From time to time, I get an e-mail or a comment from male readers who enjoyed my goblin books, but are hesitant to pick up Stepsister Scheme or Mermaid’s Madness because they look like they’re for girls.
My reaction to this is all over the place. The goblin books went over well with younger boys, and I can understand why a teenage boy might be hesitant to walk around with a book that has three women surrounded by swirling pastels on the cover. I also think it sucks that we’re still raising boys to think it’s shameful to be caught reading something “feminine,” but having been a teenage male myself, I can understand that reluctance.
I like the cover for Mermaid better, less because we lost the pastels, and more because I think it’s just a great image. But I still get the questions. This is obviously a book about three girls, so doesn’t that mean it’s written for girls? (Much as Name of the Wind was written for red-haired boys, and the Zombie Raccoons anthology was written for decaying scavengers.)
I’ve said in multiple interviews that I wrote Stepsister for my daughter, in response to the Disney/Barbie princess infestation we went through at the house. So in a way, these books are written for girls. Or at least for one girl. Which means … what, exactly? I don’t even know what a “girly book” is. I assume it’s shorthand along the lines of:
Boy Books = Action/Adventure; Girl Books = Romance
Boy Books = Plot/Idea-centric; Girl Books = Character-centric
Boy Books = Explody things on the cover; Girl Books = Chicks and pastels
There’s value in being able to find the kind of books you want. If you’re into character-oriented fiction, you want to be able to discover those books in the store. You don’t want to buy a book, take it home, and discover that what you thought was an action-packed vampire adventure is actually a 400-page relationship angst-fest. I get that. But trying to classify those preferences by gender, with all of the stereotyping and judgement that goes with that? It doesn’t work for me.
Josh Jasper wrote a piece over at Genreville about genre shame, and about being male and reading romance novels. “Why should I be ashamed of reading something fun when women aren’t? The answer is that I’m afraid of being judged by people I don’t know, whose opinions don’t really matter, about something they have no real business judging me over. Social conditioning is strange and stupid.”
When you ask me if Mermaid and Stepsister are girly books, the answer is that I don’t even know what that means. I don’t want to know. I can’t tell you whether or not you’ll like the books, but I can try to give you an idea what they’re about and let you make your own decision. In a nutshell, the princess series is about:
Fighting and magic and family and fairies and revenge and unrequited love and requited love and hairy trolls and sailing and a three-legged cat and flying horses and wolves and drunk pixies and sewer goblins and enchanted swords and mermaids and friendship and ghosts and strong women and not-so-strong women and also some men and birds and rats and lots of ass-kicking.
It’s bad enough we still try to force people into fairly rigid gender roles. Do we really have to do it to books too?