Friday, February 1, 2013

Printzs and RITAs and boys, oh my!: Constructions of masculinity in award-winning YA romance

The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit" —Young Adult Library Services Association web site

The purpose of the RITA contest is to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding published romance novels." — Romance Writers of America web site

This week, the American Library Association announced the winners of its major annual children's and young adult book awards. Among those awards is the Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, and its affiliated lists, the "Best Fiction for Young Adults" and "Best of the Best" lists (named the "Best Books for Young Adults" list until 2011). Librarians, booksellers, and especially publisher across the country wait with bated breath for the announcement of said awards. Winning guarantees not only a big increase in a book's sales, as schools, libraries, and booksellers rush to stock titles with YALSA's stamp of approval, but a welcome addition of prestige.

Criteria for the selection of literary prizes such as the Printz typically assert that their award's goal is to promote "excellence" or "merit." But as Kenneth Kidd points out in his essay "Prizing Children's Literature: The Case of Newbery Gold,"* examining the history of such prizes often reveals as much about a particular organization's identity and ideological leanings as it does about what constitutes an abstract, or absolute, vision of literary merit. Comparing the prizes awarded by different organizations to the same category or genre of books, then, should reveal important differences (and perhaps surprising similarities) between said organizations.

So, for a talk I hope to be giving at this year's Children's Literature Association conference, I've decided to read the books nominated for a RITA award for Best Young Adult Romance of the year by the Romance Writers of America, and compare them to those books with romances or strong romantic elements awarded a Printz, or named to the "Best Fiction for Young Adults" or the "Best of the Best" list.

In particular, I'm going to look at how these books depict masculinity. What does mean to be a teen hero? What types of boyhoods/male adolescences do librarians hold up as worth emulation? Are they different from the types of masculinities valued by romance writers? If so, how? And are there any similarities?

The Printz list this year, alas, looks a bit short on romance:

     In Darkness by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)

 Honor Books:
     Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster)
     Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)
     Dodger by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)
     The White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna (Red Deer Press)

So I may have to delve into YALSA's "Best of the Best 2013" list for more relevant titles (Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Boys? Alethea Kontis' Enchanted? David Levithan's Every Day?)

Anyone interested in joining me on this reading odyssey? I'll be posting intermittently between now and June about these books, letting you know what I've discovered, and would love to hear your thoughts, either in response to mine or in response to your own reading of the book(s). All contributors will be given due credit (and thanked profusely) in any presentation I make :-).

* Kenneth Kidd, "Prizing Children's Literature: The Case of Newbery Gold." Children's Literature 35 (2007) : 166-90.

Photo/Illustration credits:
• Printz Award: YALSA
• RITA statue: RWA

Next time on RNFF:
Sexuality, the Gothic, and romantic suspense: Robin Schone's The Lover


  1. The Best of the Best list is different from the BFYA list that you linked to.

    1. Yes, the link is to the full Best Fiction for YA's list. But that longer list includes the 10 Best, designated by asterisks. If you want just the 10 Best, you can find it at this link:


  2. I'm not into YA for the most part myself but I am very interested in general trends in all gender roles so I look forward to reading your analyses on these!

    1. Thanks, Kimberly. I'll definitely be keeping you posted...

  3. Oh, some of the authors here are really fascinating at examinations of masculinity. David Levithan is so superb, and Benjamin Alire Saenz is as well. I don't know if you read Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood, but it was definitely a fresh and different perspective on teen masculinity and romance.

    I might be willing to tackle this, but I'll need to see if I really have the time to devote to it, first. Love this idea!

    1. Shelley:

      No need to make a commitment, or to tackle all of the books. Any thoughts you have to contribute on any of the books in question will be appreciated!

  4. Looking forward to this series! I've used the BBYA/BFYA lists in an attempt to study the portrayals of education/schools in YA literature.

  5. Thanks, Elizabeth, for stopping by. What discoveries about education and schools have you found in studying the BBYA/BFYA lists? Any related to gender issues?

  6. Every Day would be a fascinating choice, because the narrator doesn't have a sex or gender identity. The Raven Boys is light on romance, but very interesting in terms of friendship. (I also liked that the romance elements are so tentative, which is unusual in current YA.)

    Will Grayon, Will Grayson could be an interesting read, with it's two Will Graysons, one straight, one gay.

    1. Its. Its. How emmbarrassing.

    2. No grammar policing here, Willaful!

      Am looking forward to EVERY DAY, and RAVEN BOYS. Just finished Pratchett's DODGER, which, as with most Pratchett, is filled with fabulous language and lots of insights about storytelling and truthtelling, but only a smidgen of romance.

      WILL GRAYSON has a 2010 pub, so it wouldn't work for this particular study, alas.