- Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction ed. by Sara K. Day, Miranda A. Green-Barteet, and Amy L. Montz
In the past ten years, the dystopian subsection of young adult fiction has exploded in popularity. With Amazon.com listing over four thousand titles in this category, and the enormous Hunger Games and Divergent series’ fan base, this collection couldn’t have come at a better time. Divided into three sections, the essays presented here analyze how female protagonists of this genre navigate gender, sexuality, relationships, and self-discovery while dealing with the oppressive regimes under which they live. The authors generally follow a similar pattern of outlining an analytical framework, giving a brief plot overview, and then delving into a deeper exploration of the text. While some are more heavily theoretical than others, all of the essays in the collection draw on contemporary scholarship in the field of young adult literature and offer excellent insight into what it means to be a rebellious teen girl in the dystopian future.
Section 1 includes four essays, of which the first two focus on how rebellion complicates and shapes [End Page 208] subjectivity and gender in the selected novels; the second two examine the ways in which selected dystopian young adult works fail to seize the genre’s potential to break down existing stereotypes and gender norms. The first essay, Sonya Sawyer Fritz’s “Girl Power and Girl Activism in the Fiction of Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfeld, and Moira Young,” examines the protagonists of three trilogies—Katniss in The Hunger Games, Tally in Uglies, and Saba in Dust Lands—as celebrations of the defiant teen girl. By layering discussions of Girl Power and comparing the protagonists to the Riot Grrrls of the early 1990s, Fritz explores how these protagonists depict the complications of being a politically active, empowered girl in the twenty-first century. She argues that these novels contribute to developing a new era of feminism and encourage readers to activism.
Perhaps the most distinctive of the essays in the collection, the third essay in this section, Rachel Dean-Ruzicka’s “Of Scrivens and Sparks: Girl Geniuses in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction,” analyzes two steampunk dystopias, Fever Crumb and Girl Genius. Dean-Ruzicka begins her article by describing the “Draw a Scientist” test, which measures the perceptions of children about professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Overwhelmingly, this test shows that children perceive scientists as male. Dean-Ruzicka uses this example to frame her argument that dystopian fiction has the potential to break down stereotypes about women in STEM fields and offer positive role models for female readers interested in STEM. However, she finds that both female protagonists examined here reinforce gendered stereotypes and fail to offer engaging role models for female readers.
The second section focuses on the performance of gender via beauty, fashion, and gendered behaviors. The first of its four essays, Meghan Gilbert-Hickey’s “Gender Rolls: Bread and Resistance in the ‘Hunger Games’ Trilogy,” provides an in-depth analysis of the significance of bread throughout the trilogy. Gilbert-Hickey also argues that the characters in Collins’s trilogy do not simply reverse gender roles, but complicate and diversify them. Though she remarks on several characters, her primary focus is on Katniss, who, neither wholly masculine nor wholly feminine, represents and performs androgyny; she willingly performs both femininity and masculinity in order to survive and to take care of those she loves. Gilbert-Hickey argues that this blending of gender roles and the act of giving bread becomes a form of rebellion.
Of all the essays in the collection, I find the fourth essay in this section to be the most interesting. “‘Perpetually waving to an unseen crowd’: Satire and Process in Beauty Queens,” by Bridgitte Barclay, focuses on disability, race, and non-normative sexuality in a way that the other essays do not. Though some essays remark on the troubling implications of hetero-normative romance in young adult dystopian fictions and the relative lack...