Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poverty in YA Fiction?

This isn't the lean-to. It's a pump house on
my parent's property.
Today I read a post stating that YA fiction deals with bullying and other social issues, but not poverty. Is that true? Have you read a YA story with a character living in hunger and poverty? I'm assuming the author wasn't including dystopian or post apocalyptic stories.  Just a guess. ;)

I'm asking, because I did write that kind of story. It's my work in progress, Shattered Choices. My female main character never mentions her hunger, but you certainly see she's living in squalor.

I loosely modeled my MC, April, after the girl living across the street from me. I was in high school and she was too. I lived in the boonies. Way out. And across the country road from me, was a shack. Normally it was empty. It had barely any windows still intact. The roof was caving in. Blackberry brambles had taken over the rotted front porch and grew up the outside walls.

The history lover in me would stand in my long, gravel driveway and stare at that lean-to, wondering what it had looked like when it was newly built. Who had lived in it.
My parent's driveway & my muddy dog. :)

And then one morning a new girl stood at my bus stop. She was quiet and my age. After a few days of getting on the bus in silence, I started a conversation, excited to make a friend who actually lived near me. Because NOBODY lived near me. I don't remember her talking about herself much.

I do remember her greasy hair. How she wore too much makeup, and applied it on the bus, after the sun lit up the dark morning sky. I remember how her clothes carried the scent of mildew. How during the one time she'd let me in her house, I'd noticed they used a lantern for light and sheets of thick plastic stabled over the window holes to help block the cold wind keep any kind of heat in the home. When I asked how they were able to shower without electricity and water, she explained that her family took rolls of quarters down the street to the lake camping grounds and used the public showers, once or twice a week.

After maybe a month or two, she stopped boarding the bus. Stopped walking the woods with me. And I
never saw her again.

The woods behind my parent's house at twilight.
I knew her for such a short time, I don't even remember her name. And the lean-to doesn't exist anymore, it was bulldozed. But she definitely left an imprint on my heart, because the night I dreamed what would lead to Shattered Choices, she was the girl Lucas would cross dimensions for. She was the girl he fell in love with. And she was the girl he'd risk everything to save.

Maybe one day Shattered Choices will be published and teens will be able to learn about, or relate to the painful reality of poverty in our country.

So what YA novels have you read dealing with poverty and hunger?    


  1. It's really hard for me to think of YA novels that feature poverty and hunger. Most of the time, the characters are middle class or higher. I think it's great how your WIP features poverty, since there's very much a need for that to be reflected in YA somehow. It's too easy for people to think it doesn't exist when they're not personally living through it themselves...

  2. I don't think I can think of a YA novel that features poverty. I'm sure there's got to be at least a few that it factors into to some degree, but the fact that none readily spring to mind probably underscores the fact that there aren't many. This story you've told is so sad. I wonder what ever happened to the girl...

    1. Me too! Maybe if I went through my old journals I could find her name. I want so badly to locate her on Facebook or something. I'd love to see that she's doing amazingly well. :)

  3. Your book sounds amazing, I hope it gets published too. I'll Be There, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, comes to mind as the only YA book I've ever read that has poverty as a central theme. It's the story of two brothers overcoming the life of poverty their alcoholic father led them into when he kidnapped them from their mentally challenged mother. It's a very good book. But I agree that the issue isn't touched on much.

  4. Wow. That story sounds amazing. I like the idea of your true life tale as well. How the girl came and went so quickly - and how you always wondered where she went. Is that where your story is going? I like the idea of the main character searching the girl out =).

    I'm not sure if I've read anything in YA that deals with the subject of poverty, but I think it can be done.

  5. The Hunger Games. Also, Anne McKaffrey's "Pegasus in Flight" I don't know if McCaffry counts as YA fiction, but her MCs are often children.

    Oh, and HOLES!