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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Are We So OVER YA Dystopian?


by Kitty Griffin

First of all, just what is a Dytopian Book?
It’s the opposite of a Utopian Book.

According to Dictionary.com it’s

“a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”

Hmmm. Not sure I’m in complete agreement when we talk about YA Dystopia because I consider Robert O’Brien’s novel (soon coming out as a major motion picture with hunky hunk Chris Pine and gorgeous Margot Robbie—who is way too old for the part. Sigh. Why???) Z for Zachariah a dystopian, but when it opens we don’t know what’s become of the outside world, but things at the farm seem normal. It’s just that mushroom shaped cloud in the far distance…

And Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver (again where Hollywood put someone 25 in a role meant for someone much younger. Grump. Grump.) society is very calm, quiet, and no one is in squalor. They don’t even realize they’re oppressed.

So I’m going to tweak this definition and make it for YA Dystopian Book,
A story that takes place in an unfamiliar future where people might be oppressed but they won’t know it until the main character discovers it for them. Then the main character will be igniting the spark that starts the revolution so society becomes free until it becomes oppressed and the people don’t know until the main character discovers it for them.

Let’s see…that fits for a number of books, albeit with a touch of snark.

Maybe I’ve read too many YA Dystopian Books. Not all of them stellar.

Because of the “Hunger Games” series this type of book has become hugely popular. Just type in Dystopian YA into Amazon search  and see how many hits you get.

Why would kids want to read about kids surviving in a difficult future?

Well, with Hunger Games the stakes couldn’t be much higher, right? Life or Death. Same with the new book Red Rising.
When it’s Life or Death the main character is in peril very quickly.

So then the reader must ask, why does the main character want to live? Why did Katniss? Because she wanted to protect her mother and sister. It was LOVE. It was FAMILY.

While there were a fantastic number of Dystopian YA books right after Hunger Games, things may slow down, but my guess is, not for long.
I think this is a genre that will continue to interest teens.

Here is a small selection, no special order. 

Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brien

A bit dated, but holds up. What if you lived with your family in a remote valley, farming the land, living simply? What if one day you stayed behind while they went into town to get supplies? What if they never came back? What if the radio went out, the TV went out, and what’s that weird mushroom cloud in the distance? What if you thought you were the last person alive on Earth until…is that someone on the ridge far away?

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

In this future world there is a country called Opium, a land of that produces the wonderful drug that makes pain go away. In this land is a boy named Matt. Why is he so despised? Why do others treat him so abysmally?
Because Matt isn’t quite human. He is, but he came out of the belly of a cow. He was harvested, just like the opium from the poppy. He was grown to help prevent pain. Because his parts are useful to the old man who needs those parts, the drug lord, Matt’s original body.

Feed by MT Anderson
What if you were bored? What if you could go to the moon to party? Right. Like, let's go!
This is set in the future where every kid wants to be attached to the FEED, to have the chip put right in the head to see the world electronically…but what if your girlfriend doesn’t want the chip any more? What's a boy to do? 
The opening to this book is brilliant.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeves
What if your city was hungry and needed to eat? What if your city was London and it was up on tractors and had to be on the move to find smaller cities to survive?
Yeah. Social Darwinism taken all the way to this.
The fabric of the imagination stretched. The characters are memorable and the joy of imagining London as this living moving thing is fabulous. 

Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
Reviews were very mixed for this book. I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. (Some people were confused by the heavy physics, oh well.)

This book is another imagination stretcher. For what if you lived in a world where twisters raged through the land, but these were time twisters that brought things from other times and left them as well as taking others away from their own time?

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
(Listened to this one via Audible)

Talk about imagination stretched! The Earth is dead. Long live Mars!
Darrow is a Red. In a color coded society, being Red is, well, almost dead. He’s a miner, giving his life so that Mars can be mined and tamed and turned into a livable planet for dying Earthlings.
Only that’s all a lie.
And to prove it, Darrow will become Gold, take away the "L" and you have god, for he will be close to being god-like. That’s the ruling class.
Warning: extremely violent. This one is not for sissies. These kids are at war to survive and it isn't pretty.
But, you'll just panic wondering what is going to happen to Darrow?
I can’t wait for book two. And that doesn't happen very often.

Now here is one that is quite popular, but I had a serious problem with it. (Maybe the problem arose because, again, I listened to it. Maybe it just wasn't a listening story)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
I liked the characters well enough.
But I couldn’t get past the stretch.

Here it is—that in the future the Anti-Choice and Pro-Choice factions go to war. The result? That parents can return a child between the age of 13-18 and that said child would be unwound. All their parts, their organs, every bit of their being, will be donated to those who need them. 

I know teens can be miserable creatures to live with, but it’s also when they can amaze you. I can’t conceive of a world where this would happen. Therefore, I couldn’t accept the premise.

But the book is hugely popular. I’m in the minority for this one.

Looking toward the future...

So, what do you think? Do you agree that teens will still want to read about an imagined future where a teenager figures out that grown ups are really stupid and they're crushing humanity and it will take a teen or a group of teens to save them all?

Yeah. Like, duh, of course dude.

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