Friday, April 5, 2013

Printzs and RITAs and boys, oh my! part 2

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

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

In a post I wrote back in February, I discussed the conference proposal I had submitted to this year's Children's Literature Association conference, a proposal focusing on constructions of masculinity in young adult novels honored by the American Library Association and by the Romance Writers of America. The proposal has since been accepted, and with last week's announcement of the RITA award finalists, I finally have a complete list of books to read and analyze.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the RWA's RITA list and ALA's Printz/Best of the Best list do not share a single title. Comparing how the books that each association deems its "best" depict romantic heroes should reveal interesting differences.

This year's YA RITA finalist list contained only four titles: 

Bound, Erica O'Rourke (Kensington/KTeen)
The Farm, Emily Mckay (Penguin/Berkely)
Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers (Houghton)
Pushing the Limits, Katie McGary (Harlequin Teen)

Huntley Fitzpatrick's My Life Next Door (Penguin/Dial) made the "Best First Book" list, so I may add it to the mix.

I haven't read any of these books yet; anyone out there have thoughts about the type(s) of masculinity they depict/construct?

I've read through a few of the Printz/Best Books titles that could be construed as romances, or at least as "novels with strong romantic elements": Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Boys, David Levithan's Every Day, and Terry Pratchett's Dodger. Still on the TBR pile: Benjamin Alire Sáenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of Universe and Alethea Kontis' Enchanted.

What the ALA/Printz/Best Books titles I've read so far seem to have in common is their insistence that there is not just one romantic masculinity; instead, each book insists upon the existence of multiple masculinities. Raven Boys includes a clear romantic female lead, but with its cast of four boys, all of them very different one from the other, we're not sure which will turn out to be the romantic lead (RB is the first book in a series). The situation in Levithan's Every Day is even more complex; A, the book's narrator, wakes up in a different body each morning, and neither readers nor narrator know what sex A is. Levithan toys with what a genderless identity might be like, even while depicting many different types of young men in the bodies that A temporarily inhabits over the course of several months. Pratchett's Dodger discovers, as Pratchett heroes and heroines are wont to do, that the most successful person, male or female, is the one who can shape his or her own identity by constructing the most persuasive stories, instead of allowing others, or society, to tell one what one's identity should be.

Will the RITA books be as expansive in their visions of masculinity? Or will their romantic heroes have more in common with each other than the Printz/Best Books titles do? I'm looking forward to finding out...

In other news, yours truly was interviewed for an article that appeared on the Atlantic's "Sexes" blog, "Beyond Bodice-Rippers: How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism," and also for a brief radio piece on KIRO Radio, "Glistening Abs with a Feminist Twist: Introducing Feminist Romance Novels." The resulting conversations have been fascinating, especially this one on author Cecilia Grant's blog. Hope you can join in...

Next time on RNFF:
Confronting the intersections of sexism and social class in Kristan Higgins' My One and Only

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