Maybe in high school you used books as screens to shield your eyes from the hordes of silverback peers who would surely bare their teeth if you looked up. Or, having dared yourself to attend a party full of strangers only to end up squishing your entire being into the darkest corner of the room like a flavorless wad of chewed-up gum, you turn to your phone and the ebook you downloaded JUST IN CASE (thank the lord, hallelujah) and laugh hard at the funny parts so people think you’re having a super-cool text war with Ricky Gervais instead of what you’re actually doing, which is to say being a terrified, midnight-hit Cinderella in a party dress turned wine-stained clown suit…
What I’m saying is, I’ve been there. And though my lifelong fear of social situations has somewhat improved thanks to my introduction to alcohol at (let’s say) twenty-one years old, I still mostly rely on the daring of fictional characters to sate my need for a bit of rebellion. As I’m the sharing type, I offer you my book recommendations–a starter kit of sorts–for the introvert looking to stir some vicarious living into a, perhaps, milky-toasty lifestyle. And I suggest turning to the young rebels because what better time for feigned confidence than those awkward, uncertain teen and early adult years?
Fenfang Wang from Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo: At seventeen years old, Fenfang leaves her village and peasant life to claim youth and get hers in the bustling, big city of Beijing. Equipped with a middle school education and experience digging up sweet potatoes, she sets out for a career in film. I was on intimate terms with Fenfang from the outset and felt like a village friend reading about her life as an extra, her re-education, and her unsatisfying relationships in the city while goggling at the accompanying photo illustrations. Her street-smart irreverence and effortless curses (“Heavenly Bastard in the Sky”) sold me. Fenfang is the sort of person who acts on gut instinct, risks be damned. For a month, she squats in a house previously occupied by a mother and daughter whose deaths Fenfang witnessed on her first day in the city. Yeah. If you ever grew up in a small town, dreaming of and fearing city life, Fenfang is the rebel for you.
Y.T. from Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: And if I had to live in Snow Crash’s anarchic future America, where corporations and the Mafia rule, and the streets may as well be prison yards, oh, and I was trying to help save the world from a cyber virus that turns everyone who plugs into the Metaverse into a cultist zombie, I would want to be Y.T. Fifteen-year-old “young, fast, and female” Y.T. who fulfills her courier duties on a skateboard, “pooned” to taxis and trucks, who beguiles a bad-guy biker and murderous harpoon expert to infiltrate enemy lines, and who worries about her mother. She’s obviously gung ho for enlistment in an intelligence theft mission. You would probably have a heart attack if she was your daughter, but Y.T. isn’t all edge–she does save a Rat Thing (think dog, but not really) from peril. Being a young rebel doesn’t necessarily make you a bad kid.
Lyra Belacqua from The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman: The movie was awful but the Lyra I met in His Dark Materials #1 was everything. I have a wild child soft spot as I was feral and fearless before self-awareness set in. Lyra is as sneaky and obstinate as they come, but she’s also fiercely loyal and a natural protector. What I most admire about this particular rebel is that, in a genre sometimes bogged down with wishy-washy, heartsick young characters, Lyra comes into the picture with a strong sense of self and a no-nonsense attitude. Some kids just got it.
I guess instead of reading about the lives of rebels you could actually enact some daring-do off the page. If that’s your thing. But first, who’s your favorite young rebel of fiction?