This Is Not About Hunger Games, This Is About The “Inappropriate” YA Novel Of MY Youth

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.

“The Girl Who Owned A City” on Wikipedia

“The Girl Who Owned A City” on Amazon

And OMG, a graphic novel just got published!!! *orders immediately*


This Is Not About Hunger Games, This Is About The “Inappropriate” YA Novel Of MY Youth — 17 Comments

  1. There are sooooo many good books with this same theme, I never read this one but with have to go pick it up this week at one of those crazy bookstore places I hear still exist.

    Two of my favorites are: Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack (not for kids) and The Giver by Lois Lowery

    I loved a 3 Hunger Games books (as you know) and was really scared of a sanitized movie version. While they did tone down a lot it was still pretty heavy and was a little shocked by how young some of the kids at the movie were.

    I have recommended them to many people with pre-teen and teen daughters because Katniss is such an anti-Bella, which is one of the best things about these books and when they came out. BUT I always suggest they read them first. They are violent, they deal with heavy subjects, things they may need to actually have conversations about.

    But I am also not a parent. We are ALL thankful for that.

    I read “David and Lisa” and “Hotel New Hampshire” before I entered junior high. This might explain a lot.

    • Ah, read this book in the sixth grade, read “Hotel New Hampshire” in the eighth grade after some other kid in class couldn’t stop babbling about all the twisted things within.

  2. Slightly disturbed to read in the Wikipedia entry that the book was designed by the writer to teach the theories of Ayn Rand to school kids. Ayn Rand being one of the most sociopathic and horrible people to ever also be a writer.

    • Bryan, I had NO idea who Ayn Rand was when I read the book. The weird thing is that in my (all-girls, Catholic, demonic) high school, “The Fountainhead” was required reading. Your point about the Rand issue makes me want to read the book yet again. Thanks for pointing it out to me, I never would have noticed it otherwise. Cheers.
      MissBanshee last post: This Is Not About Hunger Games, This Is About The “Inappropriate” YA Novel Of MY Youth

      • I went back and read the book in college, as it was one of the books that influenced me to start writing in the first place, and was amazed at how Objectivist it was. Still, will always owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. O.T. Nelson, just as I do to H. P. Lovecraft, Jules Verne, Ian Fleming, Hemingway, Hammet, Chandler, Steinbeck, George MacDonald Fraser, C. L. Moore, Stephen King, Irving, and a host of others.

  3. Never read The Girl Who Owned a City… but it sounds interesting. I’ll have to pick it up. It does sound like it would have been a surprising book to be assigned to read in 4th grade. I don’t remember reading anything like that… probably until we read Lord of the Flies in 7th grade. I remember reading James and the Giant Peach in 4th.

    I LOVED the Hunger Games. Read all 3 books in a little over a week. I just couldn’t put them down. I’m trying to figure out when I can actually get to the theater to see the movie.
    Colleen – @amadisonmom last post: Grace in Small Things – 145

  4. I was introduced to this book at the beginning of 6th Grade, and fell in love with it. We had an assignment to write what we would do in the event of an adult-killing plague, and I got top marks in class for practicality. This led to me writing several really bad screenplays about my ideas. Then some other kid told me about a sequel to “The Girl Who Owned A City”, and I looked for it for years before realizing this kid was just making stuff up. So, at 13, I started writing a sequel myself. Evidently this is fairly common, because every kid wanted to know what happened next. This kept evolving as I got older, into darker and darker visions. Sex started entering the picture, and the level of violence kept getting ratcheted up, plus I had the kids drinking and smoking old stale cigarettes. Then one day, it hit me on the head that Lisa and Todd were based on O.T.Nelson’s own children, and he probably wouldn’t approve of what I had them doing, so I shelved it. Then, in college, since I was never able to shake my original ideas, I wrote an original synopsis not intended for YA readers. Then hundreds of notes. Then creative writing professors made me second guess my abilities to write anything and all those notebooks got stowed-away and forgotten. In 2007, at age 37, my folks found a box filled with old notebooks and demanded I retrieve them or they were getting rid of them. I started sorting, and discovered that I had an amazing framework for a novel. I sat down, and six months later the first draft was done. Then a second draft. Then I hired a professional editor, somebody who had worked with Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, and others. Well, now it’s published. Working on the sequel. Definitely not for kids, and the average age of the characters is roughly 14-16 when we first meet them. I decided to pull out all stops on the depths these unmonitored teens could, and would sink to without any societal consequences. So far nobody who has bought it didn’t like it, but everybody is on my ass for the next installment.

      • It’s called “Young and Evil”, is only available as an ebook so far, and is on Amazon. Will play on anything that runs Android. All ereaders.

    • Oh, the 1980s teen film “Lucas”, which introduced Charlie Sheen, Corey Haim, and Winnona Ryder, was filmed in Glen Ellyn, and the high school in the movie was the actual Glenbard from the novel.

      • Not a bad movie, actually, although it has the teen movie “clap” thing at the end, which would become a plague all it’s own. I developed a crush on Ms. Ryder with this movie, and was so happy when she reappeared in “Heathers”. Also liked her as Spock’s Mom. Hadn’t really thought about her for years, not since I worked at the place making the “Free Winnona” novelty t-shirts. Ah, being a Gen-X youth, then forgetting all about it.

  5. I am actually quite thankful that the movie was desensitized quite a bit from the book. Everyone knew this movie was going to be a huge hit and every youth and child I know has seen it or are planning to see it. I agree that for a mature child or a well directed child, it could be a great learning experience. However the heavy themes found in the book could also be misdirected especially for teens going through rebellious stages against authority 🙂

    Also youths are a lot more immature these days, and movie creators increasingly insert in inappropriate scenes just to increase ratings, thus people should always be aware of the modern book movie.

    thanks for the sharing your thoughts. might go check out the book you referenced.

    Our media blog also has an old post on a few themes from hunger games. If interested, share your thoughts on it!
    Paul @cleancutmedia last post: How Much Data does Your Child Use Per Month?

  6. Because I’m an internet lurkster and just recently discovered your blog (and love what I’ve read so far, but there is still more lurking for me to do), this post is… late. By a few months. *coughs*
    Buuut I couldn’t help but squeal with excitement about a topic I hold near and dear to my depressive little heart- that of child-centered apocalyptic drama. There was an amazing series I read as a teen called the Fire-Us trilogy, which centered around a group of young children who survive a killer plague in modern day America and who’s travels are explored as they leave the suburbs they started in to hopefully find surviving adults and a new home. The series covers all sorts of interesting aspects, from the different functions and degrees of religious devotion, to psychological issues (one girl is severely agoraphobic), to how societies form and how power structures work. As far as YA fiction goes, this series got pretty intense as the books progress and is definitely not for young readers. I’d highly recommend this series along with Shade’s Children by Garth Nix if you like dark apocalyptic books revolving around preteens and teenagers.
    Tomorrow, when the War Began series by John Marsden is spectacular, as well. That’s about a group of Australian teenagers who are forced into becoming guerrilla freedom fighters when their home is invaded by an unnamed Asian country.
    Now that I look back on it, I read a lot of dark, apocalyptic stuff as a kid. Huh. Might explain a few things.

    The Amazon page for Fire-Us is here:

  7. DUDE. OMG. I cant believe u know this book. I read that book in about 6th grade and loved it so much that i randomly bought a fresh copy about 15 yrs ago just cuz… I always think about it when im watching TWD. Also? Hiiiiiii 😀

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