Strong Male Role Models in YA

I have come across a few articles discussing strong female role models in YA novels: do they exist, what exactly makes a character a good female role model, what qualities make a strong female character etc. However, strong male role models are important too – particularly with boys lagging behind girls when it comes to reading. A report issued in 2012 by The Boys Reading Commission notes that at age. 14, girls outstrip boys by 12% points in English.

The definition of what makes a good male model differs from person to person. For BT&M, it is important that a good male model for YA readers is:

– realistic: it’s important that teenagers can relate to the characters they are reading about. Humans are not perfect and it is difficult to relate perfect book characters.

– fallible: characters that make mistakes, makes the wrong decisions, have a flaw are real and can inspire

– kind: not saintly, and the kindness does not have to be the predominant characteristic, but there needs to be a thread of kindness which is demonstrated in the way the character behaves with friends, family, girlfriends etc.

– able to grow and change as a result of their experiences: not necessarily ‘coming of age’ but the character needs to have moved on and developed

For BT&M, there are also many characteristics which are irrelevant:

– physical strength

– good looks

– sexuality

– success in relationships

– bright

BT&M’s view is based on the belief that whilst it is fun to read about super heroes, role models are people who remind us of ourselves or perhaps of the people around us. Superheroes do not walk the corridors of secondary schools. Role models must surely be people readers want to – and can – emulate.

BT&M has picked out ten YA books with good male role models. To be included in the list, the books needed to be fun, interesting and a very good read. The list is not exhaustive – there are many more books that could be included. BT&M has tried to include books that aren’t necessarily the best known or the most obvious.


Ben in Boys Don’t Knit by T S Easton – Ben is funny, bright and socially awkward. He makes bad decisions and pays the price, but he learns from his mistakes and from others.

Spud in The Spud Series by John van de Ruit – Spud is clearly bright and he has a beautiful singing voice but he is far from perfect. He is observant and funny and he is kind to some of the weaker characters around him.


Bradley in There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar – Bradley is a bully at the start of the book so he is, perhaps, a surprising inclusion in this list. However, Bradley is a boy who tries to change, he isn’t all bad and by the end of the book he has learnt a lot.

Billy in Being Billy by Phil Earle – Billy is not that likeable at the start of the book but by the end we understand him better and, more importantly, he understands himself better.

Jesse in Bridge to Terrabithia by Katherine Paterson – Jesse learns to see things so differently as a result of his experiences in this book. There is plenty the reader can learn from Jesse.


Park in Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – BT&M loved the way Park matured and learnt to trust and care and be a stronger version of himself.

Standish in Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner – Standish is an individual and this makes him different and special and brave.

Nicky in Brock by Anthony McGowan – Nicky has some difficult decisions to make and it is hard to make the right ones

Jonah in the MetaWars series by Jeff Norton – Jonah is not an amazing warrior and he makes some poor decisions but (ultimately) he is motivated by what is right for everyone and not just for him.


Ponyboy in The Outsiders by SE Hinton – when things go badly wrong for Ponyboy, he re-evaluates his life and learns to challenge society’s preconceptions.

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