We Can Do It! Feminist Literature for Teens

photo by flickr user Trishhhh
photo by flickr user Trishhhh

Are we in the dog days of summer, dear Hubbers? It sure feels like it! One thing I know is I sure missed writing for all of you; I’m glad to be back! So, this was a post I was going to write a couple of months ago when the word “feminist” was all in the news thanks to Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. It still kind of is in the news, and I think it’s a very important and relevant topic even though we’re not necessarily talking about it incessantly.

Anyways! Feminist teen literature. I’ve been noticing that a lot of new teen books are being marketed as feminist literature for teens which intrigued me, and I happened upon this article that piqued my interest even more: Book Riot – Feminist Teen Lit. They had so many good recommendations, so I chose a brief few from their list to see what was up.

Now, I know what a feminist is, and I’m proud to call myself one. But, I wondered – what makes a book a feminist book? Are they only stories narrated by girls or women (kind of, but not always)? Are they only powerful and sad stories where the main character goes through a traumatic event and grows through the healing process (sometimes, but not always)? I was so excited to find out the answers to those questions that I decided to dive right in to the books I added to my to-read stack, and I’m happy to share those awesome books with you today.

These books are great reads for anyone who loves stories about strong characters; stories who don’t portray or see women and girls only in relation to or as defined by the men and boys in their lives. These are stories of fully formed people who see the strengths and weaknesses in each other as humans, not in relation to their gender. On a side note, I work with a teen who is a member of the feminist club at her high school (how I wish I’d had one of those!), and she has been thoroughly enjoying these books which range from comedy to dystopian to mystery to a story of pain and redemption. Well, let’s get started, shall we? First up! My favorite book that I’ve read so far this year!

The Walls Around UsThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: Oh my goodness, you guys. This book is spectacular – really unbelievably wonderful. It’s the story of 3 girls – Violet, Amber, and Orianna – the journeys they will take in their lives, and the paths that have already been established for them. Violet is a ballerina, and Orianna used to be. Orianna was the best ballerina at their school until she was sent to prison for the murder of girls who were tormenting Violet…the same prison where Amber is serving her sentence for killing her abusive stepfather. But, what really happened between Orianna and those other ballerinas, Amber and her stepfather, Violet and Orianna? And, what is happening to Amber as she starts to see the prison in a different light after a very timely and suspicious lightning storm one night. Readers will be glued to their seats to not only see how the story turns out, but also to see how these 3 girls will all become part of each other’s past, present and future.  Ugh!  I can’t say anymore or it will just totally ruin the whole experience for you.  Trust me – you just have to accept that you don’t have to know everything going into this story. However it turns out, these well-developed and realized girls aren’t totally perfect and they aren’t totally flawed, but indicative of real people whose actions, emotions, and lives are highly nuanced. A haunting read that will stay with readers, well, let’s just say, forever. I read it a month ago, and I’m still thinking about it!!

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King: Okay, I know I have talked about this book so much, but in case you missed my earlier posts – this book is amazing!! Here’s what I said about it the last time I went all crazy over this book: So, Glory’s mom killed herself, Sylvia Plath style, and Glory’s worried she’ll turn out the same way. She has no plans for after high school, and she just generally feels lost and adrift in the sea of life. Then, just on a whim, Glory and Ellie (the closest thing Glory has to a friend) find a mummified bat, put it in a jar, put beer in there and drink the bat. Then, Glory starts seeing visions – a person’s infinite past and future. The problem is things aren’t looking so hot for women in the future. Their rights disappear, a new terrifying leader splits the country and there’s a second civil war where women are the pawns and the victims. Glory is a Feminist with a capital F – she’s not afraid to say it or show it, and she’s going to try to figure out everything she can so she can try and stop what seems to be inevitable for the human race. But, what about her? She can’t see a future for herself. But, that’s not going to stop her trying to keep a future for everyone else. Awesome. Thought provoking. Touching. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Just read it – you’ll be glad you did. I loved how Glory owns that word – Feminist. She wants everyone to be happy and have rights in this future society, and it doesn’t matter if she’ll even be around for it – she’s ready to fight for it. Aah! So good!

All the RageAll the Rage by Courtney Summers: I’m not going to lie. This is a tough book to read. Some people are calling it the Speak of this generation. I don’t like comparing books – I loved Speak, and I loved All the Rage. The story opens with Romy Grey. She’s on the side of the road and she has no idea where she is or what happened that led her to this spot. The book does a bit of time jumping back and forth to give readers an idea of the trauma that Romy has endured. She was raped by the son of a very powerful person in her town, and she’s never been believed or treated the same since. She’s just trying to get through high school, but she’s melting down so slowly, she doesn’t notice when she’s almost melted to nothing. She wants to have a normal life – she likes a boy at the diner where she works, her mom is finally happy after reconnecting with her high school boyfriend – but, her classmates will never let her forget what they think she is. And, after that horrible night that she can’t remember, where she wakes up on the side of the road, things go from bad to worse. This book touched me so deeply; it made me remember how cruel classmates can be to girls who they consider have committed some kind of sexual sin – in Romy’s case – liking a boy, but then accusing him of rape. After watching the Bachelorette Men Tell All program on Monday evening (look, I love The Bachelor & Bachelorette – no judging!), I realized that “slut shaming” doesn’t just stop when high school does. It often follows women their entire lives. This book will hopefully open the eyes of those who judge too quickly and give solace to those enduring it.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book. It’s described as magical realism, and I don’t know if I like magical realism. Well, I’m still not sure I do, but I definitely do if Laura Ruby is writing it. This is the story of Finn and Roza and the town they live in, Bone Gap. Roza was a beautiful and bright spark in the lives of Finn and his older brother Sean. She showed up one day, and then, after a while, she disappeared. But, Finn knows what happened; a man who moved like a corn stalk kidnapped Roza, and he stood by and watched it happen. No one believes him and his far out story, especially since he can’t describe what the man looked like. Told from many different voices and perspectives, nothing and everything is what it seems in Bone Gap. Lest you think this is some story of Prince Charming coming to Sleeping Beauty’s rescue, it’s not. Roza is determined to get away from the terrible man who has taken her away from everything she loves, and Finn is dead set on making people see that he’s more than just a “spaceman”; he has hopes and dreams, too – most notably, wanting people to believe him and realize that Roza is more than just her looks. She is a person. Plus, there’s a beautiful horse that takes him on wonderful rides with his sweetie, Priscilla – wait, she likes to be called Petey. If a book could be called ethereal (can it?), this is the epitome.

Kissing Ted CallahanKissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding: I realized after reading those first 4 books that they were all laying very heavy on my heart and soul. Fortunately, I found Kissing Ted Callahan, and I realized that feminist teen lit doesn’t have to be all heavy – it can be funny and raucous, too! I’m not quite finished reading this book, but I’ve read enough to know I love it so much, and it’s a perfect humorous book to give to any reader. Riley and Reid are great friends. They are in a band together, and they just both want to have sex. Not with each other, of course. Riley really wants to with Ted Callahan and Reid really secretly luuurves Jane who works with shelter animals. In fact, they’ve created a notebook where they document all the ways they are trying to get to know their respective crushes and share it with each other to offer feedback and advice to each other as members of the opposite sex. But, Riley is our narrator, and she’s the one that made me want to jump into the book and become part of their group of friends. Ted is her crush, and she’s determined to go all the way with him. She’s trying to get to know him, but she also realizes that there are other guys out there, too, that she might like. Garrick is her science partner, and he is such a good kisser. She meets Milo at a record store, and he likes all the same bands as her! Riley had no idea that once she started looking, cute boys were everywhere! But, where does that leave Ted? I have no idea, but I’m excited to find out. The thing is, this book is awesome because Riley is just a regular girl who wants to date and kiss boys and maybe do more than that, and she isn’t shaming herself at all. Neither are her friends. What’s funny is that boys are allowed to do this all the time in books (see: Swim the Fly by Don Calame & Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford – both great books that I loved reading), but girls are always portrayed in the Forever sense (and trust me, I have nothing against Forever – it’s nice to see sex referred to in different ways for different teens). Riley is funny and she’s a teen girl who wants to kiss boys and be in a band. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

Well, I really loved all of these books, Hubbers! And, you know, these feminist teen picks are good reads for anyone – teen, adult, male, female, anybody! Some of them have romance, some of them have mystery, and some of them are just a fun romp, but all of them show their characters in ways that support women and girls without making them into the dreaded “manic pixie dream girl” trope or so tortured or under-developed that readers can’t identify or relate to them. And, some of the best feminists are boys, which we see in Bone Gap. The thing is feminism is about equality for everyone, and I was happy to see that idea make its way into literature for teens. I hope you’ll join me next month when I’ll be writing about something else that I’m truly excited about – TBD! Ha!

-Traci Glass, currently reading Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding

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