Today asks for a book that I have read more than three times. There are a few of those, but I’m going to pull one out from way back. I first read The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson during my childhood, but I keep going back to it every once in a while.
This book, published in 1975, tells the story of life after a deadly virus kills all of the humans over the age of twelve. It is centered in one particular town around a pair of siblings who organize the children into a city of sorts. Lisa, ten-years-old, is first motivated to find food simply so she and her younger brother, Todd, can survive. They discover that there are houses, stores, and even warehouses full of food. Complicated by the lack of electricity, gas, or adult knowledge, the children must learn to cook food, drive cars, and take care of each other. As Lisa begins teaching neighborhood kids of her discoveries about how to survive, less motivated children from other neighborhoods try to attack. Lisa leads her neighborhood to form an army and eventually they move themselves to an abandoned school. This book is full of struggle and triumphs.
The appeal of this book to younger me was that I wondered how I would survive in a world with no adults. It made me appreciate all of the adults around me, but I also imagined that I was Lisa, the girl who grew to be a leader of an entire city. At one point, I think I even drew out my plans for a city. I keep reading it as an adult because it poses an issue of necessity. Do we really need all of the things we think we need? Lisa, Todd, and the other children learn to survive on what is stored and use their innovation to make things they can’t find. At one point, Lisa has the children in her city working all day, but the children lose steam and start slacking. Other city leaders remind Lisa that they are children who need time to play and have fun as well. What seems to be a trivial want for toys is revealed as a real need for the children’s well-being.
This book is about dreaming. At first, Lisa only dreams of having food and safety, but throughout the book, Lisa begins dreaming of driving, restarting businesses, and even someday flying a plane. She doesn’t accomplish all of these dreams and many times she is set back by enemy attacks, but the book ends with her in her tower planning for more in the world.
This book is also about the power of storytelling. In the dark nights, Lisa tells Todd stories of days to come. These stories not only comfort Todd but inspire many of Lisa’s ideas for what task to complete the next day. Without these stories, Todd and Lisa might have been like many of the other children who cowered in their houses, hungry and scared. Stories inspire and give them strength to take life into their own hands.
This short book could be read by a middle school student or possibly an upper-elementary student, but any age might enjoy it. Even though it was written in 1975, the themes of struggle, triumph, and dreaming remain timeless. I give this book a 5 out of 5.