The Girl Who Owned a City
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First edition cover, art by Boris Vallejo
|Genre||Post-apocalyptic, juvenile, science fiction|
|Published||1975 (Lerner Publishing Group)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
The Girl Who Owned a City is the only published novel by O. T. Nelson, first published in 1975. This book, sometimes taught in schools, is considered to be best suited for those between the ages of 12 and 15. A graphic novel adaptation by Dan Jolley with art by Joëlle Jones and Jenn Manley Lee was published in 2012.
A deadly virus has swept the world, killing off everyone over the age of twelve in the span of a month or so. In the town of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, outside of Chicago, ten-year-old Lisa Nelson and her younger brother Todd are surviving, like all the children in the story, by looting abandoned houses and shops. Although there are abandoned cars in every driveway and lining every street, Lisa is the first child to think of driving one. She is also the first to think of raiding a farm, and the first to look at the dwindling supplies in stores and deduce that groceries come from warehouses. She finds a supermarket warehouse and raids it, enlisting the help of Craig Bergman, a neighbor boy two years older than her, but makes clear to him and all the other children in her neighborhood that the entire warehouse and all its contents are her exclusive property, not to be shared unless she chooses: she assures them all that she'll burn the warehouse and everything in it rather than be forced to share against her will.
She considers relocating to the farm, but decides against it because it is difficult to defend (other children are starting to form gangs) and because "planning and getting the world back to the way it was, with schools, and hospitals, and electricity" are much more "exciting" than "hiding away on a farm ... digging in the dirt all day".
Lisa and her friends are approached by the "Chidester Gang", led by Tom Logan. Suspecting that Lisa has a source of supplies, Logan offers a food-for-protection deal, which Lisa declines. Unhesitatingly taking charge, she forms her block-long stretch of Grand Avenue into a militia, armed with guns, Molotov cocktails, and primitive weapons. When the militia proves unsuccessful at defending the "Land of Grandville" against "the fearful and cruel army of Chidester and Elm", and Lisa's house is lost, Lisa comes up with the idea of moving the "child-families"—and the entire contents of the warehouse—into the local high school, and transforming it into a fortress-city. Within the city Lisa is the only authority, by virtue of the fact that she saw the abandoned high school and thought of moving there: this has earned her sole title to the "City of Glenbard" and everything in it.
After completion, and a year, things proceed according to plan until Tom Logan and his gang manage to stage a successful attack on Glenbard, during which Lisa is shot in the arm. Todd and Lisa's friend Jill rescue her, and Jill performs basic surgery to remove the bullet from her arm, dosing her with whiskey for pain relief. When Lisa recovers they retake the city of Glenbard from Tom, who has meanwhile learned that conqueror and leader are two very different things. Glenbard's "citizens" have shown no sign of rebellion, or of preferring Lisa's leadership to Tom's (or vice versa), but Lisa lectures Tom into relinquishing control of the city to her.
The book ends with a foreshadowing that the citizens of Glenbard will at some time be forced to face far larger armies, led by now extremely powerful dictators, tyrants and warlords. If any semblance of a free society is to exist in the new world, the citizens of Glenbard must make themselves capable of protecting and growing it by gaining in knowledge, power, and organization, and at the same time continuing to incorporate leadership and respect for the individual person into their society.
The book includes several elements related to the author's real life.
- The two main characters are named for the author's children, Todd and Lisa Nelson.:4
- The story takes place in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois where Lisa and Todd Nelson lived at the time the book was written.
- Grand Avenue does in fact exist in Glen Ellyn, and a careful examination of the text and of a map of Glen Ellyn reveals that the "Chidester Avenue Gang" would have been based only a block away.
- The school teacher Mrs. Moran, who taught social studies, mentioned in the book was a real teacher at Hadley Jr. High, also in Glen Ellyn.
Origins of the book
In 1960, author O. T. Nelson started a small house-painting company which he called "College Craft Painters." By 1972, College Craft was operating in four states and employed many college students as summer house-painters, but the company was in need of money to expand as well as to cover its full-time employees during seasonal lulls in work. In some older copies of the book it was hinted that Nelson was writing sequels, however the author has published nothing further and Mr. Nelson currently lives in Minnesota.
- Nancy J. Keane (2006). The Big Book of Teen Reading Lists: 100 Great, Ready-to-Use Book Lists for Educators, Librarians, Parents, and Teens. Libraries Unlimited. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-59158-333-2. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- Jolley, Dan; Joëlle Jones; O. T Nelson (2012). The girl who owned a city. Minneapolis: Graphic Universe. ISBN 9780761349037.
- Nelson, O. T. (1977-09-15). The Girl Who Owned a City. New York: Random House Children's Books. ISBN 9780822596707.
- OpenStreetMap contributors (2013-04-27), Grand Avenue, Glen Ellyn, DuPage, Illinois, 60137, United States of America, DuPage, Illinois, United States of America: OpenStreetMap, retrieved 2013-04-27
- "College Craft History". College Craft Online!. Retrieved 2013-04-27.