Girl/boy books, girl/boy stories

Over on enchantedinkpot there’s a lively conversation going on about the whole question of the young adult fiction and boy books. Specifically, about the question of why YA doesn’t have enough books for boys.

Except … even though the YA field talks about this issue quite a bit … every time it comes up, I’m less convinced it’s a problem.

Because yes, there is this sea-of-pink (and red-on-black) effect when one approaches the YA section. And maybe that’s something to think about. But when I actually look at the YA books on the shelves–and, even more, at the middle grade books? I’m just not seeing the lack. At least not on the SF/fantasy side, which is where I do most of my reading. I don’t even see it if one narrowly defines “boy books” as books with male protagonists. (Which would be something of a loss, since books like The Hunger Games have such clear boy appeal.)

What I’m seeing is a world where Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief books are selling millions of copies, and where Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn books, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, James Patterson’s YA books, and countless others are also doing quite respectably … not to mention the Harry Potter books, if it comes down to that.

It’s possible I’m just not seeing how many more “girl” books there are, but I’m not convinced. Especially if one just as narrowly defines “girl books” as books with female protagonists. What I see is a genre that already publishes quite a few “boy” books constantly fretting, even as it searches for more, that it’s excluding boy readers. (While fewer people seem to stop to celebrate the fact that hey! There’s so much SF/fantasy out there that girls are reading now, much more than a couple generations back, and way more than in the SF portion of the adult SF/fantasy genre even now.)

Meanwhile, the children’s film industry continues to think it’s okay to make movie after movie with maybe one girl on stage in the entire cast, and without a single girl among the many boys in the background. Where’s the outrage there? Even most so-called “girl” books have a boy or two among the main characters, and more boys in the background. If YA fiction treated boys half as badly as children’s movies treat girls, there’d be no end to our hearing about it.

So why are we so much concerned about the media and genres possibly excluding boys than about the media and genres so clearly excluding girls? Even when the media that exclude girls are so blatant and unapologetic about it?

At the very least, I’d like to think that there’s enough concern to go around, that we care as much about excluding our daughters from the stories we tell as we care about excluding our sons.

But that’s not what I’m seeing.

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