A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
There has been some debate recently about children’s literature in general – and young adult books in particular – as to whether it’s all become a little too girl-centric. What are teen boys to read when so many popular young adult books are written by women? Where are boys to turn when main characters are so often girls?
This conversation makes me cranky.
The reason I get grumpy is because you would never hear these questions posited in reverse. No one ever says, ‘Catcher in the Rye is a great book about a boy written by a man. There’s nothing in it for girls.’
Or, “Hamlet is a bloke; girls will never be interested in that play.’
The fact is girls grow up reading mostly books written by and about men. It never occurs to them that they shouldn’t enjoy those books because they don’t have penises. Nor should it occur to them.
Because that would be ridiculous.
Books are gender-free. Books are, if you like, eunuchs. They utterly lack genitalia.
So why are we suddenly, as a society, trying to change this? What is it about 2014 that has made us look around and say, ‘Girls should read books by and about girls. Preferably pink ones. Boys should read books by and about boys. Preferably blue ones. Or at the very least, khaki.’?
When you get right down to it, I guess what I’m saying is, if you ask me “Are there enough YA books for boys?” My reply is: I do not accept the question.
My books have a female main character but an ensemble cast of characters including plenty of boys and men. All the characters kick ass. Literally.
If a boy didn’t read my book – or any other book – because of the gender of the main character or the author, I would feel sorry for that boy. I would also wonder what on earth his future life will be like, given that the world is 50% female.
There’s no escaping us.
Even beyond the confusing and divisive messages this debate sends out to young people, there’s just the sheer frustrating idiocy of it all. I mean it’s farcical, isn’t it? And tragic.
Let’s try a thought experiment. Try to imagine your life without books written by – or main characters who are members of – the opposite gender.
For me, that would mean no Holden Caulfield. No Jay Gatsby. No books by Douglas Coupland or Graham Greene. Quite a lot of Shakespeare would be off-limits and most classical texts. I’d never read Slaughterhouse Five or Catch 22.
If you’re a man, you’d not be allowed Dorothy Parker or Mary McCarthy. Margaret Atwood and PD James would also be forbidden to you and all the Brontes. I’m also sorry to say you’d never read Frankenstein.
In the end, though, if boys choose to read only books by and about males, there is no shortage of books in that category in the young adult genre. The vast majority of the titles on the New York Times young adult bestseller list were written by men and have male main characters.
There are some who believe this is at least partly a result of the fact that so many boys only read books by men, while girls don’t discriminate. Thus giving male authors a disproportionate likelihood of making young adult bestseller lists.
I hope that’s not true.
I hope young male readers aren’t sexist. And I hope the very existence of this debate doesn’t make them even less likely to read books by women or about girls.
The point of literature is not to read about yourself. The point of literature is to learn about everyone else. To go to places you’ve never been. To discover people you don’t know.
I always say: “Read what you love.” And I still believe that to be a good philosophy.
But if you find you’re only interested in books with your own face on the cover, it might be time to take a look at why that is.
CJ Daugherty is the author of the Night School series of romantic thrillers set in an exclusive boarding school where no one is ever who they seem to be. She is represented by Madeleine Milburn. Her book, Night School: Resistance publishes 5 June in the UK and the US. The series has been translated into 21 languages.