This is my last post on the Girls of Color in Dystopia guest blog series. I've read nearly 40 books just for this series and was disappointed (but, sadly, not surprised) to realize just how many of them have few to absolutely no girls of color in them.
When I first picked up Nalo Hopkinson's The Chaos last summer, I thought, "Finally! A book with a young woman of color as the protagonist!" Of course, I've since learned that there are other dystopic novels with girls of color, but this hasn't ended my love forThe Chaos even after a second (and third) reading.
The Chaos isn't actually set in a dystopia. It's more of a post-apocalyptic world in which Toronto transforms from its usual racist, misogynist, able-ist normalcy to utter chaos, complete with hoodie-wearing sasquatches, escalators that ask questions about quantum physics, and Baba Yaga and her flying house.
People of color are often seen as the exceptions in predominantly white societies' mass media, like US literature. Let's look at race and gender in two dystopic young adult scenarios in which the exceptional group is not people of color, but clones they've created.
Kat Zhang's What's Left of Me takes the mass suspicion, xenophobia, and hysteria that's become normalized since 9/11 and sets it in an alternate United States where people are born with two personalities inside one body.
The book's society, seen through the eyes of young main character June Canto, is a clear critique of class and race dynamics that exist today. As in our real world culture today, the people at the top of The Summer Prince's society refuse to recognize the oppression that exists their literally pyramid-shaped city.
In Karen Sander's dystopian young adult book Tankborn, the world is a stringent caste system where race and origins determine all status. Tankborn was a hit and the sequel, Awakening, just came out this April, which means now is a great time to discuss the race and gender angle of the book.
I've never been attracted to books set in a world in which women have been stripped of their reproductive rights and function mainly as breeders. After all, I live in a very real society in which women's rights over their bodies are constantlybeingeroded. The right to family seems to not apply to those who are poor, of color and/or incarcerated. So why escape to a world in which all of these injustices have been magnified?
The cover of Dan Well's Partialsdepicts the back of a dark-haired girl of ambivalent skin color looking out over a wasteland. Nothing in the summary indicates that there are people of color in the book. To the jaded reader, Partials might very well be yet another book in which people of color have not survived the apocalypse. I wouldn't have picked up Partials for this blog series on race and gender in dystopia had my twelve-year-old daughter not read and recommended it, letting me know that the main character is <gasp> a girl of color. And she's not the only girl of color who's survived dystopia.
"After the storm deaths came other casualties: deaths by debris, cuts, tetanus, or loss of blood; suicide, heart attacks caused by stress or loss, or stress of rebuilding, or just as often from the lack of medicines used to treat common ailments. The list of no-longer-treatable diseases grew: diabetes, asthma, cancer. Domestic violence rose, along with murder."
So begins the new book Orleans. Author Sherri L. Smith adds a dystopic twist to the post-Katrina disaster tale we (unfortunately) have come to know so well.
When I started this column on race in dystopian YA literature, a reader recommended I check out Shadows Cast by Stars, Métis author Catherine Knutsson's dystopic tale set on Canada's western coast 200 years from now.
In the book, a plague has ravaged the world. The only cure is antibodies found in the blood of aboriginal people (or "Others" as they are known by non-aboriginals).