Boy Books and Girl Books
I have a pair of students I absolutely adore. They come into the library just about every day, always together, always taking their time to find the perfect book. They’re both in ninth grade, in that blissful period when friendships between boys and girls aren’t yet marred by the stunning Awkward that is puberty.
So far they’re my biggest readers–devouring books in a day or so, carrying off stacks of four and five when I have new books in, never shy about their feelings on any return.
And from the very first day, the male half of this dynamic duo has made it very clear what he doesn’t want to read: girl books.
It turns out that “girl book” is mostly code for “romance” in this young man’s mind. Once he returned a book and said it was “disgusting,” which turned out to mean “includes a romantic subplot.”
I completely respect his opinion, and I’m always excited to try to find a book that is sufficiently Boy Book for him. But I really want to push against those categories a little. What makes a girl book? His friend is constantly trying to convince him that certain books are “for boys and girls, too”–the most recent candidate was Patricia McCormick’s Cut, which he declined to try–but he seems to have very rigid categories. Books with hearts on the cover, regardless of romantic content (thinking specifically of Destroy All Cars), are totally out of the question–his friends might make fun of him.
This has gotten me thinking a lot about the ways we categorize books. The feminist in me (and the fourteen year old in me, the one who always read “boy books” and probably would’ve hated romance as much as this ninth grader does) wants to believe that gendering books isn’t helpful, that readers will find books regardless of their target audiences–and that limiting ourselves by this binary cuts us off from some magnificent reads.
But if putting books into categories is helpful for this young man, who am I to disagree? How do I help him redefine “boy books”? What do I do to convince him that a “girl book” is worth reading?