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.”

See!? Sometimes guys read Danielle Steele! (Photo by Flickr user Wei Tchou)
See!? Sometimes guys read Danielle Steele! (Photo by Flickr user Wei Tchou)

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.

Do boys read this even though it features a girl protagonist and is written by a lady? Yup.
Do boys read this even though it features a girl protagonist and is written by a lady? Yup.

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

5 thoughts on “Books for Boys that Aren’t “Books for Boys””

  1. So true for middle grade boys as well!

    I blame marketing–I was thinking, just today, of the Bic For Her line of pens–before these came out, I had NO IDEA I was struggling to use pens that weren’t designed for me (sarcasm font), and the same splitting of products by gender has happened to lego too, of course. If you create the belief that boys and girls need different things, they (and their parents) are in danger of becoming brainwashed.

  2. I absolutely agree. A number of years ago I was looking for a tricycle to give to my then 3-year-old nephew. I wanted a green one because I happen to like green. What I found (as you know)were BOY trikes (blue with truck stickers) or GIRL trikes (pink with butterflies). No luck finding green. It was clear who could ride which trike. I didn’t buy one.

    Same goes for books. A good story is a good story. (And it can have both trucks and butterflies in it.)

  3. I agree too. My son (14) goes to an all boys school and does read, partly because he has a mother who is a librarian and partly because his school has a wonderful school librarian. Over the half term, as part of my job I had to go and input a bulk loan of fiction to our local Grammar school. As my son was off and bored he decided to come with me to help. I was really surprised by his comments about the stock we were putting in ‘why doesnt my school have the twilight series’ and ‘this one looks great’ another supposedly ‘girls’ book. I think if boys are in a mixed school then it’s good as they get the whole selection. It more of a problem in a boys only school. Thanks for writing this interesting piece.

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