When I was 9, my fourth grade class was assigned a book to read. Nothing new or different there. However, in my very Catholic, very conservative grammar school, even as a nine-year-old I was shocked and ultimately delighted by the book that we were assigned. In fact, at 34 years old, that book is still in my bookcase, the penciled in “GRADE 4-A” still on the first page. I still don’t get why we were allowed to read it, I still don’t get why it was chosen by the school. I’m just really, really glad that I was exposed to it and able to read it.
The book was called “The Girl Who Owned A City,” and it was written in 1975. It’s the story of a post-apocalyptic society (in this particular situation, a plague has killed everyone over the age of 12) and the desperation/ingenuity of the remaining children to rebuild their world. There is looting, plotting, scheming, violence and murder. And no one is older than 12, the MINIMUM age for the “Hunger Games” tournaments. Keep in mind, this was a Catholic grammar school, and was assigned to 9 year olds.
I loved this book. Loved it. It introduced me to science fiction, it introduced me to female protagonists with the lead character “Lisa” becoming “The Girl Who Owned A City” and it showed me that maybe someday life wouldn’t be the way it was today, maybe it would be terrifying and we would be all alone, left to fend for ourselves. It taught me that someday, maybe no one would be there to help me but myself. It also taught me things about survival, and I mean real SURVIVAL that had never occurred to me before. As a zombie show/movie fan and a dystopian/post-apocalyptic film and book fan, I can assure you that my notebook on survival started with “The Girl Who Owned A City.”
Lisa is not alone in her quest to survive. She has a younger brother whom she protects with abject fierceness, and in a scene that has always stuck with me, she learns to drive a car to go to a grocery store (after all the neighboring houses are ransacked) to find food. She notices that all the candy and soda are gone, but takes all the non-perishable food, not caring if her brother would like it or not. They had to survive, and dammit, she was going to make sure they did. There are also scenes of neighborhoods that “didn’t make it” due to starvation, abandonment, and mostly the terrible violence that the child gangs have wreaked.
A lot has been said about “The Hunger Games” being too violent and intense for children. I vehemently disagree. I haven’t finished the book, and I’m very eager to see the film, but the concept of a post-apocalyptic society focused on children is nothing new, and I know that when I read “The Girl Who Owned A City” when I was 9 affected me greatly, and it wasn’t in a negative way. It taught me that we all could become adults at any moment, and more than anything, learning to survive on one’s own was vital at any age. To my delight, it’s still in print, so follow the links. It’s a very quick read, and I can say that even though I was just a “fragile, impressive child” it remains one of my favorite books to this day. Although I’ll never, EVER understand why my pussy-ass Catholic grammar school assigned it, I’m very grateful they did.
And OMG, a graphic novel just got published!!! *orders immediately*