April 15, 2011

I think someone's missing the point

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.


  1. Interesting thoughts on the dystopian novels. Personally, I like reading them because they are so different--it's like another type of world to explore. I haven't read one yet that hasn't made me think, "Wow, what if we get to that point for REAL?" (Though I've really only read THG series, Uglies, Delirium... I never had to read 1984, or Brave New World--LOVED 451 though!) I get what you're saying, and I also think there are just so many more books coming out right now, that they've definitely gotten more entertainment focused, maybe for the sake of just trying to get kids to read in general.
    Interesting thoughts here. Thanks for the post. :)

  2. This is exactly what I'm talking about. My issue is not with dystopian novels as a whole, it's the fact that they haven become "trendy" that bothers me. A good dystopian novel should terrify you (a-la-451) and, sure, it can have a romantic plot going alongside it... but it shouldn't be the set up to a romance. I would imagine the issue I have with Dystopian YA is the same one that Vampire fans had with Twilight (and the subsequent paranormal YA romances that appeared after it).

    Also, I'd like to get "Me against the Man. (Along with my boyfriend, of course.)" on a t-shirt.

  3. I tend to agree with you about dystopian novels. I read The Chrysalids when I was 13 years old and that books still bothers me to this day it had that much of an impact, and well, I probably should never have read The Giver while pregnant as one scene in the book will haunt me forever. That is what these books should be doing. Delirium and Matched, while enjoyable reads, don't really haunt me and make me think the way these books did. And 451, loved that book!

  4. +JMJ+

    This is an interesting perspective! I've read all the Dystopian classics but none of the new YA novels in the genre (not even The Hunger Games), but until now it didn't occur to me to wonder whether dystopias are, to many YA writers, simply "the new vampires." =S

  5. Kay - I would totally buy that T-shirt!

    I share all your wariness of the increasingly common dystopian novel that's really all about the romance. It's genius in that it's selling. What's more common to teenagerdom than feeling like the whole world is against you AND wanting to take it on with cool friends and a boy/girlfriend. On top of that teens are often convinced that no one in the history of humanity could possibly have felt or understand how they're feeling (except perhaps said friends/or bf/gf). This last worries me the most because how long are they going to keep selling? I can only read so many.

    This is what I LOVED about The Hunger Games. The falsity of the romance the Capitol clamored for between Peeta and Katniss. Sure, something real grew out of it eventually, but Katniss faked her way through most of the footage they shot during all three books. I thought it was fantastic how wary she was of her feelings, wondering how she really felt amidst all the life-and-death and playacting she had to do. I find it encouraging that the series is so popular.