YA for girl teens only?

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Laer Carroll, Feb 18, 2010.

  1. Laer Carroll

    Laer Carroll LaerCarroll.com

    Mar 3, 2009
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    I started reading young adult books about a dozen years ago. I had three nieces and needed Christmas presents. I had no clue what presents to get that their parents could or would not. My brilliant idea was to give what I knew: books.

    So I did a bit of research and picked a book for each. I was (in turn) very, sort of, and not at all successful. My worst pick was something girly for the youngest. I was mislead by appearances: she's short, slender, and angelically pretty. It turns out her favorite character on Star Trek was Data. I since realized she likes hard science fiction.

    I soon became a fan of YA. I also made some interesting discoveries. One is that some of the best writing around is being done in this field. That includes some works which stylistically and thematically stack up quite well against those we consider literary giants: Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Conrad, and the like.

    The subjects YA books cover includes the stereotypical crushing on boys and acceptance by their age mates. But this is a minority of the stories, at least in later years. A frequent topic is loss of a parent or sibling, often by death, sometimes by divorce or abandonment. Another is estrangement from one's family. Abuse is another, sometimes sexual but more often emotional. Pregnancy and drugs are sometimes dealt with. Indeed, almost any topic an adult might encounter shows up in young adult books.

    One change in the field I've noticed is the increasing amounts of fantafiction. A few days ago I counted the number of YA books at my local large chain bookstore. Out of 102 books 81 were fantasy and 3 science fiction. Perhaps a fourth of those had horror elements. Three could be counted as mysteries. In all only 15 were of conventional modern day life.

    Why this surge in fantasy? I wonder.

    Sci fi YA is not as rare as those numbers above suggests. SF about young people usually gets put in SF shelves not in YA. I suspect this comes from the fact that YA is almost exclusively about young women. Only 3 of the 102 books had boys as their main characters.

    Another fact is that almost every book put in the YA section is written by women - or by authors with feminine names. Perhaps the situation is like that of romance. According to the RWA (Romance Writers of America) some 12 percent of romance writers are men, but almost always they use feminine names.

    Why is YA almost exclusively a female preserve? I wonder about that too.

    What is your experience? Does it match what I have noticed in my area?
  2. KatG

    KatG Garrulous Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 22, 2003
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    It's not exclusively female and there is indeed more YA SF going on than you may have found in your store, also non-SFF fiction. There's a lot of non-SFF, and in some ways, it's the most successful. If you look at middle readers and kids books, you will notice more fantasy and less girl-centricity than in teens.

    The reasons that YA is heavily slanted toward the females is the same situation that is going on in fiction in general -- women read, men mostly don't. Women make up about 70% of the reading audience for fiction, and in YA, it's the same. This is a situation that everyone would like to improve on for young people, and they are trying. The desire to attract male readers is one of the reasons YA SF has been expanding. And a lot of series have more male readers than you may think. The third most successful series in YA right now, after Harry Potter and Twilight, is Suzanne Collins' SF post-apocalypse series The Hunger Games. That has a female protagonist, but it's an action story for both male and female readers. Harry Potter was too.

    Children's and YA's core sub-genre has always been fantasy. It is the mainstay of the field. Fiction used to be less important than picture books and early readers -- several of which got made into animated t.v. series -- and there wasn't that much YA selection, though there were some major authors there who do well. But the assiduous efforts of schools, the rise of the Goosebumps middle school series (appeals to male and female,) followed by the juggernaut of Harry Potter, and other successful series like A Series of Unfortunate Events, brought a huge flood of new readers into YA and middle school reading and they expanded rapidly in the 1990's into the oughts. And the adults started to take more of an interest, at least for the fantasy titles, because of Harry Potter. So now YA fiction is the big thing, and both YA and middle school books have been successful in getting some adapted for film.

    The YA offerings have shrunk a little, but it is the sector that has been having the most growth in sales. As that continues, there will be more "boy" books to capture as much of that audience as possible. Boys are also buying a lot of tie-in products that aren't necessarily sold in YA but get a boost from that audience, such as the Halo tie-in bestsellers. I suspect that publishers that have both adult and children's arms will be trying to consolidate that more in the future.
  3. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

    Nov 19, 2009
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    YA for girl teens

    Hi Laer --

    No, I was not aware of the numbers as you've sorted them out, but I cannot say I'm surprised. Regarding adult fiction, I've seen various breakdowns, but it would seem that women comprise as much as 70% to 80% of the market, so for teens there would likely be some parallel. Boys and young men, it would seem, are in the thrall of shoot-'em-up video gaming or role playing video gaming (where they also can shoot 'em up).

    Anyway, I'm a lousy social crusader, so I have no deep insights -- except maybe to celebrate one of the writers who is taking YA for girls to a new level. I speak of Phillip Pullman. His Dark Materials and the Sally Lockhardt mysteries equal or exceed the best YA of all time.

    Are you, personally, writing YA? If so, is it aimed at young women?

    Best -- WB