By KENNEDY PETERSEN
MONTGOMERY HIGH SCHOOL
In recent years, it has become virtually impossible to walk through the Young Adult section of a bookstore and not become completely enveloped by tales of vampires, witches, and werewolves. Induced by the billion-dollar “Twilight” enterprise, teen fiction has become a breeding ground for tales of the mystical and supernatural. However, in the past couple years a new genre of literature has begun to rise up in its stead: the dystopia.
The dystopian novel is set in the realm of a broken-down, grim world — a society which is fundamentally flawed in some way. We follow the journey of the hero or heroine as they struggle to escape while changing the flaws and restrictions of their world. Early dystopians were written by the famous science fiction author H.G. Wells, who created fantastical stories like “War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine.” Other famous dystopians have included George Orwell’s “1984” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
Though they have been a popular part of literature for generations, the dystopian novel has only recently become exceedingly popular with teen readers — one needs only to look at the incredible success of “The Hunger Games” franchise for proof. Since Suzanne Collin’s thrilling trilogy was released, many writers have tried their hand at teen dystopian fiction, some of the most popular being James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner” and Veronica Roth’s “Divergent.”
So what is it that makes dystopian literature so appealing to the teen reader? Many critics argue that it is the action-packed and romantic nature of these novels which attracts young adults. One remarks that “Nothing fuels teen hormones like passionate make-out sessions in the middle of a life-or-death situation.” Certainly these facts are true — the media of our generation have become fueled by action, impossibly high-stakes, and star-crossed romance. However, perhaps there is a deeper level to this teenage trend in literature.
Perhaps dystopians are so popular because they deal with questions and issues that everyone must struggle with while growing up. When we are growing up, we are consistently forced to wrestle with tough questions: Who are we? Who should hold the authority in society? What does it mean to be human? Dystopians bring these “big questions” to light in a tangible manner, and we are drawn in as we watch the hero/heroine struggle with issues that we ourselves must deal with. For example, in “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen struggles with killing her peers and therefore the idea of how something so wrong is “OK” if you are instructed to do so by an authority. She must wrestle with the value of a human life and the question of whether or not surviving the Games is worth losing all sense of herself in order to do so.
In addition to raising the “big questions” that we all struggle with, dystopians reflect teen life. As teens, we often feel constrained and restricted by both by “oppressive adults” and the pressure of conformity. We feel we must follow the rules, do exactly what we’re told, and be like everyone else in order to succeed. Dystopians give us another perspective. The savior, the hero of the grim society in these novels is always the one who stands out — the teen who decides to think for him/herself and not believe everything they’re told. They throw caution to the wind and become the leaders of their own life. Dystopians reflect the authority and independence that every teen verging on the edge of adulthood longs for.
Republished from Montgomery High School’s Viking View student newspaper.