[Marxism] What's a good novel for 13-14 year olds?

DCQ davecq at yahoo.com
Thu Aug 16 18:00:45 MDT 2012


When I tried teaching "Animal Farm" to my 9th-graders, it just felt clunky. I ended up switching that out for "Fahrenheit 451," with much better results. (My colleagues used "Animal Farm" with apparently good results in their honors classes, but I never taught 9th honors myself.) I honestly think it's not really for children, and only gets taught to high school kids because of the old victorian prejudice against any fantasy/sci-fi/gothic/horror/beast fable story, which gets them (mistakenly) automatically relegated to "kid status." If I were to ever teach it again, I'd avoid any mention of the Russian revolution as much as possible and let the story stand on its own (this is completely counter to what I usually do with novels in trying to contextualize them, but with AF, I think it probably suffers from over-contextualization).

As to the question at hand, it of course depends on what you mean by "communism": the concept? The actually-existing Stalinist countries of the 20th century? Or what communists fought/fight for?

Most folks have given good suggestions, and you'd do well with many of them, depending on your answer to the above.

Personally, with on-level 9th graders, I'd risk suggesting a pretty low-grade fantasy novel: "Dragon Wing" by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. These guys are hacks, by any definition, and the novel is pretty clunky. But it's got a few things going for it. It's the first (of 7) novels in "The Death Gate Cycle," which is a nice little twist on the epic fantasy tradition in that it's set in a post apocalyptic world, shattered by mysterious magicians into the four elements (air, earth, fire, water) ages ago to prevent other (oppressed) magicians from taking power.

What makes this novel relevant to communism is that in this first novel set in the air world (with floating islands set in a never ending storm), the upper classes of elves and humans live higher up, and the despised, laboring gegs (dwarves) live below and tend a machine that sends water up to the higher areas. They view the machine and the humans/elves that they serve as a deity (fetishization). But one character questions this, and builds a resistance group and a philosophy based on the idea that the machine is just a machine, that dwarves are not inferior or ugly, and they they are just as entitled to live higher up as the elves/humans. He's not the main character, but he's obviously--and generally sympathetically (although he is a bit absent-minded and impractical)--modeled on Marx. I remember thinking his partner/girlfriend was modeled on Lenin (but that was before I knew much about Marxism at all).

It's not a "great" novel by any means. But it was fun and engaging to my 8th or 9th grade tastes, and even now  two-plus decades later, I remember some of the phrases used by the gegs: the most memorable being an eloquent metaphor for revolution along the lines of: "with every new birth, there are tears."

I honestly don't remember the main plot--cliche and forgettable as it apparently was--but the Geg subplot was impressive enough that I still remember specific lines.

If I remember correctly, the 2nd novel takes place on a huge tree (a concept they probably stole from Ursula LeGuin) and aristocratic elves sell weapons to both sides in an never-ending race war. The following books were progressively less interesting and memorable, but you wouldn't have to worry about that.

soli,
DCQ

On Aug 16, 2012, at 12:37 AM, johnedmundson at paradise.net.nz wrote:

> ======================================================================
> Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
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> 
> A teacher's forum I'm on had a request for a novel dealing with communism for
> kids of about 13-14 years old. of course everyone has trotted out Animal Farm
> but I wondered if anyone could suggest something a bit more sympathetic.
> Cheers,
> John
> 
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