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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

International Day Of The Girl

So, I woke up this morning to find out it was the International Day Of The Girl. I haven't heard of this before, but it's a nice excuse to write a post about girls' books, off the top of my head, before I get to work.

Has anyone noticed that most YA and children's books these days seem to be either for girls or about them? Or both? Girls save the world in YA novels, while making up their minds which of two gorgeous boys they will settle down with once the world is saved. Fortunately for their decision making, one of them either dies or lets them down - badly. 

I'll just mention a few books or series I've read as they come back to me, in hopes I can get the post done before I reach Sunshine Station in Melbourne. 

Let's start with a classic. I've missed a lot of them, but I have read Little Women, the story of four teenage sisters during the American Civil War, living with their mother and housekeeper while waiting for their father to get back from the war. They don't have a lot of money, so the two eldest, Meg and Jo, have to work, Meg as a governess and Jo as paid companion to their grumpy old aunt. Beth, who is not a healthy girl, stays home and does housework,  presumably with Hannah the housekeeper, and only Amy goes to school. Not a lot happens as a novel - it's all dreams and hopes and individual stories. I hear it was semi-autobiographical, though Jo, the would-be writer(and didn't we all want to be Jo!)is somewhat younger than Louisa May Alcott, whom she represents. Louisa was already old enough to be working as a nurse during the Civil War. But still, it's nice to know. You should totally read Geraldine Brooks's novel March, which mixes the real Alcott family with the fictional March family. The real "Mr March" was quite a character. Look him up.

Noel Streatfeild wrote children's books in the 1930s. In Ballet Shoes, she writes about three girls who aren't actually sisters, though they've been brought up as such. They've been given the surname Fossil because the man who adopted them is a crazy old Professor who collects fossiłs. When he disappears and his niece Sylvia is left with three children to look after and not much money, she takes in boarders and the girls go to work in the theatre, something children could do in those days, and discover what they can do. The oldest girl, Pauline, is very good at acting and eventually finds she can do it for a living. A few years ago, there was a TV mini-series in which the role was played by Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame. The middle sister, Petrova, isn't all that good at it, and longs to be a motor mechanic. The youngest, Posy, is a gifted ballet dancer.  The book had some sequels, but I haven't got around to reading them. I rather liked the idea of a 1930s novel with a girl motor mechanic. 

Anyone remember the YA romance novels of the 1980s? What was that American series called? Oh, yes! Sweet Dreams. The girls loved them but they were junior Mills and Boon. In them, the girl was a sort of Cinderella figure, in love with the captain of the football team. How could she even compete for him with the bitchy head cheerleader? Of course, we know who always got the boy in the end, don't we? I guess girls can dream of being that shy little thing who defeated the Mean Girl. That's still happening to some extent,except now the young woman who defeats the Mean Girl is not doing it over a boy, but over the matter of bullying. 

There were Australian equivalents, Dolly Fiction, which I think we're better than the American ones, and no wonder. The authors, who wrote under pen names, were all either top Aussie YA novelists or would become that. I have written a post about it before. 

A few years ago, Allen and Unwin published something called Girlfriend Fiction, which was even better. Some of the books were written by male authors, and oddly, they weren't all romances. But I've sold those quite easily in my library. And the authors didn't use pen names this time - you knew who you were getting.

And then there are all those novels in which girls fall in love with fallen angels, who are brooding and tragic, not to mention the half/quarter angel thing(I always thought of angels as asexual, but there you go. All that business of "the sons of God and the daughters of man" comes from a mis-translation.). Well, there was Aussie writer Rebecca Lim's Mercy series, in which the fallen angel was female. She had done something truly stupid back during the war in heaven and managed to avoid being thrown down to Hell with the other fallen angels, but the un-fallen angels looked after her. She has been on Earth for centuries, doing a sort of Quantum Leap thing, temporarily taking over bodies and fixing their problems before moving on. But by Book 2, Exile, she has started thinking of herself rather than fixing problems for others. She fell in love with a mortal boy in the first book and is trying to keep up the relationship, whichever body she is in. The series is very entertaining.

Present-day novels have girls in all sorts of situations, including obesity and anorexia, but the fantasies go on. I probably don't have to tell you about The Hunger Games, which is very good in my opinion, better than some of the other girl-saves-the-world fiction that came out at the same time. Before the current crop of fiction on "teen girl saves the world" John Marsden created Ellie, the heroine of Tomorrow When The War Began and its sequels. Ellie and her friends go bush-walking and camping one weekend and when they return to their small country town, Australia has been invaded and their friends and relatives have all been herded into the local showgrounds, which have become a prison camp. The group does guerilla warfare, under Ellie's leadership. I've found that both boys and girls loved these books, though they haven't been read much in recent years - perhaps fresh covers
would help.

There is far more out there than I can cover in a single post.

Got any suggestions?

And happy International Day Of The Girl!


Debs Carey said...

I didn't realise it was International Day of the Girl either, till I checked twitter. What I'd really, really like is to be still around when there's absolutely no need for gender specifically positive days to exist. Till then though ...

I do love the fact that most YA is written for girls, providing positive role models for young women growing up. I'm far too external in my need for validation, so having a rich literary vein providing examples of aspirational girls and women would've been simply marvellous.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, it would be nice not to have to have those days. And even nicer not to have people whining,"Why isn't there an Internationsl Day Of The Boy?" totally missing the need for it.

Over the years I've found books that boys and girls like enjoy - and interestingly, some about girls, such as Garth Nix's Old Kingdom books, which I only got boys interested in!

Tamara Narayan said...

I've read Little Women, The Hunger Games, and the Divergent Series. Out of those three, The Hunger Games would be my favorite.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I liked The Hunger Games very much, read the trilogy over three warm summer days. I never got past the first Divergent book, I'm afraid.