A few weeks ago I wrote about five YA trends I am SO OVER. I got a lot of good comments, and was pretty impressed that so many people seem to agree with me. (And yet there are still tacky vampire books coming out and lined up for years to come... Hmm.)
Anyway, Kay, at Dead Book Darling, added dystopian novels to the list that she would write. And at first I disagreed. I really liked The Hunger Games, and have since come across a number of YA dystopians I enjoyed as well. So I'm not convinced that I'm quite over that particular vein yet. But the more I thought about her comment, the more I realized that there really is something bugging me about the general level of YA dystopian novels being released nowadays.
You know, dystopians used to exist for a reason. 1984. Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451. I could go on. I know many people were force fed these novels in high school, and I admit, they're not the first books I would pick up, given a varied selection. But they exist to make social commentary. Really, really important social commentary. Dystopian novels used to be serious, in other words. They used to be real movers and changers. Consider that so very many things predicted in 1984 have actually come to pass. That's scary. It's downright terrifying.
At least on the young adult scene, I feel like I'm setting foot on an entirely different planet. A lot of YA dystopians nowadays (not all, but a lot), seem to include the dystopian element for much the same reason that the other trends in YA are included in books: to serve the romantic plot. It's (usually) about the main character, (usually) a girl, slowly waking up from the system, (usually) a vaguely Big-Brother-esque universe with not a lot of background given on the roots of this new society, with the help/guidance of a (usually) politically subversive male love interest. Poof, she sees the evil of the System. Poof, everything's set up for a sequel. Me against the Man. (Along with my boyfriend, of course.)
These novels, the majority of them, are not making the social commentary that dystopians were once known for. They're dystopian for one reason: because it's cool. Because the author thought it was cool, because the publishers thought teenagers would think it was cool.
Do dystopian novels have to be creepy harbingers of a dark future? Not necessarily. It's fine to write a book just because it's entertaining. But I think it's tragic that the roots of dystopia have been diluted so much in its current incarnation. For once I'd like to see a YA dystopian novel that terrifies me as much as Fahrenheit 451 did. That's not all about using the evil Society to set up a rebellious teenage love affair. That makes readers think, really think, about the world we live in, and the way we want to live.
I think we can handle it.