Initially, I thought—judging by the title—that _100 Things Guys Need to Know_ was going to be something along the lines of smarmy tips for single straight men on how to manipulate vulnerable women into their beds, but to my surprise, when the book arrived it proved to be tips on how to be a self-actualized, well-adjusted tween-age boy (which might prove an invaluable primer on how not to end up being the guy perusing the book on how to manipulate vulnerable women into your bed).
Self-help is kind of a grownup thing. Even I, one of the more independent sorts, found myself dashing out for a copy of _The Dance of Anger_ right before my nuptials, and beseeching my intended to learn thereof. Self-help for the 11-14 year-old boy has got to be a tough sell. Yet Bill Zimmerman (an author and two-time Pulitzer-nominated editor of a Newsday column for young people) starts out right with a comic-book style layout that cannot help but appeal to even the most jaded apprentice of the college of comic book knowledge. While the pictures show guys doing “guy” things like skateboarding, slouching, gesturing excitedly and exchanging glances of eye-rolling commiseration at the foibles of parents, girls and other inexplicable entities, the narratives of the real “guys” that Zimmerman surveyed provide the authenticity that is essential to this wary age group.
Zimmerman leaves it up to the guys to identify the vicissitudes, quandaries and desires of our really young young men, intervening only to organize the stuff into chapters, provide hints and tips, and be the grown-up voice not so much of authority as experience and agency when alluding to issues like bullying, peer pressure and even proper nutrition. Each chapter is peppered with sections like “Take Action” (exercises for deepening guys’ understanding of the material), “Check These Out” (references to books and web sites for more information) and “A Guy Like You” (to put it plainly, commentary from celebrities who are young men or can remember being young men).
But to me, the most interesting parts of the book were the survey comments from the young men Zimmerman spoke to. Much of what they say is predictable—parents are weird, girls are weird, acne sucks—but many of the remarks are surprising and insightful. Eleven-year old Noah writes “When you’re younger, you change who you are around people. When you get older, you act the way you are and decide who your friends are.” Many of us have graduated from college and gone to our fifth year reunion before we figure this one out. Thirteen-year old Marvin writes “No one else will take care of your body for you. I eat salad and not junk food all the time.” Laudable, but I think I’ll skip his Super Bowl party. My favorite, the philosophical ten-year-old Randall, confesses, “I’m just not the manly and tough kind of guy.”
Educators are often big on doing things—like reading books—together: let’s all get into small groups and talk about our body changes! But I see this book as a good one for a boy to read alone and reflect on, not one to be preached to about. Buy it for a guy you care about.
_Lucy Vilankulu lives in Linden Hills, where there are bunnies in the backyard, and unfortunately for the bunnies, a hawk. She is editor of Minnesota Literature._