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Literature / The Girl Who Owned a City

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A post-apocalyptic sci-fi YA novel by O.T. Nelson.

When a plague sweeps through the world and kills off anyone over 12 years of age, the children of the world are left without anyone to care for them. So when young Lisa decides she's sick of scavenging for food and fearing the new young gangs that roam the area, she decides to unite the survivors and lead them back to the way things were, even though nothing will ever be the same.

Published in 1975, the book is still considered a popular choice for required reading in schools, due to the depth of characters and subject matter. It must be mentioned than many of the political themes have particular appeal for budding Objectivists, something the author was more than happy to provide.


This book contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Biology: No disease that kills that fast, with a 100% mortality rate, could spread that quickly.
  • Broken Aesop: Lisa goes on a great deal about rightful ownership etc., but the fact remains that she is a scavenger.
    • A case could easily be made that she believes ownership ends at death. After all, she's not at all hypocritical about not stealing supplies from the living (although it could be considered dubious that she's the only one owning the school when Jill, Craig, Steve, Charlie and Todd all claimed it along with her at the same time and indeed helped build the "city" as it was). The book would have made a better case if it acknowledged this point about only the living retaining their ownership rights, though... And of course, the fact that the main source of conflict is over a school building, presumably something paid for with tax money, and thus belonged to a public society which, even if dissolved, makes her only argument that she is the rightful owner the fact that she was there first.
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    • A case could also be made for the fact that these are kids and kids don't exactly have perfect knowledge of property rights. Quite a few children in the age group of the characters in the book are firm believers in the Finders-Keepers Rule, as well as the Dibs Law and the No Take-Backs Accord. Add in the survival drive brought on by catastrophe and regardless of being made "older than they are" by the hardship, they're still going to hold to an understandably childish view on who gets what for which reasons.
    • However, since all the adults who paid the taxes have died, this might be considered now "up for grabs." That still doesn't mean an individual is capable of owning the entire school herself necessarily though...
  • The Caligula: Lisa, quite possibly. She shows an aversion to voting and sharing, at times seems to have a lack of empathy, and thinks everyone should be forced to fend for themselves and that this apocalyptic situation is fun, and individuals like that usually grow into sociopathy.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Everyone who isn't Lisa. Jill in particular.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: A world full of dead adults is surprisingly rot and disease free and, for the protagonist, apparently more fun than she's ever had before. It's also remarkably free of children injuring themselves, and the older children tasked with caring for infants and toddlers seem to be a little too responsible for their age.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: Lisa is said to have gotten most of her ideas on what to do from "a great book." Said book is heavily implied to be Atlas Shrugged.
  • Improbable Weapon User: One of the children, afraid of hurting someone with an actual gun, suggests using fire extinguishers to scare people away.
  • Non-Residential Residence: The plot is about kids setting up residence in a school after the End of the World as We Know It.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: The title.
  • Only Fatal to Adults: The Plague.
  • Sequel Hook: The liner notes said that O.T. Nelson was working on a sequel, but this never came to pass for fans. There was never any stated reason why, but this entry on says that the publisher said it didn't stand up to the original-though there are no references on the answer to check.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Lisa literally scolds an enemy leader into surrender.
  • There Are No Adults: Literally.
  • Worthless Currency: Lisa is gathering supplies from a store and notes that the cash register has been broken into and all the money removed. Since this is After the End, the United States Government no longer exists, and so dollars are just fancy pieces of paper.