Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: 6 YA Reads to Spark Your Rebellious Streak
Ah yes, Guy Fawkes Day. That glorious time of the year when the British celebrate some guy wanting to burn down Parliament by... setting things on fire? This has never quite made sense to me, but far be it for me to question any occasion for awesome fireworks. I suppose it’s really a celebration of surviving a rebellion, and I’ve always found the idea of rebellion—against government, family, society—a fascinating one. It can be such a gray area, morally speaking, and rebellions, both in fiction and in real life, are so often led by young people who, when they see a wrong, want nothing more than to right it. I find these some of the most compelling stories to read, and they’re a constant fixture in YA. So, here are six Guy Fawkes Day reads for you celebrating young people and the rebellions they led that could—or have—changed their worlds.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
We have to start with a classic. Before there was Katniss, or Tris, or any of the other rebellious teens we know and love trying to take down the government, there was Jonas. Chances are you’ve been forced to read The Giver in sixth-grade English, but despite any resentment that may have created, it’s a spectacularly written and wrenching book. Your heart hurts for Jonas as he slowly realizes the truth about the world he lives in, and searches for a way out. It’s heartbreaking, as so many rebellions are, because it means leaving behind people he loves, the people who raised him, but it’s also a beautiful meditation on the importance of diversity and difference in society.
Going Off Script by Jen Wilde
It won’t hit shelves until next May, but Going Off Script is perfect when you’re feeling a little... dissatisfied with what you see on your TV screen. Bex is thrilled when she gets an internship at her favorite TV show, but when they rewrite her proudly lesbian character as straight, Bex knows that the only way forward is to transform her anger and frustration into rebellion. A timely and smart take on the real life representation gap for queer characters in television, Wilde’s novel will light a spark in you and remind you not to settle for anything less than you deserve.
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Inspired by her mother’s days as a Riot Grrrl in the 1990s, teenager Vivian Carter decides to take her school’s sexist policies—from the dress code to hallway harassment—into her own hands. This book is so full of anger and frustration and hope and that you can practically taste it as you turn the pages, and the rebellion that Vivian leads is spectacularly satisfying. Moxie serves as the perfect way to remember the work of past activists and as a reminder that, no matter what happens, Moxie Girls fight back.
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
I’m not sure I have enough fingers to count the number of rebellions, both small and large, that Felicity Montague, the surly and completely lovable heroine of Mackenzi Lee’s delightful historical fiction novel, leads. She’s rebelled against her parents by running away, against romantic norms by refusing an offer of marriage (and the idea of marriage in general), and against the educational establishment by insisting that, even though she is female, she deserves to be able to train as a doctor. I particularly love Lee’s portrayal of rebellion because it doesn’t shrink away from how exhausting rebellion can be, particularly when you are told no over and over and over again. But Felicity keeps going, which is the perfect inspiration for when you’re feeling a little downtrodden as well.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Even though Westerfeld’s novel came out over a decade ago, it’s still a sadly and absolutely relevant examination of society’s obsession with beauty. In the world of Uglies, your sixteenth birthday means the opportunity to undergo intensive surgery to become “Pretty,” and to spend the rest of your life partying it up and looking beautiful. But protagonist Tally discovers a secret community of people who have no desire to be pretty... and she starts to question her own feelings about her body. Westerfeld’s portrayal of Tally’s internal struggle—her own perception of herself vs. society’s perception—is nuanced and beautiful, and although I’m angry that this book still rings so true, I’m so glad that young people who feel uncomfortable in their bodies can read this and feel empowered to lead their own rebellions, even if it’s just in the way they think about themselves.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Building on the structure of classic YA rebellion books, Adeyemi’s expansive fantasy novel takes the kind of rebellion against the establishment that we know and love and infuses it with West African culture. Adeyemi’s exploration of inequalities in gender, race, and class do exactly what good fantasy is supposed to do: use metaphor and fantastical worlds to reflect the real world back at us, and serve as a reminder of what work still needs to be done. In Children of Blood and Bone, Zélie fights oppression with a power she discovers in herself, a reminder to all those fighting oppression in their real lives to remember their own power. Best of all? There’s two more books still to come.
What are some of your favorite rebellious YA reads, Swooners?