Lara Morgan, author of the Rosie Black Chronciles is visiting ROR.
Take it away, Lara.
These days it seems that whenever you look in the YA section of bookshops the titles that smack you in the eye first are those dark covers with brooding images, aimed squarely at the teenage girl. Heroines with powers, heroines in danger, heroines with quirky side kicks – it’s all about girl power in the market. Or so it seems. Blogs, newspapers, earnest people over coffee, are all talking about how there aren’t any books for boys in YA anymore. That the market has been overrun by books for girls, about girls, with girly themes, and that the implication then is this is all wrong and something should be done for the poor hard done by teen boys.
I, for one, am wondering if the teen boys in this question actually care. Has anyone asked them or are we all just speaking for them? And is the great female take-over really happening?
I’m not convinced. Actually after a century, or more, of books for YA being dominated by male characters, saving the girls, written by male authors, part of me is cheering just a little bit. A recent study of young adult novels released between 1900 and 2000 showed that males were the central characters in 57% of books published per year while only 31% of the central characters were female.
So, really, it’s only in the last eleven years that girls have started to become the more dominant lead characters in YA fiction. And I’m not going to be sorry about that. A part of me wants to say (hands on hips), well isn’t it about time we girls got to dominate something? Men have more of just about everything on this planet. More power, more money, more rights. Is the fact that girls hold a bigger place in YA really such a tragedy?
I know some may say that is not a very PC view to hold, but I’m finding it hard to be repentant. It’s not that I don’t care about boys reading – I passionately believe all kids should read – but I don’t think there being a glut of books with female protagonists out there is what’s stopping them. Contrary to the hysteria, there are plenty of books with male protagonists, if that’s what you want. I think boys not reading is caused by a range of issues and it’s certainly not a new thing, nor the result of more girls in fiction. Boys were reading less when I was in school and that certainly was before 2000.
I don’t have any answers, but what I do believe is, at the moment, girls read more than boys and I think girls are encouraged to gravitate more towards the inner life than the outer, but I’m not convinced that boys won’t read books featuring female protagonists. I think we train them not to and it’s such an ingrained habit that we don’t even know we’re doing it. I think part of the problem is that adults just don’t offer boys books about girls, probably with the greatest of intentions. The reasoning being; we need to encourage him to read so let’s give him a story about spies or pirates not that one about a girl who rides dragons. And even those of us who want everyone to read everything do it.
I write YA with a female protagonist and it is marketed for girls, though when I was writing it I didn’t think about who the reader would be, just what the story was. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their son read it and loved it, because I didn’t think boys would. That fact I am surprised a boy read it shows I am also guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box. You see how this mindset is everywhere?
So what do we do? Well we work on changing our own attitudes and try to pass that change on. Yes girls read more than boys, yes at the moment there are a lot of books out there with female protagonists but is that really such a terrible thing? For a long time girls have been reading about boys saving the world, about boys saving them and boys have been reading them as well and absorbing the message that they always have to be the hero, the strong one. Maybe it’s time to show a different point of view, maybe boys will be relieved they can be the side kick for a change with the wit instead of the sword. Give both sexes some credit and let’s see where this takes us.
What’s your favourite YA book with a female lead character, that you’ve read recently or as a child, and why?