Where are all the boys?

So if you’ve taken a stroll down the YA shelves of your local bookstore, I’m sure you’ve noticed the trends in the cover design. You’ve probably even noticed that entire block of shelves where the book covers are all just variations of each other. Pretty girls–usually dressed in a flowing dress or black leather–on a black background. Sometimes these girls are paired with a brooding, shirtless boy with remarkable abs. The title of these books are probably printed in some white gothic typeface.

Even without the category of “Paranormal Romance,” you know exactly who these books are written for: girls.

So you move to the other shelves–the fantasy shelves, the action and adventure shelves, the realist fiction shelves–but you keep noticing that the books all seem targeted to a specific demographic. Girls. Girls. More girls.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think this is great. I think it’s wonderful that teenage girls have such a broad range to chose from. I think it’s fantastic that we’re encouraging these girls to read, because I firmly believe that reading and literacy are fundamental to a person’s success in life.

What bothers me is the lack of books for boys. Don’t boys deserve as many books for them as girls do? Shouldn’t we promote reading and literacy in the young men we know in the same way we cultivate it in the young women?

I think they do, and I think we should, but that doesn’t solve the issue.

With a few exceptions, there are very few books on the YA shelves that are written for boys.  There aren’t even that many that are written about boys. I’ve heard it said over and over again that boys don’t read, that boys don’t like fiction, that boys would rather play video games than pick up a book. And I suppose that’s all good and well, and I suppose that’s probably the case for a lot of boys, but what about the boys for whom that’s not the case?

Where are the books for them?

Sadly, I don’t have any answers for this. I’ve heard editors and publishers talk about how there just isn’t a market for boy books, which is why they don’t publish them. I can’t help but wonder, though, if there is a market for them and we’ve just missed it because we’ve convinced ourselves that it doesn’t exist.

In YA scholarly circles, you hear a lot about “mirrors and windows.” It’s the idea that teens need a variety of books to read–some of these books will be windows into lives unlike their own, and some of these books need to be mirrors that reflect their life back at them. Teens–like everyone else–need someone they can identify with in their books. They need someone that they can point to and say, “Hey, this kid is like me.” They need to know they’re not alone in this world. With the amount of girl books on the YA shelves, I don’t think this is a problem for girls. There is a book out there for every 12 to 18 year old female imaginable.

But our 12 to 18 year old males are missing that mirror.

So maybe boys don’t read because they’re not interested in it. Maybe reading has, culturally, become a predominantly female pursuit. Maybe they don’t read books because they’d rather read Wikipedia or play video games. But maybe, just maybe, they don’t read because we have nothing to offer them.

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