Diversity Roll Call: On Gender

August 13, 2009

I was going to do a big intro post, but instead I am just going to jump right in.  At some point, I will update my About page to talk about the purpose of this website, but the short of it is that I’m a person who has been an English major my whole life and that affects the way I see the world.

Okay, so first things first is responding to this Diversity Roll Call on gender.  Specifically, I’m responding to Topic B, prompt #1.

Talk about a book (or offer a list of books) that you think has appeal to both genders. Or, books with a female lead that would appeal to guys, or vice versa. It doesn’t have to be a kids’ book–choose whatever genre you’d like.

I am going to talk first about books with female leads that appeal to guys and then a little bit about books featuring male protagonists that my female and male students responded well to.  My lists both come from the American Lit classes I’ve taught in the past (to college freshmen and sophomores with a junior or senior sometimes thrown in) on young adult fiction.  I try to pick an even number of books by/about males and females except for the one semester that I taught an all female-authored book list.  Over the past three years, these are the books that my male students have responded favorably to that have female protagonists.

  1. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
  2. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  3. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
  4. Teen Idol by Meg Cabot
  5. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
  6. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  7. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
  8. A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
  9. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

Also I know a teenage boy who said he really liked The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, but he wasn’t in my class, so I didn’t think it should necessarily go on the list.

What I have discovered from my students is that they don’t like girls that are particularly girly.  That is, books that focus on boobs and shopping and the girl wanting a boy to like them.  They tend to hate, collectively, overly emo books (featuring male or female protagonists) all about how their parents don’t love them or how they have problems connecting with people.  Their reactions to both of those types of books is that the protag should get over him/herself and find something else to do.

One of the reasons Hope Was Here and Teen Idol went over so well is that the books were about “normal” teens interacting with their communities and figuring out what to do.  The girls weren’t whiny or mopey and were a lot more proactive.  Note, though, that books about relationships were well received, but tone had a lot to do with it.  Ruby in The Boyfriend List is extremely neurotic but also funny, and all of my students were kind of appalled at her friends and boyfriends.  One of my male students said This Lullaby was typical romantic fare but well written and with really good characters. They like A Northern Light because Mattie has “real problems” (figuring out how to take care of her family, trying to get into school) and isn’t consumed by boys and shopping and bra size.  The other books are all fantasy, so even though they deal with particularly female issues (A Great and Terrible Beauty and A Certain Slant of Light in particular), they enjoyed the stories and the quest aspect of the narrative.

Honestly, the biggest issue the guys had with the books about girls is that the covers are all so PINK.  So even if they marginally liked or disliked the book, reading it in front of their friends would sometimes result in comments they’d rather avoid.  Most of the books on the list, by the way, do not have pink or lavender colors–only Teen Idol and This Lullaby.

I won’t spend a lot of time on books about boys that appeal to girls because it has been shown through lots of studies that girls have no problem in general reading about boys.  But a lot of the books about boys tend to skew emo, and my male students hate that, so here are books with male protagonists that males and females in my classes have enjoyed.

  1. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  2. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  3. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  5. Love Among the Walnuts by Jean Ferris
  6. Holes by Louis Sachar
  7. Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
  8. Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
  9. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

One of my male students said Son of the Mob was one of the only books we read that semester that seemed to be about a real boy–meaning one he could readily identify with.  Which makes sense because the protag in that book is not emo, has a girlfriend or is all about trying to get one, and is trying to get along with his family.  I should also point out that heavy issues do not turn the students off.  What gets to them is really how the narrator or protagonist deals with the issue, which is why Whale Talk is so popular with my students.

I feel like both lists should be longer, but I also know that I have repeated books that have gone over well or cover issues that I want to discuss.  There are books I have read with female protagonist that I think should appeal to male students, but I am not teaching literature this upcoming semester, so I can’t test them out.  Would that I could, though.  Would that I could.

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1 Comment

  1. Ali

    Great post, I love the booklists and the direct student feedback about the titles. And what an honor to be part of your very first post! I agree that you need to just jump in and get started blogging, and I’m looking forward to reading more of The Englishist as you continue to get your feet wet.


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