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How Young Girls’ and Women’s Issues Have Evolved in Young Adult Literature Today

There has been an impressive build-up in Young Adult literature to present-day concerns. Camilla chance discusses in light of her own work.

by Camilla Chance

In past ages, humanity has been defective and inefficient because we have been incomplete. This quote comes from my book Melissa and Kasho, “I experienced a flash of insight: surely nature had decreed that mothers would always be the first mentors of their children. Therefore, the education a girl received would have more ramifications than a boy’s, determining the happiness and future greatness of generations to come.” Once women in the public arena and even at the grassroots level combine, and men who have developed their feminine qualities join them, they will refuse to give their sons, whom they have lovingly reared over the years to maturity, to the field of battle. Women are going to become the chief designers of our future and the architects of world peace.

The seer Abdu’l-Baha, son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, once said, “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting – force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendency. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals – or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced,” and “The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly.”

There has been an impressive build-up in Young Adult literature to present-day concerns. The Twilight series (published from 2005 to 2008) by Stephenie Meyer might be glib in its dismissal of a soul’s value, but the character Edward has immense respect, more than her own, for Bella’s virginity (no rape or bullying into sex there!) and The Hunger Games series (2008-2010 by Suzanne Collins) highlights Katniss’s courage, something that women through the ages have always had but that has often been culturally discouraged. Physical strength, however, is obviously not women’s most internationally useful quality.

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I love YA literature because, despite a wide variety of themes, it always has to express hope. In 2018 it has tended to focus on elevating voices and stories that have historically been devalued and marginalized.

This year and last, the protagonist of YA literature has commonly been a fringe dweller (Bella in Twilight can be considered that too), for example American Street (2017) by Ibi Zoboi, about a girl who comes out into American society but never loses her Haitian roots.

Anxiety, depression and mental health generally have now come to the fore in Young Adult literature, for example in The Place Between Breaths (2018), a story about schizophrenia by An Na.

Modern violence and police brutality are squarely faced, too, such as in The Hate U Give (2017 – THUG) by Angie Thomas, about the human anguish that results from police brutality, and Long Way Down (2017) by Jason Reynolds, a literally haunting novel in verse about the grieving brother of a young man killed in “payback” gun violence. He sets out to continue the cycle, but is interrupted by spirits from his past offering their viewpoints.

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Friendship, identity and belonging are extremely important themes, helping young readers to cope, and letting them know they are not alone. Catering to this are I have Lost my Way (2018) by Gayle Forman, where three teen strangers find empathy with one another, and courage to face the future, We Are Okay (2017) by Nina LaCour, which explores the relationship between two girls, and Girl Defective (2013) by Simmone Howell, a gorgeously written Australian book about a girl trying to find her place in the world.

Living in suburbs that are hell on earth will, I predict, be an increasing theme of the future. Two Australian books, Living on Hope Street (2017) by Demet Divaroren, which deals with domestic violence, racism and mental health in a low socio-economic group in Melbourne and Beautiful Mess (2017) by Claire Christian, about deeply disturbed people whose only hope in moving on is each other, illustrate this.

Further themes in modern Young Adult literature have been: moving beyond character stereotypes in family, class, gender and sexuality, for example, Finding Nevo (2017), an autobiography by Australian Nevo Zisin about gender and everything that comes with it, Far from the Tree (2017) by Robin Benway, showcasing the emotionally moving fictional stories of three teens connected by a birth mother, and my own Melissa and Kasho (2018) which addresses family and class among many other things.

Plots dealing with social media trolling and bullying, for example, (2012), a clever mystery by Joe Lawlor, and, of course, feminist themes remain strongly in the forefront of YA literature.

I would like my novel, Melissa and Kasho (published by Austin Macauley, New York), to be taken up by teachers of courses that give teenage girls confidence, values and self-respect. In it, an Australian immigrant girl goes to a “finishing school” in Florence, Italy, where she struggles to connect with her room-mate and is moved to the tower of the palazzo, an isolated room where no one wants to sleep because it’s supposed to be haunted. Melissa soon finds out that the so-called ghost is an Indigenous man, Kasho, from another planet, who loves children, and visits children on Earth in their dreams, to inspire them with how to change the world for the better.

There are two rapes and two attempted rapes in Melissa and Kasho, the writing pre-dating the powerful “Me too” and “Time’s up” movements. The characters in my book are real, flesh-and-blood, rounded. But to me they are also symbolic. There is one man who symbolizes old prejudices, and he eventually brings about a crisis on all levels for Melissa. She and her Indigenous man from outer space combine to overthrow the threat, and to me this conquest of the would-be rapist of a young girl symbolizes that Indigenous people have the answer to saving Mother Earth, and that women will be the creators of world peace – the overcomers par excellence of violence. I believe that present-day teenagers are living during the greatest shift our Earth has known. Young women are finding their voices and effecting change at its most fundamental levels.

Outsiders see Camilla Chance as a rebel; but, rather, she is obsessed with sincerity. At age 18 she wrote a novel accepted by a top British publisher, but her father, saying, “My daughter will never add to the superfluity of books in the world,” made her withdraw it. An Aboriginal woman said to a reporter about Chance, now the multi-award-winning, best-selling author of Wisdom Man by Banjo Clarke as told to Camilla Chance: the compassionate life and beliefs of a remarkable [Australian] Aboriginal Elder,” “She immediately empathizes with every person she meets.” Yet Chance’s grandfather was best friends with the Russian Tsar, and being presented as a debutante at Buckingham Palace assured her social place … at a price.

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