22nd Feb 2011
Feminism in YA Fiction
Having just completed the transition from the kind of feminist teen with at least 5 or 6 books on the go to the kind of feminist adult with at least 5 or 6 books being neglected, the recent list by Bitch Magazine of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader was always going to grab my attention.
In a world of Katie Price novels and aggressively gendered marketing, it’s heartening to see how much feminist literature specifically aimed at young adults there is out there. Unfortunately, the list contains a few glaring omissions, so here’s a few I’d have included:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The lack of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy on this list is a grimace inducing oversight. The presence of Judy Blume suggests that the compilers weren’t overly concerned about opting for obvious choices, so where are the March girls?
Jo’s fear that she’s not cut out for a traditional marriage and ambition to be a writer mirrors the weight of expectation still placed upon women today. They are funny, loving, creative and largely self-sufficient – what teenager wouldn’t benefit and gain comfort from reading this?
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
Sybylla Melvyn has grown up in rural Australia and stubbornly persists in believing that there is more to life than grinding poverty. Like Jo March, she dreams of becoming a well-known writer.
Eventually summoned to live with her rich and doting grandmother, she is finally faced with the choice between realising her dream and marrying the dashing Harry.
Written over a century ago when Franklin was still a teenager, this is a gorgeously insightful book which crystallised many of the conflicts still facing young women today.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Bonnie and Sylvia from The Wolves are especially noteworthy as they battle the evil Miss Slighcarp – resourceful, untiring and fun-loving, their exclusion is baffling.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, this is the tale of 15-year-old city-slicker Daisy, caught up in a 21st century world war and falling in love with her cousin, Edmond.
As far from the traditional teen-love story as can be, this book has one of the most hauntingly familiar climaxes. A fantastic adventure story in its own right, this is the first book to give any teenager and the last I expected to see overlooked by Bitch.
My intention is not to suggest that the compilers of this fantastic list were completely aware of all these titles and deliberately excluded them. Indeed, it contains many previously forgotten titles such as The Book Thief which are perfect examples of young adult feminist writing.
Rereading the list in search of titles less deserving than the ones suggested above, I struggled to find one which hadn’t earned it’s place. Young adult fiction is all too often neglected or dismissed as vampires and virginity-angst but, as this collection shows, there is a wealth of fantastic work out there.
Do you think anything is missing? What were your favourite teenage reads? Was Jo March the original teen feminist hero?
Beulah Maud Devaney
(Image via natashalcd’s Flickr photostream)