It’s common to hear that the reason boys don’t read is because they don’t want to read “girl books”, and that there is a tilt in publishing, writing, and marketing toward books for girls and by women. In fact, there is a book published by the American Library Association called Connecting Boys with Books (a second edition was published in 2009) which makes the argument that boys are drawn to “boys’ books” and specific genres, and that libraries need to make special efforts to meet those needs in order to close the literacy gap. Ana at Lady Business has written a very interesting (and very long) post called Gender Balance in YA Fiction. What’s great about this is that, while it isn’t comprehensive, it’s grounded in solid data, and provides a list of further reading at the end.
What Ana did was look at the award winners from 22 book awards that include YA fiction and categorize the books according to the gender of the protagonist(s) and the gender of the author(s), and draw some conclusions based on that. From her data it looks like there are more male protagonists than female protagonists in YA fiction award winners, which is pretty interesting. And there are more female authors in YA award winners than there are males. But Ana suggests that the difference in percentages is not enough to be significant (She also broke down the data for specific awards and THAT is pretty interesting, if you want to look at it).
Ana’s research doesn’t mean that there isn’t a literacy gap, or that boys aren’t reading predominantly “boys’books”. But the assumption that this is because there aren’t enough male protagonists in YA fiction, or males writing it, clearly deserves more examination. Ana says she addressed the question of whether interests are gendered in her MA thesis, and her research showed it didn’t. I think that’s true(although obviously my experiences are anecdotal). One reason this site was started was to provide choices that could attract reluctant readers, who are frequently boys… but I have encountered so many girls and women who love scary books and horror fiction that I don’t think horror can be described as a gendered interest (although I’d love to see statistics on the readership of horror fiction). And I have also helped boys find cookbooks, animal books, drawing books. and fairytales. To me, it suggests that this is a social issue, and a difficult one. How can we(and by we I mean everybody) get boys to read all kinds of books, and respect and encourage their interests, whatever they are? That, I think, is the question.
Ana did not include the YA category from the Stoker Awards in her analysis, She has said she’s open to including information on other YA awards. It would be great if someone from the HWA could provide her with the information, which could help inform her research.