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Beyond "Boy Books"

Mary McCoy, Senior Librarian, Art, Music, & Recreation Department,

It happens all the time at my library. A parent walks up to me and says, “My son has to read a book for school. He’s in 7th grade. He doesn’t really like reading. Can you recommend something?”

Not everyone comes right out and asks me for a “boy book,” but often the expectation is there. And more often than I’d like to, I wind up handing out the usual suspects: the Percy Jackson  books, the Maze Runner series. Michael Vey and Escape from Furnace and Alex Rider. While these are all great books that teens love, they’re not the only ones I want to give to male readers.

There are tons of books with female protagonists, with girls on the covers, that boys would probably enjoy if their parents and teachers and librarians and friends gave them permission to. But why should they challenge their own expectations about a book if we don’t?

Recently, children’s and teen author Kate Messner said, “When we TELL boys that they shouldn't like to read about girls, they often listen, and that's a problem for a number of reasons. We're placing artificial limits on what kids should read and keeping them from books they might love. And we're also sending a message to boys that girls' stories don't matter. That translates to girls' and women's voices not mattering, too.”

This school year, I’m challenging myself to move beyond “girl books” and “boy books” when I make recommendations to people visiting the library, and I challenge readers and teachers to consider it too.

One of my colleagues told me that when she’s recommending books, she says, “This book is about a kid who…” instead of saying it’s about a girl or a boy. Here are a few recommendations to start you moving beyond “girl books” and “boy books” - they’re about kids who do everything from Tae Kwan Do to flying planes to walking between worlds:

For Younger Readers (Ages 9-13)

Foundry’s Edge: The First Book of Ore by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz

What it’s about: When twelve-year-old Phoebe Plumm and her father are abducted by his employer, The Foundry, a corporation holding a monopoly on metal production and technology, and taken to a savage world of living metal that is rising up against its oppressors, Phoebe and her irksome servant Micah fight back.

Who it’s for: Readers looking for a steampunk Percy Jackson

El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

What it’s about: Cece has trouble adjusting to a new school with a giant hearing aid strapped to her chest until she finds a way to channel her inner super hero. Cece deals with the challenges of deafness in a hearing world with humor (“I sure can’t lip-read a butt.”) and warmth.

Why you should read it: Because our differences are our superpowers

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

What it’s about: Set in a near-future where massive tornados and storms are rampant, Jaden is excited to spend the summer studying meteorology with her scientist father in his allegedly storm-proof community. But Jaden soon realizes that something sinister is afoot in the sleepy town.

Who it’s for: Readers interested in adventure stories and the science of storms

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

What it’s about: As her mother prepares to be a contestant on the 1980s television game show, "The $20,000 Pyramid," a twelve-year-old New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes received from an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space.

Who it’s for: Readers who wish they had a time machine


Realistic Fiction:

Love and Other Theories

Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass

What it’s about: Aubrey and her three best friends have some rules about dating: don’t commit, don’t be needy, and don’t give away your heart, but senior year puts their theories about love to the test.

Why you should read it: An awesome book about the games people play. Show up for the partying, stick around for the feelings.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

What it’s about: Sixteen-year-old Valerie, whose boyfriend Nick committed a school shooting at the end of their junior year, struggles to cope with integrating herself back into high school life, unsure herself whether she was a hero or a villain.

Who it’s for: Readers interested in current events like bullying, guns, and school violence

Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

What it’s about: Nothing says 'Welcome to your new school' like a complete stranger bent on kicking your butt. Piddy is having a hard enough time starting fresh in her new high school. Now she's got to face an irate stranger named Yaqui, who isn't convinced that Piddy has enough Latin in her to call herself Latina.

Why you should read it: This book about bullying and drama doesn’t sugar-coat

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

What it’s about: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Who it’s for: Mixtape makers and comics readers

Far From You

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

What it’s about: The car crash that didn’t kill Sophie left her with a bad leg and an Oxy addiction. She’s been clean for six months, when she and her best friend, Mina, are targeted by a killer. Sophie escapes but Mina isn’t so lucky, and everybody believes it was a drug deal gone bad - even the police. So it’s up to Sophie to find out the truth.

Why you should read it: This book has everything going on. It’s a murder mystery, a love story, a story about drug addiction and the seedy noir underbelly of high school. An action-packed read.

Bruised by Sarah Skilton

What it’s about: Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, blames herself when she fails to stop a hold-up at a local diner that ends with the gunman being killed by the police.

Who it’s for: Martial arts fans, people interested in psychology, especially PTSD

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

What it’s about: When a pilot and a spy crash land in Nazi-occupied France, the pilot is killed, the spy is captured. She knows the Nazis will kill her no matter what information she gives up, so she tells them an incredible story that is more than the sum of its parts.

Why you should read it: Because there’s a twist in this book the size of the White Cliffs of Dover and it must be seen to be believed.

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

What it’s about: Because of something that happened three years before, Deanna is known as the school slut. Most people avoid her, her own father can barely look at her, but there’s a lot more to Deanna.

Why you should read it: It’s less than 200 pages long, and I promise, you’ll be hooked by the third sentence.


Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, and Dystopian Fiction:

Shadow and Bone

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo

What it’s about: An orphan is plucked from obscurity and sent to become a protege of the Darkling and train with the magical elite in the hope that her powers as a Sun Summoner can destroy the monsters that threaten the land of Ravka. The series continues with Siege & Storm and Rise & Ruin.

Why you should read it: This addictive fantasy series is set in a remarkably cool world, kind of a steampunk, magic-infused, Tsarist Russia.

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

What it’s about: Left for dead and stranded on a remote space station where humans are despised, Tula Bane carves out a place for herself as a black market trader. However, just when Tula believes that everyone has forgotten about her, she learns there are big things afoot in the galaxy and her new home is at the center of everything.

Who it’s for: Star Wars fans (especially if Han Solo is your favorite)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

What it’s about: Merricat, Constance, and Julian have lived alone since other family members died of arsenic poisoning. Up until now, Merricat's magic had protected them, but now that magic has failed and Cousin Charles arrives with his eye on the Blackwood fortune.

Who it’s for: Fans of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, Edward Gorey, and all things macabre

Love is the Drug

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Johnson

What it’s about: When a fatal flu virus strikes the nation days after privileged Emily Bird has a run-in with a Homeland Security agent and wakes up in the hospital with no clue how that night ended, Bird turns to a drug dealer to help her find the truth.

Who it’s for: Fans of political intrigue, conspiracy theories, biological warfare, and technothrillers

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

What it’s about: Filled with hedge priests, assassin nuns, treacherous nobles, and political intrigue, this story about an assassin sent into the high court at Brittany to fulfill her violent destiny is perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.

Why you should read it: ASSASSIN NUNS, PEOPLE.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

What it’s about: When Cinder, a cyborg mechanic with a mysterious past, becomes entangled with Prince Kai, ruler of New Beijing, she finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle to save humankind from a deadly plague and ruthless lunar beings.

Why you should read it: In addition to being a fast-paced, action-packed book, the way Meyer weaves the Cinderella fairy tale into a cyborg science fiction novel is pretty nifty.

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

What it’s about: A dystopian action book inspired by the real-life aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2056, a hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast has been walled off from the rest of the country, a pandemic rages, and fearless 17-year-old Fen is determined to smuggle her best friend’s newborn baby over the wall before she becomes infected with Delta Fever.

Who it’s for: dystopian fiction fans fascinated by environmental science, epidemiology, and natural disasters


This is just the smallest handful of suggestions. If you’re interested in moving beyond “girl books” and “boy books” and need help finding more, get in touch with a librarian at your local library or call or visit Teen’Scape.

For more reading on this subject, check out these articles:

“When Boys Can’t Like ‘Girl Books;”: School Library Journal, March 5, 2015

Coverflips: The Not-So-Subtle Message of YA Cover Art: YALSA: The Hub, May 13, 2013

“Fart Jokes and Feelings: Beyond Gendered Readers’ Advisory”: American Libraries, June 29, 2015