Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Two Sides

When I was around nine or ten, I loved Judy Blume's books.  Super Fudge was one of my favorites.  I remember playing sick so that I could sit with my stack of books and read them all day long.

I remember reading ARE YOU THERE GOD?  IT'S ME, MARGARET? when I was just on the cusp of understanding sexuality.  I was old enough to know that these things were serious, scary business, but young enough to still find it all hugely funny.  I laughed when the girls said their little chant to increase their bust size.  It gave me a greater understanding of what girls go through.  But I didn't really understand it.  It was a book I read and discarded.

Then I read THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T.  It tackled puberty with the same care and sensitivity that ARE YOU THERE GOD?  IT'S ME, MARGARET? did, but I could relate to the main character.  The book spoke to the experiences that I, as a boy, was going through.  Suddenly, I felt like I wasn't the only person in the world going through these things, being afraid of them.  I read that book a hundred times.

Boys and girls experience the world in different ways.  They each need books that speak to those experiences.  Judy Blume proved that a man doesn't have to write a "boy book" for it to be effective.

When people call for books that speak to boys, they're not trying to diminish the role of books aimed at girl or at female writers.  They're not saying that the experiences of girls are somehow less important than those of boys.  All they're saying is that boys need to know they're not alone.  They need to be able to see, through eyes like theirs, that they're going to be okay.

Denying them that isn't a victory for feminism, it's a defeat for us all.


  1. To bolster your point that men don't have to write boy books: S.E. Hinton. I grew up on her stuff.

    And to the rest of your post I say, "YES!" That's all most of us are saying. Is anyone listening, though? (editors/pubs) That's the true question.

  2. Shenanigans! Then Again, Maybe I Won't is a way better book, objectively, than Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. It has a plot. Also, my sense is that TAMIW holds up better over the years that AYTG?IMM. It made laugh, and pretty glad that I didn't have a penis, and other than the whole penis thing I identified with it. Margaret and her friends were like strangers. I can't think of a single girl I knew who was waiting anxiously for her period.

    All they're saying is that boys need to know they're not alone. They need to be able to see, through eyes like theirs, that they're going to be okay. Denying them that isn't a victory for feminism, it's a defeat for us all.

    WORD. It makes me angry that boy-bashing is so often called feminism. They keep using that word--I do not think it means what they think it means. Letting boys be boys (and letting boys decide what that means) is part and parcel of letting girls be girls.

    From my biased female perspective, I also think it's pretty presumptuous of the feminitpickers to assume that girls won't also identify with and enjoy "boy books", especially given how much is said about boys and girls reading books with male or female main characters. The hypocrisy astounds.

    Here's a (very incomplete) list of celebrated boy book authors whose works were life-changing for this girl:

    Robert Cormier
    Chris Crutcher
    Louis Sacher
    Jerry Spinelli
    Bruce Brooks

    When voices aren't heard we are all deprived.

  3. Loved TAMIW far more than AYTGIMM, in part because, as Leah said, it has a much more interesting plot (I still think of this book and recommend it to teen guys), but I understand where you're coming from.

    But the same can be said for kids who are black or Asian or Latino/a who'd like to see themselves in books in order to make a connection.

    So while I totally see the importance of getting both boys and girls to read, it would be nice if authors/feminists/whoever is busy fueling the fire of this debate, would see the bigger issue that the publishing industry keeps ignoring.

    On a lighter note, I've recently read quite a few great "boy books", (Shipbreaker, Ashfall, The Scorch Trials—maze runner sequel) with high adventure and great writing that both sexes can enjoy.

    Plenty of girls want to read action/adventures, but not as many guys want to read (or be seen reading) romance. ;) Go figure.

  4. Michael - I always forget THE OUTSIDERS. Sometimes I wonder if people are listening. Sometimes I wonder if we're all just talking into the wind.

    Leah - LOL! Okay, point taken. I happen to agree that TAMIW was a better book, but I assumed I was biased. But that just makes my point even better. Blume wrote a "boy" book that connected with boys way better than similar books.

    You're right about feminism. Now, I'm with the cause. I do agree that for a long time, and in a lot of ways, women were and are discriminated against. And we should do everything we can to stamp that out. But when the tide turns the other way and it leads to the discrimination of boys, then I think it's gone too far. Boys can and should enjoy "girl" books. Girls can and should enjoy "boy" books. And publishers should publish books that meet the needs of both groups. There's a lot more to it, but that's for another discussion.

    Tere - Thanks for stopping by! You make a fantastic point about multicultural books. Books are for everyone and everyone should have the opportunity to see themselves in the literature that they read.

    I haven't read Ashfall, but Shipbreaker and The Scorch Trials were both great. You should also try Black Hole Sun and The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (the first book is The Knife of Never Letting Go--it was and is one of the best YA trilogies I've ever read).


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.