Collage of books: Dog Man, They Both Die at the End, and The Four Winds. (Image: Graphix, Quoll Tree and St. Martin's)

Bestselling Books of 2021 So Far Have Some Glaring Inclusion Issues

Disappointed, but not surprised

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This month, Publishers Weekly released the print bestsellers for the first six months of the year. From Adult to Children’s Literature and YA, the charts are just as disappointing as they will probably look when the final totals release for 2021.


On the surface, six out of 20 books written by authors of color looks fantastic. These include Amanda Gorman’s 2021 inaugural poem The Hill We Climb (#3), Don Miguel Ruiz’ 1997 text The Four Agreements (#5), Keep Sharp by journalist Sanjay Gupta (#11), President Obama’s A Promised Land (#13), Caste by historian Isabella Wilkerson (#17), and Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones (#19). However, there is a glaring omission. Where is all the fiction? With all memoirs, history, poem/speech, and self-help books, not a single book on the adult list features a fiction title by a writer of color.

Tom from Tom and Jerry is so tired that he tapes his eyelids open. (Image: Boomerang)

(image: Boomerang)

With only eight of all the books categorized as fiction, the number for authors of color is expected to be lower, but zero? 

This is indicative of book buyers (readers, libraries, schools, etc.) only seeing people of color as educators or exceptional individuals who “overcame” prejudice (minimizing systemic inequities). The POC who write non-fiction are indeed doing important and amazing work, but seeing only them making it in the top 10 bestselling books list is frustrating. Books by authors of color should be celebrated for their imagination and world-building like talented white authors. How are non-debut writers (who released books in the last year) like Akwake Emezi, Ashok Banker, and R. K. Kuang not topping charts?

To be fair, this doesn’t account for e-books and audiobooks, both of which make up the majority of what I read, but this is still a bad look for Adult book sales, and Children’s Literature and YA don’t fare better.

Children’s Literature 

Of the list of ten, all of the writers are white men except one sole white woman. Unsurprisingly, 30% of the list comprises Dr. Suess books because many conservative outlets had people riled up with news that Dr. Suess Enterprises would no longer print specific titles. Of the three books that moved the most physical units (Oh the Places You’ll Go! at #2, Green Eggs and Ham at #4, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish at #5), none are the six titles Dr. Suess Enterprises nixed.

Popular contemporary writers like Dav Pilkey, creator of the Dog Man comics, and Jeff Kinney, creator of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants, are expected to a place on the list. With the recent passing of writer Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), he, too, takes an understandable position on the charts. However, no Jerry Craft (New Kid), B.B. Alston (Amari and the Night Brothers), Rena Barron (Maya and the Rising Dark) or Tui T. Sutherland (Wings of Fire)? These are just some of the popular ones, to say nothing of the many authors of color writing for children Star Wars books and in the Rick Riordan Presents series.

In 2021, do we still need to say “representation matters?”


In the category dominated by women, the YA bestsellers list is still 90% white. Leigh Bardugo snagged three ranks in this section with her Grishaverse books (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Six of Crows.) The already popular books reached a more mainstream audience upon the release of the Netflix adaptation Shadow and Bone. Between fans and those who hate-read it, Stephanie Meyer’s fifth Twilight novel Midnight Sun reached #3. 

The #1 spot is held by the sole author of color, Adam Silvera, with his 2017 book They Both Die at the End. Traction picked up in April 2021 when it took BookTok actively campaigned to give the book more attention. #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd currently sits at 44 million views even when discounting the millions from mistaken variations of the title. According to Deadline, book sales rose 900%, making it a New York Times bestseller. It made history when it reached number 1 by being the first queer Latinx novel to hold the spot.

The YA romance starts when two strangers are both informed via a midnight call from Death-Cast that they will die that day. Finding each other through an app called “End Day,” the story follows their adventure on their last day alive.

"They Both Die At The End" by Adam Silvera. The cover is two people walking by the water at night with shadows creating a grim reaper image.

(Image: Quill Tree)

There is likely an issue with the budget and attention given to authors of color by publishing houses. Still, consumers and institutions can pull some weight in advocating for a more diverse catalog of authors. 

(featured image: Graphix, Quoll Tree, and St. Martin’s)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.