On Young Adult Fiction for Boys

So, I had to write two mini-essays to apply to this fancy book publicity insider thingy and I thought, hey, if they reject me, I’ll still get a blog post out of it. That’s just how I do, ya know?

WHY SHOULD OUR COMMUNITY BE INTERESTED IN YOUR BOOK?

Adolescence is a painful experience. The teen’s body is going through volcanic changes, surging with hormones, undergoing tectonic shifts in musculature and skeletal reformation. An adolescent’s mind swims with hormones and crackles like an electrical storm with new ideas, new thoughts, new desires. It’s a time of emergence and discovery – moving away from the shelter of parents, the teen is on a journey toward maturity, learning about her sexuality, coming to understand her morality, finding her place in the world.

Young adult novels are important because they offer a non-judgmental guide through the mazes of adolescence. The best young adult novels offer teen readers a prism through which to view the world, an example in which to show them they can have effect. For adult readers, they offer a commentary, a dialogue on the universal human condition. After all we were all teens, once.

Except for that one guy. You know the one.

WHY SHOULD WE GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR BOOK?

Girls are far more likely to read for pleasure than boys, so sayeth numerous reports on reading and gender studies.  (Here’s a really good one, nicely designed and easy to understand. Of course. From SCHOLASTIC, the same folks who brought you Harry Potter 2010 Scholastic Kid and Family Reading Report.) The chasm in reading between boys and girls has grown so wide and deep that Evil Knievel backs away from it on his motorcycle (which is impressive because he was an idiot and motorcycles don’t have a reverse) and reading has become an attribute of gender stereotypes.

The reasons girls lap boys in reading for pleasure are numerous. The flawed American public educational system doesn’t allow students to choose literature by interest (unlike in Montessori, but don’t get me started on my Montessori schpeil) but, rather, assigns classic works of fiction that are described as “boring” by male students all because of antiquated and rigid guidelines due to a bureaucratic need for quantifiability. The publishing industry, having realized that girls read more than boys, produce more gender-centric works for their intended (and book buying) audience, making sure that boys have less new literature to choose from (kids are 91% more likely to finish a book they choose themselves). Gender stereotypes contribute to the problems – there’s a dearth of literary male role models in American families – the common misconception is that it isn’t “manly” to read and this ignorance is propagated throughout the culture. And, hey, I live in the South and that ain’t no lie.

Reading is so fucking manly, it’s right up there with eating beans and lighting flatus. Ask Ernest Hemingway. Ask the very manly Clive Cussler. Ask Truman Capote.

So, IN CONCLUSION *said in sonorous tones in my Hogwarts wizard’s robes* young adult novels for boys are muy importante and you should choose mine because not only does the book deserve more exposure, boys deserve to be exposed to it.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

For more information on this, go check out this article. It’s where I cribbed most of this second essay. It’s far more educated and thought out than my nonsense. Go, read.

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So, that’s what I told them. If those answers got you a little moist, feel free to buy that bad BOY at one of these fine purveyors of the printed word.


 

9 comments

  • I know that I would probably to this day be a “reader”, reading for fun, if I had more choices as a male teen. I dreaded book reports and reading assignments. I don’t know when the reading bug will take over, but I’m glad at least with the advance in technology I can read just about anytime anywhere.

    • I was very lucky to have a father who absolutely loved books. I owe it all to him.

      How you doing, Jason?

    • Cary, wonderful blog post. This especially hit home, I think:

      “So why not feed them adult literature? Why, for instance, shouldn’t a 15-year-old boy be reading one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels? They’re no more raunchy or violent than what he’s seeing online, and they’re far more likely to get him in love with reading than a sociologically accurate story about a boy coping with a parent’s divorce/death/alcoholism/hoarding problem/debilitating karaoke addiction. There’s a ton of adult literature out there that boys would lap up, but no one’s directing them towards it.”

      While I write YOUNG ADULT FICTION I don’t know if I even think that’s a healthy distinction, separating fiction into age groups. Parents should be active in their kid’s reading explorations and lead them to fiction they think the child can handle. My dad offered me Dracula and Frankenstein at an early age, but not books full of graphic depictions of sex and gore (that came later).

      Thank you for your comment and your wonderful post on the subject. I’ve pimped it a little on the Twitters.

  • Thanks, John. Perhaps the solution is to “reverse engineer” the problem by getting adult men to read fiction, and hope that they’ll pass the habit on to their sons. Adult males at the library (and in bookstores) will read non-fiction, but, as you mention, they seem to think fiction is somehow effeminate or frivolous.

  • Amen. I got lucky and had a 4th grade teacher. Mrs. Holmes, who turned me onto The Hobbit, and that was in the early 70’s. After that I started scamming Harold Robbins, James Webb, and whatever else my parents were reading that looked good. My son was forced to try to swallow way to much Little House on the Prairie and similar material, which didn’t make his school experience what it should have been. More power to you.

  • Preach! Brother Jon! As a former middle school teacher of remedial reading, I can attest to the same experiences regarding boys and reading. My small classes (of no more than eight students) were always populated by more than 50% male students and in many instances, were all boys.
    Another factor I noticed in teacher-land is that teachers (up until high school) are not only majority females, but also chose literature that inspired them, usually when they were adolescent girls.
    I am so happy to watch this growing trend of an increase in the amount of literature available and interesting to young males. I am also happy to report that as I was leaving the education world, this trend we’re discussing was being brought to teachers’ attentions. I had teacher friends wholly averse to fantasy and science-fiction in their own reading lives, deliberately choosing books that specifically appealed to the adolescent, young males in particular. While the books they chose may not have inspired them from the beginning, I can tell you that watching kids really ‘get into’ these books in itself was enough to encourage them to seek out more of the same genre.
    Thank you Jon for the material you’re producing. As a fellow bookworm I am looking forward to digging in to your books and promise to pass your name and material along to teacher-land!

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