I Fought the Law and I Won: Taking a Stand in YA Lit

Photo by atomicjeep. CC BY 2.0
Photo by atomicjeep. CC BY 2.0

From dystopian futures, to political protest, to legal disputes, YA literature is full of stories about fighting the rules and even laws. This post rounds up some of the best examples of teens winning these battles in YA literature across genres and time periods. Find a book that will inspire you to stand up for your beliefs.

Dystopian Futures
Many dystopian novels are at their core about teens fighting unjust governments. From The Giver by Lois Lowry to Divergent by Veronica Roth (both of which happen to have been made into movies this year), these stories often center around teens who discover the dark side of their society and decide that they are willing to risk it all to fight for their beliefs and for justice.

little brother cory doctorow coverLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow (2009 Best Books for Young Adults) – Set in a near future where a terrorist attack prompts an increase in government surveillance, both this book and its sequel, Homeland, show teens fighting back against the government and standing up for their rights. Teens who are interested in hacking will particularly enjoy this one since the main character is a hacker who uses his skills to take down those more powerful than he is.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson – Set in a far future Brazil, The Summer Prince tackles issues relating to relationships, art, technology, and government control through the story of June Costa, a young artist living in a society that is divided by class, gender, and technology use. Johnson has created a world that feels completely foreign while still being wholly believable and fans of science fiction will enjoy getting lost in it. 

Legal Dramas & Political Protest
Another popular way that books tackle the fight for rights is through legal dramas or stories of acts of political protest. These books show characters taking concrete steps to stand up for themselves or others who lack the power to fight for their own rights. For fans of more realistic fiction, these are a great choice.

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi – When Jack Holloway arrives on a planet almost 200 light years from Earth, he doesn’t plan to get involved with local politics. But, when he meets members of the alien species that lives on the planet – and which had their home taken away by a corporation intent on exploiting all the natural resources it can find – he realizes he can’t stand by and let this happen. Though not marketed as YA, this book will have great crossover appeal, particularly for those who have read any of Scalzi’s other books.

After Ever AfterAfter Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick – Though primarily about a teen facing the aftermath of his fight with cancer, this book also tackles the injustice of rules that refuse to acknowledge not only the aftereffects of his treatment, but also more generally the differences between all students. To say much more would give away the plot, but if you are interested in acts of political protest, this is a book worth checking out.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Pulitzer Prize & 2001 Audiobooks for Young Adults) – A classic and a perennial selection for high school English classes, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers into the world of Atticus Finch through the eyes of his daughter as he fights against the injustice of racism by defending a man accused of rape. Because the entire book is told from Scout’s point of view, the book offers a unique take on these issues and one that is accessible to a wide range of ages.

Americus by MK Reed with illustrations by Jonathan David Hill – This graphic novel follows the struggle of one teen named Neal who fights back when local activists try to have his favorite books banned from the local library. As a librarian, this is a topic near and dear to my heart and Reed handles it well showing the struggle that both Neal and the local youth services librarian go through to keep the book from being banned.

Historical Fiction
History is full of examples of both successful and unsuccessful legal battles, so it isn’t surprising that historical fiction often tackles these topics. If you are fan of this genre, check out one of these books to learn more about historical examples of protest.

roseunderfire-weinRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (Schneider Family Book Award) – This year’s Schneider Family Book Award winner tackles issues of protest in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Even when Rose Justice finds herself imprisoned in Ravensbrück, she doesn’t lose her spirit and continues to fight back in ways both big and small. The book also follows survivors as they fight for some small sliver of justice through the prosecution of their captors.

Sally Heathcoate: Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot with illustrations by Kate Charlesworth – This soon-to-be-released graphic novel follows a maid who joins the suffragette movement in the early 1900’s. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it brings this important historical period to life.

What are your favorite stories about people fighting for justice? Let us know in the comments!

– Carli Spina, currently reading Dotter of Her Father’s Eye by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot

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