Dystopian YA Lit

The YA book market has been flooded recently with dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories.  And they are flying off the shelves.  My students are still asking for The Hunger Games series and with the movie coming up, the demand will still be there in a couple months. Recently, I have read several articles outlining the darkening tone in today’s YA literature (Darkness Too Visible from June 4, 2011 Wall Street Journal is just one example) and the fact that this leads to all sorts of wrong impressions for our teens. Many have cited The Hunger Games and many of the dystopian YA novels that have flooded the market lately and their dark tones. Or Ellen Hopkins’ Crank series as an example over the overemphasis on drugs.  I have also read articles like Phillip Reeve’s “The Worst Is Yet to Come: Dystopias are grim, humorless, and hopeless—and incredibly appealing to today’s teens” (from School Library Journal) that discuss the positives aspects of this literature and why it appeals so much to today’s youth.  Reeve sites the appeal for teens lies in the teen protagonist overcoming odds, the other worldly, escapist aspects, as well as the strong ties of the teens struggles with similar struggles.  While these arguments are valid, could there be something more going on?

In most of these stories, the adults have a created a world that is, quite frankly, messed up and overly controlling.  It is up to the teens to make things right, to break the mold, to change it for the better.  Could this be a reflection of our own society?  Could the author’s be advocating the ideas that just because it has always been this way that it is ok to change?  Are they a call for our teens to make a world of their own and change things for the better? Or are they just appealing to a teens rebellious nature?

Maybe I’m reading too much into these stories.  Maybe I’m taking too much of an adult viewpoint.  Too often in these stories, however, we see the main character starting a rebellion, going against society.  I don’t see the main characters rebelling against a society that is good, but rather against the dysfunctional parts of the society.  I see the main characters taking a stand against a society that makes wrong decisions, injustices, violations of basic human rights, etc.  Could this simply be a call to arms? A call to take a stand when we see injustices in the world?  Could it be that these books can be used to teach morality, character, and to take a stand against inhumanity, bullying?  Could this be an appeal to a generation who is more willing to help others than previous generations?  Could we use these works to teach students about being involved rather than just following the status quo?  To know what is going on not just blindly following?

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