As a mother of a son and writer, I am saddened, angered, ultimately frustrated by the situation regarding books for boys. Here’s are some gems from an excellent article by Robert Lipsyte, winner of a lifetime achievement award from the American Library Association for his contribution to young adult (YA) literature:
“Today’s books for boys…lack the tough, edgy story lines that allow boys a private place to reflect on the inner fears of failure and humiliation they try so hard to brush over...
“Boys’ aversion to reading, let alone to novels, has been worsening for years...
“Boys need to be approached individually with books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships – the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. This is what turns boys into readers.
“Books in the 70s tended not to be gender-specific…But the next spate of Y.A. fiction tended to be simplistic problem novels that read like after-school specials, and soon split along gender lines. Books with story lines about disease, divorce, death and dysfunction sold better for girls than did similar books for boys. The shift seemed to fundamentally alter the Y.A. landscape.
“Editors who ask writers of books for boys to include girl characters – for commercial reasons – further blunt the edges.
‘This is why I felt compelled to describe, at the 2007 A.L.A. conference, my interactions with readers of my 2006 novel “Raiders Night,” a book frequently banned by male principals and superintendents (many of them former coaches) for its depiction of the drug and hazing underside of high school football. But the boys who read it are quick to relate to its touchy subject matter. At one school I visited in suburban Chicago, a female teacher, working with a female librarian, had been slipping “Raiders Night” to dozens of boys, mostly athletes.
These “reluctant” readers were eager to talk to me about their reading experiences. They talked about not trusting coaches who, they said, send you in hurt, and lie about your playing time and play you off against your friends. They felt trapped — they loved the fellowship, the physical contact, the prestige of the game. They even talked, gingerly, about playing because Dad wants you to and how you could be kept in line by the fear of being called a girl or gay. This was hard-core boy talk, but it was also book talk — the fictional characters we were discussing allowed us the freedom to express feelings the way girls do. Would this conversation ever have taken place without a literary impetus?
A number of boys thought the book’s ending, in which the hero makes what I considered the moral choice of protecting the weak and not the team, was “messed up.” A real jock, they told me, does whatever he needs to do to win, and right or wrong has nothing to do with it.
I told them I had a reading list for them.”
Hats off to Robert Lipsyte!
Causes Jess Wells Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Friends of the Urban Forest, The Heifer Project, Forests Forever, NRDC