I’ve talked about “boy” books and “girl” books on the blog before. I’ve talked about encouraging boys to read more, about how we all need books that speak to who we are and to our experiences, and I’ve also talked about how we need to read books that speak to experiences that aren’t our own…because putting ourselves into someone else’s skin helps us understand them. Over the years my stances have evolved. I believe I was very gung-ho about “boy” books a few years ago because that was the audience my first book seemed to target. I took an extremely myopic view of the situation. What shocked me was how many young girls and women connected with Ollie from Deathday, though it shouldn’t have…but more on that in a minute.
Yesterday, Shannon Hale wrote a wonderful post about how boys are often excluded from attending her school visits. The reason being that her books are considered for girls only, yet the same exclusion isn’t applied to girls when a male author visits. Frankly, that’s ridiculous. That would be like me going to a school to talk about Five Stages and the school only allowing gay kids to attend. You should read her post, because it’s really eye-opening and honest.
All day after reading her post, I was thinking about this idea that boys can’t relate to or understand books written by women or with a female protagonist. I was thinking about the popularity of The Hunger Games and other books that are popular among boys that feature female narrators. But then I remembered one of the first books I read on my own. A Wrinkle in Time. A friend of my mom’s gave it to me. I had to have been eight or nine at the time. And I remembered when I read it that the character I related and connected most to was Meg Murry. Not Calvin, not Charles Wallce. Meg. She was smart but not the smartest in her family. She was awkward and unsure of herself and insecure. All of those qualities were qualities that I could relate to. And more than relate to them, I wanted to be Meg Murry. I wanted to be brave like her and smart like her and I wanted to have adventures like her. It made no difference to me that she was a girl, all that mattered was that I understood her, and that made me feel like Madeline L’Engle understood me.
Of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, I related most to Hermione, as I imagine many boys did. Maybe we would have wanted to be Harry sometimes—playing Quidditch and confronting evil—but serious, bookish, brave Hermione is the character that most felt like me.
So I soundly reject this notion that boys can’t or won’t relate to female characters in books. As human beings, we relate to the qualities of a character, not their gender.