Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: Natural Selection

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

What distinguishes adult fiction from young adult fiction? Having a teen protagonist doesn't make a story young adult fiction. We have to look at writing style and relevant subject matter. Some say the distinction has to do with pacing and presentation, the pacing faster and the presentation simpler in young adult fiction. Often, however, the distinction is not at all clear. For example, the publisher of The Book Thief classifies it as a young adult novel. Really? I'm pretty well-read and far from being young, yet enjoyed both the novel and the film as completely relevant to my life and point of view. It seems to me the distinction is made by publishers for marketing purposes. I think we readers care only that a piece of fiction is well-written and introduces themes with which we can identify.

This is certainly true of "Natural Selection," Third Place Fiction winner from Bacopa Literary Review 2014, which features fifteen-year-old Nina. Author Nancy Scott Hanway's point of view is Nina's as an adult, recalling her childhood in a trailer with her mother, whose passion for Jane Austen led her to "raise me--her untouched and unsullied baby--according to Enlightenment norms. Jane Austen may have symbolized a sort of la-di-da romance to many people, but to my mother, Austen and her work stood for honesty, authenticity, and bedrock values." 

Nina, too, was a book thief--in her case precipitated by her mother's plan that "I would never be allowed to read anything published after the year 1817, when Jane Austen died. . . ." The Iowa Board of Education, however, required Nina's home schooling to be measured by state exams every year, and at age fifteen she finally read Darwin, "feeling as if I had stumbled upon an enormous secret. His ideas--that things progress, that the entire universe of plants and animals could transform dramatically--gave me hope." 

So Nina was at the Prairie Lights bookstore, searching "until I found the most expensive book on Darwin in the store: it was an academic textbook that cost $75. I slipped it into my overalls by leaning up against the shelf and letting the book slide down until it hit my ribs." Of course she was caught, and the police took her home, after giving her a warning. 
Inside, [my mother] sat slowly on one of our oak kitchen seats. "I thought you were different. But you're just like all the sick idiots in the world. Full of yourself."

Fury clutched my gut and rose to my throat. I struggled to speak, finally saying, "I'm like every idiot forced to read Jane Austen from birth--"

My mother stood up. For a moment I thought she was going to hit me. . . When she returned hours later, she was drunk, and she stumbled through the door where I sat reading Persuasion, half-terrified. Her gown was torn at the sleeve. She lay on the daybed beside me, staring at the ugly light fixture and occasionally picking at her sleeve. "Where's that book on Darwin?"

"I threw it in the trash," I said.

"You can't do that to books," she said, her words slurring. "Didn't I ever tell you?" She shook her head and fell asleep. I stood watching her for a long time before I rescued Darwin from the garbage and began to read.
Nancy Scott Hanway's writing appears in journals such as Forge, Grey Sparrow Journal, Inertia Magazine, Limestone, Lowestoft Chronicle, Shark Reef, and many more.

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