I'm excited to announce a guest blogger today. John reviews books at Teens Read Too, Dear Author, and his own site Dreaming in Books. I asked him to drop by and give us a guy's perspective to the young adult genre.
Boys, Books, and a Group Totally Under the Radar
The male gender and the written word are thought to be entirely incompatible. In high school, girls are thought to be the ones picking up pens and loading up word processors. Guys are supposed to be running down fields and catching balls of all different shapes and sizes. Whenever people see a guy with a book – especially a ‘girly’ book like a romance – they immediately become shocked.
Newsflash, people, it’s not as uncommon as you think.
As an avid reader of the romance genre, especially YA romance, I’ve come to know and love all of the aspects associated with it. The rough sexual tension between two protagonists as they try to work through a relationship despite one hardship or another. The idea of unrequited true love. Y’all may not understand this (yes, I say y’all sometimes – Stevie Rae syndrome for those HoN fans), but I just can’t help but adoring it. In some ways, it is a matter of gender conventions, because I’m not the normal teenage boy by any means. But I think a lot of guys secretly read romance without even knowing it.
Look at the author John Green. Looking for Alaska…Paper Towns…All of his books focus on a type of love story, but they focus on guys and thus seem like ‘guy books’. But, really, a lot of guys just don’t try it. I can’t tell you the eyebrows I raise when a guy has a copy of Twilight subtly placed on his stack of stuff in the hallway. It doesn’t happen often, but it still occurs. What’s more, a lot of guys in today’s society just don’t feel comfortable sharing anything, much less a love of romance novels.
As for romance and YA in relation to gender, it’s actually a lot more gender neutral than anyone would think. Most of the books I read in the YA genre could be seen as a guy book in some way. Pretty Little Liars deals with murders and mysterious stalking instances. Twilight has bad-ass wolf and vampire wars and a sexual undertone that would attract anyone with a pulse and some free time. Even regular romance novels have things that would attract a normal, testosterone obsessed male reader.
Think about it. What is the male in a romance novel but the ultimate catch? He’s always sublimely sexy and knows just how to please women. The female protagonist is always smitten with him and raves about his chiseled features and how she wants to feel the contours of his six pack and…well, you get the idea. Reading is the purest form of escapism for people, and what better way for a guy to escape than in everything he fantasizes about? With a flurry of strong women and just as strong men in romance and YA today, it makes sense that more guys are going to try and sneak a peek at both of these genres.
What makes these genres seem off-limits for guys is the marketing. While I love the marketing for romance and YA, let’s face it, most guys would turn the other way because of how girly and feminine it is. Covers either show excess amounts of man-titty, a full bare chest, a full bare back, something else provocative…or a woman in a very pretty dress. A majority of the male buyers will not respond to the first three cover types, and rarely will they respond to the last cover type in a way that will get them to actually buy the book. The summaries aren’t much better, because they usually stress the romantic factor, though they aren’t as important in terms of image because people do not see the summary first, and people will not notice the summary of the book the man is carrying, but the cover.
Another issue is the protagonist. In YA in particular, the lack of male protagonists is hard to understand. Many of the plots and stories could do well with a male protagonist, and I personally find that it wouldn’t hurt the female readers in interest enough to be a big deal. The fact is: reluctant male readers will want to read about males, especially younger male readers. That girls-are-icky phase? Yeah, they don’t really want to read about them during that. The romance genre is harder to pin down, because it’s a genre that mainly focuses on the romance of the woman protagonist. More and more of them show a good deal of the male point of view, though, so male readers are often surprised at what lies inside the novel.
Ultimately, it’s going to take a long time for males to be seen reading romance books or YA romance books in public. It may not even happen. The marketing and the interest for reading are more towards the female end of the spectrum, and that just ruins the experience for other male readers. If it were geared towards attracting more males, more males would read it. However, that isn’t something that’s going to happen. Male readers are a very rare species, and male romance readers are a practically extinct one. But they do exist. And there are reasons behind their existence. Next time you see a male reading a book – especially a romance – don’t be shocked. Instead, treat it as normal, because it isn’t really that strange at all.