What do boys want? What possibly goes on in their heads to make them do certain things: eat disgustingly greasy food, for instance, or ignore the people they like? We who like or have tried to date guys have all wondered, haven’t we? So imagine my delight when I opened a book called What Boys Really Want by Pete Hautman.
If you look at the cover of this book, its back cover description and nothing else, you will assume that it’s just cheap teen-lit–a sappy love story. You will be mistaken. The cover, in fact, sells the book short. A few chapters into What Boys Really Want, I was laughing out loud every few paragraphs.
I was totally hooked because the novel is not only intensely funny, it’s about teen authors like me and most other Figgies. One sentence in particular made me laugh purely because it perfectly describes my life. The female protagonist, Lita, says “the only notable events […] were that […] the New Yorker did not publish any of my poems, and my sucky novel remained cowering in its drawer.” Yes, Lita, yes.
Lita isn’t the only one who writes. The male protagonist, Adam, is an author as well. The two of them make up two thirds of the main characters of this novel, so it’s pretty writing and publishing heavy.
According to What Boys Really Want, though, if you have a good idea you can write a brilliant novel in two weeks, plagiarize most of it, get it heavily edited by a copy editor who happens to be your English teacher’s sister, sell hundreds of copies to your classmates, and then have a company in New York offer to publish it. And this all happens in about a month. Oh, and a few phone calls clean up the fact that you plagiarized practically the whole thing. Yeah, somehow I don’t think that’s how it works.
Much as this novel amuses me, I have one major aversion to it: it’s sexist. The entire plot, in fact, rests on the idea that while girls care about what guys think, guys couldn’t care less about what girls want. The two female main characters and most of the auxiliary female characters are overly sexualized. The male main characters are dumbed down and presented as stereotypically ‘macho’. In one romantic subplot, a girl has to pad her bra and give her crush pizza before he’ll ask her out. The only lesbian character is mentioned for two sentences and is a short-haired, butch, biker chick. Basically, this novel’s characters are stripped of all depth and emotion beyond primordial, stereotypical ones.
So this leaves me in a bit of a bind. Yes this book is funny and hits home for many of us, but I can’t with a clean conscience recommend a novel that supports gender stereotypes so blatantly. Frankly, I’m disappointed that kind of message could have gotten printed by Scholastic Press in the first place. If this novel were a satire, actually, that would make more sense. So I’ll leave the decision up to you. Go forth and exercise rational judgment.
Meredith Hilton hails from Washington, DC during the school year (in the summer, her location is pretty much up to chance). On any given day you can find her online, being artsy, in the library, or surreptitiously writing poetry during math class.