Thursday, June 10, 2010

Opinion: YA Dystopian Fiction

There's a recent article in the New Yorker, written by Laura Miller, about YA fiction. This one, Fresh Hell, asks questions about the recent popularity in dystopian fiction such as The Hunger Games.

A few thoughts as I read this article:

--"The world of our hovered-over teens and preteens may be safer, but it’s also less conducive to adventure, and therefore to adventure stories." I like the idea that the rise in dystopian fiction is due in part to helicopter parents, kindergartners having cell phones, and the whole rise in children having less freedom and more supervision.

--"The youth-centered versions of dystopia part company with their adult predecessors in some important respects. For one thing, the grownup ones are grimmer." Can you name me any adult genre that is not typically grimmer than its YA equivalent? Perhaps novels that look at the high-school experience, but even that's shaky ground.

--"The Internet plays a less important role in these novels than you might expect." That doesn't surprise me, actually. With how ubiquitous the Internet is to daily life, and given that dystopias typically offer a world very different from our current world, it makes sense that one of the easiest ways to define this future world is without the Internet. It also fits with the mood of such novels: often they're bleak and grim, people fumbling around for connections. What does the Internet do but connect people?

This is a really intriguing article. I recommend giving it a look!

1 comment:

Sitwithabook said...

I found "The New Yorker" observation about adult dystopian novels needing to break the protagonist while YA readers are left with hope to be spot on. I'm going to use it next month in class.

As a middle school teacher I always found most YA endings to be a bit too chipper at times. "The Chocolate War" blew me away because I did not expect its downer ending (not dystopian, I know, and the unnecessary sequel undid this). Many of my students disliked "Mockingjay" because it's a wash, not a triumph (and they didn't like Katniss chose Peeta in the end).

I wrote my own dystopian novel (about book burning and the dumbing-down of education). Shopping it around a few agents spoke about how their was no hope, and a need to love the protagonist. Finally I put it up for e-reading (you can see or download "The Attic Notebooks" here.

I'm wondering if YA is capable of breaking the mold of happy endings across the boards. Not that I want to squash hope in our youth, but because a healthy genre has a certain breadth. Then again, perhaps no breadth is needed because kids grow up and find "1984" and the like. Experience and life may add the depth that the genre lacks.