My recent completion of the classic Are you there God? It’s me Margaret by the esteemed Judy Blume really struck a chord. My thinking reached for literature aimed at kids that went beyond their young years.
Unfortunately, a whole good chunk of kids lit I consumed when I was a wee little one were simply fun reads with few social issues involved. These days a plethora of books fitting that bill exists, with Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and the writing of Lesley Livingston being recent ones I have read that fit that category.
But one book, which I discovered when I was a teen, struck me as the extreme counter edge to Margaret. It does reach the same depths of discussion of thoughts, feelings and events that shape a preteens life, but also it examines a horrifying situation she is thrust into. A heavy dose of social issues are thrown in for good measure, just like with Margaret.
The very not obvious connection, except for in my weirdly geeky brain, is to the 1975 kids classic The Girl Who Owned A City by O.T. Nelson, a book I have not reread in a very long time. Those of you have read both are probably scratching their heads and wondering if I have been exposed to Kyrptonite, but I am mostly referring to the issues involved, not the plots.
The Girl Who Owned A City is a very post-apocalyptic story that can be considered the grandmother to the Gone series by Michael Grant. The earth has been hit with a virus that has killed everyone over the age of twelve. Picking up shortly after the last adult passes away, we have ten year old Lisa and her younger brother living in their house still. Food is becoming scarcer and scarcer and survival threatened, so Lisa has to take action. Realizing supplies are just a bit further away, she takes the family car and starts foraging.
But this spark of ingenuity comes with a price. A foolish, exuberant act causes them to fall prey to other kids who steal the food. Lisa devises defenses against them, but the situation quickly escalates. At this point the title of the book kicks in, and Lisa moves multitudes of children into the local high school, making it into a fortress like city. This makes the other kid gangs also up the ante. Resolutions are only partial at best for all that happens, with plenty of room for the long promised sequels.
One of the interesting parts of The Girl Who Owned A City is the myriad social issues scattered through the story. Leadership, responsibility and survival become the most obvious, along with the assuming of adult tasks by young children. Lisa takes on the lions share of the thinking, organizing and planning for this safe haven.
All this stress presses down on her, causing loopy thoughts about how she “owns” this city and how everyone works for her. I know the term is in the title, but it still feels weird when it is commented on so much. This becomes a sticking point for Lisa, and makes everyone I have ever met who has read the book to question her sanity. While doing research for The Girl Who Owned A City, I found out that writer O.T. Nelson wanted the book to promote and explain Ayn Rand’s nutty Objectivism “philosophy” to his kids and others. Methinks he failed in a major way here. All those parts just read wacky.
The Girl Who Owned A City may not feature a girl worried about her bra size or petty gossip, but instead has a preteen trying to survive and rebuild. That is not a slam on Margaret, which is an everyday portrait of a child turning into an adult and a classic, but a commentary on very different situations. But the self doubt, mistakes and wondering about existence that plague Margaret also hinder Lisa.
I kinda wonder what they would talk about if they met. That would make fascinating fanfic.
…is currently reading You Are My Only Sunshine by yourlilRIOT7 on Wattpad.