Smart Little Girls

I thought this feminist reading list from Bitch was interesting, in part because I think I’ve only read 18 books on it, and I sort of expected I would have read more of them. That’s probably a good thing—it means there are more, and more diverse, options out there for young readers.

One book I was sorry not to see on the list, though, was Paula Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. It’s a really marvelous book: the main character is overweight, and the book deals with her body image issues in a realistic, psychologically insightful way. She becomes politically active through a wonderful teacher (and it’s clear from the sequel There’s a Bat in Bunk Five that Marcy is on her way to becoming a good teacher herself). Boys and girls try dating, and end up choosing to be friends instead. It’s a book that assumes children and teenagers are smart enough to understand how adults and the institutions controlled by adults work, as is Nat Hentoff’s The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. And it doesn’t give the characters straightforward victories.

Danziger is, I think, overlooked in the pantheon of great girl-oriented YA fiction. Interestingly, she both collaborated with Ann M. Martin of Babysitters Club fame, and was friends with Bruce Coville, the man who is probably most responsible for getting me into science fiction, and author of perhaps the most sensitive story about what it’s like to be a gay teenager. Her characters are funny in the way smart kids really, genuinely are (I still regularly steal the answer one of her characters gives when asked what she wants to be when she grows up). I wish she got a bit more recognition, along with Patricia C. Wrede, who does make the list.