- Justice in Young Adult Speculative Fiction: A Cognitive Reading by Marek C. Oziewicz
Issues of justice abound in works of children’s and young adult literature, as well as in literary criticism. Scholarly works, such as Julia L. Mickenberg’s Learning from the Left: Children’s Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States (2006) and Michelle Ann Abate’s Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political Conservatism (2010) examine texts for young readers that offer different ideological frameworks for considering questions of justice, and scholars regularly analyze depictions of injustices, including genocide, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, in children’s and young adult literature. Law-and-literature scholars, such as Ian Ward,1 have also examined the representations of legal justice offered in various works of children’s literature, and, in Bloody Murder: The Homicide Tradition in Children’s Literature (2013), Abate considers how homicide, a horrific injustice, “has formed a beguiling subject and recurring theme in narratives popular with American youth for centuries” (10). Amid all of the literary scholarship addressing issues and acts of justice, however, Marek C. Oziewicz’s Justice in Young Adult Speculative Fiction: A Cognitive Reading is distinguished by its wide-ranging yet carefully detailed analysis of justice as a changing idea (and ideal), the evolution of which Oziewicz examines [End Page 357] through cognitive science and the history of philosophy and literature, as well as speculative books and films.
According to Oziewicz, different ideas about justice are understood cognitively as scripts, “standardized sequence[s] of events in a particular context, activated by specific cues, proceeding toward expected goals and consisting of specific slots—including character roles—that have to be filled in with relevant content” (5–6). Stories teach and reinforce scripts, including justice scripts, which humans process cognitively and affectively and may then act upon in their lives. As Oziewicz explains, “[G]iven the reciprocal influence of scripts on stories and stories on scripts, looking at justice scripts in narrative fiction offers a comparativist perspective that helps explain dominant narrative patterns and mindsets in specific historical periods” (72).
Though Oziewicz’s examination of historical periods and the changing dominant justice scripts spans centuries, the majority of the literary works that he explores closely follow what he terms “the big bang of justice,” which “began in the wake of WWII, with the creation of a global standard of universal human rights” (40). Moreover, while he offers a comprehensive history of the evolution of justice scripts in literature, as well as in philosophy, his most detailed analyses focus on works of young adult speculative fiction, which he envisions as “a supercategory and a generic fuzzy set” comprising works of science fiction, fantasy, and their hybrids, as well as “traditional genres that featured the fantastic or the supernatural, like myth, legends, folk and fairy tales” (3). Oziewicz argues that, because of its popularity with young readers, its inclusion of possible but not yet occurring events, its posing of unanswerable questions, and its imaginary and therefore more universally accessible worlds, “YA speculative fiction ought to be recognized as one of the most important forges of justice consciousness for the globalized world of the 21st century” (4).
To support this central claim about YA speculative fiction, the introduction and first two chapters provide the framing arguments about the cognitive processing of justice scripts and the evolution of these scripts through history, philosophy, and literature. The remaining six chapters focus on the six justice scripts that Oziewicz considers “the most statistically prevalent, especially in literature and film for young people” (71): poetic justice, retributive justice, restorative justice, environmental justice, social justice, and global justice.
These six chapters share a specific organizational structure. Each chapter features a definition and description of its focal justice script; a history of the script’s development through various historical events, philosophies, and works of literature; and a literary analysis of the script within works of modern YA speculative fiction, including a presentation of the signature phenomena that characterize the script, descriptions of the tracks (or...