Where Have All the Good (Young) Men Gone?

I don’t know if you’ve heard it yet, but there’s been something of a buzz going around the internet about YA books lately.

(Apparently YA stands for “Young Adult”, and not “Yankee Angler” as I had previously supposed. This might explain why my previous attempts at writing YA literature failed so miserably.)

The buzz started as a low thrumming sound surrounding this article published by the Wall Street Journal which implied that maybe YA books had become too dark over the past few years. The buzz increased to a cacophony when Chuck Wendig released his tiny leather winged minions to roam the Twitterverse with his message of “Hey, adolescence is very likely going to be the darkest time of these kids lives, why shouldn’t their books reflect that?”

For what it’s worth I’m sort of in the middle on this issue. I think that writers should be able to write what they want to write and parents should be able to draw the boundary lines for their children and have the intestinal fortitude to enforce those lines. Stop trying to get the school to do your dirty work for you, parents (a mantra that applies to far more than this.)

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. I think in all of this hullabaloo about darkness in YA we’re missing a far more vital problem.

This problem can be summed up in this one picture:

Look at that picture. Look at it long and hard.

This is a picture I took of the book nook at the Wal-Mart where I work. This is the entirety of the YA section. This is the place where Wal-Mart consolidates all of the most popular books in the nation into one tiny little microcosm of the book selling industry.

Notice anything strange?

Not yet?

Keep looking….there! See it?

There’s no books for dudes! Not one!

Now I’m not saying this is Wal-Mart’s fault. They’re just buying the books that are big sellers. But what’s up with this? Why aren’t my slightly younger brethren sinking their teeth into daring accounts of manly exploits in fantastic places with the same ferocity as the females our the species seem to bestow on brooding tales of dark romance with forbidden creatures?

Have all the men migrated to their game consoles to control space marines with their thumbs, leaving behind the kinds of stories with “words” and “pages” to be completely overrun by the fairer sex? I don’t know. And frankly maybe this isn’t a new phenomenon. But it doesn’t seem like so long ago, that Harry Potter (Harry not being short for Harriett in this case) enchanted the world with his wizardly exploits.

I’m not trying to be sexist here, but the inequality of the situation astounds me. Because if guys aren’t reading when they’re young, then what’s the likelihood they’re going to start later?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe you do. Please to leave a comment and enlighten me with your wisdom.

14 responses to “Where Have All the Good (Young) Men Gone?

  1. As a pre-teen and teen, I gravitated toward YA books about dysfunctional families, mental illness, abuse, runaways, etc. I don’t speak for other former or present YA readers, but those “despressing” books actually made me happier. Reading books about what was going on in my life- even though the books were fiction- made me feel less alone. I imagined the author understood a part of me and my circumstances.

    As for “Girls Only” sign in the above photo . . I don’t see it. I bet more YA males are reading these books than you think, regardless of the gender of the protagonists. 🙂

  2. Albert I have an extremely avid reader for a son. He tears into anything I hand him and looks for more on his own. However, he curls his nose at the book section In WalMart. He’s into girls an romance. But he would rather experience romance directly, not vicariously. The above commenter may be right, but it’s not my experience.

    I feel you on the fact that YA lit is seriously lacking in male oriented stories. I think I does show a solid decline in make readers. I read just the other day that only 10% of the YA market is made up of boys. This saddens me.

  3. The Sherrilyn Kenyon book Infinity has a teenage male lead – but it might be hard to see by the cover art. Also- I have noticed (not shown here) many Rick Riordan books on Walmart/Target shelves. I’ll have to check my local Walmart because I did see a bunch of wizard books aimed at the boys- but there’s no doubt that there’s more of an abundance of YA teen girl books that either sell to the girl crowd or are just selling good enough to show up on retail stores.

    Barnes & Noble has a good diverse wall as well- but I’ll leave that alone since we’re talking more about retail stores.

    I’ll check out my local store & see if they changed the layout. I remember it being more diverse- but they may have certain sections now catering to one gender or another like what you’ve seen.


  4. As I understand it, it’s basically just that teenage boys, demographically speaking, read less than pretty much any other group.

    There is male-oriented YA out there (none of which I can see on that shelf). “The Lightning Thief” is a good example of a recently successful novel that’s very much oriented towards boys (right down, evidently – I haven’t read it, but my fiancee’s a teacher who works with elementary grades – to a male protagonist with why-should-I-bother-with-school ADHD). There are also books that appeal to both genres (Westerfeld’s “Leviathan” comes to mind).

    Mostly, though, media aimed at teenage boys tends more towards TV, video games and lately manga, because these are the outlets they’re most interested in.

  5. I don’t think men of any age ( or race /culture ) are understood in this country. Nor, in my opinion, does anyone want to….Not “hip” or “cool”….
    I was blessed with two wonderful children (one “boy”, one “girl”), both very successful. Which I don’t understand as I didn’t/don’t consider myself a good parent.
    What I DID do, in my opinion, was be very honest and up front with them both. I was a good mentor, I raised them both the same (Lots of outdoors, motorcycle rides, hunting, shooting, etc. I DO wish I had spent much more time with my son.).
    The reason for bringing this up? I think young men in this country are adrift in this country because of the lack of a mentor and example ( Sorry, but when you poke in fun and she takes it serious its time to man-up and be a dad. “I don’t want to do that” ain’t an option. ). Maybe when men start becoming dads ( and the same goes for you, ladies….), you will see youngsters doing, REALLY DOING, in life.

  6. When I started marketing my “boy book” for a YA audience, I was told over and over that I should switch to MG (short for modern grammar, hehe, I mean, middle grade). Harry Potter is MG. The Lightning Thief is MG. Artemis Fowl is MG. Obviously, 8-12 year old boys will read, but not 13-18 yr olds. Only a few agents in my search said they would even consider a boy book for YA. Really?! Yes. Because “boys don’t read,” so why should they buy a product from me when they don’t have an audience?
    However, agents love good books that will sell. Maybe not enough people are writing awesome boy books for YA? I don’t know. Westerfield, & X Stork write great YA boy books. We need more like ’em.
    One agent said that YA boys skip the YA genre and go right to adult books.
    If that is the case, then I think the genre should be renamed, “YA girls.”
    Great post, Al.

  7. It doesn’t bother me since I’m a girl! 🙂 However, I agree that I couldn’t find YA books geared toward young men. I do love Percy Jackson and Scott Westerfield’s. Also Harry Potter. I guess writers need to tap into their “masculine” side and start writing about them. Or in Rowling’s case, “marry Harry Potter”. 🙂

  8. Peabody T. Justice

    I am a former public school teacher and current librarian. During my time teaching middle school, I informally observed that the boys who were avid readers tended to be physically smaller, or else shy and artistic. Considering that I worked in a rather rural system in the mid-south, this may have been due to still permeating stereotype of education and reading as being ‘unmanly’ and ‘wimpy.’ There tended to be no similar pattern with female students; reading was prevalent among girls regardless of their ‘caste’ within the school. I can also envision an identical situation in urban schools.

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  10. I am a retired music teacher and learned early on that boys approach music learning with different needs and perspectives than girls. In kindergarten, first and second grades, most students, girls included, are body learners. They learn through seeing and by moving their bodies. Fortunately for me, I learned very early in my music career that one of my strengths in “hearing” music was through moving my body. By moving to music, I could begin to make sense of it. I could feel phrasing, sense where a music section ended and new one began, and notice when repetitions came around. One of the things I also learned was the necessity of moving in ways to encourage all my students to “listen” with their bodies. Most girls needed little encouragement to move to music–they were used to dancing. For the boys, I needed to think about movement as game, skating around the “ice” with one’s hockey stick, throwing footballs, swinging baseball bats, sinking baskets. Sometimes the music room became a dojo where movement, discipline and respect intertwined.

    After retiring, I looked for a way to continue to be part of the learning community of children. I volunteered to “read” with children. Because I was an “experienced” teacher, I was asked to work with older students, fourth and fifth graders, most of whom were boys…all struggling with reading, writing, literacy and attending skills. I loved working with these youngsters–especially the boys!!! I loved trying to figure out how their brains worked, so I could find ways for them to be successful. What did I find in my travels with these boys? Dyslexia, ADHD/ADD, Tourettes, dysgraphia, and what I consider typical boy-style learning–needing to move and put their bodies into it!

    As I searched for ways to make reading, writing and speaking more accessible to my students, I discovered a program called Guys Read. (www.guysread.com) The program was started by author, Jon Scieszka, to help boys read. Scieszka asked a number of male authors to contribute to an anthology, Guys Write for Guys Read, because in Scieszka’s words, “All these guys know what boys like to read.” I would love to say that Scieszka’s book changed the lives of the students I tutored, but each boy suffered from more than a lack of interesting reads. However, at the end of the school year, I found books for my male students based on topics that these boys liked to read–football, car racing, basketball, baseball, and their favorite sports stars. And, yes, their eyes lit up when they unwrapped their books.

    It’s not that the literature for young adult boys isn’t out there. It’s that book sellers aren’t in the business of teaching boys to read. Their job is selling books, as many as they can. And, girls are a sure market! It is the job of teachers, parents, and writers to make sure that books boys will want to read are put into their hands. We want our boys to read now and when they are older. (One of the easy ways to accomplish this is to check out Scieszka’s website and encourage librarians to set up shelves labeled Guys Read. You could even get a bunch of your friends to donate the books to stock these shelves…paperbacks are pretty cheap, in the grand scheme of things. And if you know of boys with difficulty reading, make sure the shelves include books on CD, one of the best traveling companions I can imagine!)

    As an aside, I feel a disclosure is necessary, I have two adult sons, one of whom loved the young male adult stuff when he was a child, and the other, leaped directly to the world of adult fiction at a very young age…

  11. This may help you….


  12. And in case it wasnt clear enough….

    Now…any more questions. Not that I care.

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