I was not familiar with The Forward, a publication that reports on American Jewish life, when one of the headlines caught my eye: “Why so few Jews in romance novels? This author and bookseller is leading a charge to change that”.
The article by Helen Chernikoff is an interview with sisters Bea and Leah Koch. They own The Ripped Bodice bookstore and are pushing for more diversity in romance novels. Bea wrote Mad and Bad, a feminist pop history book that looks at diverse and underrepresented communities in Regency times.
One quote in the article made me pause:
The tough thing about romance is this: It’s not what’s written, it’s what’s assumed. if a character’s religion is not expressly stated, they’re presumed to be Christian.Leah Koch
I immediately agreed with this statement. While I don’t read historical romance fiction, I know it’s very rare to find Jewish main characters in sexy contemporary romances.
How rare? The only book I can remember reading in the past five years that had a Jewish main character was One Hot December, a Harlequin Blaze by Tiffany Reisz.
How is this possible? According to The Australian Jewish News, the global Jewish population is 14.7 million. If romance fiction is supposed to be a reflection of women’s lives, then I should have come across more sexy contemporary romances with Jewish main characters.
Apparently, the reader is required to actively search for Jewish representation in romance books. I immediately went on a hunt to find sexy contemporary romances with Jewish main characters.
Hopping over to Harlequin.com, I did a cursory look in the site’s bookstore. This database also includes other HarperCollins romance fiction imprints. The result for “Jewish” was 65 books in all subgenres, heat levels and formats.
(Just for comparison, it’s estimated that there are 325,000 people worldwide in the Amish community. The result for “Amish” in the Harlequin.com database was 12,768 books.)
Next stop, NoveList, an advisory and discovery database for fiction readers. I used multiple keywords and search parameters to find contemporary romances that represented Jewish life. (I gave up early on the steamy heat level requirement.)
I only found 16 traditionally published books from 1980s to present day. Four were published by young adult imprints, three were literary fiction and five were women’s fiction or family drama. The four love stories that would be considered romance novels were about Hanukkah.
There has to be more to Jewish life than Hanukkah.
I know there are more sexy contemporary romance novels with Jewish main characters. I know it. I just can’t find them.
So while I develop better research skills, authors and publishers need to improve the online discoverability for romance books with Jewish characters. They shouldn’t make it so difficult for curious readers. After a while, we will give up the hunt!
If the word “Jewish” is not in the book description or back cover copy, it’s not going to appear in database searches. Readers interested in love stories about Jewish life won’t find what they want.
It’s important for Jewish characters to be visible. Even if the author doesn’t think the character’s religion or heritage has anything to do with the story, they should still mention it to the editorial and marketing teams. Have them include the necessary metadata for booksellers and libraries.
And, of course, publish more romance books with Jewish main characters.
Is romance fiction diverse in other areas? Read my Representation in Romance series and decide!