Warning, I may go into slight rant mode with this post because a pet peeve has been piqued.
A few weeks ago, my Teenreads newsletter hit my inbox. While I no longer qualify as a teen, teen book blogs cover YA like nothing else, so I keep up with a few them. Usually Teenreads is an excellent source of entertainment and connection. This time around, this bit leapt off the page at me, and not for a good reason:
“…we’ve been noticing a trend lately where many books seem to be, well, girly. Chances are, many of you guys don’t want to read about female friendships and complicated love triangles, and it can be hard to find young adult books that celebrate boys.”
After this excellent note, there’s a link to the “guy-brary.”
Have you seen the scene in The Avengers where the Hulk grabs Loki and smashes him into the floor? That’s what I’d like to do to this newsletter.
There are so many things to unpack in this comment –a comment the writer and editor of the newsletter likely thinks is innocuous SOMEHOW– that I don’t know where to start.
How about: boy readers wouldn’t know they shouldn’t like these “unmanly” elements until you pointed it out. Maybe you should watch The Mask You Live In?
Or how about: what makes male friendships more important? Boys fall in love too, so why shouldn’t they be interested in a love element? We’ll overlook the overuse of the love-triangle in YA for the sake of argument here.
Or how about –and this is my favourite– : EVERYTHING CELEBRATES BOYS! In recent years female writers and their female characters have elbowed their way into YA, which might be why it seems there are a lot of them –they’re finally getting their due recognition and leveling the literary playing field.
Now I’m going to turn a little inward here. If I were to label myself, or have someone else label me, I confess I’d be insulted to be called a girly girl (yes, I see the patriarchal irony there). But, I must admit, I fit some of the prescribed parts. I also fit a lot of parts that do not qualify as girly in the least. I’m a complex creature if you can believe it.
Reader-wise, I’m an avid romance fan, but I read very little contemporary stuff because I don’t identify with it –in YA or adult fiction. My main issue: I’ve never been boy or man crazy, and obsessing over snagging myself a husband…well, excuse me while I roll on the floor and laugh at that mental image. I’m not saying all contemporary YA books are devoted to those things, but many of them centre on those types of desires, which I can’t regularly connect with when that’s the main plot. I like dark and terrifying elements along with the romance.
I’m definitely more inclined to read Ivory and Bone and Property of the State (two “guy-brary” reads) than One Paris Summer (the first book in the newsletter after the “guy-brary” link), and last I checked I am not a guy.
On the whole, I know all of these labels are meaningless, but teens shouldn’t be subjected to this negative crap. Let’s focus on the aspects people are interested in in YA books, like relationships, dealing with grief, saving the world, shaking up the establishment, and not give a shit about whether the main character doing all that is a boy or a girl. No one cares until you make them think they should care.
One of the reasons we read is to learn about people who aren’t exactly like us, to develop our humanity by realizing and celebrating the differences between people. That means boys need to read about girls and girls need to read about boys. Read outside the box.
Follow up note: the next installment of the Teenreads newsletter that arrived in my inbox had this as part of the “guy-brary” description:
“…we decided to curate a collection of books coming out in May-June that featured male protagonists, male narrators, or just plain great storylines that all genders can relate to. Now we’re back with Part 2, which focuses only on boy-friendly books releasing in July-August. Whether you’re looking for a fun beach read, a hard-hitting story full of drama, or yes, even a romance, you’re sure to find something great on our Books to Add to Your Guy-brary…”
Obviously I wasn’t the only one this initially stood out to. I still think this is flawed, but it’s better. Small victories.