- Teaching Girls on Fire: Essays on Dystopian Young Adult Literature in the Classroom ed. by Sarah Hentges and Sean P. Connors
Inspired largely by Sarah Hentges’s work on Girls on Fire, the ten essays in this collection focus on the pedagogical implications of strong female protagonists who practice or inspire activism and resistance in young adult literature. As the editors Sean P. Connors and Sarah Hentges note in their introduction, teenagers often participate in social justice movements such as #NeverAgain, #MeToo, #Black-LivesMatter, and #StudentsStrike4Climate to actively better their futures; teenage girls are even at the front of some of these movements. Since literature has the potential to inspire and influence its readers, the main aim of the essays in this collection is to provide teachers with ample teaching strategies and resources “to create consciousness and inform action and help to foster students who want to burn [w]ithout burning out” (Hentges and Connors 5).
Part one, “Exploring New Ground for Girls on Fire,” explores different theoretical approaches to the Girl on Fire and offers educators practical tools to complicate their students’ understanding of seemingly strong female characters. First, Wendy J. Glenn uses positioning theory—which “allows readers to think carefully and critically about the interactions between characters and systems and structures within a text”—to better understand Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games as an athlete, and how the athletic Girl on Fire has been taken up “by marketeers, schools, teams, and girls themselves as a tool for social activism” (20). Next, Sean P. Connors and Lissette Lopez Szwydky examine the “Historical Bad Girl”—a close relative of the Girl on Fire—in young adult adaptations of nineteenth-century novels. The authors argue that since the Historical Bad Girl is intelligent, competitive, and sexually desirable, she is often presented as being postfeminist, thereby erasing the struggles of girls and women. They then present a three-part critical framework, with particular regard to individualism, structural inequalities, and gender roles, that teachers can use with their students to investigate how young adult novels reproduce or resist narratives associated with postfeminism and neoliberalism. In the final essay in this section, Roberta Seelinger Trites begins with “a historically oriented and conflicting public opinion about The Hunger Games trilogy and its feminist potential,” followed by an examination of Collins’s Girl on Fire in relation to the multiple and varied aspects of feminism (52). Herein, Trites includes questions and reading strategies that educators, scholars, and students might use to think about Katniss’s “feminist potential along a spectrum,” rather than using a false binary—either feminist or sexist—to evaluate the character (52). By using the Girl on Fire as a topic of exploration, the three essays in this section encourage readers to engage in a deeper examination of both the female protagonist and the social structures that surround her. [End Page 427]
The second part, “#MeToo: Sexual Realities, Activism and Empowerment,” deals with the politics surrounding sexual violence in young adult texts. The essay by Arianna Banack, Caitlin Metheny, and Amanda Rigell draws parallels between fictional Girls on Fire and girls and women in real life who are part of the #MeToo movement as both not only represent resilience and inner strength but also learn to navigate their trauma and become a role model for others. Kate Sluiter and Gretchen Rumohr then use Amy Reed’s The Nowhere Girls to “outline before, during, and after reading activities that will guide students through understanding the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment as an epidemic in society,” such that students will have the opportunity “to reflect on the roles of target, perpetrator, bystander, and ally,” and, more importantly, “move from being a target, a bystander, or a perpetrator to an ally, and in some cases, an agent of change” (93). Most compelling, however, is the section’s concluding chapter by Kate Lechtenberg, Jenna Spiering, Amanda Haertling Thein, and Nicole Ann Amato which explores the limitations of the Girl on Fire trope with special regard...