Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review: The Boy Project by Kami Kinard

The Boy Project--Kami Kinard
January 2012 by Scholastic Press
256 pages--Goodreads

Wildly creative seventh grader Kara McAllister just had her best idea yet. She's going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara's project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy's bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara's research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it. . . .

Full of charts and graphs, heart and humor, this hilarious debut will resonate with tweens everywhere.

The Boy Project has a great premise.  Unfortunately, the execution wasn't what I hoped.  I loved the idea of having a character use science to figure out relationships, a topic very pertinent to young readers.  Yes, let's prove to kids that science matters, that science isn't boring.  I figured that even if the scientific rigor wasn't perfect, it would be a step in the right direction.  In some ways it was, but in others it fell very short.

This is mostly my personal philosophy coming in, but I wanted Kara to realize that she could be a whole and self actualized person without having a boyfriend.  I really think the drive to find the person who "completes you" is damaging.  I wanted Kara to be okay with not having a boyfriend.  Instead, every female character reinforced the idea that you are incomplete without a boyfriend.  Girls would stay in relationships with boys they didn't like until they had another boyfriend lined up because they didn't want to be alone.  Can we not see how dangerous that line of thinking is?!  If your worth as a human being is determined by your relationship status, you may not get out of a toxic relationship because even abuse is better than not having someone to "love" you.  I know that's not at all the message Kinard intended to send.  I know that middle schoolers are obsessed with crushes and they would want Kara to have her happy ending.  But can we please go beyond audience wish fulfillment when dealing with stuff like this?  Even if Kara's story had stayed the same, could we at least have changed Tabbi's?  Yes, this is a small part of the book and my reasoning might be a bit of a slippery slope, but cultural norms are formed and reinforced by small, subtle, sometimes unconscious messages. 

Kinard does create a realistic school, at least from the perspective of a middle school student.  As a teacher, I can see a lot of the things students fail to see, but from the tunnel-visioned view of a 7th grader, it's spot on.  You've got the popular girls who get all the boys' attention, the unattainable guys, the dweebs, the unfair teachers, the gross cafeteria food, the mindset that dates are way more important anything school has to teach.  Good luck being an informed voter someday since you resist all our attempts to teach you how to think.

The Boy Project is one of those books that will probably be eaten up by students.  It's wish fulfillment with a touch of science thrown in.  Maybe if we can't escape one harmful gender role, maybe we can hope to tackle a different one.  

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