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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Is YA for girls? has posted quite a lengthy article in response to the NPR Book poll of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels where female authors dominate. 63% of the books on the poll, including Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, were written by women.

The article claims that while most publishers favour books written by male authors, most young adult titles are written by women and cater to a predominantly female audience.

If the results of the NPR poll are a reflection of the reading populace, the YA world is a place of relative harmony compared to the battle of the sexes being waged in adult fiction. After chick-lit purveyors Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult raised the call about the disparity between books by male authors and books by female authors being reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin at The New Republic did her own analysis of the literary glass ceiling. The results are dismaying: after reviewing catalogs from 13 large and small publishing houses (and eliminating genre titles unlikely to be reviewed), she found that only one came close to gender parity, while the majority had 25 percent or fewer titles written by women.

Meanwhile, to the consternation of some men in the field, the YA genre tends to favor female authors and audiences. And at least commercially, teen fiction is crushing almost everyone else. Three of the biggest book-to-movie franchises of the last decade (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games) are YA series penned by women. According to an annual report by the Association of American Publishers, Children’s/YA ranked as the fastest growing category in publishing in 2011. While teen titles may never reach the upper echelons of critical adulation bestowed on the latest Jonathan Franzen novel, the phenomenal popularity makes it increasingly difficult to marginalize the genre.

You can read the full article here.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are geared more for female audiences, nor would I say that books like the Alex Rider series are more for boys. My first two novels both had boys as protagonists, and while I didn’t necessarily have male readers in mind while I wrote them, I certainly didn’t adapt the stories in any way to make them more appealing to girl readers. Yet most of the feedback and reviews I received were from female readers, In fact most of the online YA blogger community appears to be girls.

Do girls read more? I posed the question on Twitter.

Librarian Rudi Wicomb believes girls form deeper attachments to stimuli and experiences than boys do.
“I am no authority on the subject but based on some interactions with library users of the YA persuasion and some research done for a professional presentation to colleagues, I’ve attempted to narrow it down to Two reasons: Emotions and Chemistry. Girls relate emotionally to something, essentially ‘feeling’ more and can thus empathize easily. YA books is a natural resonance for that empathy.”

He says the chemistry bit comes in during the full flush of teenagerdom. “Besides hormones, there are internal developments in the brain still occurring, that cause shifts in behaviour, emotions, and even in cognitive functions.”

So essentially what Rudi is saying, minus the science, is that if a girl likes a book, she’ll recommend it to her friends, review it for her blog, and Pin pictures of the book and images that remind her of it to her Pinterest board. I’m guilty of this myself – as a kid I even created my own Harry Potter reference library, and the emotional attachment I have to the series still exists.

Perhaps it can be argued that boys do read, but are are less likely to enthuse about their favourite titles as girls are.

Rudi believes that boys seldom form the same emotional attachments to books as girls do. “Boys feel ‘differently’. The emotional attachment paradigm to the point of fixation still exists, but the difference is that boys fixate to that level on very limited amount of stimuli or experience. In primary school the primary emotional fixations are family, sport and maybe an Xbox. As they get older the fixations transfer from one experience/stimuli to another. It goes from family to perhaps girls and that is maintained until it fixates on a particular girl. If books and reading is not one of the initial connections/fixations from primary school level, and if that connection is not maintained by family, friends (the local librarian) then its diminished to the point of lost until cognitive development catches up to the teen, now on the cusp of adulthood (or the brain chemistry aligns – whatever comes first) who realises he needs to actually read something for a change or fail the exams.” posted an article online entitled, Winning Back the Teenage Male.

The literary world has lost the teenage boy. When school begins in the fall and I ask my students who read a book this summer, only a few male hands will reach skyward. I’ll be ostensibly upset because there was a summer reading assignment, but deep down I’ll somewhat understand.

The author argues that boys get enough instant gratification from sports and movies and games, and don’t see the purpose of reading. In fact, they don’t read at all.

The reason why teenage boys stopped reading is plainly evident. It’s the question of getting them back that presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge for parents, teachers, authors, and publishers alike. But there is a solution, and it is found within the adolescent male’s Bible, a book that, despite its age, has survived the transition to our HD culture.

J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye hasn’t reached cult status among teenage boys because Holden swears on like, every other page. And, believe it or not, it isn’t popular because a prostitute enters the picture Chapter 13. It’s the fact that the prostitute leaves Holden in the lonely hotel room, services unrendered, that makes Catcher in the Rye the pinnacle of adolescent male literature.

Read the full article here.

Perhaps as writers (whether female or otherwise) we should take up the challenge of crafting books that break gender conventions, books that are as appealing to boys as they are to girls, and maybe even older readers as well. Then the only challenge that remains is to find out what the boys thought too.

What are your thoughts?


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Pierre</a>
    August 10th, 2012 @15:23 #

    As far as I can make out, YA readership is around 80% female, largely twenty to thirty something years of age. Yet YA definitions focus on teens. I'm not so sure about teens making up the bulk of the market. Yes, the authors are girls too. I'd say about 80%.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    August 11th, 2012 @14:06 #

    Been puzzling about this. Only have antidotes to add - growing up I knew a lot of guys that read, but after a certain age they jumped right to Stephen King and Sci-Fi (adult) and did not bother with YA. Although given our library's sparse YA shelf, mostly aimed at girls, I can't blame them.

    Interesting topic you raise, nonetheless.


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