Partnership Narratives for Young Adults

An annotated list of stories that exemplify partnership culture compiled by Ruth Kantor Lopez.

Everything is a story, from dates on a calendar to the way we eat. And every story is based on a set of assumptions about what it means to be human and what is important. The stories we feed ourselves and our children create the future since we tend to act out what we believe to be true.

Stories that Reveal the Hidden Side of History

The story of wars won and lost dominate our history books. The study of history has come to be a study of how power changed hands, and how it was best maintained. There is another side of history that is often untold. It is the story of how caring and compassion has shaped human cultures from the very earliest of times.

The Deeper Song by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch, 1998

This fictional story is based on the real life evidence for the possibility that the oldest version of the bible (the book of J) was written by a woman. Judith is a strong female character who worships the Goddess in secret because she could be killed for doing so. She is young and rebellious and doesn’t want to support her father’s religion, but her cousin Samuel has a plan for her. Samuel is a priest who appreciates the Goddess and he encourages Judith to use her talent as a storyteller to write down the stories of powerful Jewish women. Although few teens will have any knowledge of the historical conflict between Judaism and Goddess religions, they will easily grasp Judith’s predicament.

Middle school and up.

Nzingha, Warrior Queen by Patricia McKissack, 2000

Nzingha became Queen of Angola at 41 and did some amazing things that earned her love and legendary status among her people. She managed to keep her people safe from slavery during her long rule of 40 years. She declared Angola a slave free land and any slaves escaping from other areas were free in her land. She sent men from among her people to volunteer to serve in the Portuguese army where they then turned other Africans against the Portuguese, and in this way she infiltrated and defeated the Portuguese many times. She was perhaps the first Black Nationalist uniting several African kingdoms against a common enemy; the Portuguese slave traders. Unfortunately, McKissack does not take advantage of the abundant documentation of this amazing woman’s story, and produces a historically inaccurate account of Nzingha’s life as a young woman of 13. Still, her story is worth knowing. Nzingha was a charismatic and bold character and hopefully someday another author will write a better historical fiction about her.

Middle school.

Arrow Over The Door by Joseph Bruchac, 1998

Told in alternating viewpoints of two boys, a Quaker boy and an Abenaki boy, this fictional story is based on the historical meeting of Quakers and Indians during the Revolutionary war. The Indians are so moved by the Quakers’ honesty and commitment to peace that they embrace them as friends. Master storyteller Bruchac leaves readers with a new respect for the courage of the Quakers and a deeper understanding of the little known, but strong, friendship between Quakers and Indians.

Middle school.

Circle of Stone by Joan Dahr Lambert, 1998

Circle of Stone follows the story of Zena, an australopithecus human ancestor, and her descendents, also named Zena, hundreds and thousands of years apart. Based on extensive research, this book brings alive on a little known period of prehistory and human evolution as it more likely happened, in which women and compassion play far more important roles than “man the hunter”.

High school and up.

Moon over Crete by Jyotsna Sreenivasan, 1994

A young girl travels back in time to ancient Minoan Crete and learns that women were valued differently than they are today. She learns what it must have been like to live in a culture where men and women are equals, and that she must return to present time and find a way to teach men and women how to live as equals once again.

Middle school.

The Year The Horses Came by Mary Mackey, 1993

A Neolithic culture for which war is unthinkable faces invasion by a warlike culture arriving on horseback. The heroine in the story falls in love with a young man from the warlike culture, and together they work out their differences. Contrasts partnership relations with dominator relations.

High school to adult.

Stories of Contemporary Partnership Culture

The desire to live in peace, and to create a more egalitarian world, are found in every corner of the world. Caring and compassion continue to shape our modern world, perhaps more than violence and domination, yet these stories are often untold.

The Heart of a Chief by Joseph Bruchac, 1998

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and found it rich with opportunities for discussion with young people. Sixth grader Chris Nicola faces many challenges and conflicts. He lives on an Indian reservation and fears that he will be treated like an outsider at the junior high school comprised of mostly non-Indian kids. His father struggles with alcoholism, and the reservation struggles with decisions about building a casino. But Chris exhibits attitudes and ways of resolving conflicts that attract the attention of both kids and adults. He has the mind and the heart of a future leader. One kid can make a difference!

Middle school.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, 2002

This remarkable story about divine feminine power is a favorite among the teen girls in my mother-daughter book club. Lily Owens is a 14 year old girl whose life has been shaped by the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed, and by life with her mean spirited father. She runs away and lands at the house of an eccentric trio of black beekeeping women. There she is introducing to the world of beekeeping and the black Madonna. Lily explores the hole that the absence of a mother (real or divine) leaves in women and learns to forgive herself, her mother, and even her father. In the company of the beekeeping women she discovers that she has “more mothers than any eight girls off the street.” Sue Monk Kidd is a fantastic writer and it is not difficult to see why this book is a best seller.

Middle school and up.

Matthew’s Meadow by Corinne Demas Bliss, 1992

This beautiful story of a boy growing into manhood provides an alternative (non-violent) image of what it means to be a man. Usually referred to as a young child’s book, I have seen this story move adult men to tears. Not to be missed.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau -Banks by E. Lockhart, 2008

Frankie Landau-Banks transforms from a somewhat geeky girl with an unassuming nature, into a 15-year-old with a curvaceous figure who attends a high school that was once an all-male prep school. Even after it became co-educational, its secret society remained a boys-only club. Frankie’s new boyfriend belongs to this secret society and when he refuses to let her join Frankie secretly manipulates the Loyal Order to do her bidding with pranks meant to make political statements about the male-dominated and classist nature of the school. This book was another favorite of our mother-daughter book club because an empowered, gutsy, and imaginative female protagonist like Frankie is hard to find. This book will challenge girls’ images of themselves, who they are in relation to boys and why. The novel leaves you believing that a girl like Frankie could grow up to change the world.

Middle school and up.

Friends and Enemies by Louann Gaeddert, 2000

William is a Methodist boy who befriends Jim, a Menonite boy, at his new high school. When WWII breaks out the question of patriotism versus pacifism causes anger, and threatens William's friendship with Jim. The situation worsens until William is forced to see and feel the consequences of narrow-minded bigotry. Gaeddert expertly handles complex issues as her characters grapple with serious questions. “What does it mean to be a good Christian? What can be done when patriotism comes in conflict with religion? How can harmony exist in a community of people with conflicting beliefs? Is pacifism a viable option when one is confronted with evil? These questions are as relevant today as they were 60 years ago.

Futuristic Stories

A flood of utopian novels graced American bookstores around the turn of the 20th century. Compared to more recent 20th century futuristic novels which describe dystopias rather than utopias, Americans of a century ago were far more willing and capable of believing in a truly better world. Contemporary fictitious futures tend to offer critique on contemporary society but remain unable to alter the continuum of current trends such as in Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale. It would seem that America is losing its ability to imagine a better future, much less achieve one.

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, 1888

Looking Backward belongs to the tradition of utopian fiction that flourished around turn of the 19th century. Bellamy’s ideas for social reform were radical for his readers and this story was a simple vehicle for Bellamy to draw readers to his point of view. It worked. The novel was a popular hit and “Bellamy Clubs” sprang up all over America to discuss the ideas set forth in Looking Backward. Julian West, the main character, goes to sleep in 1887 and awakens in the year 2000 where a wider range of personal freedom exists because of publicly owned capital, not in spite of it. The economy functions far more efficiently in Bellamy’s utopian future as a system based on communal cooperation rather than a system that produces wealth in the hands of a privileged few. In spite of his more egalitarian economic and political vision, women are still portrayed as supporters, not leaders, and the separation between the genders remains very much intact. Bellamy’s novel inspired over 40 more utopian novels over the next several decades.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (and other novels) by L. Frank Baum, 1900

Oz is a socialist utopia in which everyone is equal and there is no poverty or hunger and (almost) everyone lives in peace. If there is trouble (such as the wicked witch) Dorothy and her friends restore peace in the end. There is an interesting element of self-help that speaks to a very American view of utopia. As the characters in Oz search for a heart, brains, courage, and a way home, they discover that they had the ability to acquire these things for themselves all along. They only lacked the faith in themselves as agents of change. Wow!

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1915

Three men, each with different personalities and preconceived beliefs about the role of women, discover a country with not a male in sight. They insist that there must be men somewhere since it is obviously a civilized country. The care and education of children is of ultimate social and economic importance. The entire society, and egalitarian social structure was based upon mothering the children, and all their decisions about land use, economics, government and so on, are based upon concern for generations yet to come. Herlandians realize that raising a child is the most precious of jobs and not all are suited to handle this. The care of the children is thus placed in whoever is worthy. It is not utopian because there are no men, it is utopian because there are no gendered roles. There is much to be learned from Gilman’s utopia and applied to today’s society. Many of Gilman’s ideas about what might make a better world are still relevant and worthy of consideration today.

Star Trek

There are, if you look hard enough, a few contemporary narratives that dare to imagine a truly better world. Wikipedia describes the Star Trek utopian vision as “…a socialist utopia where there is no money, no want, no poverty, no crime, no disease or ignorance in human society; a large corruption-free state/military apparatus that serves society's best interests, and virtually everyone works for the advancement of all humanity as well as the rest of the Federation. The advent and use of the replicator helped in Earth's transformation to a socialist utopia due to its ability to produce mass quantities of any goods at little cost, creating a post-scarcity economy.” Replicators and free energy really seal the deal for peace. If the lack of food and energy were eliminated, you'd suddenly have 99% of the population with no reason to fight each other over control of resources. Isn’t it interesting how nearly all utopian futuristic visions feature more egalitarian relations at their core?

About Ruth Kantor Lopez

Ruth Kantor Lopez holds a Masters degree in Partnership Education, homeschooled her three daughters, and founded a mother-daughter book club. She has been compiling an annotated list of partnership narratives for young adults and invites readers to contact her at her email.