Gender Demographic Themes in YA Literature.

Okay, that might have been a confusing title, so let me tell a little story.

Once upon a time, I was watching Divergent on DVD with Megan. Most of the way through (about the time Triss said “you keep underestimating my character”) I had a bit of an epiphany. Just a little one, as all epiphanies are, but here was the thought:

If a book wants to be popular with girls, then it needs to have an element of self-redefinition. Some breaking moment from the construct that others have given the protagonist. I mentioned this to Megan and she thought about it and didn’t disagree.

She asked “So, what would make it a boy novel?”

And the thinking, note taking, and crayons came out. In a little bit I had a list going, which are as follows:


female demographic: focus on external circumstances, expectations/requirements of others, redefinition of self, rites of passage/ ceremonies

male demographic: challenges, set tasks, internal struggle (Am I capable of X, Y, or Z?), Acquiring things to succeed, breaking points

Now, I am not establishing this as a gender issue, it’s not. I think as a writer this is a tool that can be used to ensure that we are writing to the demographic that we want to write to.

So, to put it to the test. If these themes accurately describe how to write to a particular demographic, then I should be able to see them in YA literature. So, I’m going back through many of the books I’ve read and doing just that. I started with Artemis Fowl. No one would disagree that Eoin Colfer wrote this as a male demographic novel. So, I should be seeing set tasks, breaking points, the acquisition of things, and so forth.


For this, I bought a cheap paperback of the book and flagged every instance of a male demographic trait (green) and a female demographic trait (blue). Artemis Fowl came to a total of 57 male traits and thirty 38 female traits.

What I found was that just about every instance of writing from Holly’s perspective was written with the female demographic traits. The majority of thematic elements did classify it as a male demographic novel, but you could almost see the back and forth between self-definition (Holly being the only female LEP officer and having to fight societal expectations) and capability challenges (Artemis pulling off the first ever supernatural ransom/ crime job).

Now, I’m sure there’s going to be a reader or two that says “why aren’t you addressing any third gender/ non-binary issues?” Well, that’s because I haven’t found many books that deal with that, hence haven’t read any, hence wouldn’t be able to identify commonality issues. But, there are books on this list, like Leviathan, A Series of Unfortunate events, and Harry Potter, where it’s hard to make that line of male trait/ female trait. My assumption, then, is that those books that straddle the line have equal appeal.

This is the first book in a series of tests just to ensure that my theory is correct. Currently, I’m going through Pendragon, then Twilight. I’m reading these for research and analysis purpose, so there are going to be books that I wouldn’t normally read that I end up reading.

So, below I’m listing some of the traits Megan and I thought couldn’t be placed in one category or the other. What do you think?

exploration/discovery of new places (I thought it was a male trait)

vows/”Swear on my life” (Not sure…)

Staying in familiar locales




4 thoughts on “Gender Demographic Themes in YA Literature.

  1. Pingback: Theory on Gender Themes in YA Literature: Pendragon Edition | Tony Graff

  2. Pingback: The More Science-y Bits of Literature | Tony Graff

  3. Pingback: Gender Demographics in Literature: Twilight Edition | Tony Graff

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