In 1930, Amelia Earhart voiced her concern for the lack of girl-centered young adult literature:
There are no heroines following the shining paths of romantic adventure, as do the heroes of boys’ books…Of course girls have been reading so-called ‘boys’ books’ ever since there were such. But consider what it means to do so. Instead of closing the covers with shining eyes and the happy thought, ‘That might happen to me someday!’ the girls, turning the final page, can only sigh regretfully, ‘Oh, dear, that can never happen to me - because I’m not a boy!”’
Earhart spoke to how important it is that girls see themselves mirrored in the literature that they read. Books teach us stories about the way things work. Boy-ventures where girls hang out in the background taught us that girls aren’t important until it’s time for romance. Stories about girls who are waiting for a boy to start moving the plot taught us that girls can’t create an interesting story on their own. We all know these stories. We wrote our first book reports about them and we used them to shape our ideas about what it means to be a girl.
But then we found Norma Klein, or Judy Blume, or Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, or Carolyn Mackler. These women wrote/write books with girls who are strong, complex, funny, articulate, and adventurous characters whose lives involve more than just boys. Characters who prove that while adolescence is hard, it is also navigable. Being a teenager becomes just a bit easier when you’re reading about and developing relationships with characters who share your struggles and find creative ways to get through them.
This summer, I’m reading lots of young adult literature. Re-visiting some of my favorites from high school, catching up on some of the gems I missed, and paging through what has been published since I reached adulthood. I invite you to do the same. Re-read an old favorite, or discover a new one. You don’t need to be a teen, parent, teacher, or librarian to read YA Lit. All you need is an interest in how stories are being told to teenagers.
Empowering girl characters are making their way into YA Lit all the time, complicating the canon. Here at the Bitch Community Lending Library, we’re working on creating a list of YA Lit for the young feminist and we need your help. Let us know which YA books have empowered you the most. Help us create a list that Amelia Earhart would be proud of!
If you’re in Portland, come into the library to sign up for our summer reading program and check out our selection of YA Lit (which always has room for more titles – please consider donating!). If you’re elsewhere, I encourage you to pick up some YA Lit this summer. And make sure to tell us what you think of it.