It’s no secret that many of today’s tween and teen generation would rather do anything besides read. But with a growing number of strong female protagonists and YA books that deal with the emotional issues teens are facing in today’s society, a strong number of teenage girls are hanging on to their interest in books. The only problem is, the boys aren’t. And a recent article by the New York Times Sunday Book Review sheds light on the situation. The article goes on to explain that teenage boys would rather play an online game or watch ESPN (note: both of these are visual activities) than sit down to read a book.
My question is, what’s changed? The New York Times article explains that in recent years, books have started trending more toward YA girls because they are more apt to talk about their feelings during an emotional time and like to read about vampires–both of which are popular topics in YA literature these days. Teenage boys don’t like to be seen as “sissies” or weak. And if they think reading isn’t a macho thing to do, chances are they’re not going to do it.
One of my writing friends commented that she hoped books would become more popular again with boys as eBooks become more widespread. I hope so too, but I think there’s more to it than just making books available through the latest popular format. I personally think that teenage boys deal with just as many pressures during junior high and high school years as their female counterparts, although the issues they face may not necessarily be the same. Boys also have to deal with peer pressure, trying to figure out where they fit on the social scale, and, if they’re athletes, making sure that they keep their performances up to “player of the week” status. But, because boys deal with emotional issues differently than girls, they don’t want to read a book about a female protagonist who sits down and pours her heart out into her diary every night.
So en lieu of these circumstances, what can we do to get our young adult men interested in reading? There are definitely good books out there for boys, but the challenge is making sure they fall into their teenage hands. And I totally agree with the NYT article when it says that we do need more YA male role models.
I’m not sure that there’s a good solution right now, but it’s something that we writers–especially YA writers–need to be aware of. If our books are geared toward tweens and teens, that means we’re theoretically losing half of our audience because reading isn’t “cool.” I don’t know what you think, but losing half my audience before they’ve even given my books a chance just isn’t okay with me.
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