Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Girl Who Owned a City

Call me obsessed with revisiting my childhood and I probably wouldn't call you wrong. I mean, I just saw Toy Story 3 for the second time yesterday, I just finished the final installment in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series that I first picked up in my early teens by the suggestion of a friend, and I just reread The Girl Who Owned a City for the first time in nearly ten years.

When I first read The Girl Who Owned a City, I was 11 years old and in sixth grade. We read it for class, although I don't remember the why. I loved the book but it terrified me as well. I mean, I was eleven and the book depicts the story of an adult-less world where the oldest people still alive are twelve. I would've been the older generation. Not to mention that as much as my parents sometimes frustrated me, I didn't want them to die. I remember, after finishing the book, going up to my mother, crying and hugging her and telling her that I didn't want a plague to kill her.

Well, luckily it hasn't and now being well over the age of twelve, if the plague came true, I'd be dead. I expected this to be a reassuring thought, but honestly, the book still struck me just as much as it did when I was eleven. I won't be crying and hugging my mother not to die, but... wow, what a depressing book.

There were two major thoughts that ran through my head after I finished it. Firstly, where was the sequel??? I mean, what a cliffhanger! Lisa is returned to power in her city of Glenbard, but only after provoking a far-away army who is off to join the King of Chicago and his army of roughly 5,000. Even Lisa acknowledges that the army of Chicago was bound to come after them sooner or later at the end of the book. I'm just left there wondering what the hell happens next in this post-apocalyptic world.

The second, of course, was how much I want this book to be a movie. It would be such a glorious failure. The problem, of course, is that it is such a dark book, really. Dead bodies are never explicitly stated to be anywhere, but their presence is implied. Not to mention small children learning how to fire weapons and make molotov cocktails. Tom Logan gets oil burned down his face, Lisa gets shot, and Jill has to remove the freakin' bullet. The Girl Who Owned a City is an R-rated movie, but all of its characters are children. The thing is, not a one of them is innocent.

Which is simply twisted and hard to forgive. I love the story and, though it isn't the best-written thing in the universe, I think it is fascinating and I want to read it again and again. Not everyone, however, can appreciate children being violent and doing adult things. Just take a peek at the uproar over Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass and multiply that times a thousand because The Girl Who Owned a City is full of hundreds of Hit-Girls, all trained to kill and torture. I mean, they literally mention torture in the book! Children torturing each other for information!

The Girl Who Owned a City reminds me of The Road, unsurprisingly. I mean, they're both these post-apocalyptic stories of the fight between "good" and "evil" but the lines are really blurred. The only thing that truly separates The Man and his son from the rest of the survivors is their refusal to turn into cannibals. Aside from that, they are equally violent when need be. All the children in The Girl Who Owned a City have to turn violent, whether it is for attack or defense. And though The Girl Who Owned a City gives a supposedly brighter future, the last page is so depressing that I can't help but wonder how long the city of Glenbard can last before the world turns into a world not unlike The Road where civilization is too far gone for anyone to even dream of rebuilding it the way Lisa does and instead all they can do is what the gangs do - steal and kill to survive. Both tales are incredibly depressing and though The Road is much more wonderfully written and definitely more depressing and incredibly inappropriate for children, The Girl Who Owned a City also tells a compelling take and is still quite depressing and is a bit inappropriate for children. Granted, I heartily appreciate having read it when I was young enough to fit myself into the story.

I don't normally dedicate this blog to books because, not going to lie, I do not do a lot of book-reading anymore. I was a much more avid reader when I was younger (although, to be fair, I did just read three books in less than twenty-four hours). But, my goodness, do not make the mistake of thinking that I don't love them. The Girl Who Owned a City does not need to be a movie, of course. My only inclination to bring it in that direction is to make up for some of the weak writing in the book. And I love the book so much, I would just want to work on a project with it, whether it be a sequel or a movie, because I simply want to continue to live within that sad, awesome world.

Again, that brings me back to my earlier point, about how a movie version would be a total failure. I cannot see an audience who would want to watch children suffer and toil in a world with no help and little hope. They would call it insensitive and cruel and depressing. But this is one of those moments when I really feel like a filmmaker, like an artist rather than an entertainer. I don't care about the audience, to be frank. I'd want to make this movie because it is a beautiful story, whatever you say, and it deserves to be told over and over again.

Lisa, for all her bossiness, never would have made me think of myself when I was younger. I was whiny and did not want to live in her world - most of the time. Maybe it was after reading the book, maybe it was before, but I tried to imagine a harder world where I would have to fight to survive. What if my parents died? What if we had a fire and lost everything in our house? What if I lost my voice or my hearing or my sight? All these "what if"s and more plagued me and I would make secret loots in case of anything. A "just in case" bag filled with things if I needed to run away. Hotel shampoo bottles that had been cleaned out and filled with water hidden around the house "just in case." And Lisa's attitude, her beautiful, brilliant attitude, that if she can toughen up then everyone can toughen up, reminds me so painfully of myself that it hurts. It is not an uncommon flaw, but it is a harsh one, to forget that it is hard work to grow and some people just have not gone through it. It is also not uncommon and just as harsh to forget that no matter how much we've grown, there is so much more growing to do. Both of Lisa's major flaws are ones I see in myself which, though I am nearly twice her age, make me feel like a child again.

Sure, I may be revisiting my childhood, but what is so wrong there? There are so many beautiful lessons and important messages to be found and reminded of. Only just a few days ago was I listening to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on audiobook, listening to the chapter, "The Mirror of Erised" and Dumbledore's conversation with Harry toward the end of the book when I remembered why I fell in love with Harry Potter all those years ago. It was for the wonderful things J.K. Rowling had to share about life and death and friendship and courage and fear and so on and so forth. I am so excited for my Introduction to Children and Young Adult Literature class this coming fall where I will get to read literature supposedly for children and young adults, but really for all of us.

After all, many animated movies aren't just for children either, even if they can be - thank you Pixar and DreamWorks.


  1. I have just recently heard of this book and I bought it. I will read it and then maybe my oldest son can read it. Sounds very interesting. Based on what I've read of the synopsis I would love to see a film adaptation.

  2. Just ran into your blog and wanted to tell you my story of The Girl Who Owned a City. When I was in fifth grade my teacher read it to us. We were captivated. So when I became a teacher I wanted desperately to find it. However, my fifth grade teacher had passed away and all I knew was the synopsis, and just parts of it. After about four years i found it. My third grade class used ti to discuss the formation of government,different styles of leadership, resources and values. It was phenomenal! You are right though, its not for all kids. The sotry makes up for what the wirting lacks. If I had time, I'd write the sequel myself, only because this work of art so richly deserves one. You story of this book is a tribute to your teacher exposing you to great literature!:)

  3. this is kinda random but have you guys read the lunar chronicles? So good. Its like chocolate, it melts in your tongue. The girl who owned a city reminds me of this book because a. lots of girl charterers and b. there all kinda young not really but oh well