The world we live in today is more and more mixed up.... in more ways than one. The world is smaller than ever with more and more people making connections across cultural lines and continents. While multiracial people have been around for a long time, the population of mixed race people has surged... and so have their stories, leading to more books with mixed race protagonists.
There are more stories being told about multiracial protagonists and their unique experiences as individuals born into multicultural families, navigating different cultures and languages, and even just coping with what are often unique physical traits that set them apart in certain settings. But there is no single mixed-race narrative. Every experience is different, of course. There are as many experiences of being a person of mixed heritage as there are… well, people of mixed heritage.
Politics, history, religion, even environmental factors — all the things that make up a heritage and all the factors that go into creating situations where people of different cultures manage to meet, fall in love, and raise a child of mixed heritage — all are a part of the stories of mixed race individuals. Heck, even just the term “mixed race” is complicated, seeing as there’s a whole lot of interracial relations that have made for diverse ancestry for many people who’d never think of themselves as technically “mixed."
Multicultural heritage is an interesting subject, and with works featuring mixed race protagonists, skillful writers like the ones here are bringing these stories into the spotlight.
1. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
After surviving a painful tragedy that claimed the lives of her mother and siblings, Rachel Morse is sent to live with her grandmother in a predominantly Black neighborhood. In this new community, Rachel’s blue eyes and light skin set her apart, and the taunting and confrontation from her peers force her to take a whole new look at her mixed-race identity.
2. Caucasia by Danzy Senna
When racial tensions and domestic troubles break up their family, two sisters are separated — the lighter-skinned sister is sent with their white mother to pass as a young Jewish girl in New England, and the darker skinned sister goes to live with their Black father in Brazil. The story’s setting is what makes it most interesting though. Racial tension ran high during the 1970s in the U.S. and interracial couples and their mixed children would have faced some unique and trying challenges.
3. The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch
Jim Loney is biracial — part Native American, part white — but his mixed-race identity is little more than a reflection of the drifting, isolated life he lives. And isolation is largely what this book is about. Through the melancholy wanderings and alcoholic oblivion of the lead character, Welch tells the story of a man who lives like he is dead already.
4. Oreo by Fran Ross
Part Jewish, part Black, Oreo leaves everything and embarks on a Homeric search for her father in New York, only to be thwarted by the absurd commonness of her name — Sam Schwartz. With its title character being a biracial girl named “Oreo,” you’ve probably already guessed that this isn’t your typical novel. It’s hilarious and weird and plays with notions of race, identity and what a novel should look like.
5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The child of an interracial white/Chinese couple, Lydia Lee’s death is announced in the very first line of the novel, but the story is only beginning there. Like in real life, the death of a family member brings out more than just the black funeral attire; rather, the whole family’s dirty laundry begins to air. The mixed-race identity of the lead character is only one of many aspects of the family drama that unfolds.
6. Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña
Part Mexican, part White, Danny struggles to reconcile the two cultures of his family and to overcome the assumptions that people make about him as soon as they see his brown skin. When Danny goes to visit his father and connect with the Mexican culture he lacked growing up, he confronts a whole new set of struggles. This story can resonate not only with mixed-race individuals but with anyone who has had to navigate different cultures, different aspects of one’s identity, and the preconceptions that come with one’s physical appearance.
7. Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson
Three part Black, part Puerto Rican brothers, Lafayette, Charlie, and Ty’ree, lost both of their parents at a young age. Now they struggle to take care of each other as they navigate the challenges of being young, poor, brown, and orphaned in New York City. It’s a sad story but a good one — one that tackles juvenile detention, brotherly love, loss, and the consequences of having to grow up too soon.
8. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Race, jazz, and Nazi Germany clash in this novel that follows the mysterious disappearance of half-German, half-Black jazz musician Hieronymous Falk (yep, that’s legit his name) during WWII in Germany. The story is largely about jazz, but the jazz scene in Germany at the time is inherently tied up in the community of Black musicians, most of them children of Black immigrants or of interracial marriages. It’s a whole side of Nazi Germany that you’ve probably never seen before.
9. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
If you haven’t already read The Sympathizer, you totally have to now that it’s won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The lead character is a part French and part Vietnamese double agent in the U.S. after the Vietnam War. But his racial identity isn’t the only thing that’s split; his loyalties are also all mixed up. Also… spies, y’all. If the Pulitzer Prize isn’t enough of an enticement, then... spies!