People are diverse. Our novels should reflect that. Thus, from now on, I’ll be including a rating out of 5 for ethnic balance, 5 being the best, with a wide range of ethnicities represented (sans stereotypes) and 1 being the worst, with only one ethnicity being represented (i.e. white), or a few ethnicities represented badly.
Context is going to be important. For example, in my last review of the amazing The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, the world is set in futuristic Brazil, and thus everyone’s skin colour is shades of brown, which makes sense in the context. However, the discrepancy in the people and their different cultures (e.g. poor vs. rich, technophile vs. not) is woven into the novel and its themes, showing that even in one ethnicity, a wide variety of people exist. As well, a Tokyo ambassador is an important side character, and his culture is considered and lightly discussed.
On the other hand, my favourite contemporary YA of all time, Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, would rate a 4 at the very minimum for the inclusion of one male Chinese character (who’s also a love interest! …not to give anything away, but yay for interracial relationships) and one African-American “popular” girl whose race is dealt with tactfully without being a major-but-awkward plot point.
What brought this on? Well, a while back, author Megan Crewe wrote about male white side characters—how all minor side characters tend to be male and white, and how authors tend to default to these male white minor people. This is, to be put it plainly, awful. So I’ve decided to add a note to each book I review without making a big deal about it each time. Just a little mark for something that I hope becomes natural for writers very soon.