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The Mutants Want to Read, Too

May 27, 2010

The following post is more of a rant than something organized. Forgive me. I’m scatterbrained.

Unfortunately, by mutants, I don’t mean TMNT.

I mean teenage boys. The silly creatures my old choir teacher called mutants, due to the fact that, at my school, half the boys are in the middle of that awkward I-really-don’t-want-to-sound-like-a-girl-and-a-boy-mixed-together-so-bug-off-I’m-working-on-it stage.

More importantly, I’m here to talk about the fact that mutants want to read, too.

A common topic of discussion among YA writers recently has been integrating more boy-friendliness into YA novels. It’s argued that even the novels from a male point of view have very “girlish” messages and topics. Perhaps authors of YA aren’t accommodating boys as well as they could.

However, I feel it’s only fair to point out that boy’s do read what’s already out there, including many books from female POVs. I’m not lying when I say that, even with a greater collection of male-targeted books, the general number of boys reading at my age may not increase. Boys have their video games and footballs. They have their skateboards and work-out routines. My brother, for example, doesn’t read as much as I do, but he does love the Mortal Instruments and Hunger Games series. Boys who want to read are capable of finding something for them in today’s wide range of YA novels.

On the other hand, my brother’s quite fond of Jack Higgins’ Sure Fire and Death Run. Take a look at Goodread’s synopsis of Sure Fire:

The first young adult novel from legendary New York Times-bestselling author Jack Higgins.

For thirty years, Jack Higgins has enraptured adult readers with his thrilling tales of spies and intrigue. Now, for the first time he brings his bestselling touch to the world of teens with an adventure to remember.

For fifteen-year-old twins Rich and Jade, their lives have just been turned upside down. When their mother is tragically killed in a car crash, their long-lost father John Chance appears to collect them at the funeral. He’s a bachelor who lives on his own, and it’s clear that Rich and Jade aren’t welcome. But when Chance suddenly disappears, Rich and Jade uncover the truth: He’s a spy. And now, whoever kidnapped their father is after them, too.

Dangerous, fast-paced, and packed with action, Sure Fire is a gripping adventure from the master of the modern thriller.

There’s a boatload of action in these books. Punches and kicks abound. There’s even a bomb going off on the cover of Death Run sitting beside me.

These books, in my opinion, would be more immediately labeled “boy books.” Yet, a girl could read them, couldn’t she? A girl could enjoy them.

While I agree that it would be a good idea to write more boy-targeted books, I believe that more gender-neutral books are in order. Why can’t the same books appeal to both audiences? You might particularly want to write for girls or boys, but when you don’t set out to do this, you are writing for the general YA reading audience. You write for young adults. It’s integral to incorporate things that make anyone laugh and anyone love a book.

As far as writing books for boys in particular, I think that the real dilemma is creating a realistic male voice. Bombs and gunshots are not required because teenage problems are teenage problems, whatever gender. It’s the outlook on these universal issues and dramas that need to be boyish. For example, if a girl was dumped by her boyfriend, depending on her character, she might cry, go through some I’ll-never-love-anyone-else-as-much stint, or go to school and whip some guy butt by looking as sexy as possible and rubbing it in her ex-boyfriend’s face. (I would cry, be a depressed for a few hours, and then go home to hang with my parents because they make my life better.)

A guy (dumped by a girl), on the other hand… Well, it’s difficult, isn’t it? As a girl, I don’t know exactly how guys work (if I did, my life would be a heck of a lot simpler). You don’t want to stereotype them, but particular stereotypes are true. You don’t want to underestimate their masculinity, but you don’t want to underestimate the force of their emotions either. A guy-who-shall-not-be-named recently told me, when asked what being dumped by a girl felt like, “Heartache. Just like they show in the movies.”

Makes you wonder if we’re over-thinking the differences between a teenage boy and a teenage girl. As human beings, and in this case, as human teenagers, we experience the same horrors, feel the same embarrassment, awkwardness, love, heartache, happiness. These feelings that are often extremely commercialized are commercialized because they have an universal effect. We’re all familiar with them.

So, when trying to come up with a realistic teenage boy voice, I think the real key is coming up with a realistic teenage boy. Readers can relate to any sex if the views are the same. A girl character and her experiences could really hit home with a boy. We’re all individual, and particular characters will view particular facets of the world similarly, and whether the character is of the opposite sex or not, we will connect. Furthermore, heartache is heartache. Pain is pain. We can relate.

‘Cause I’m human and you’re human and we all live in the same world.

But, because I really was supposed to talk about teenage boys (it’s hard, people. I’m a girl. And, more importantly, I know how to rant), here’s a song that beautifully expresses a boy and his first love. (And guess what: I totally get it. It’s love, and love is love for everyone.)

Share Out Of Season by The Icicle Works

1) Did that post make any sense whatsoever? 2) What do you believe is important to the boy world of YA literature? 3) Do you believe that it’s more important to make your characters relatable than make them a particular gender?

P.S. The Lemonites is from the point of view of Pepto, a seventeen-year-old boy. (Notice that he’s both three years older than me and a he?)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Chelsey Mason permalink
    May 28, 2010 7:21 PM

    I thought this article was very intelligent and I totally agree with you.

  2. May 28, 2010 7:35 AM

    This is a great blog post. I think you’re right that some people get too caught up in what someone would or wouldn’t do, just based on gender. Create believable characters and everyone can relate. There is a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ spectrum, and everyone falls somewhere in between.

  3. Torrie permalink
    May 27, 2010 8:38 PM

    It’s the weirdest thing– this is something I have just recently started thinking about, as I came up with an idea that’ll require me to write through the POV of an eighteen-year-old boy.
    Personally, I seem to enjoy books way more (especially if they involve romance) if they are from a guy’s POV. It might just be me wanting to be able to do the impossible (i.e. get inside their heads). Honestly, though, I think the idea of a relationship is so much fresher if it’s told by a male. That might just be because I’ve read far too much female-narrated romance, but ugh, I’m so sick of everything the female POV has to offer. Obviously, I’m stereotyping and there *are* good, fun, romantic reads from a female character’s POV that I have greatly enjoyed.

  4. May 27, 2010 7:35 PM

    I think you are right in that there are plenty of books out there which teenage boys actually do read and enjoy already. Perhaps by targeting some books at boys a few of those wavering on the fence may actually read a book but for the most part if they want to read, they can find something to read.

  5. May 27, 2010 6:58 PM

    Thank you for writing this! My past three projects have been from a male POV, some adult/some teen, but I am just a mom of toddler and preschooler boys. I think having sons is actually what made me want to get into the male psyche more than anything else: what motivates these little aliens? what do they want and need from me? what do they want and need from the world that I’m not equipped to give them? (a scary thought for any parent)

    I came to the same conclusions as you. They may handle heartache, pain, and frustration differently on the outside, but inside we’re all human. Our hearts bleed. We get excited when we get something for free. And we all want to be appreciated, even if we don’t always want to be noticed. 🙂

    This article really resonated with me. I guess we just need to hear from some men, adult and YA. Did it resonate with you?

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