Dystopian Fiction

Image of some recent dystopian book covers

Dystopian fiction is very popular with teens this days.  It’s less popular for some adults who think it’s too grim.  However, many writers, teachers and even doctors agree that young people can benefit from reading dystopian fiction.  Some parents are reading and recommending such novels to their teens.  Despite the recent debate, these types of books have been written for children and young adults since the seventies. 

The recent popularity can be attributed to the publication of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games in 2008.  This book brought new life to the genre.   Written in the first person, present tense, from a female main character’s perspective, The Hunger Games attracted a new audience.  Growing numbers of young women began reading these novels.  Publishers began marketing dystopian fiction to girls.  These trends broke common misconceptions that females don’t read adventure stories and that women authors don’t write action-packed books with female main characters.  

No matter what we think about dystopian fiction these stories may just be escapist literature for some teens but all good literature makes us think.  We make connections between what we already know and what we read.  We ask questions.  Discuss ideas.  If enough teens read dystopian fiction and talk with each other about it, maybe there is hope for the human race and all other life forms we share this planet with.  Since children are the future, they should know what they’re up against.  Maybe they will understand how we got to this point.  Maybe they will find a way out of the mess we’re leaving them.  We’ve got some serious troubles: global warming, terrorism, rampant capitalism, human trafficking, the treatment of women, and starving children.  Maybe they’ll figure out what to do – and be willing to do it – in order to prevent disaster.  It’s a terrible legacy, but they need to know the truth.  How can you make progress if people don’t think things are that bad?  Some people don’t believe the Holocaust happened! 

It is conceivable that because of dystopian fiction teens will be able to turn things around and create a true utopia.  They are learning from these books how a society can seem to be a utopia, but in reality be a dystopia.  These stories have shown them worlds where no one goes hungry, where people don’t get sick, where no one is poor, where women are equal to men, where no one is homeless.  Dystopian fiction introduces worlds that are both good and bad allowing teens to clearly envision the future they want.  Who knows what it will look like, this future, post-postmodern, post-feminist, post-human mechatopia?

Literature can fire desire and imagination.  It can inform readers about what they want to create or avoid.  Dystopian fiction can spur a generation to greatness.  Despite their bleakness, these books offer hope and sometimes hope is all a teenager has.  Let them have their books and their hope.

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