Several authors use the title “Lost Boys,” including Orson Scott Card and crime writer Faye Kellerman. But I want to talk about real lost boys–male tweens and teens in America who don’t read. Many grew up in book-free homes where the habit of reading was missing entirely. Others “hate” reading, though that’s often from fear that they’re not good at it. And a lot of young men see books and reading through a deeply embedded, gendered lens: books are for girls.
Sorry to say they’re not wrong–at least that’s message they are getting from the books available to them. Check out any list of new YA titles or “Best of Lists.” Usually at least seven of ten are written by women for girls. Their cover image has a girl on it. The design and colors are clearly pitched toward young women. This imbalance is shrugged off by progressive, “woke” authors who blithely say, “Big deal–books are everyone. Give kids books outside of their comfort and cultural zone. Show them what true diversity/inclusivity [etc] looks like.”
All well and good. Yes! I happily support that sunny view (that anyone will read any book). I’m your ally and have always been. But in the real world–say an eighth grade English class–it ain’t that simple. Having written ten plus YA and MG novels pitched toward keeping boys reading, I get pings all the time from teachers and school librarians asking me for “more.” More novels that will keep “their boys” reading. I tell them I’d love to be of use, but publishers, aside from the occasional sports novel, seem to have given up on fictional realism for young male readers. I tell them I salute the many new titles with LGBTQ themes–long overdue. Yes! Much needed! I also tell them that YA publishing is in a “moment” right now where Gary Paulsen’s stories would likely not find print.
But hey, don’t take it from me. Listen to an eighth grade English teacher in Minnesota. She’s worried about “her boys.” She tracked me down. We had a conversation on public radio.