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When it comes to boys and reading, there are several myths and misunderstandings surrounding their habits. These myths perpetrate the belief that boys, and teen boys especially, don’t read. And if they do, they won’t read fiction.


Curious to see whether this is also true of boys who have grown up reading and enjoying novels, I asked my friend whose sons recently turned 11 and 14 if she has noticed a difference in the reading habits of her kids as they’ve gotten older. Her younger son still enjoys reading, and is open to reading a variety of titles. Her teenager, who not so long ago was deep into Harry Potter now says “UGHHH” very loudly when she suggests that he put down his device and read a book.


Why don’t boys read novels you may ask? Well, according to Jon Scieszka, popular author and founder of Guysread, one reason that boys stop reading is because they lack a male role model for literacy. Research suggests that while men often come back to reading as they approach retirement age, boys mostly see women reading and therefore do not see it as a male activity.


a box set collection of Judy Blume novelsWhen my brother was a kid, he enjoyed the popular “boy” books such as the Fudge books by Judy Blume, How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell, Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol, etc…By the time he was a pre-teen, he was hardly reading at all. And in university, he asked me if I had Coles Notes for the required reading in his English class just to avoid reading the book. My dad is a reader now, but when my brother and I were little, he was building his career, and I doubt if we saw him just sitting down and reading. My mom had the luxury of staying home, and had a lot more time to read for pleasure.


The most common assumption is that girls read fiction and boys read non-fiction. For girls, reading is a pleasurable activity, whereas for boys, it’s merely a means to finding out something they want to know. This belief is certainly common in the publishing world, and of the 600 or so unique YA novels published each year, an overwhelming majority seem aimed at girls (statistics on this vary so take this as a baseline). According to a study of all books reviewed by Horn Book Magazine in 2014, the protagonists of middle grade novels were 48% boys, 36% girls, and 16% both, while in YA, 65% were female, 22% male, and 13% both.


Economically, this makes sense. Publishing is a business, and the job of a publisher is to produce books that meet the demand of the market. If there is little demand for boy-oriented YA fiction, they aren’t going to spend their limited dollars trying to meet a demand that isn’t there. That also means that the so-called boy books receive little to no marketing dollars, so even though they exist, it’s a lot harder to find them.


Now we’ve got a chicken/egg question. Do boys stop reading because of the perception that YA fiction is for girls, or is YA fiction aimed at girls because teen boys don’t read fiction? If you assume that boys won’t read and cater primarily to girls, boys naturally assume that there is nothing for them and focus their attention on other activities.  On the other hand, if you give them something that will engage them, they will be more likely to read.


So what will engage a boy? A thrilling story with a lot of action is a big one, and is a lot more important than the gender of the protagonist. Hunger Games is a perfect example of a female-centered book that boys have enjoyed, largely because the story has enough action and excitement to keep male readers engaged, and it doesn’t look like a girl book. I don’t know too many boys who are interested in reading about mean girls and love triangles, and I definitely don’t know many who will willingly pick up a book with a feminine cover. They also like stories about real boys experiencing real things, because boys want characters they can relate to as much as girls do.


the delusionist by don calame / a street magician juggling a ball and holding playing cards, against a blue fieldOne author who definitely understands the teenage boy psyche is British Columbian author Don Calame, whose four previous books have been big hits with reluctant readers. When I described the plot of Swim the Fly to my partner, he blanched, and literally asked me “how did he know?” As far as I’m aware they have no direct (or indirect) connection, but he was positive that Calame had somehow heard about his teenage exploits and put them into a novel.


His new novel The Delusionist focuses on two best friends, and their individual quests to find the perfect magic trick to get them into a summer magic academy for teens. As the story progresses, they find their friendship tested by a crafty female magician, the pressure of competing against each other, and the desire to be seen as individuals and not one half of a duo. It’s funny, it’s real, and I can think of several boys between 11 and 15 who will enjoy it.


the loop by ben oliver / the word loop with each letter a floor plan of a building.If your teens are into action, Ben Oliver’s Loop Trilogy is an exciting, action-packed dystopian horror series that will appeal to fans of Maze Runner. The story focuses on 16-year-old Luca Kane, who is an inmate inside a futuristic death-row prison for teens. When the teens suddenly find themselves left alone in the prison, Luca will have to overcome fellow prisoners who want to kill him, rabid rats in the train tunnels, and an outside population turned into murderous monsters if he wants to survive. Book 2 released last year, and while there’s no official word on book 3 yet, we can hope that it won’t be too long a wait to see how the series ends.


These are just a couple of suggestions, but there are many books out there with teen boy appeal. You just have to be willing to find them. 


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Happy Reading!

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