In a column last spring, I reflected on Judy Blume’s legacy and highlighted several middle-grade authors who have taken up her mantle, often by writing probing works on menstruation. Among these works is Calling the Moon: 16 Period Stories From BIPOC Authors (2023), edited by Aida Salazar and Yamile Saied Méndez.

Recently, I was delighted to see a new book from Salazar, this time exploring a teenage boy’s experiences with puberty. Ultraviolet (Scholastic, April 2), a novel in verse, follows 13-year-old Mexican American Elio Solis through first love—and first heartbreak. Calling the Moon offered a new take on Blume’s 1970 classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. In many ways, Ultraviolet is a spiritual successor to Blume’s Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971), about 12-year-old Tony Miglione, whose family moves from Jersey City to a wealthy Long Island suburb.

Blume and Salazar both examine the often mortifying experiences of puberty with a mixture of tenderness and humor. Tony wonders what to do if he unexpectedly gets an erection in public (his solution: carry a raincoat everywhere), while Elio cringes when his mother notices he has an erection one morning. But in other ways, the boys are worlds apart. Tony often spies on his crush, next-door neighbor Lisa, as she undresses. Though he feels conflicted, he decides that his actions are acceptable, since nobody knows what he’s doing. Readers might feel differently: How would Lisa feel if she knew?

Blume broke ground with her candid depictions of adolescent sexuality, but she also glossed over hurtful behavior—a reflection of the “boys will be boys” attitude of the time.

Salazar, in contrast, holds her protagonist—and her readers—to a higher standard. Elio is devastated after his girlfriend, Camelia, breaks things off, and when her new boyfriend offers to share photos of her in a bikini, he eagerly accepts, in part because he wants to hurt her, just as she’s hurt him: “Let Camelia suffer, let the pictures roll!”

These are words he later regrets once he sees the error of his ways, but he resolves to grow into a strong, empathetic man. Unlike Tony, whose tendency to bottle up his emotions leads to debilitating stomachaches, Elio doesn’t have to do it alone. Earlier in the novel, his father introduces him to a support group for adolescent boys, and after the breakup, his mother assures him that it’s OK to cry.

It’s tempting to look at Then Again, Maybe I Won’t and feel smug—See how far we’ve come? Sexism remains terrifyingly common, however; just look at the misogyny peddled by social media influencers such as Andrew Tate. Still, books like Ultraviolet give me hope. They offer a blueprint for a new conception of masculinity, for a world where young men take pride in being gentle nurturers—in one of my favorite scenes, Elio and his mother assemble a care package to help Camelia cope with menstrual cramps—and maybe even a world where the patriarchy is ultimately dismantled. As Elio’s mother tells him, “Keep your heart open, amor. / We need it from boys and men in this world.”

Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.