An Open Letter to the Boys of the World

Dear boys,

We’ve failed you.  Educators, authors, parents and the media; we’ve all let you done.  Some people try to place the blame on one group alone, but the truth is, it’s everyone’s fault.

According to some sources, your overall reading test scores are going down and no one really seems to know why.  But you already know why, don’t you?  It’s partly a cultural problem because if you read and enjoy it, you’re a nerd and/or a wimp.  It’s also an educational problem.  The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, The Diary of a Young Girl, The Outsiders…a lot of the books you are forced to study in schools are written by women (obviously so in S. E. Hinton’s case) or are all about teenage girls.  And even if by some miracle you do like reading despite school, there aren’t many YA books with male protagonists, are there?

We’re trying to make it up to you and the future isn’t as bleak as it may seem.  More and more YA writers are writing books aimed at you, but there is still a disproportionate amount of YA with female protagonists.  Alas, for some of you, it may already be too late.  I was the only girl in my grade and by the seventh grade 7/8 of you proudly proclaimed you hadn’t read a book cover to cover all year.  This could be dismissed as a case of rural redneck mentality, but this study shows that the average number words read per year by boys is significantly lower than the average number of words per year for girls.

Basically, we’re sorry.  We screwed up and have let you fall behind.  It may not be much consolation and you may have sworn off reading long ago, but the face of YA is changing as more male authors write for you.  Authors like Anthony Horowitz, Michael Scott, Eoin Colfer and Matt Myklusch (and so many more) are writing incredible books with strong male protagonists.  That helps, but what I and many others are hoping for is—at the risk of sounding cliché—a cultural revolution.  Society needs to get past the ridiculous belief that reading isn’t “macho” or “cool” and there’s only one way to achieve that:

We need to create a conversation that brings the issue into the public eye, where something may finally be done about it.  So Tweet, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, re-blog and write your own thoughts on the topic.  It’s time for your voices to be heard.

Sincerely,

Carrie Slager

The Mad Reviewer

6 comments

  1. timeoftheday

    I agree with this letter completely.

    YA currently appears to be dominated by “girl-issue” or “paranormal-romance” books. It’s not easy to skip past teenage books, and go from children’s to adult. Boys need that transition too, and they’re not being catered for.

    Publishers won’t see the young men as a profitable market until they start buying books, and young men won’t buy books until it’s aimed at them, so it’s just circular.

    There’s a desperate need for ‘J.K.Rowlings’ of the male-oriented YA world. :/ A whole generation will miss out on reading.

    • Carrie Slager

      There would be nothing more tragic than a whole generation missing out on reading. Reading is amazing, but boys need to have the same opportunities as girls and like you say, it’s a terrible cycle with supply and demand. I just hope that the issue gets more attention because boys are missing out on that important transition.

  2. James Kennedy

    There aren’t enough male teachers.

    Boys go through puberty and want to assert themselves as “men” (i.e. and not “women”). They see school as a “female” environment and rebel against it (because they’re not “women”).

    This isn’t the only cause of the problem, but it’s an important one. We need more male teachers. We also need more (male) teachers who understand what boys are thinking, and what their home environments are like.

    From James, a male teacher.

    • Carrie Slager

      That is very, very true! I’ve watched the number of male teachers decline over the years and it’s really sad. Sometimes male teachers are the only role models these boys are getting. And boys just don’t respect or listen to female teachers as much as they do male teachers.

    • Carrie Slager

      J.K. Rowling was a great example of female writers who write about male protagonists, but boys still need male role models. It’s so important for boys, especially teenage boys, to have male role models they can look up to. I have no problem with women writing from men’s points of view, it’s just that not many of them do it. The bulk of YA literature is still female-targeted.

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