I don’t claim to know anything about boys. What I do know is that back in high school, I offered a book to a friend at the library. To my surprise, his face twisted in response, and he complained, “That’s a girls book.” He left me staring at the cover wondering How could he tell? Was it the smidge of pink on the cover? The clean font? A hint of love in the title?
And so what if it was a girls book? I had read stereotypical “boys” books: Tangerine by Edward Bloor, the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, and I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. I had even liked them.
These questions popped back up in my mind this week when I came across this essay in the New York Times Boys and Reading-Is there any hope? by Robert Lipstye. Lipstye, an author himself, recounts a time when”…HarperCollins dressed five of its male young adult authors in blue baseball jerseys” and set them to the task of demystifying “to the overwhelmingly female audience the testosterone code that would get teenage boys reading.” Apparently, I am not the only one with a lot of questions about boys and books.
His answer: “Boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.”
He goes on to lament the abundance of “simplistic problem novels that read like after-school specials… Books with story lines about disease, divorce, death and dysfunction [that] sold better for girls than did similar books for boys” not to mention the abundance of “mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires.”
It seems to me that he is saying we need to write books especially for boys, books like his recent novel Raider’s Night whose “depiction of the drug and hazing underside of high school football” appealed to boys who” are quick to relate to its touchy subject matter.” Boys like sports. I get it, but I find it hard to believe that boys can’t relate to disease or divorce or death.
I am not one to complain about the writing of good books whether they are targeted at boys or girls, but I still wonder about that day in the library…. Maybe in addition to writing better books for boys, we also should encourage boys to read quote unquote girl books. After all, a little love never hurt anybody.