TEEN READS: Women pursue their dreams in these YA novels
Plunging into a fictional past, two works of young adult historical fiction may inspire today's young women to follow their dreams.
Books set in the past transport us to another time and place. Reading about a character’s life with all its challenges and joys, helps us better understand the lives lived and challenges faced by those in the past.
Because March is Women’s History Month, we will focus on books featuring women working to realize their dreams.
‘Anatomy: A Love Story’
This YA historical novel by Dana Schwartz is set in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1817. Hazel has always known what her future holds. She will be married to her cousin, Bernard, who will one day inherit his father’s title. Hazel’s days will be filled with luncheons, and her evenings with endless balls and trips to the theater.
Hazel likes Bernard well enough, but she wants more. She wants to do some good and dreams of becoming a surgeon. A dream which is unacceptable for the women of her time.
Hazel is undeterred. She enrolls in a school that trains surgeons and attends class disguised as a man. She does well and is, in fact, the best in her class. When her secret is discovered, she is forced to leave the school. Dr. Beecham, who runs the school, makes a deal with Hazel. He will let her take the test to be a surgeon, but she must teach herself everything.
Hazel will need to study anatomy, which means she will need bodies to study. She meets a resurrectionist, who agrees to supply her with bodies for study. They soon find that the bodies of some of the poor have injuries inconsistent with their cause of death. Hazel realizes that something very strange is happening to the poor of Edinburgh, and she just may find herself in danger because of it.
‘My Fine Fellow’
This YA historical novel by Jennieke Cohen is set in the 1830s. This book imagines an England ruled by Queen Charlotte, if she had not died in childbirth while still a princess.
Women in this world are granted freedom they did not enjoy in Victorian England. In fact, only women can study to become culinarians – food experts. This is what Helena and Penelope are doing. They are in their final year of school and each needs to pick a final project.
When they meet Elijah, a street vendor, Helena believes she has found her project. She will teach him to not only improve his cooking, but turn Elijah into a gentleman chef. This project she decides will keep her at the top of the class.
Penelope has traveled the world, going as far away as the Americas. Her project will prove the value of non-European food, including the food of her mother’s Filipina heritage.
Working with Helena and Elijah, Penelope is forced to see Helena’s flaws, something she has always made excuses for, and she will need to decide if she should confront Helena.
Both books explore the role of women in their societies, and their quest to turn dreams of a new future into reality.