This week, Meghan Lewit, a NY-based writer/editor, wrote an article for The Atlantic called “Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young Adult Fiction?”
It’s a great question–and one that she doesn’t even get close to answering.
Lewit prattles on ad nauseum about why certain YA titles (same old, same old–The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter) have obtained huge, almost cult followings in both youth and adult audiences. YA appeals to our desire for escapism, by specifically avoiding “being literary” and instead aiming for sheer enjoyment on the part of the reader; it harkens back to a time in our own youth; it gives us heroes and heroines with which we can easily identify.
But none of those regurgitated responses answer the question as to why young adult authors are overwhelmingly female. The article points out that it’s unusual for women to dominate any literary market–male authors categorically overwhelm publisher catalogs and best-seller lists. And yet, why is it that the young adult market in particular attracts female authors?
Because Lewit just has to toss around blockbuster titles like Twilight and Harry Potter, I decided to break down the question around those two series. What do Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling have in common?
Both were young or new moms at the time the book was conceived. Instantly my mind jumped to a further conclusion: Perhaps it is the very nature of being female that leads more women to be young adult authors? Though the statistics are gradually changing, women are still staying home and raising children more often than men; they are watching their children develop, reading them stories, and gauging what piques their interest. Logically, it makes sense to me that moms might write stories for their children, especially when said offspring reach the teen years and start to pull away from academic pursuits like reading.
Twitter weighed in, and I think some of the answers I received there are even more causally compelling. @austenw suggested that many YA books are, essentially, romance novels for teens. And what other literary market do women authors dominate? Romance. Makes sense to me, considering books like Twilight, like Matched, like The Selection. Many of them are indeed tales of heart and woe, tailored to a younger audience.
Then again, this answer doesn’t explain runaway success stories like The Hunger Games, which is far more of a thriller/action/adventure story than a romance–though the romance is a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle. These authors aren’t just tapping into a good romance story. They’re tapping into our emotions. Somehow, the journey of growth and self-discovery so prevalent in young adult books appeals to something inside of us. Emotionally, adolescence is very raw. It seems to me that a great author of teen books captures that rawness. More often than not, YA is written from a first-person point of view, a narrative style that instantly transports the reader into the body of the protagonist.
Through the first-person lens, everything the heroine experiences in the novel becomes more intimate, more emotionally compelling. You feel what she feels. You see through her eyes, live inside her skin.
Is it that female authors are simply better at writing such a narrative? Through some biological design, are women more easily able to tap into that emotional connection?
Making such an assumption is bold, but not altogether untrue. And, like any blanket statement, there are exceptions–most notably John Green, who writes some of the richest, most engaging narratives in teen literature to date.
Nevertheless, it’s a question worth asking, a question certainly worth delving into at a deeper level than Lewit’s flat, demagogic piece for The Atlantic.
What are your thoughts?