Over the past year, I have served on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults committee. At the ALA Midwinter Meeting in early January, the 14 other committee members and I deliberated all of the nominated books and selected a final list of 64 exceptional young adult fiction books with teen appeal. We also chose a top 10 from our final list.
When the list was announced, several people on Twitter noticed that the top 10 list featured more male-centered stories than female-centered stories. Because of the way we chose a top 10, this fact was not apparent until after we finalized the selections. While gender equity on a list like this is not a goal, I was curious to take a closer look at the full list of 64 titles to see what the gender breakdown was and how the top 10 list compared.
I noted the gender of the author (determined by author bios in the books or the author’s website) and the main character or characters. If I made any errors in coding the data, please let me know. A spreadsheet with the data is available here.
- 30 with female main character(s) (46.9%)
- 20 with male main character(s) (31.2%)
- 14 with both male and female main characters (either dual perspective or multiple perspectives) (21.9%)
- 6 with male main characters (Challenger Deep, More Happy Than Not, X: A Novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Bunker Diary, The Boy in the Black Suit) (60%)
- 2 with female main characters (Audacity and Shadowshaper) (20%)
- 2 with both male and female main characters (though arguably both Bone Gap and Six of Crows are still male-centered) (20%)
- 46 female authors (71.9%)
- 16 male authors (25%)
- 1 joint book with one male and one female author (1.6%)
- 1 short story collection with both male and female authors (6 male, 6 female) (1.6%)
- 5 female authors (50%)
- 5 male authors (50%)
It’s clear the the top 10 do not reflect the gender breakdown of the list as a whole. It certainly isn’t required to. But when there are many excellent books with female protagonists and written by women, it’s worth thinking about why the male-centered and male-written stories rise to the top. I don’t want to speculate why this happened for this list, but I know I will continue to be mindful of my own reading habits and actively work against my unconscious biases when selecting titles to read, review, and recommend.
I would love to examine issues of gender and diversity in YA on a much broader scale, looking at all the books published in a year and comparing various awards and best-of lists to the total output. I made an attempt at wrangling this data in 2014, as recounted in my YA Literature Data Project post. And back in 2010, I did a similar exercise with the nominated titles for the then Best Books for Young Adults selection list.