Books for Boys that Aren’t “Books for Boys”
Recently I was sitting in my library’s teen space with a few teens (three guys; two girls) chatting about movies, books, friends, and the Spongebob Squarepants version of the Game of Life when I had a bit of a revelation. This wasn’t really a new revelation but rather a confirmation of what seems like such an obvious fact: there are no such things as “books for boys.”
During this hanging out time, some boys insisting on showing me multiple trailers for YA movie adaptations: first, Divergent; then The Maze Runner; and finally, The Fault in Our Stars. They talked about how excited they were for these movies and how they couldn’t wait to see how the movies were different from the books. One of the boys said he watched the TFiOS trailer five (!) times in a row after it was released recently. This got me to thinking about the books and media these boys were interested in. They featured both guy and girl protagonists, they were cross a couple of different genres, and were written by both male and female authors.
I realized it doesn’t matter if a book is “for” a guy or a girl; the gender of the intended audience tends to get all mixed up when you factor in the power of a good story. Boys like stories; girls like stories. Readers in general like stories. We need to forget what we think about boys and reading and find them the stories they want.
In my experience as a teen librarian I’ve often run up against this old, and incorrect, adage: “Boys don’t like books with girl protagonists.” Oh really? Some of the my most rabid readers and fans of series like The Hunger Games or Divergent, and yes, The Fault in Our Stars, happen to be boys. All of those books have girl protagonists and are told from those female perspectives.
Some other librarians may even talk about the pacing of a book, saying it might be too slow for a boy to enjoy. This strikes me as pretty offensive to our guy readers. Do people snatch away books like 2012 Printz Award winner Where Things Come Back, or Revolver, or other great books because they think guys aren’t introspective or careful enough readers to slow down and tackle a different type of book? I think that shows how we as a culture, and maybe even as librarians and teachers, expect boys not to be readers. Then when we don’t make the effort and some boys may not like to read, we are confirmed in our opinions. Too bad we are wrong.
Or, some people might even say that boys don’t want to read books written by women. This baffles me! I honestly don’t think that these young male readers are stopping to think about the fact that the latest dystopia is written by a woman, I think they are just anxiously waiting for the sequel to come out.
We don’t think it’s that weird when a girl reads a “boy book” because girls will “read anything.” (A parent said this to me once. I didn’t know how to respond!) If we expect girls to read “anything” or whatever they truly want, it’s only far we treat boys the same.
We’re here to find books for readers, and readers for books. We’re not here to find a “girl book” for a girl, or a “boy book” for a boy. Books are for all – let’s remember that.
In light of this, here are a few titles I’ve recommended to guys recently that they mentioned that they enjoyed. Many feature female protagonists, female authors, and GASP, even some romance! Only one has a male author and a male main character.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, a 2012 Readers’ Choice winner
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King, a 2011 Printz honor book
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, a 2013 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Top Ten title
Adaptation by Malinda Lo
Legend by Marie Lu, a 2012 Teens’ Top Ten winner
Hold me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride, a 2011 Morris finalist
More Than This by Patrick Ness, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection
So when you’re thinking of recommending a book, don’t get hung up on the reader’s gender. Ask them what they want to read and don’t let your assumptions get the better of you.
-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith