Thursday, August 2, 2012

Boys And Books With Girls As Protagonists: The Answers

Last Monday, after being perturbed about two authors ranting about teachers supposedly keeping boys from reading books with girls as protagonists (bull puckey), I ranted a bit in a post and asked my readers to determine from various books' covers and short descriptions which books were created boy-unfriendly.  In other words, my argument is that if authors want teen boys to read their books, they've got to make books -- and their covers -- in guy-friendly ways.  That means, folks, that junior high school boys are unlikely to read a book that will make them feel uncool in the eyes of their peers.
Here's the original post, if you want to make your guesses first. 

All right, and now, this veteran English teacher weighs in on which of the listed books a junior high school boy is likely to read and why.
A. The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill.  I've never had a boy have a problem with this.  A girl warrior who trains with werewolves? Super guy-friendly stuff.  Plus, look at the cover: she's wearing armor and carrying knives.  That rocks in the opinions of the average 12-year-old male.
B. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Hugely popular book.  Why is it guy-friendly?  Well, the cover is gender-neutral and the story is about a battle for survival.  This hooks in lots of boys.
C. The Selection by Kiera Cass.  The cover features a girl in a prom dress.  No boy wants to carry this around.  And it's about mean girls and a beauty pageant?  Super guy-fail stuff.  No way.
D. Scarlet by AG Gaughien.  Yeah, there's a pretty girl on the cover -- but she's holding a wicked-looking knife.  And it's a Robin Hood story about thieves and adventure.  Most boys would find this non-embarassing and guy-friendly.
E. Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Okay, so maybe Cinderella's a mechanic and an android -- both of which are guy-friendly -- but it's still about getting the prince, and it has a high-heeled red shoe on the cover, which is just not what a 12-year-old boy usually wishes to carry around in school.  This one is a guy-fail book.
F. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.  This has an assassin, which is guy-friendly, but it focuses on romance, which is not guy-friendly to 12-year-olds.  Trust me.  And, yes, there's a crossbow on the cover, but it's hard to see; the focus is on a pretty girl and her dress.  Dresses and romance -- guy-fail.

Sure, the occasional boy will pick these up.  I had 2 7th-grade boys a couple of years ago, who made it a challenge to read all the "girliest" books on my lists.  And they liked them just fine.  But these were two particularly mature boys, and they were doing it as a challenge, together.  That made a difference.  Most boys that age are put off by overly girly covers and by heavy-on-the-romance stories.
Thus, what I'd like to tell all those who believe the two popular authors spreading lies is: ladies, it's NOT the teachers that are making certain books guy-unfriendly.  If you're going to put in lots of girls drooling over hunky guys and if you're going to put frilly dresses on the covers, you're making the books guy-unfriendly before a teacher ever has a look at them.  So back off, already.  It's your own bloody fault; stop blaming the teachers for this one.


  1. I think I did pretty good, considering I haven't been watching what they have been picking for the last 20+ years.

    1. Yes, but you are around boys this age all the time, so it's natural you'd have some feel for it, even if you don't care which novels they bring to read when they finish their math homework early.

  2. Didn't get a chance to weigh in on this, but can affirm that the Stuart Hill series is a winner with boys and girls. Those books hit the shelves back when I was the YA librarian in town and they were quite popular.

    I fully agree with your analysis on this. The cover is the determining factor. For an author to think otherwise is foolish.