Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Forever Impact of YA Novels

There's a meme that's been going around on Facebook asking people to list 10 books that affected them, and to make the list without thinking too hard. I didn't make a list. I tend to view these trends with suspicion, possibly things started by Facebook to get me to give them more information. But I've been thinking about. And all the books that initially come to mind are books I read when I was young. Maybe it's that I hadn't read many books yet and so each one had more of an impact? Or perhaps there is something innate in YA reading that appeals to my psyche--I tend toward the latter solution.

Some of the books that profoundly affected me:

The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson. This dystopian, adult-free world appealed to my sense of isolation and the belief that the only person I could rely on was myself.
The Flowers in the Attic series, by V.C. Andrews. This was warped and twisted. Another world of oppression where adults can't be trusted, now with incest. This is one of many books I shouldn't have been allowed to read. Probably not YA, but I didn't know that.
Soul Rider series, by Jack Chalker. Another series I seriously should not have been allowed to read. Chalker is undoubtedly a sick, though fascinating, bastard. This series featured Cassie, another strong heroine, exiled from her home and figuring out her place, but who is also manipulated by the Soul Rider and by some twisted sexual dynamics. Chalker introduced me to the idea that men grasp for power so much because otherwise they don't have much of a function; only one man is needed for many women to procreate. Okay, this one's definitely not YA, but I read it when I was 12.
The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. This wasn't marketed as YA but as Fantasy; now it's known as a YA classic. An orphan named Harry is unfeminine and out of place but secretly has magical powers and finds her new place as the partner to the king of India--um, I mean Damaria. Also similar is The Hero and the Crown, in which Aerin is treated as an outcast but turns out to be more powerful than everyone.

You can see where this pattern is going, I think. So today I read another book like these, with much more conventional sexual dynamics: Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Beatrice, who renames herself Tris, rejects her Abnegation upbringing because she realizes she is too selfish to belong. She joins a new faction, which strangely seems to be run by mostly teenagers; Tris comments that she doesn't see older Dauntless members. She learns bravery, confidence, a sense of belonging, and love. If I had been 12 when I read this, it would have had a huge impact on me. However, it's ultimately pretty conventional, even in its revolutions. If I had read books like this instead of the Bio of a Space Tyrant series by Piers Anthony, I probably would not be writing a book about rape in Victorian novels. FWIW.