One of the more surprising realizations for me as I began reading and writing in the Young Adult genre was the relative absence of male writers and male readership. By way of explanation, it’s a historical fact that in its nascent years the novel served as a gateway for many female writers to enter into the world of letters while they remained barred from passing through the more highly-regarded literary portals of poetry and drama. As cases in point, think Austen, Eliot, the Bronte sisters, and Mary Shelley – all authors of the early nineteenth century. I cannot name a single female poet or playwright of a measure equal to any of these women novelists until, at least, the second half of the same century. Although it would be a great understatement of the scope of these stellar writers’ works, it is a truth that, to a certain degree, they wrote to and for a largely female audience. It stands to reason, therefore, that the novel, in general and as a result of its feminine origins, has remained a genre of particular favor to women.
The next time you are in a bookstore or library or on a bus, train, or plane, study the aisles in which the males and females browse or the books on their respective laps. I’d suggest that the men you find wandering the bookstore will largely be congregated in nonfiction sections or amongst the periodicals, and those with their noses in a book or magazine will be reading a text mined from those areas. I would argue that the opposite reality will hold true for women readers. They are much more likely to be found amongst the fiction titles and to be reading novels during their commutes or down time. Scientific? Not at all. Overgeneralization? Probably. True? I think so. What does this say about men and women? I don’t know, but if I were a single man, I know where I’d go to find an interesting woman worth dating. And I can’t think of a better conversation starter than, “What are you reading?”
Even still, the discrepancy in the number of female writers of young adult novels compared with males is shocking. For example, I recently joined a wonderful group of YA/MA writers called the Elevensies, all writers whose debut novels will appear in 2011, thus the name. Fewer than ten of the seventy-eight current members are males. As further evidence of the disparity, in the June 27, 2010, New York Times list of Chapter Book Bestsellers (in which YA titles are included), only three of the top ten are written by males; whereas, in the Hardcover Fiction category, the numbers are exactly reversed. From my own experience as a classroom teacher, it is quite common to witness female students carrying YA titles; whereas, the book-reading males (of which there are many more than most people think) are typically tackling more mainstream “adult” titles.
Now comes the “chicken or the egg” conundrum: Do YA authors not write for boys because boys don’t read YA? Or, do boys not read YA because YA authors don’t write for them? Or is there a third possibility? Do boys not read YA because of the paucity of male YA authors? I think that it is fair to argue that the surrendering of the YA field by male writers is the cause of the preponderance of feminine themes and issues, largely reflective of uniquely female sensibilities, in YA titles. Themes that just don’t resonate with young men.
The young adult male reader is a coveted, largely-untapped market for publishers, but it is one so elusive that they have all but given up trying. Without question, there have been many female YA authors who have concocted male characters accurately reflective of the thoughts, desires, and behaviors of real world boys or young men; however, I also believe that, en masse, male authors have failed the generations of young male readers following in their wake. I believe it’s time for more of us men who have survived through our adolescence and into adulthood to enter the lists, armed with hindsight, in the quest to not only engage the young male mind but also to lay it open for the study of the many female YA fans, who in their real lives struggle to make sense of the simultaneously simple yet impossible-to-fathom species known as the “Guy.”
My debut novel, So Shelly, is available for pre-order at all major online bookstores including, Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/So-Shelly-Ty-Roth/dp/0385739583/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277759993&sr=1-1; Barnes and Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/So-Shelly/Ty-Roth/e/9780385739580/?itm=2&USRI=so+shelly; Borders:http://www.borders.com/online/store/Home; Books-A-Million:http://www.booksamillion.com/product/9780385739580?id=4777602269282; and IndiBound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780385739580.