I was in fifth grade listening to a girl give her book report about a Nancy Drew mystery. I loved mysteries, but I would never have been caught dead reading Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys, yes. The Alfred Hitchcock “Three Investigators,” yes. Nancy Drew, which warned away boys with its yellow spine, never. I didn’t know that that was about to change in a matter of minutes.
The girl gave a very good book report. It was interesting. It was a great mystery. I wanted to know the ending.
But she didn’t tell the ending.
Foolishly, I raised my hand. “How did it end?”
The teacher jumped in. “Well, Michael, you’ll have to read the book to find out.”
Then I said the fateful words. “Make me.”
I was not allowed back into class until I read Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase. It took me a few days, but I would dutifully take my copy of Nancy Drew and read it in the sixth grade classroom across the hall. Oh the shame of it all.
I liked the book. I may have even read more Nancy Drew, if it hadn’t been associated with a punishment. But I liked it. Shockingly.
I hated to admit it back then, but I enjoyed it. I shouldn’t have hated to admit it, though.
I have distinct memories of my mother fighting against sexism in the 1960s — such as when she went to get a loan at a bank and was condescendingly told she should come back with her husband. She didn’t. That bank got an earful and another bank got her business. Go Mom!
Shannon Hale recently wrote about her experiences with giving presentations at schools and how boys are sometimes not even allowed to listen to her speak because she writes about girls. This opened up a discussion about the topic of boys reading books with girls as main characters.
And now I am worried.
Orson Scott Card wrote about how he noticed the prejudice:
One thing I’ve been told ever since I began writing as a career — by librarians, publishers, editors, and booksellers — is that while girls are perfectly happy reading books with male protagonists, if you start a book with a female protagonist you had better make it a “girls’ book” because very few boys will ever read it.
I didn’t believe them, because I knew I read books with female protagonists and I always had. … Why should I abide by such a stupid gender rule?
Because, sadly enough, it’s true.
Ender’s Game, with a boy protagonist, is my best-selling novel. Speaker for the Dead, which won all the same awards, sells far less — but the first long section has a girl protagonist.
My Alvin Maker series is, in my opinion, better than Ender’s Game, but young male readers mostly never find that out because the opening chapters star a little girl named Peggy, and those boys never get to the story of Alvin Maker himself.
My YA fantasy novel, Verity’s Oath, begins with a female teen protagonist named Verity. There is also a boy named Conner who is a main character. All in all, the book is about them both, but the first chunk is about Verity. So, should I shift things around? Should I put in a prologue featuring Conner? Should I start with Conner and then use a flashback to tell Verity’s story?
I really didn’t know what is the best thing to do as far as getting boys to read my book (assuming it is published, of course). Then I remembered something.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
My all-time favorite books/movies have been Hayao Miyazaki’s works — particularly his “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” manga and movie. His movies usually center around a girl. And they have done just fine.
Sure, I’m no Miyazaki, but maybe seeing his success is just enough to keep my story the way I love it. I will start with a girl. She is a wonderful character and I just love her and want teen boys and girls to get to know her.
So you want me to write a book about a strong female main character, eh?
Make me. Please.