Saturday, August 20, 2011

[August 20th] YA Fiction is Female Territory, No Boys Allowed

I've been minding my own business on Twitter, when the @booksmugglers tweeted a link leading to a NY Times article, which in short complains that there are no books for boys and that YA books target a predominant female audience. You can see from the opening paragraph that you're about enter a bizarre world:

"At an American Library Association conference in 2007, HarperCollins dressed five of its male young adult authors in blue baseball jerseys with our names on the back and sent us up to bat in a panel entitled “In the Clubhouse.” We were meant to demystify to the overwhelmingly female audience the testosterone code that would get teenage boys reading. Whereas boys used to lag behind girls in reading in the early grades, statistics show, they soon caught up. Not anymore."

The author, Robert Lypsite, tries to convince the readers of his article that boys don't read because all modern YA fiction is geared towards girls. I think what Mister Lypsite is trying to say is that most popular and marketed YA novels that are spoken of are somewhat female centric. The Twilight boom has definitely boosted the profile of this particular YA genre. Is that a bad thing for boys and their literacy? Not necessarily.

For one, I as a boy always tried to read books written for adults. Can I say that based on my own experience I can judge for other boys? Probably not, especially not for American youth, when in fact I live elsewhere, but from my experience boys that do read, have been reading books with a very adult content, which was not especially targeted for them. Again, this may have a reasonable explanation in my country's case as we survive on the translated works from other countries, with our own national literary scene decomposing somewhere.

I think that boys read, but they may not read what Mister Lypsite is selling at the moment. As with all genres there are trends, certain genres and certain audiences rise to prominence, but that does not mean that there isn't anything else out there for other target audiences. It's just not in plain sight, which I think is far from the dramatic question Lypsite poses in his title "Is there any hope?"

Furthermore, I take gripe with the fact that most of his statements read like fabrications without any solid examples. Who said that editors "ask writers of books for boys to include girl characters — for commercial reasons —" and why would that "further blunt the edges"? I'm not a fan of the reasoning that a girl in fiction acts as a kryptonite for masculinity. And then of course comes the mandatory bash-speculative-fiction with "supernatural space-and-sword epics that read like video game manuals and sports novels with preachy moral messages — often seem like cynical appeals to the lowest common denominator".

Right, so the issue that Lypsite has is that boys are reading, but not what he's selling. Though I may be a bit biased by now, cause he certainly bashed speculative fiction. The whole article he wrote supports the theory that boys are interested in different readings such as nonfiction and that modern themes such as "disease, divorce, death and dysfunction" test better with girls. And I'm certain that should boys shift their interest in massive numbers to a genre, the industry will definitely pick it up and alter accordingly.

Plus, I think that the majority of boys are reading speculative fiction at the moment, but the one aimed at adults [though I am just stating this as a fact I have no data to back it].

SO, is there any hope for us poor, boys?