Young Adult Books with Young Male Protagonists

shadow of boy on bicycle against a sunset
Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

When I was still a classroom teacher, many teenage boys in my advisory were reluctant readers. Advisory was free time for pleasure reading, a gift that our principal gave the students. His goal was that if we provided children with guidance in how to enjoy books and the time within the school day for quiet uninterrupted time for their enjoyment they would develop the life-long love of reading.

Girls usually couldn’t wait to dig their favorite books out of their bookbags. Boys often asked for a library pass, and after wandering aimlessly, gravitated to books about sports heroes, superheroes, war, SF and fantasy–those were the go-to selections for many. A recent Sunday NY Times Book Review section featured Mj Franklin’s composite review of three new books with realistic young male protagonists. He aptly titled the review Y.A. Novels That Let Teenage Boys Be Vulnerable. He gives the books a lukewarm review so I thought I’d share a couple of my recommendations for realistic fiction with young male protagonists who take center stage and come alive on the page yet are allowed to be vulnerable.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz — This book’s 17-year-old protagonist Salvador is nurtured by his adoptive Mexican-American family while he becomes embroiled in the lives of his school mates whose worlds are crumbling around them. His artistic gay father and wise Mexican grandmother are able to give Sal stability but also the room he needs to grow as he explores his own questions about why his mother gave him up for adoption and society’s cruel face of homophobia. Sáenz brings forth the complexities of character painting Salvador as a vulnerable yet strong loving friend and adoptive son.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley — Readers of this title will want to re-read it as soon as they finish, because the book weaves together two simultaneous plots that subtly begin to interlock to make a compelling thriller. Cullen Witter, a sharp, vulnerable and sarcastic 17-year-old aspiring writer narrates the first story set in the small town of Lily, Arkansas where it seems nothing much happens. Things start to pick up for Cullen when the Lazarus Woodpecker, which had long been considered extinct, is sighted and his younger brother Gabriel disappears. The other storyline is told in third-person focusing on Benton Sage, a fanatic teenage missionary, who leaves Ethiopia to attend college back in the States. Whaley’s haunting tone portends trouble as the story’s multiple threads start to come together in a tragic ending that leaves the reader with hope.


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