What Exactly Are “Boy Books”?

The fun part of blogging with friends is that we can get feisty with each other and it’s all in good fun. So, I have a bone to pick. 

Ali recently posted a list of books in a post called “Books for Men.” And it is indeed a great list of books.

That said, I don’t subscribe to the idea that there are, or should be, books for men. Or books for women for that matter. I’m not a fan of chick lit generally, but I’m even less of a fan of the term “chick lit.” I also don’t subscribe to the idea that men are only able to enjoy books with male protagonists, or with certain kinds of storylines. Women have been reading books with male protagonists for basically all of eternity, and it has been called “literature.” Why do books written by women, with female protagonists, get called by the pejorative “chick lit”? You don’t see any “dude lit” sections in the bookstore. Books that are the equivalent of “dude lit” get their proper genre designations.

Marie Lu, author of the Legend trilogy (one of my favorite YA series), wrote a fantastic piece on Huffington Post about this earlier this year. In it, she described her struggle with the inevitable question that she always gets at book signings — Do you think my 12-year-old son would like this book? 

The parent’s question is obviously well-meaning, but betrays so much more about our society than it could ever mean to. As Marie describes, it’s not actually a simple question to answer. How do we decide what makes a book good for boys? Does it have to have a boy as the main character? And who gets to decide? It’s especially a question that comes up frequently in discussions about YA books, and the “elusive boy audience.” Too many people seem to think that because more and more YA writers are female, they are somehow locking out the boys from the joys of reading; as if girls haven’t been reading books with boy protagonists their whole lives and enjoying them just fine!

For me, the problem with labeling is that books are amazing, and I think we should just be concerned with getting them into people’s hands. Does your boy like romances? Great, hand him Anna and the French Kiss! Do we care if it involves crushes and kissing and things that people tend to stereotype as girly? Last time I checked, young boys also dealt with things like crushes and kissing in their own lives. Nobody seems to care much when a girl picks up some classic sci-fi or an adventure book or horror, or any other various type of book that one might consider stereotypically manly; why should we care so much about “boy books” and steering our boys clear of books that are, by implication, girly?

Obviously, there are differences between boys and girls. And obviously marketing plays an important role in this that cannot be discounted. But there are also differences among boys, and among girls. And that’s the key — not every boy is going to want to read the same kind of books, and not every girl will either. Why can’t we revert back to labels that are actually helpful?

“Hey, my 12-year-old son likes books with a lot of action, and he’s pretty into dystopians right now. Would he like Legend?” Yes, he probably would. And I’d also recommend that he try DivergentThe Maze Runner, and maybe Monument 14.  Because descriptors like “action” and “dystopian” I can work with; “boy book” I can’t.

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