Ten years ago a teenage wizard named Harry Potter was unstoppable. You couldn’t pass a bookshelf anywhere without seeing the boy wizard. Then a couple years ago a vampire named Edward came along and pushed poor Harry aside to win over the hearts of young adult lit fans across the world.
And now, a new trend is emerging that will soon knock those blood suckers off the shelves of bookstores everywhere.
Now some of you may be asking, “Distopi…what?”
According to Webster’s Dictionary online, Dystopia is defined as, “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Wikipedia describes it as, “an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.”
While dystopian literature is nothing new, it seems to have had a recent surge among young adult literature, thanks to Suzanne Collins and her novel, “The Hunger Games” which was the first in what would become a highly anticipated trilogy.
“The Hunger Games” trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that used to be the United States, although we’re never given a specific date or time. The story’s heroin, Katniss Everdeen, lives in one of 12 numbered districts overseen by the Capitol, a governing central city that dominates and controls the various districts as it sees fit.
Every year, two children from each district are chosen through a lottery system to fight to the death on national television. Whoever is the last child standing (i.e. the last child left alive) is ultimately the winner. Fans of the book series follow Katniss Everdeen as she is forced to fight in the Hunger Games and ultimately finds the courage to fight against the Capitol.
Another hot series among dystopian young adult literature, and a personal favorite of mine, is the “Uglies” series by Scott Westerfeld. “Uglies” takes place in a future where everyone is forced at the age of 16 to undergo plastic surgery to become pretty according to government standards.
Scott Westerfeld explains on his Web site how we can relate to the “Uglies” series:
“We are definitely heading toward a world in which lots of people will get to decide how they look. That will change what we think of as beautiful, and what beauty means to us. So some people stay the way they look, because that’s cool or radical. Some won’t change because they’re rich and powerful.”
Author Beth Revis explains why this trend has caught on in young adult literature:
“It’s long been my opinion that YA literature isn’t literature designed for young adults. Labeling the genre with an age is a misnomer; instead, the genre is about character-focused stories with fast, exciting plots,’ she explains. “Dystopian literature lends itself perfectly to that mold — when the world ends, we don’t care so much about the how of the end as we do about the who: who survived, and how, and why. Dystopian literature has a natural focus on the characters and their survival, and what makes them continue in a world so bleak.”
Perhaps the reason dystopian literature is so hot right now among young adult book fans is that we live in a world filled with tragedy whether it be war, disease, or natural disasters. Readers can understand, relate to, and sympathize with the heroes and heroines of dystopian literature.
Laura Miller wrote in The New Yorker that “Dystopian literature warns us about the dangers of current trends. They detail the consequences of political authoritarianism and feckless hedonism.”
Teens and adults alike wonder about what the future will hold for themselves and their future children and dystopian literature encourages them to not just sit idly by but to take a stand and make a difference in their world no matter how bad things get.
“The great thing about dystopian literature, especially in the young adult range,” says Revis, “is that it’s not about the end of the world. It’s about living past it, overcoming it. It’s about humanity being stronger than inhumanity. It’s about triumph despite the odds.”
Wikipedia, Definition of Dystopia.
Merriam-Webster, Definition of Dystopia.
Laura Miller, What’s Behind The Boom in Dystopian Fiction for Young Readers?
Beth Revis, Beth Revis Discusses Dystopias.
Scott Westerfeld, The Uglies Trilogy.