Thursday, September 08, 2011

Boys Don’t Read? That’s Not What I’m Seeing

Controversy has been the norm in the YA world lately, and the most recent dustup was “boys don’t read because books are too girly.” I’m not going to get into all that, but YA Highway has a great link list of all the various posts for those who are curious.

I find this whole debate particularly interesting because I write for MG, not YA, and I haven’t seen this. There’s no way to know for sure, but based on fan letters, book signings and school visits, a major part, if not half, of my readership is—you guessed it—boys. And I have a girl protag, in first person no less.

If you listen to the masses, boys don’t read books about girls. They certainly don’t read books with a girl protag.


Boys read my books. Boys ask questions at my school visits—a lot of questions. They tell me about the books they read. They are reading. I’ve had visits where all but a few of the students who came up after to get books signed were boys. This has happened more than once. Don’t tell me boys aren’t reading.

I don’t think the issue is that boys don’t read. I think that when they hit high school, they either stop reading or don’t read as much.

I don’t know why this might be. Part of it I’m sure has to do with the amount of home work high schoolers have. Neither girls nor boys have as much time to read as they did in middle school. It makes me wonder what the drop in reading is for both girls and boys when they hit high school. I’d bet the percentage is pretty close.

I also think that reading competes with video games more for boys than girls. Video games are, ironically enough, aimed at boys and fewer girls play them. (And this comes from a rabid female gamer) Very few of my girl friends play or played video games. You could put the same cry out for that industry. “Girls don’t play video games because they’re too boyish.”

Boys are herded toward group activities their whole lives with sports and teams, and this probably translates into video games. Is it any wonder when offered a choice, they pick the activity that lets them play with friends? That they’ll do what nearly all of their friends are talking about? Girls don’t have videos vying for their attention the same way, though it’s likely phone and social media fills the same slot.

I’ve spoken to media specialists who told me boys checked out Twilight because they wanted to know what all the fuss was about. And a lot of them went on to read the whole series. If Twilight isn’t the poster child for girl books I don’t know what is. And middle school boys read it. Makes me curious how many high school boys did too.

YA seems to be taking a beating this year, but I think that’s just because some folks like to stir up trouble, and that’s easy to do when you involve people’s kids. As others have said (and more eloquently than me I might add) I don’t think the problem is with the books or how they’re marketed. I think it’s that teens have less time to read period once they hit high school. If you took out all the adult women who also read YA, how would the number of girls stack up against the boys? I’d like to see those numbers. (And then compare them to the middle grade numbers)

Getting kids to read is a worthy pursuit and a necessary one, but I suspect the folks making the ruckus are looking in the wrong place and making the wrong assumptions. Cause I’m just not seeing a lack of boys reading—at least in my market’s age bracket.

What do you think?


  1. We just started high school this week. My daughter is on the swim team and has 6:00 am practice 3 days a week and after school practice everyday plus Saturday am. So for any kids-boys or girls-who are in a high school sport, there is less time for anything, including reading. And yes, the homework will limit the fun reading time. As will all the activities they're supposed to do to be well-rounded.

    My daughter has a friend (guy) who reads all the time. I've noticed he's moved into adult books, mostly SF and Fantasy. I could see guys not being as interested in all the YA out there with mostly girls as the main characters.

    I do think reading and down time in general is very important for high school kids and hard to find.

  2. I think some boys will read girl books and others won't, depends on the boy. I have one of each. But YA? Some of those covers with girls in flowery dresses - I don't think they'll read. But something like Divergent? Yes. It's hard to find time to read in High school - sports, social, homework, social....etc. But some def. still do.

  3. I think you make a great point. Boys definitely read. I did.

  4. A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child, I feel. Certainly, I just as many boys browsing bookshops in Dublin as girls, if not more.

    Though I do think that boys are more likely to be attracted to the books that have more "grown-up" looking covers. I wonder if there's anything to be said for peer-pressure influencing a child's choice of book?

  5. Good point about the video games. My freshman reads far less than he used to, and has to be cajoled. But if I find him the right book, he'll read. Recent faves have been Girl, Stolen and Hacking Timbuktu.

  6. For my progeny, Cain and Able, whether or not they crack open a book depends on the subject matter and amount of free time. Summer vacations allow more recreational reads, but I agree, competing with video games and budding hormones is quickly becoming problematic.

  7. I never thought about it, but you're probably right about the time thing. I was home-schooled so I didn't have the same time crunch in high-school that a lot of people face, but I know my first semester at community college I didn't have time to read anything non-class related. I went on a major reading binge over my winter break.

  8. I think you make tons of great points. I want to add one: The boys that I see reading have parents that read, parents that make it a priority, parents that fill their house with books, parents that see the importance in reading. If you teach children the joy of reading I don't care how busy life gets--your kids will read.

  9. My brother read in high school: he read the sports pages and Sports Illustrated and anything else sport-related he could get his hands on. But that *is* reading. If the Web had been around back then, I bet he'd have been reading blogs and participating in fantasy sports leagues.

    Now as an adult, he reads novels again. He never quit reading. He just took a break from fiction.

  10. Natalie, makes me wonder how many guys *do* skip the YA and go right into adult novels. I know when I was a teen, most of the YA out there (at that time) was relationship based, and those didn't interest me. So I read fantasy and sci fi from the adult shelves.

    Laura, that's the argument going around now, but that's true of every reader. I don't think you can apply that solely to boys and YA.

    Paul, I think the Twilight example fits the peer pressure example. Folks read it just to see what the fuss was. I can see some books being deemed "uncool" and kids shying away from them.

    Michael, the fact that your boy teen read Girl, Stolen is a great example of boys reading.

    Angie, I'd agree with that. We always had books in the house and my whole family reads.

    Melissa, that's an awesome point. Just cause they aren't reading the paranormal romance YA titles doesn't mean they aren't reading at all. There are a TON of reading options out there that aren't YA books.

  11. I've noticed my brothers read less than I do, but I read more than most people.
    Both of them are much pickier than I am. The 16 year old will rarely pick up a new series; he generally only reads book by particular authors he likes.(plus the rare fighter pilot autobiography) The 12 year old will read some books I tell him he'd like so he reads more.
    Both of them seem to prefer sci-fi or fantasy and they want books with action and at least one male protagonist.
    Both of them are homeschooled. The 16 year old is busier doing other things now, so I think he's reading a little less than he used to but the 12 year old is only limited with his reading because he won't read books that aren't really good.
    Since he only likes books with male protagonists, it does make it harder for me to find books for him. (Most of the well-written, action-packed dystopian I read is from a female POV.)

  12. When I was in high school, a lot of guys simply didn't read fiction. They had no interest in it. Those who did (like me) were usually SF/fantasy/horror fans. Just as Natalie said, we jumped from reading middle grade books to reading adult fiction sometime in junior high.

    I'm sure there were some YA books for guys being published, but at that time, all the high-profile stuff was pretty clearly written for girls. To us guys, it all looked like romance of one kind or another — paranormal romance, romantic suspense, literary romance, etc.

    I think there's actually quite a bit of YA-friendly adult fiction that appeals to guys. For example, in the fantasy genre, books like the Dragonlance series and books by R.A. Salvatore and Terry Brooks were popular with my friends. Books by John Saul were categorized as adult thrillers, but often featured teenaged protags. There's kind of a hidden YA-for-guys category ... it just isn't marketed as YA.

  13. I think I probably read more in high school because by then I'd mastered the art of half-paying attention in uninteresting classes while reading my book...

    I think it's fairly hard to draw conclusions without good data. As a middle-schooler, I picked up the Dragonlance and Brooks novels that Jonathan mentioned because that's what my brother was reading, and that lead me into LotR, Redwall and Harry Potter.

  14. I think you're spot on - MG boys read. A lot. Then high school boys move on to ... adult books. They just skip YA for the most part, because they can't find what they want. My avid-almost-teen-boy-reader reads YA boylit (if he can find it), adult books (increasingly SF), and MG. But he says he'd still rather read books with kid characters!

  15. My 11 year son is an avid reader, and while he has read books with female protagonists, he's going through a phase where he will only read a book in which the mc is male. To him girl main characters = romance.

    My 15 year old nephew reads one book a month, and it's adult fantasy. It's my 17 year old niece who reads YA books.

  16. My teenage sons both read quite often, but switched to adult titles around 7th grade for their pleasure reading.

    I don't think boys are reading less, I just think they're not reading YA.

  17. I think reading is down in all ages and sexes… but I doubt it’s systemic of boys.

  18. Oh, I was so glad to see how you handled this. It was nice not to get bludgeoned over the head with your opinion. I agree, MG guys are reading. I do think there's a drop with high school guys, and you raised some highly interesting points about that. Great food for thought!


  19. I'm a student myself, and I have to say that the not-enough-time thing is true. I play 5 (five!!! o.O) different instruments, am the debate captain, on the basketball team, AND in all honors. Oh, and I take zero period too. But I still find time to read. I think the most important thing here is not whether you have time or not, it's whether you care enough to *find* time. Because I absolutely cannot live without books, so I somehow always find time to read everyday, even if it's late at night ( I know--bad idea). The problem is though that once people start high school, other things (like you mentioned) start to take over as priorities and few are left who actually love reading enough that they are willing to continue. Especially if they're busier than the hours can be used in a day. But of course, boys DO read!! I help out at my middle school and today one of the boys in class was reading a Madeleine L'Engle book instead of the history books. Of course, he was reprimanded, but I think this shows that there are boys who love to read.

  20. I fear the "cool" factor plays a part. Boys in their early teens are trying to establish their manly image. If reading, or certain types of reading, are perceived as nerdy or uncool, it won't matter how much they enjoy the books - image will take precedent. Not for all, of course, but for many.

  21. VERY interesting and thought-provoking. Yes, I think you may be right that by the time kids reach high school age, there are more activities vying for their attention. Plus perhaps dating. More serious sports, etc. That is COOL that boys read TWILIGHT! :) Good for them. A good book is a good book; I eventually even read it to find out what the fuss was about (and I enjoyed it).