Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where Have All The Boys Gone? Are They Dead With Mom and Dad?

Two YA hot topics have been buzzing around the Internet recently: boy books/why boys don't read YA, and dead parents in YA.

First, let's tackle the boy problem.  Hannah Moskowitz blogged about it at the end of July.  Her post stirred up a lot of discussion on the topic. 

A WSJ article by Thomas Spence (via Caren Estesen's Posterous) takes a look at raising boys who read.

And the blog Chasing Ray asks if boys will pick up a book with a bra on the cover.

Speaking personally, I agree with the simplicity of the post on Chasing Ray.  The book, THE SECOND BASE CLUB sounds like a fun, boy-oriented read.  Will a boy carry around a book with a bra on the cover?  Probably not. 

ETA: Here's an additional link from E.J. Wesley in the comments.

I don't know about you, but when I'm browsing in Borders, I don't see boys stalking the YA shelves like Edward Cullen stalking Bella.  I've yet to see ONE guy in the YA section.  There are boys in the MG section, but where are the YA boys?  They're in the non-fic section, snatching up sports books, history books, biographies.  They're in the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror sections.  They're reading adult books, not books with bras and sparkly McVamp Pants on the cover. 

Let's be honest.  Walk through the YA shelves and see what the covers say to you. I'm going as far as to say (in my non-official study) that 90% of the covers have girls on the covers looking longingly at a guy, or appearing all confused and EMO over some paranormal thing going on in her life.  (For the record, I love paranormal/Urban Fantasy) The books might be great, but if I were a teenage guy, I wouldn't go near the YA shelves on a bet with all the girly covers.  And the covers are doing their job, aren't they?  Reaching their target audience - TEEN GIRLS.  So, why are we surprised that boys aren't swarming the bookstores for YA books?

ETA: What do you think the E-Reader culture will do for boys reading YA - will it bring more boys to the books without displaying the covers as they carry their device around?
I think the dystopian covers already out in the world (Hunger Games for example), and those to come, (Divergent by Veronica Roth) might do a lot to bring boys back into the fold of YA.  Let's hope. 

On to another hot topic - dead parents in YA.  Lots of discussion going on about this as well.  The Publishers Weekly article, The Ol' Dead Dad Syndrome, sparked blog posts, such as this one by Nathan Bransford.

Why is it that so many parents in YA are dead?  Are YA authors channeling their inner Disney writers?  Because, seriously, why does the mom always bite it in the beginning of Disney movies?  Maybe it's the same reason YA authors do it - instant conflict and internal turmoil. 

The question seems to be: Is having a dead parent (or parents) lazy writing? 

The answer, in my opinion, is the same answer for any question about plot.  If it's done well, it's not lazy writing.  If it is done for a real reason that adds depth and dimension to the story, then it's not lazy writing.  If it's done to get Mom and Dad out of the way so Suzie can have Sam spend the night - it might be a tad lazy. 

It's impossible to lump all of the dead parent(s) in YA together and classify the authors as lazy writers taking the easy way out--or, the exact opposite, genius writers who explore the grieving process of young adults - you can't take this one out of context.  Each book has to stand on its own and rely on its own merit.  Just like anything else we write, it can work beautifully, or end up a hot mess. 

Give us your thoughts, and any other links relating to boys reading YA, or dead YA parents in the comments.



Stina Lindenblatt said...

I went shopping this summer with my 15 yo nephew and 17 yo niece. She bought 13 books. He bought one. (Okay, technically, I bought them all!). Apparently he reads a book a month, and thinks that's a lot. He's reading from one fantasy series (adult), and isn't interested in reading anything else until the series is over. Yeah, I was shaking my head on that one.

sbjames said...

Look at it from a kid POV- When I was a kid, I never even thought about the issue of dead, absent parents. That was sort of a given. And it makes things exciting. The only books I remember reading that had parents was The Little House series and that's not fiction.

As an adult, I still don't take it personally. Having parents often stifles the plot. It happens in adult books too. Heroes rarely have living moms. Some of my women friends and I have laughed about it. We call it the no-mother-in-law concept. And really can you imagine Aragorn's mother running out of Rivendale asking if he'd remembered to sharpen his sword before he headed off to fight orcs? Just not sexy.

My son and I laugh together at Ash (the Pokemon hero) because his mom does that. Everytime she sees him she asks if he's wearing clean underwear.

The only time it's ever been an issue for me or my kids is when my daughter read a certain very popular (and childless) YA author whose teens actually have parents, but they allow 17 year olds to go to all over Europe with no suprervison and very little money,and depend on the mercy of strangers. I look at my daughter and say, "don't even think it, honey."

Now as to boys in the YA- heck ya, boys run from those aisles. It's romance central. My son read Hunger Games (cool cover) but he saw the romance coming at the end and he no interest in the second books. And you know what- I'm 44 and I don't like dreamy romancy covers either. I think they're embaressing. Plus, I like to imagine my characters my way.

Quinn said...

I agree with you on the cover thing. I think I commented and said that over at Hannah's post too.

I know what I like to read and I have no problem going into the YA section or carrying a book around with a girl looking longingly at some guy, but the majority of boys would have a problem with it.

I think boys would read a lot of the books that are out ... the problem is just that the covers are too girly. I think a lot of the covers are beautiful, but if I was younger (I'm 25 now), I wouldn't want to be carrying those books around.

As far as parents, I don't mind them not being there. The point of YA is to have the teen be put into a situation that they have to solve. They can't very well do that if their parents are hovering around.

In my first book, the MC's dad has been dead since he was a baby. His mom is a big part of the beginning of the book, but she's in a different country.

In my second book, both of the MC's parents are alive, but they're divorced and both workaholics.

I don't think it's lazy writing. It's just setting up the characters life. If their parents are dead, they're dead ... that's the writer's choice.

Tom M Franklin said...

"if I were a teenage guy, I wouldn't go near the YA shelves on a bet with all the girly covers"

i'm a former elementary school librarian, a father of a twenty-something and a thirty-something and, heck, i'm uncomfortable hanging out in the YA section. (probably not for the same least i doubt teenaged boys would be potentially accused of being a lecherous dirty old man leering at teenaged girl covers)

(i'm much more comfortable in the children's section, where i feel i've spent the majority of my book-browsing years. i may still get the regular odd looks, but at least a quick "I used to be a children's librarian..." dispels most of them)

as for the dead parents, i think this does several things for the characters: they don't have to worry about what mom and dad will think if they do X; they're forced to be more mature in their decisions and/or deal with the circumstances of their actions without a protective adult attempting to intervene; they're more autonomous and, with that, comes greater freedom of action.

just my 2¢.

-- Tom

Krista Ashe said...

I agree that most teen boys I see are reading adult books or magazines if they're reading.

For me, I never saw my male narrated book as a boy book. I thought girls would just appreciate an insight to a guy's mind. My male students here about the book and want to read it. But would they even be in a YA section to read the blurb if it was the real world, probably not, lol.

Dead parents, sick parents, absent parents are a real life thing. I see it everyday in my teaching, and I lost my own father at 17. However, I think some authors use it as a plot crutch. The even worse time for me is having parents that are there but unconscious and a guy is basically living in their house, and they don't realize it.

E.J. Wesley said...

Back in July, I posted about boys who read (and don't), and correlated it to the experience of being a male who writes YA.

I agree that the marketing is slanted. (How about a dude friendly YA section? Or simply a young male section that includes lots of things they'd be interested in like comics, gaming mags, and YA lit?) However, I also see the cyclical nature of the problem: girls are the ones buying the books, so why market to the minority?

My argument? For there to be more male readers, there are going to have to be more male writers, and visa-versa.

Thanks for facilitating this discussion!


Erinn said...

Wow -awesome post.
I teach middle school and most of my boys either read MG adventure books like the Eargon Series or Mike Lupica sports books or they've "graduated" to adult books.

I think author's kill off parents because it frees up the characters to go off and have their adventures.

Although I just reread my own novel and yelled. "CRAP I wrote a YA book with male Protags, No one dies, they have a good relationship with their parents and no one is a vampire."
My book is NEVER getting published

Stacie @ Whimsical Ficery said...

I think this is one reason why I really like the Rick Riordan series (both Percy Jackson and the new Red Pyramid). I can imagine reading both with my son someday (he's only 3, so I have some time to wait).

I really like the idea (from E.J. Wesley) of a Young Male section in the bookstore - that might change things around a bit!

Shayda Bakhshi said...

My brother has actually read a few Twilight books--and likes the movies. But he's also pretty confident, and has the advantage of being one of the popular kids at school, so he can do WHATEVA he wants. ;)

As for dead parents, my MC in SPITFIRE has a full set, plus one. She's adopted, and actually sets out on the adventure to SAVE her parents. Although IDK if that counts, because then you've sort of got absentee parents.

My MC in THE FOREVER DARK actually joins forces with her vampire dad to save her mom. (Yeah. I know. For shame.)

So I guess I've got this weird child-saves-parent complex going on in my novels, rather than dead-parent syndrome.

Interesting post!

Debra D. said...

I've gotta think the covers are part of the problem. I mean, as an adult, even I was embarrassed to buy romance novels sometimes, bc of the covers. So I can relate.

I'm torn on the comment about there needing to be more male writers to have more male teens reading, though. Um, I've read tons and tons of male authors, probably more male than female when I was a teen, and enjoyed both. I guess I'm not sure why males would/should be different in that regard.

Remilda Graystone said...

My opinion on the dead parents thing (because I don't want to get into the boys not reading YA topic) is that if the writer doesn't give a believable, realistic reason as to why the parents aren't in the story, then it is laziness. Hands down.

If you're going to do something, make sure there's a great reason for it. Don't just expect us to fill in the blanks for you. You wrote the story, right? So why can't you give us a reason for why the main character is throwing a party full of supernatural creatures and the parents still haven't noticed?

Seriously. Common sense.