One of the biggest things I’ve been trying to do in the last three years is read books written from perspectives not my own, and written by authors who do not look, live, or love like me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it relates to talking to men about sexual harassment and rape culture, about how it’s so hard to break through the NOT ALL MEN response and I wonder how much easier it might be if the men of today had read more books written by women, or from girl’s perspectives growing up.
I remember meeting a guy at a party in college who had read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and my heart dropped out of my chest and I immediately seared his face into my memory because I had never before met any (heterosexual) guy who openly talked about how much he enjoyed that book. (He turned out to be super-boring and only talked about his Phis bootlegs but STILL! I REMEMBER HIM BECAUSE HE READ THAT BOOK!) Since then, I often have thought about how great it would have been for all boys of my generation to have read that book. I have since learned some people went to schools where it was required reading and I LOVE that idea!
These two perspectives combined, as well as me spending time this weekend going through books I’ve read this year, made me think that maybe I would pull out the few I read this year that I thought would be excellent reading for young men today so that maybe their perspectives can be shaped by voices other than their own. I’m sure there are better lists and think-pieces written about books boys should read, but this is just a few books on my mind recently that share important perspectives boys should be aware of.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu is a great story about girl’s fighting for equal treatment in school dress codes. The lead character is into 80s punk and making zines of those generation and uses her those interests/skills to start a revolution in her school. I love how some of the boys in the book seem a little bit like caricatures of real boys but the message gets across about how dress codes can be used to oppress girls in schools. It’s also full of great friend-building stories as girls bond over mutual frustration of school policy.
I recommend this entire series that starts with Cinder by Marissa Meyer. It is full of badass female characters in male-dominated fields. Cinderella is a mechanic. Sleeping Beauty is a computer hacker. Red Riding Hood is a pilot. The “fairy tale” through-line is very minor and basically exists more as a fun way to hunt for easter eggs than anything else. There are obviously love stories but they are very secondary and the women care much more about fighting for justice in a time of war. The men are secondary in almost every single story line and I think our boys need to read more books like this that show women who care more about saving the world than about getting their first kiss.
Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven has a lead male character as well as a lead female character but I recommend this because Jack learns lessons about toxic masculinity and the importance of telling your truths while he gets to know Libby Strout – the girl who used to be known as “America’s Fattest Teen.” Reading this book also sheds light into girls who struggle to find their place when they defy societal definitions of what happy and well-adjusted girls should look like. I also like how it depicts friendship between girls, it feels very real in how girls deal with conflict and resolve those conflicts in the end.
I recommend The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed with a very severe trigger warning about sexual assault and rape. With that said, this story conquers a small-town story of a rape where the victim was run out of town when she dared tried to come forward with her story. In her wake, girls find themselves empowered as they team up to tell similar stories and fight for recognition and justice. There are a lot of great moments in this story too that allow for girls to be in charge of their own bodies, even in terms of the enjoyment of sex, when you don’t see a lot in media aimed at young adults. We all joke about teen boys and masturbation like it’s a given but for some reason teen girls and masturbation is a topic reserved for whispers and scandals. I like that there are moments in this book that bring that out of the dark.