Friday, January 27, 2012
A Girl Grows Up Quickly
While we may think the post-apocalyptic and dystopic trends in YA literature are relatively new, we seem to forget those gems like The Giver, White Mountains, and others. There might be a lot of YA out there these days, but there were some good ones out there before "the big YA boom"! O.T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City looks at a world without adults where kids have to grow up quickly... or not grow up at all.
When the adults all die of a flu that doesn't affect children under the age of 12, the children are let to fend for themselves. They can't drive, no one is making or delivering food anymore, and there is no electricity. many kids are starving, but Lisa has to take care of her brother. She is very crafty and won't let her age keep her from keeping what's left of her family alive. First she starts out by raiding nearby farms, but she quickly realizes that won't last forever. When she finds a grocery warehouse, she knows they can make it through the winter. What she doesn't expect is just how far hungry kids will go to get some food.
After her brother is attacked, Lisa organizes the other kids on the block, promising food if they all work together to protect their street. This lasts for a short while until the gangs burn her house to the ground as a warning to join them or suffer the consequences. Lisa won't be bullied, and with a few other trusted kids, she schemes to take over the one defensible castle she knows- the school. They secretly move to the school after reinforcing it to be a fortress, and create a community complete with a secret tunnel. But the gangs won't give up until they have what Lisa has created, at any cost.
This book was written in the mid-1970's, and you can certainly tell that as you read it. I remember reading young adult stories when I was young, and with the exception of a select few, they were never really as exciting or polished as YA books these days. This book felt a little clunky and childish at times, and I think it might be too "40 years ago" for our skeptical students. As a post-apocalyptic novel, it was really interesting how some kids gave up and others persevered. It also really explored the good and bad morals between working for what you have (although got a little preachy at times) and stealing from other people.
I think the reading level for this is certainly middle school, but I probably wouldn't give this dated story to a kid unless they had rampaged through my PA and dystopias already. Maybe for a little context of how far the genre has come in 40 years with a strong reader? But if you are a fan of dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories, give this one a try!