Girls in Boy Books

New blog pal “The Iron-Jawed Author” brings up some good points. I’ve not (yet) read his book, so can’t vouch for the greatness of his female characters, but it’s true. Books intended for boy audiences often have token female characters at best. (Are Hermione and Annabeth Chase tokens or not? Discuss.) Please note an important point: “intended for boy audiences.” Sadly, as I’ve mentioned before, it is a fact that girls will read books with a boy as the protagonist far more than boys will read books with a girl as the protagonist. So, while books like Kit Grindstaff’s The Flame in the Mist are excellent fantasies with strong female protagonists, they don’t necessarily help our case here. I-JA has got me thinking, though. Which books do I know that have a good balance of strong male and female characters but are targeting boys?

I’d say Rowling did a good job with Hermione. Paolini’s Eragon series – nope, not so much. (For me, the female characters should occupy a significant chunk of page time in the subplots and the main plot.) Plenty of strong girl books springing to mind: Splendors and Glooms, The Apothecary, (hmm, what about Colin Meloy’s Wildwood Chronicles?), The Secret Tree, When You Reach Me… Well, that brings me to Stead’s first book, First Light. Not really either a girl or a boy book, but heading in the right direction (though her later two are better).

Notice I’m not mentioning YA. For me, the real focus is on MG – where we have a chance to capture boys’ attention because they’re still reading. I just can’t think of many, if any. Perhaps the Mysterious Benedict Society books? Am I missing something obvious? Perhaps I just read more girl-centered books, because I’m a girl? 😉

Time to start adding this criteria to my choices of what to read…


The Iron-Jawed Author

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and the more I go over my first book (and the plans for my upcoming books) I’m quite proud of my female characters.

When I was writing The Iron-Jawed Boy, I was well-aware of the fact that because my book was centered around a 10 year old boy that the book would then be considered a “Boy Book”, but I reject that notion quite vehemently (spelling?). I chose to surround Ion with lots of strong female characters–be it older or younger–because I think it’s important that the book not just be a “boy with another male friend goes on all the adventures and what not” story. Girls are just as brave, just as strong, just as intelligent (most would argue more intelligent) and I wanted young readers who dove into the book to pick up on those themes.

Moreover, the female characters…

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8 thoughts on “Girls in Boy Books

  1. Very thought provoking post! I think in some ways, Hermione was better developed than Harry. Harry was a bit of an “every man” character. I’m sure that’s how it was intended. Hermione was smart, tough, independent. She knew herself. Actually, the kind of character that would make a good model for girls as opposed to some whiney teenage girls running around after vampires. (JMHO)

    But, books with equally strong male and female characters? I’m going to have to think on that one. Or maybe…write a book and create my own.

    1. Create your own, Stacey! You’ve got the boy thing down. 🙂 I wonder if my story will qualify when (or if) it gets published? Of course, my characters need work to begin with.

  2. Thanks for the reblog Leslie! Glad the post got you thinking 🙂

    I honestly thought J.K. Rowling did an amazing job of writing strong female characters. Though, I didn’t like how in the first book Hermione needed saving from the troll, despite the fact that she’s the smartest and most capable out of the three friends to do some damage to a troll.

    There are quite a few parts in my first book where I almost switch the usual stereotypes and gender roles we have in this culture so that Oceanus, Ion’s sister, is the fearless, strong-willed one, and Ion is the boy who (accidentally) screams when he’s frightened and is deathly afraid of woodland creatures. I thought it’d be, at the very least, a breath of fresh air in a middle grade book.

  3. The one thing I have to disagree with is that Rowling wrote HP for boys. I don’t think she was targeting gender just because her main character was a boy. I never heard her say she was writing it for anyone but herself as far as her approach or content.

    1. Donna, I think few writers target one gender or the other as they write – but sadly, since boys really skew toward male protagonists, those books become perceived as “boy books.”

  4. Funny that I read your post right after submitting a to an agent looking for boy-centered cb’s. Although my mc is a boy (well, a dog, but a male dog), I think the book will appeal to boys and girls. If my mc was a girl, would it appeal to both? Not so sure.

  5. Best wishes for your submission, Naomi! I wish I knew why this is so, but very few boys will read books with a girl as the main character – at least willingly and on their own initiative.

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