My husband came across a link promoting a summer reading giveaway and sent it to me, commenting that it would be very nice to have more books for our houseful of insatiable readers this summer. I agreed and it wasn’t terribly invasive on the information required to enter, so I did. But as I was doing this, I realized that they were offering four choices of book packages – Picture Books, New Middle Grade, Classic Middle Grade, and Young Adult titles. I dithered a bit – my daughters all prefer YA as they are teens, but my son who is hoovering up books fastest, is still a Middle Grade Reader just verging into YA (he’s just now finishing up the Harry Potter series. That’s my little man!)
I would have chosen the YA package, knowing that he can stretch up into them, the language level isn’t that much different (although the themes dealt with is a whole ‘nother blog post, and one I’ve done before). But as I looked at titles, I realized something. The Picture Books, NMG, and CMG, are all just about evenly split between girly books, guy books, and either will enjoy this. Now, I’m not saying that a boy isn’t going to read a girl’s book and enjoy it, or that a girl isn’t going to pick up a ‘guy’ book and enjoy it. In fact, I would assert the opposite holds true. My Little Man (who is ten almost eleven) has been reading and vastly enjoying Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers and other princess books as he’s been binging on dragon books. I was about his age when I discovered Kipling with Kim and Captain’s Courageous.
I recognize most if not all of the MG books in the picture. I’m not as familiar with the YA, so I looked them up. I can’t read the first title, the Outliers is a girl in a dystopian world. Seven Black Diamonds is a fae girl in the human world, and romance. Snow Like Ashes is a direct ripoff of Game of Thrones, and the mc is a teen girl. Dorothy Must Die is of course Dorothy and Oz, the Red Queen is not Alice in Wonderland, but again a romance ala Romeo and Juliet. And so on, and so forth. There isn’t one book here that stars a guy.
So what does this say about the expectations of young readers? It seems clear that publishers assume that boys hit puberty like a brick wall and never read another book. I look at my son, who has a couple of years to go, and my husband, who has always been a reader even coming from a family who thought reading was really weird and abnormal, and I know this isn’t always true. But they are counted out in the new books coming from trad pub. Mostly. Baen publishing has recently started to publish young adult novels, and although some of them (the Treecats books, which are quite good and should appeal to both sexes) are centered around female characters, not all of them are. I just recently finished reading Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer, and it’s an excellent book with a central male character – but an equal and important female character. I think all my kids could read and enjoy it, and it’s an excellent tale of finding one’s home after a time of painful disruption in a family. I’ll be picking up a copy for them this summer – I don’t have any confidence that entering for the summer pack contest will do anything other than generate more spam in my email box.
I’ve already got most if not all of Heinlein’s juveniles on the bookshelves, along with Kipling, of course, and many others. But Heinlein reads very dated to the modern youth, and there’s little to replace him coming out. A Call to Duty by Zahn and Weber is excellent, if targeted toward an older reader. Again, this is a Baen book, and not unexpected. But the traditional big five? They don’t seem to care about boys reading.
I don’t want my son to quit reading simply because he can’t find books he likes to read and can identify with. I don’t want him to only read books where boys are untrustworthy, lacking all honor and a sense of duty. I don’t want to see him left with few choices, and the only choices characters he can’t connect to, so he might as well give it all up. But that seems to be what’s out there. For my Little Man, I can help him make the bridge directly from Middle Grade to Adult, if necessary. There are some good modern YA for boys, they’re just harder to find and put my hands on. For many boys, they don’t have this option. Once they run through the MG in their school library, they will switch away from fiction (I’ve seen this anyway as a librarian. Boys are a lot more likely to rip through the non-fiction books in topics that interest them, like airplanes, dinosaurs, and construction). As an author, I’d like to see them have the access to fiction that will engage them and keep their imaginations soaring.
As a mother, I want to see good books for all my kids, boys and girls. Books that will engage them, that will draw them in. Books that portray all kinds of people, but especially books that don’t glorify meaningless sex, and pain, and drugs, or even worse, breaking your word and lying just to get your own way. Books hold role models, and it’s important to me as a mother that my son have just as many as my daughters are provided with.