Girl Books versus Boy books

I can’t stop my mind from churning. If you read my recent post, then you might know why my brain has been so active. At the time, I also read a post by the AH-Mazing Shannon Hale.

I have been following her on Twitter so I had some exposure to this post, but one afternoon, I sat down and really thought about it.

The Scholastic Reading Reports do report that girls read more than boys as they age. But as Hale points out, we give books to boys with the qualifier of “it’s a girl book.”  Her story of the third-grade boy afraid to ask aloud for a copy of The Princess in Black broke my heart.

Take a look at your bookshelves. If they are like mine, you will notice that a lot of the YA books are making a shift. I went to a lecture three years ago where a cover designer said that every YA book had to have a girl in a big poofy dress (she was discussing the current state of design elements, not saying it was actually necessary). But as I look at the books I have on my nightstand right now, I am seeing a shift. Yes, some of the books still have girls on them, but a lot of them are starting to have more artistic renderings.

Think about all the big bestsellers, for example: Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Hunger Games, and Twilight.

Divergent Hunger Games The Fault in our Stars Twilight

Something most people won’t notice about all of these books is that they all lack a character on the cover. In fact, all the books rally around a symbol or typography (type face like in Twilight). These books for all their content don’t make a “girl” book or “boy” book cover.

Hale’s book, by the nature of the age group she writes for, does have a character on the cover. But I agree the nature of conversation about books needs to change. We tell boys that this is a “girl” book.  The school administration assumes boys won’t be interested in what a female writer has to say.  With the “gate-keepers” making those types of decisions and statements, is it any wonder that boys believe it?

I believe there are things that both sides can do to help eliminate “girl” and “boy” books. With YA, we are seeing a shift in design. I need more research to make a point on middle grade covers. But if cover designs are shifting, why then do we still feel the need to qualify a book?

Good writing is good writing. Say, “This book is something you might like. Let me know how you find it.” Start a dialog instead of shutting it down.

My Thoughts on the Andrew Smith Conversation

Recently, Andrew Smith, author of Alex Crow and Grasshopper Jungle, gave an interview where he was asked about his female characters.

Needless to say, his answer has set off the YA community into two camps: the critics and the supporters.

Having never read any of his books, I am not sure I am qualified to enter my opinion on his characters, but I will say that his answer for why he cannot write a well-rounded female character is problematic to me, and on a much larger scale. This article does a great job of laying out some points for why Smith’s answer was problematic and was instrumental in making me want to write this post.

To be truthful, I have wanted to write a post about diversity in publishing for a while. But I did not know how I want to approach it. There are whole discussions going on by the authors and publishers about how to address  the lack of diversity.  I did not feel that I had the adequate background information to write a post.

BUT… That article above by Derek Attig made some points that I felt had a broader scope. Attig makes a point about how women are not alien, they are humans with their own wants and desires, and to see them as inherently different is sexism at its core.  This is a great point, and it can be a universal message.

No matter your skin color, we as humans are not so different.  Yes, there will be cultural differences, but our wants and needs are almost universal.  So when I was reading Attig’s first point, I started thinking, this is applicable across the board. Just because a writer is of one race does not mean he/she cannot write compelling, and diverse characters or well-rounded characters of the opposite gender.

Writers, don’t be lazy. Research, imagine, talk to others. Don’t limit yourself.

Readers, demand more.  Don’t just read the same characters over and over. Expand your horizons.

And I agree with Attig’s response to Smith’s “I’m trying.” I will only say this: as Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”