Jan 18, 2013

Kendra C. Highley: Guest Post

Boys Read, Too

As a writer of YA fiction, it always frustrates me when I hear a fourteen-year-old guy say, “I don’t read.”  It frustrates me more when I ask him why and he says, “’cause all those books in the teen section have girls in fancy dresses on the cover.”

“All those books” is a wee bit of teen hyperbole of course--the cover for The Hunger Games is about as non-gender specific as you can get--but it speaks to a bigger problem we have in YA today: boys don’t think YA fiction is written for them.  The thing is, they’re wrong, but they don’t see it because at Barnes & Noble, most of the “cover out” books in the teen section have pretty girls in fancy dresses on the front.

And here’s the real pity:  Big-6 publishers are acquiring fewer and fewer YA novels with male main characters (or those that might be considered “boy-focused”). A number of editors and agents I follow online have made statements to that fact, primarily because “girl-focused” YA sells better. I understand publishing is a business--absolutely. My day job is in corporate America, and I get that profits matter. I just worry about this prevalent belief that boys don’t read. My middle-school aged son reads six to eight hours a week, and I’d love it if he becomes a lifelong reader. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find age-appropriate books that hold his interest.

But it’s more than that. I worry the belief that “boys don’t read” leads to fewer books targeted at boys, who then quit reading due to lack of content.  What’s the chicken, and what’s the egg?

To combat this notion, I often show up at the high school youth group I sponsor with mental lists of books to suggest to the students. When the guys roll their eyes about reading, I point them toward Ender’s Game or Leviathan. A lot of times, they come back asking for more book suggestions. It’s not hard to encourage boys to read more; it’s really just a matter of knowing where to look for books that hit home. Once the guys are sent in the right direction, they’ll mysteriously start reading again.  And that’s awesome.