The Young Adult genre is a great place for women writers to thrive and become successful. After all, Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Raven Cycle are all written by women authors. In this genre, more and more women authors are finding respect as serious writers, which is a major feat considering that not so long ago, women authors such as J.K. Rowling and S.E. Hinton were told they had to hide their true identities as women in order to publish their novels because boys wouldn’t read “girls books.”
But the question remains: do women dominate the YA genre, and is it possible for men to make their way here?
Well, the answer to that is complicated. When I googled “Best young adult novels 2015”, the answer seemed to point to yes. In this article by 17 magazine of the top 15 YA novels coming out this year, twelve out of those fifteen were written by female authors. This, and numerous other articles showing a similar trend, would suggest that yes, this is a genre in which women dominate.
But when you look a little deeper, you see a much different story. When you search popular young adult novels, many of your top stories are written by male authors. The Fault in Our Stars comes in second only to Veronica Roth’s Divergent, for example. Women hold the number one spot, but as you look more into the young adult books people are reading, we see more males: James Dashner’s The Maze Runner series, Markus Zusack’s The Book Thief, more John Green, et cetera.
And then we must stand back and wonder, why is it that the books written by men are taken much more seriously than the books in the same genre written by women? When I searched popular young adult novels, the novels that were written by men are considered more “serious” stories about life and the condition of people, whereas the novels written by women are taken less seriously, and often written off as girly. Even if the stories have multiple plot-threads and themes, many people focus on the romantic elements (romance, in all forms, has always been considered frivolous by many in the world of literature). Even with The Hunger Games, the story has become less about anti-consumerism and violence and more about who Katniss is going to end up with. In Divergent, we see the same thing. Instead of it being about the state of the government, it’s the story of Tris and Four’s love.
So does this go along with the fact that Young Adult literature is considered “easier” to write? (Spoiler alert: it’s just as difficult as every other genre.) When you take that into consideration, it’s almost as if women are being “given” this genre because it’s the “easy” one, and therefore one they can’t “mess up.” And in continuation, does this prevent women from being taken seriously as authors and in literature?
Take Stephanie Meyer for example. Author of the Twilight series, a series adored by young girls everywhere, she is a source of constant ridicule in the media and by the average person. The backlash against her endures, even though vampires were several publishing trends ago. People are very quick to bash Twilight and its fans without taking into consideration that this is something that the person reading genuinely enjoys. How would you like it if we bashed your favorite thing?
Problematic actions of the characters in Twilight aside, young female readers of popular Young Adult books are not taken seriously as readers. They’re told that they shouldn’t be reading those kinds of books, or that they’re only reading the book because it’s popular/going to be a movie. Young women cannot do anything without it being ridiculed.
With his current popularity, it could be argued that John Green dominates the young adult genre. Now that his books are being turned into movies, more and more people are reading his novels. You can’t go very far into a bookstore without seeing tables dedicated to his books and The Fault in our Stars merchandise. While I loved that book, if I see never anything with “Okay? Okay.” written on it again, it would still be too soon.
We don’t necessarily see this type of fever over female-written young adult novels, except for The Hunger Games, which you still can’t escape. However, instead of focusing on the totalitarian government and the fact that children are murdering each other, the media focuses solely on the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, which belittles the story these books are trying to tell. Divergent is also popular, and growing in popularity, and you do see tables dedicated to her books, but again, not the same fever as we’re still seeing with The Fault in Our Stars. It seems that no matter where you go, it’s there. Someone is always reading it on the train, or asking you if you’ve seen the movie. I’ve seen Facebook posts of girls wishing their boyfriends were more like Gus. (You know they’re both literally dying, right?)
And then, how do you even define popularity? By the number of books sold? By the number of readers? Popularity can mean different things depending on who you ask, so it’s hard to even pinpoint a solid definition that would help us truly come up with a good answer to this question.
So yes, it could be said that with the number of young adult novels written by women, they dominate the genre. But if you compare the relative popularity of young adult novels written by women to those written by men, you could argue that the men hold more of the popularity. In the end, this is something that is still heavily up for debate, and something that should definitely be discussed and addressed. It appears that you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask. And the truth, as John Green is always saying, resists simplicity.