A Book Rec

February is a birthday month here in our house, what with three birthdays occurring in the last three weeks of it. The first to happen was our oldest kiddo's and he just turned nine. Nine! I can't believe it. Soon enough the moody, broody creature Teenager will be sulking our hallways--and that means big changes are a-comin' shortly.

Being of the "more information, the better"/"forewarned is forearmed" sort, I recently went on a book buying hunt for books for our oldest son (and also the younger boys, when they're older). I was looking for a general book on body changes for the family library and also a couple books specifically for boys*. Not just any books for boys, either--I wanted ones that would give good, factual information and also support the teachings/values we put forth (like this). After a bit of searching and checking out recommendations from other parents, I bought three: It's Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris (this is a companion to the It's So Amazing... book we already have and for the family library); American Medical Association Boy's Guide to Becoming a Teen (this is aimed for the 'tween' age group and before/right-at-the-start-of puberty); and The Guy Book: An Owner's Manual: Maintenance, Safety, and Operating Instructions for Boys (for older boys, 13-14+). The last one is the subject of the post.

Now, I don't usually post random book recs but I was impressed by the book and I know there are parents out there searching for similar books, so I wanted to highlight it. I think it's a great resource for all boys and one progressive parents will definitely find worthwhile. As always, I advocate talking with children as a first point of education. Books, though, can be invaluable tools to help start, expand, or follow-up on conversations that should be happening continuously.

Anyway, onto it...

The Guy Book: An Owner's Manual: Maintenance, Safety, and Operating Instructions for Boys by Mavis Jukes is one of dozens of books written for boys/young men. It has a kitschy theme of looking like an actual owner's manual and uses pun after pun in chapter/section titles. It also has some "retro" style photos relating to the pun and topic-at-hand. Personally, I thought they were goofy but that is probably the point--to bring some levity to topics that boys (particularly the younger teens) might find daunting. They may help some nervous or shy parents ease into conversations. The pictures and theme, though, don't make it a stand-out, it's the content and context that makes this one the one to pick from the dozens.

The book covers the basics right off from the start--the first sentence is (emphasis theirs): "Human reproductive systems include primary reproductive organs, called gonads."(pg. 3). "Exterior Maintenance: Basic Care" is chapter three and that chapter contains something that I think all books for boys (or men!) should cover: how to do a testicular self-exam. The book discusses all sort of things: from how to tie a tie to STDs, drugs/alcohol, how to be a good friend, how to work up the nerve to ask out a date/accept rejection, how to responsibly and respectfully call off a relationship (actually, a whole host of tips when it comes to dating and how not to be a jackass), abuse/molestation and how to tell & get help, to how to develop your own groove/style. On almost every page is a blurb of text that is extra and marked by a bold blue font. I found these to be some of the most valuable parts of the book--don't skip them!

Some parts that particularly stood out to me:

In the chapter on healthy habits/lifestyle, there is a section that says:

Achieving the "look" of a model is not a practical or meaningful goal for boys or girls. Accepting ourselves and each other, including our different body types, is.

People are genetically programmed to be a different variety of sizes and shapes. Clothing ads, especially those featured in teen or fashion magazines, are famous for portraying unrealistic images of both men and women. (pg. 39)
Consumer Alert
The media have invented an idealized male image that can cause some guys to feel as though they just don't "measure up". Preteen and teen boys are particularly vulnerable to these feelings. If you learn how to "read the media", you will recognize that many commercials are designed to make us feel like we're just, somehow, not good enough the way we are--that we need to buy something (which they're promoting) to be popular, successful, and powerful.(pg. 40)

The book deals quite a bit with emotions, not just with physical changes. One such excerpt:
Face it: Boys are often discouraged from expressing (and feeling) certain emotions, such as sadness, fear, and anxiety. But we need to get real with each other. Everybody experiences feelings of sadness, vulnerability, lonliness, fear, anxiety, shame, and confusion at one time or another.

[...]Our culture signals to girls that they're supposed to dependent and in many ways weak, to be "feminine". At the same time, we encourage girls to be strong, assertive, competitive and independent. And why not? Why should powerful traits be associated exclusively with males?

Both boys and girls (and men and women) feel all ways: strong and weak, powerful and vulnerable, confident and insecure, courageous and afraid.

These are human feelings. They're not attached to a particular gender. (pg. 42)
The chapter discusses how ridiculous the term "mama's boy" is and how to examine your feelings and how to seek help if you need it. It provides the numbers and info for the National Hope Line and the Girls and Boys Town National Hot Line and several others and encourages boys to call them if they need help. It also discusses bullying, both what to do if you're bullied and how to deal when you feel pressure to be the bully:
Get over it.
Accept people's differences. Let it go at that. The world isn't entirely made up of kids who look, think, and act the same.

What's cool about bullying? Nothing. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Don't reinforce the behavior of bullies by laughing with them or otherwise backing them up. Rewarding bulling perpetuates the problem.

[...] (page 47)
From bullying it segues into violence and how to deal with anger:
Blowing a Gasket/Boiling Over
Rages are NOT uncontrollable. Help is available for anger management.

Your pediatrician or counselor an point you in the right direction for finding help with controlling your anger--before it starts to control you (and your future). Violence is a choice. You CAN make choices that do NOT involve violence. [...] (pg. 49)

There is the chapter on girls (called "Sharing the Road") which discusses the female body, changes during puberty, and all that general info. It has a section called "Ogling"--about, generally, not doing so--which includes:
Separating someone's body from who she or he is as a person has a name: objectification. Who wants to be scrutinized as an object? Nobody.
And one of those blue-bolded blurbs with:
Breast Etiquette for Guys

Commenting--complimenting a girl on her breasts--is offensive. Example: "Nice rack."
Criticizing breasts is also unacceptable. Example: "How flat is she!"
Even if a guy is being complimentary or just kidding around, remarks that relate to sexual characteristics (including breasts and breast development) are embarrassing, unwelcome, and just plain inappropriate. They're also considered a kind of sexual harassment (see page 123). (pg. 63)

It talks about sex, of course. It doesn't promote abstinence--it is heavy on the "know what is right for you and don't rush into things and don't pressure yourself or let yourself be pressured" line. The chapter that covers birth control gives the 800 number for Planned Parenthood and details on all types of birth control--it also gives tips on how to buy condoms. Another chapter on sex discusses the idea that "a lot of sex = a real man":
[...]There's a societal myth that a guy has to have sex with a lot of girls (or even just one!) to prove that he's a man. Many boys exaggerate or just plan make up stories about sexual escapades to impress other guys, and that just adds to the confusion.

Having sex doesn't make a boy a man--it just makes him a boy who's had sex. And if just does it to get a feather in his cap--to impress his friends or prove something to himself--where does the girl fit into the picture? (pg. 79)
It talks about sexual orientation, touching on the three basic labels and also the idea that sexuality is a spectrum. Under the heading of "Don't fix what ain't broke.", it says that being gay is normal, natural, and does NOT need to be "treated, modified, medicated, changed, or fixed." (pg. 80). It also touches on what homophobia is, the violence caused by it, and wryly notes that: "It can also lead to unhealthy attitudes toward one's own sexual orientation" (pg. 81).

One particularly valuable chapter in the book is the one on consent:
"No" Never Means "Yes"
Once given, consent may be withheld or withdrawn at by either party at any time. As soon as one person says no, the other person has to stop. That's the rule, and that's the law.

Back off.
When one person says or otherwise indicates no, it means one thing: No. This is true for all couples: pre-teens, teens, and adults. It's even true for married couples.[...] (pg. 122)
It also discusses the concept of "mixed messages" and that "yes + no = NO". That "any form of a no means a no and stays no regardless of when and how it's given" (pg. 123). Like most of the chapters in the book, it's not very long but it's very matter-of-fact and clear. The important topic of consent is not skimmed, it is not glossed over.

There's a negative that I have about the book and that it is very hetero-centric. Yes, it talks--and talks positively, which is wonderful!--about homosexuality (or bisexuality) but the chapters about, say, dating, really only focus on girls. Sure, some of the advice can be the same but it doesn't really delve into offering support or topics for gay teens--such as talking to your parents and friends or giving contacts for groups to help you do such a thing. PFLAG contact info is given but that's it and I don't think that's near enough since there are other resources out there for teens to contact. This book is otherwise so thorough--and progressive--that this is a glaring omission and a shame that that it wasn't more comprehensively included.

There are a couple "nit picky" bits that I'm not thrilled with, such as during the chapter on women and periods, it shares a story from a friend of the author that details how she (the friend) unexpectedly started her period in a class one day and didn't realize it until she stood up. A young man approached her, noting he had five sisters and would she like to borrow his sweatshirt to tie around her waist? Nice story, right? Be considerate and don't be grossed out by periods. However, it goes on to say that he walked her to her dorm, they talked, and eventually started dating. Then it says: "Moral of this story: be a cool guy--you never know what may happen as a result." (pg. 69). One one hand, it's not bad advice because being a nice, considerate guy can lead you to a relationship with someone. Maybe it's the phrasing but it bugged me in that it also came off a bit like "be a nice considerate guy because it might get you something", not "be a nice considerate guy because it's just the right thing to do". I realize this may very well just be me and is, like I called it, "nit picky".

There are a couple subtopics that have the potential to be controversial, even among more progressive parents, so I felt I should mention them as well. Both are fairly short blurbs and both are under the topic of masturbation. One talks about, well, the circle jerk. It's all of two sentences and basically says: some guys masturbate with others, some would never. If you feel it's wrong, then it is (for you). The other--and perhaps more eyebrow-raising for some--is regarding fantasies. It states that's it's pretty normal for teens to fantasize about a sexual encounter with a sister or other relative. It goes on to say that this is different from actual incest (which has its own section in the abuse chapter) and that acting on fantasies is a whole 'nother ball of wax. (pages 16 - 17) But, really, that's it.

On the whole, this really is a nice book that gives boys/young men a good reference on puberty, relationships, sex, emotions & emotional health, and general life tips from a perspective that a boy/man is a human with emotions and that's good and normal, women should be respected, and to just be yourself (and be happy with who that is, not who others want you to be). I don't think it's perfect but I think it's a very worthwhile purchase (or borrow from the library) for any teenage boy.


* Specifically for boys because there are concerns and questions about puberty & growing up that are specific to boys (like if erections are happening frequently and how to deal when it happens in public) which may only be superficially covered in a general puberty-type book. We will have books specifically for girls when our daughter is old enough to need them, as the boy books (which she may read, of course) don't cover all the topics that girls may find valuable.

** I don't have any contact with Crown Publishers/Random House (and I don't know the author). If they did send me the book in hopes I'd read it and recommend it, I'd be upfront about it. Just in case anyone was wondering.

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