Women Channeling Teenage Boys

by Addie Boswell
Published on: October 24, 2011
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Comments: 2 Comments

S.E. Hinton knows boys, in the Outsiders.

This year, the Scrivas have featured quite a few teen and preteen boy characters in our novels, along with multicultural, historical, and superhero characters of both genders. Considering that we are white, middle-class women spanning the middle decades (as many childrens’ writers, librarians, and teachers tend to be), I believe we do a good job of letting our characters speak in their own, distinctive voices.

But the fact remains: we’ve never been teenage boys.  And raising them, or befriending them, or having them as brothers and boyfriends (even wanting to be them, in my case) is not the same as walking the walk. When writing my current YA novel, I sometimes wondered if I was getting 16-year-old Carlos’s reactions “right”? And also, in an edgy, coming-of-age boy book, is it honest to avoid cursing and sex and (god forbid) masturbation altogether?

Even in fiction, writing “true” means doing your research. It is a lesson I have learned well, for Scrivas are painstaking and thorough when researching their nonfiction and historical fiction titles. This is what most helped me get closer to boy-think.

  • Read what boys are reading. There is a common belief in publishing that boy readers skip YA altogether and go straight to adult fantasy and nonfiction. But I hope not, because it would be a shame to miss the excellent body of YA “boy” books out there. One thing I loved in these books: Action Rules, plots move quickly, and dialogue is clipped and to the point. Note: I found sex and slang both understated; a little goes a long way.
  • Read kick-ass boy protagonists by kick-ass male authors. Some of my favorites: The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier, Chaos Walking series, Patrick Ness, Punkzilla, Adam Rapp, Tales of the Madman Underground, John Barnes, Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Whale Talk, Chris Crutcher, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Markus Zusak. I’ve read plenty of kick-ass boys written by women as well — find titles at Guys Read or Guys Lit Wire.
  • Watch teenage boys in action. Recently ScrivaMelissa and I met at Burgerville during high school lunch hour and observed the species up close. What slang! What quick speech and movements! (We almost saw a fight!) I also hung out with some Brazilian teenagers, and was amazed by how affectionate the guys were with each other. Into the book it all goes.

It goes without saying that that the children’s publishing industry needs more racial diversity and gender balance. I would love to see teenage boys writing about their own lives. But in the meantime, we women have work to do, and we will strive to do right by our characters.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.

2 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. Barbara Liles says:

    Addie, I’m sure my 17 year old would be glad to be of use in any research in exchange for a beer. Good beer….

  2. ScrivaAmber says:

    Hilarious! We may have to borrow him!

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