As I grew older, my historical novels became more in-depth and realistic. My literary choices in other genres also matured.
I read almost every book by Meg Cabot. Her books are like chocolate chip cookies: the majority of the stories are a romance plot, but there are little nuggets of feminist topics here and there. These bits of difficult topics included discussion of female masturbation, birth control access, and politics (in the novel All American Girl), peer pressure (How to be Popular), model culture (Airhead), and full-on obvious feminism (The Princess Diaries, the books didn’t involve Mia’s dramatic transformation, her Grandmother is not portrayed as the stereotypical nurturing matron, and there are a handful of self-identified feminist characters). I also loved The Mediator and 1-800-Where Are You series, but that’s another topic.
In middle school, my librarian granted me permission to read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak because, to paraphrase greatly, she thought I was more capable of handling the mature themes than most other students. It was one of the first books that taught me what violent mental damage rape does. My first knowledge of date rape came from a book titled The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things, which also dealt with body image.
Above all books in the “serious life stuff” genre that seems to be sweeping across young adult literature, is 13 Reasons Why. It was a book that truly illustrated how every encounter with others shapes who a person becomes and what they do with their future, and its message lives deep within my psyche.
I believe this novel had an impact on my path to feminism (and sociology, for that matter) because it showed how interactions others see as small and insignificant (“is calling someone slut really all that bad?”) have consequences that reach far beyond the simple actions. The book and its ties to issues of feminism are incredibly complex. The main plot of the book is that a girl, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, but before she does, makes a set of cassette tapes explaining the reasons that led her to that choice. It begins with a story about the boy who she shared her first kiss with making up a rumor that she did more. Throughout the book her reasons (that are very related to gendered expectations) pile on. Some of the reasons she gives are her humiliation about public judgment of the sexual appeal of her body, a peeping tom, a boy who assumes she will do more with him sexually because of her reputation as a “slut”, her guilt for not stopping the rape of her friend, public dismissal of her potential suicide, and unwanted sexual contact from a boy who doesn’t ask if she wants it or not (because of her reputation). The book is a haunting example of the dangers of slut shaming.
My literary tastes took also took a big turn that is, in hindsight, quite political and philosophical. I acquired a taste for post-apocalyptic and dystopian future books. The Shadow Children series was arguably the beginning of my formulation of opinion about a woman’s rights regarding her pregnancy. The Giver also made me think about my own culture’s model of childbirth (though the book was very much not in favor of alternatives). I also ate up The Uglies series, which contains several complexities, among them beauty standards, ethics, and a theme of questioning the judgment of authorities.
Stick around! There’s one more post in this series, and I have some school blog assignments left!