Dystopian Hoopla

While the picture is very funny, it does not define dystopian literature.  So here is a definition.

DYSTOPIAN: an often futuristic society that has crashed into a repressive and controlled state, often pretending to be utopian or perfect/ ideal.

Really, it’s the ultimate fool-you! in government schemes, as they repress their citizens into extreme poverty, kill their children, and strip all freedoms from citizens with a Nazi-like military waiting to off anyone who speaks out.

Dystopian movies are: iRobot (still surprised the Roomba company was okay with that title) and I am Legend.  Now that you know what I’m talking about, let’s jump into it!

Apparently, I’m not the only one scratching my head, wondering what the big draw is to dystopian young adult literature.  I just read an article to see some very whacked responses to why kids are attracted to this genre.  Some of the responses were so far off base that I’m not sure if we live on the same planet.

Assumed reasons ranged from: corrupt government disillusioning our youth, to environmental effects threatening our planet, to the average kid is only average and cannot possibly handle the pressures of trying to be exceptional. Yup, too much peer pressure to be awesome and you all freaked out!  Yup, that’s gotta be it!

In my quest for understanding the draw to dystopian, guess how many times kids have told me these assumed reasons for their dystopian-love?


That’s right, none of the kids said anything about any of that crap.  Doesn’t mean it’s not there or not a concern – it means its not the reason you all picked it up.  But, when asking today’s YA (young adult) readers (kids ages 13-17) why they like it – most don’t even realize they are reading it. They picked it up because they liked the sound of the plot.

THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy is a current popular example. In most current dystopian novels, the future is royally messed up, and the hero/ heroine pretty much has to fight to survive.

I’m gonna take a wild guess and suggest that contemporary dystopian isn’t about the message – it’s about the emotion and sitz in leben (situation in life) of the hero.  It’s about kids that have truly screwed up lives.  Their homes are broken, authority figures have failed them, and they have been thrust into situations that are over their heads.  It’s about kids that have suffered and survived.  They don’t know what’ll happen next.  They are oppressed and have no/ little choice about their lives.

Hello?  Sound familiar?  What teenager doesn’t feel like that?  Of course it’s appealing!

Dystopian is speaking directly to them.  Being a teenager is friggin hard.  They don’t have the freedom to decide things about their own lives.  If they do, it was thrust on them with little to no warning.  Everything is so raw and hurts like hell.  Idealism and reality are clashing, and have often exploded into a shattered mess.  Teens have to do something with all the pieces.

These dystopian books show average kids, putting the pieces back together again.  They show the creation of the hero through their trials and failures.

Heroes aren’t born with capes afluttering in the breeze.  Awesomeness can not be canned, and handed over on a silver platter with a can opener.  You have to suffer greatly to get it.

And the reader can see the cost and what it’s doing to the hero in the book.  The idea that bravery has a steep price is realistic.  The idea that being half dead also means you’re half alive is hopeful.  The characters are flawed, and sometimes it helps them, while other times it totally screws them over.

The dystopian genre is weaving a web of fantasy that echoes closely the trials of being a teenager.  It’s that echo that demands their attention.

And you may ask: Is DEMON KISSED dystopian?  Ummm…since there is no Sublime Romantic category – yeah, probably so.


About HM Ward

New York Times, Wall Street Journal, & USA Today bestselling author.
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One Response to Dystopian Hoopla

  1. Jenn Albin says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the average teen putting things back together. When you’re a teenager, it feels like the world is both against you and revolving around you. Dystopian literature provides the ultimate catharsis by placing protagonists in situations that revolve completely around them and pit them against the entire world.

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