In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The male equivalent of YA chick lit?

Dear Aunt Debbie,

You and I are clearly on the same wavelength.  I was planning to write about Lois Lowry tonight, and then on Friday to talk about my conversation with Jeff on the same exact topic.  (I also have in the pipeline recommendations for YA books about queer teens and multicultural YA books -- this thread is inspiring a lot of great conversations in my life.)  So I'll save Lowry for another day, and get straight to the question: what is the boy version of YA chick lit?

When I asked Jeff what he read obsessively as a teenager, he didn't have an exact equivalent to the stable of authors I remember loving.  The closest, he said, was probably The Lord of the Rings, which led him deep into Tolkien's other works, the ones where he made up more than 17 complete languages and societal histories.   Tolkien definitely provided Jeff with immersion in another world.

Then there's Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.  We have Jeff's old beaten-up copy on our main bookshelf; I read it a few summers ago and really enjoyed it.  Human society is at war with an alien race (the Buggers), and Ender is one of a number of kids bred to be a super-intelligent soldier.  He's taken from his family to a training camp where he plays intensely difficult war games (including battles in zero gravity) with a group of similarly talented kids, under the tutelage of a group of adults.  Ender is the boy version of some of the heroines we've been writing about: very smart, lonely, and sensitive.  The major difference, of course, is that he's fighting battles rather than engaging in more domestic questions.

*Spoiler Alert -- skip this paragraph if you don't want to know the end of the book.* In the climactic scene, Ender acts as the general in a giant video game simulation in which he successfully eradicates his opponents.  Turns out that it wasn't a game: he has, in fact, led the eradication of the Bugger race.  The triumph is tainted with intense guilt, which is explored in the sequel, Speaker for the Dead.  Orson Scott Card is extremely prolific, and he's written many, many other books, some of which also involve Ender and Ender's world.

From what I remember of Ender's Game, it probably feels a little dated in the way that some of my favorite old chick lit does -- but is that necessarily a bad thing?  Is it current teenagers who are determining that they don't want to read late '80s books, or is it publishers?

So there's a start -- historical war, historical war in fantastical places with newly-created languages, and science fiction video game-type war.  I'd love to hear from other people on this subject.

Love, Annie

P.S. This is our 200th post.  Pretty awesome, no? 


  1. I know exactly what my brother read, because as in all things I wanted to do what he did, and grabbed them off the shelf: fantasy novels. The ones I got into were the "Belgariad" and "Malloreon" series(es?) by David Eddings, which had a lot of prominent badass girl characters. He liked Roger Zelazny's books (9 Princes in Amber etc) and a series about a character named Camber, who I think was a deryni, though I can't recall the name of the author; Katherine something. Plus Tolkien and his followers - the Shannara books, Dragonlance, and on and on.

    My brother is now an English professor at Berkeley, btw.

  2. I actually read Ender's Game for the first time a couple of years ago, and it didn't really feel dated to me. I'd bet a large proportion of nerdish boy teenagers are still reading it.

    Dune by Frank Herbert was my thing. It had the interesting yet plausible alternate world thing that works so well for me with sci-fi, with easily-noticeable thematic gestures toward contemporary issues like resource shortages and holy war. Plus, knife fighting!

  3. I was a very poor reader until I hit 16 and discovered 20th Century american lit. Up until that time, however, I was a big Stephen King fan; Tolkein came next. Post discovery, I couldn't get enough of Kurt Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions, Cat Cradle), JD Salinger, EL Doctorow or John Irving (Prayer for Owen Meaney, then Cider House Rules). For some reason I also remember being turned on to AS Byatt (not so much Possession, but rather the trilogy that starts with The Virgin in The Garden).

  4. I was just wondering about the guy version of chick lit question. Years ago we all read similar stuff: LOTR, Asimov, etc., and overlaps. But then, yeah... one guy friend refers to Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion as his favorite fantasy novel; I found it lacking in some kind of heart or something. The boys used to mob Waldenbooks for the next David Eddings release. Some guys LOVE Zelazny, yes, the Amber books! Another guy just gushed over Mythago Wood, which I found borderline sociopathic.
    I haven't read them, but I suspect that the Magic: the Gathering game companion novels are more guy lit than otherwise, and the R.A. Salvatore novels as well. Yet so many men have written books with lots of heart: Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, for example. I have been reading more female authors in recent years. Am I getting older or are the offerings becoming more separate and different?
    I've just started a series that I suspect will be guy lit fantasy. If you like such things the first one is called Raingun, and they're by John Blackport.
    I liked Ender's Game and some other OSC, but his boorish IRL behavior ruins his work for me now. I do highly recommend the Uplift War books by David Brin, and probably any of his other work. The Jhereg books by Brust are super fun, and come to think of it pretty probably guy lit!
    There are so many good books out there that I had better stop before I get completely off topic. thanks.