Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dystopian YA Book Review: Girl Who Owned A City by S.E. Hinton

The Girl Who Owned a City is the story of one American girl, determined to protect and care for her brother  after the sudden death of their parents.

A fast-spreading, ferocious plague sweeps across America and around the world, resulting in the death of every single person over the age of 12. The Girl Who Owned A City opens into the immediate aftermath of this sickness, in one small American suburb.

This young adult novel is at times reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies and George R. Stewart's dystopian classic, Earth Abides. It contains adult themes (though none sexual in nature), and challenges the reader to consider a world far removed from one's own. Though houses, schools, grocery stores and playgrounds remain undisturbed, society has altered irrevocably. Only the children remain, and thus, the children rule.

Forced to solve their own problems, Hinton's characters react and adapt in a variety of ways. Some resort to isolation and fear, while others reach out and rebuild community with their young neighbors. Hinton explores a variety of problems that would arise from this sudden shift in the patriarchy. What, for example, is to be come of the youngest children survivors? And, without structure and guidance from parents and school, how will children learn and grow into productive members of society?

Hinton stresses the importance of critical thinking, as well as creativity, optimism, teamwork and motivation to learn new skills and information. Without traditional mentors, these children are left to fend for themselves, and to find solutions to life-threatening problems.

Lisa, the story's main character, is focused on protecting her little brother and finding enough food and supplies to live (relatively) comfortably in their parents' home. With the ever-increasing threat of roving gangs of violent children looters, Lisa realizes that safety lies in numbers.

Last week, I finished reading The Girl Who Owned a City, amidst stories of a new Avian Flu and various
threats of global nuclear destruction. This was not my first time reading Hinton's novel.

My 7th grade literature class first introduced me to the dystopian genre, and I was hooked. The novel proved to be too provking - to parents, that is. My classmates and I were fascinated by Lisa's end-of-the-world plight, and shared our enthusiasm with our families. Some parents complained of suggested violence and an all-around grimness, and the school administration chose to BAN the novel, effective immediately.

But... we were only half-way through the book!

A happy twist of fate left me sick in bed the day the teacher collected our book. My classmates moved on to the next book on our reading list (which was Edgar Allan Poe -- ironic?). I flew through the second half of The Girl Who Owned A City, and was forever altered by it's message.

Should your child read this book?


But, you should, too.

This novel is appropriate for a mature young reader. Since it's a quick and exciting read, I recomend that a parent or teacher read this alongside the child, and TALK with younger readers about the themes and potentially upsetting scenes depicted.