in central Jersey, I was the only brown girl in my grade. The only other brown girl? My sister, who was a year younger than me. And I’d like to say we were popular, friendly, well-adjusted. Eventually we would be. But back then, it was hard. So much harder than I care to admit. It was more than everyone talking about what went down on CCD on Monday mornings, or questions about what tribe I was from or why brown people had those funny dots on their heads. Add to that the unibrows, the too-big boobs, the strict parents, the glasses I hated to wear — the endless list of molehills that seemed like mountains at the time. You see where I’m going with this.
So, like Dhonielle, I buried my nose in books. The Babysitters Club was a particular preteen addiction, but that was really just the beginning. I had stacks upon stacks upon stacks. (And they all sat in my parents garage for countless years until my dad finally sold boxes full at a quarter a pop at his annual garage sale.) My appetite for books was voracious. I’d get lost in all those different worlds. Classic Judy Blume, like Blubber and Deenie. Lusting after Stefan and Damon in the Vampire Diaries — back in the ’90s, when they originally came out! And I remember especially loving L.J. Smith’s other series back then, The Secret Circle. (Note to the CW peeps: it’s very cast-able. Nab that new blond kid from Glee and put him front and center.)
But here’s the thing. As much as I loved living in those worlds with those characters, I still didn’t see a single reflection of myself in them. And I wouldn’t — not until I got to college. Eventually, South Asian stories — American or otherwise — became the flavor of the month. And now it’s pretty common to see an Indian or Pakistani or Korean or Mexican or Chinese name on a book cover. But it’s still not so likely that you’ll see that book in the teen section. And so, countless other young brown or yellow or purple or red girls are perusing the shelves, interested and entertained, but not finding someone who looks like them. So I’ve decided that I’ll write some of those stories. Because I can. That’s why, in everything I write, you’ll always find that little brown girl — maybe not front and center. But somewhere. Perhaps in the back row, second seat from the left, hiding the fact she can’t see because she’s too embarrassed to put on her glasses.ADD COMMENTS