Girls on Fire: A Smoldering Intersectional Critique

By Hollich, Shanna | Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

Girls on Fire: A Smoldering Intersectional Critique


Hollich, Shanna, Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review


Sarah Hentges, Girls on Fire: Transformative Heroines in Young Adult Dystopian Literature. McFarland, 2018. 275 pp. notes. bibl. index. pap., $ 39.95, ISBN 978-0786499281.

As a fan of young adult (YA) dystopian literature, as a woman, and as a feminist, I've been waiting for an author to recognize that this literature, and YA literature in general, tackles real and timely topics that matter. YA dystopian literature has never shied away from difficult topics--war, famine, violence, hunger, trauma, abuse, politics, classism, racism, misogyny, reproductive rights, gender--and it often looks at them through the eyes of female protagonists. While some of the scholarly literature is beginning to recognize these themes, this is the first book-length work I have seen that tackles the depths of YA dystopian literature from a primarily feminist and progressive point of view.

There are a lot of things to celebrate about this book. Hentges clearly has a love for this literature that shines through in her writing, and she even includes a brief "interlude" that "acts as a reminder that the visceral pleasure of reading is ultimately where the power lies" (p. 11). This interlude serves as a bridge between Part I, which lays out the theoretical framework she uses to approach these texts, and Part II, where she applies the theory to discuss the structures, themes, characters, and patterns in practice.

Girls on Fire really shines in Part I, where Hentges combines American studies, women's and gender studies, and more traditional literary criticism to create an interdisciplinary framework that allows for a more nuanced interpretation of the many different themes and qualities of YA dystopian literature. She recognizes that the frames through which we traditionally approach literature, and even the novels themselves, are often "white washed [sic], not because of evil intent, but because of legacies of cultural and scholarly processes" (p. 11).

In Part II, however, the book falls a little short. Hentges doesn't push far enough in her attempt to apply this interdisciplinary framework to YA dystopian texts. She begins to explore concepts and ideas of intersectionality (Chapter 6) but fails to engage with or even cite the work of Kimberle Crenshaw, the Black woman scholar who coined the term. (1) Later in that same chapter, when discussing the intersectionality of YA dystopian literature that engages with Indigenous characters, settings, and issues, she questions the ability of an Indigenous woman to critique literature about her own people--in this case, Debbie Reese, founder of the American Indians in Children's Literature blog (2) and one of the foremost scholars of Native American issues in children's and YA literature. …

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