At our recent YLG event we discussed many issues concerning teen fiction, and an interesting topic that came up was the domination of female authors in YA fiction. Indeed, the YA publishing industry is dominated by women - agents, editors, publicists - even within the eight members of The Edge only one of us is male. There are far more women than men, so what effect does this have on teen boys as readers? Are they put off picking up a book by a female author?
I had always feared this may be the case. It certainly was in the past - it was the very reason why the Bronte sisters and George Eliot published under male pseudonyms. My own mother had her book "Football Magic" published under the name "E Dale" not Elizabeth Dale because her publisher believed that a female author's name on the cover would put boys off - even a book about football! And I always assumed this why the Harry Potter series was published under "J.K." Rowling, not Joanne. So I was pleasantly surprised when the resounding response from a group of librarians was "No!". Boys don't seem to care, or even notice, what sex the author's name on the cover is - but they do care about the cover design itself.
Very few boys would want to be seen reading a sparkly pink book, for example, or a cover which only features a girl. This is what their friends will see, of course, so it matters what the book itself looks like - and it can't appear to be "girly". Which leads on to the other most important factor to the majority of teen boys - that the book features a male protagonist. This, perhaps, is more of an issue.
Of course there are many wonderful male YA authors writing great books with male protagonists (John Green, Dave Cousins, Keith Gray, Melvin Burgess, Walter Dean Myers, Scott Westerfeld, Jay Asher, Gary Paulsen, Robison Wells, Dan Wells, Michael Grant, Daniel Kraus, Neal Shusterman, Darren Shan to name a few), and likewise many female YA authors are writing fantastic books with male protagonists - Keren David's When I Was Joe series, for example, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Twisted - but the fact remains that the majority of YA novels currently being published have female protagonists. Why? Because teen girls are the biggest consumers of YA fiction.
But is this a vicious cycle? If teenage girls buy the most books and consequently most of the YA books published are targeted at teen girls, where does it leave boys? Are there enough books being published with male protagonists? Do they have enough choice?
Girls don't seem to mind reading about male protagonists, so should there be more male protagonists out there to appeal to both sexes? Or should we try to break down this reluctance in boys to read about female protagonists? How? By writing books with dual male/female narrators like Jenny Downham's You Against Me or Malorie Blackman's wonderful Noughts and Crosses series?
Which of course leads on to discussing much bigger areas of inequality in YA fiction. For whilst there may be gender inequality in YA protagonists, much bigger inequalities lie in ethnicity, religion, and sexuality.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if YA protagonists reflected the real world teen population in every way...?