It’s been interesting to watch the rise of dystopian tales (as well as post-apocalyptic reads) in the young adult market. I believe tragedies such as 9/11, Columbine, and the like here in America, and the current struggles for freedom in places like Libya, have wriggled their way into our unconscious minds; so that while we go about enjoying our freedom we are aware, too, of how life as we know it can end, brutally swift. Also, awareness of more personal tragedies such as bullying, child abuse, and homelessness is high, and sadly these issues are not abating. Today’s teens deal with a world where these problems are nearly inescapable. It’s either in their face due to internet/media exposure, or an undercurrent in their daily lives, or it IS daily life. Kids just know. Young adult literature reflects this knowing.
As an adult who faced childhood trauma, I read tales like Divergent by Veronica Roth to cheer on characters who either know, or come to know, life’s big and small tragedies, and then fight. Some of these characters face actual combat, like in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games or Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, or a more subtle war, as in Ally Condie’s Matched or Angie Smibert’s Memento Nora. But always, they battle. And in every one of these stories, they find friends who fight alongside them. In dystopian tales, the main characters fight hard, and they love hard.
We suffer, celebrate, and love with them.
Maybe the question is not, “Why read dystopian?”, but “Why is today’s society such a perfect market for these stories?”