Elevate Difference

The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens

The Secret Lives of Boys is exactly the kind of book I love to read. It is a collection of well-written case studies that give the reader a snapshot of teenage boys that most adults today don’t see. Although I’m no longer a teenager, and I’m not male, I do have a younger brother—someone just heading out of his teenage years—and I found myself identifying in some way with each of the ten boys Saval highlights.

Each chapter is one boy’s story—from “The Mini-Adult” to “The Teenage Dad” to “The Sheltered One”—and they are all as compelling (and surprising) as they are heart wrenching. Whether “The Troublemaker” or “The Rich Kid,” all of these boys have stories with common themes: lackadaisical views on religion and their part in it, the belief that they are smarter and more mature than their peers (which some experts call narcissistic and some say is under-estimation by adults), and a desperate desire to be understood and have a close friend with whom they can share their lives. They all had (and have) struggles unique to their respective situations. 

Saval writes, “There is a general consensus that American culture has failed our boys, and they have failed us.” The book is a direct attempt to disprove that. We look at boys today, she says, and see Columbine and absentee teenage fathers—boys who are emotionless and, at the same time, on the verge of exploding. The boys in this book truly help us see their secret lives—they are not emotionless or about to explode, and they know about as much of life as the rest of us do, which is to say, very little. I think the book’s premise succeeds; Saval’s fact-dropping is backed up by solid research and her dialogue with the ten featured boys seems fair-minded and, at the same time, conversational.

I thought it was interesting to note that Saval allowed her subjects to title their respective chapters for themselves. She says, “These titles also reflect archetypes or genres of adolescent male youth. Some are self-reflective…whereas others reflect how they feel society views them. In coining their own terms, these boys are making is clear that they, not we, get to decide who they are.”

I will be giving The Secret Lives of Boys to my father as a gift. I want him to read it and discover that maybe my younger brother is more than only college degree potential. I hope that everyone with a teenage boy in his or her life (or a boy about to be a teenager, or a young man who’s just finished his teen years)—or who is a teen boy, for that matter—will read this book and see that boys are just as human as the rest of us.

All boys have secrets to tell us, if we will just listen.

Written by: Viannah Duncan, July 3rd 2009

Thanks for your comments, guys/ladies! I believe that the idea that boys are also hurt by the patriarchy is a correct one. "The way things are" is hurting everyone, not just women, and that makes it a human issue even more than a feminist one. At least one of the chapters focuses on a gay kid, though--like all the other chapters--that kid defies his stereotype. Overall, it's a great bashing of boy/male stereotypes, which men need just as much as women do. If finding yourself and living as well as you can with other people isn't feminist, I don't know what is.

Maybe the message is that boys are hurt by patriarchy too. Would be nice to know if the book includes gay boys or only focuses on hetero ones.

This book sounds interesting, but does it have a feminist analysis? Teenage boys go through a lot of pain and struggle, but our society still views them as superior to girls.

thanks for the review! i have a teen son and it'd be great for us both to read it.