A Turn in Young Adult Literature

Imagine a world where the government provides teens with operations to make them beautiful, or where barcode tattoos detailing information about their bearers are mandatory. Such worlds are meant to protect citizens and ensure humanity’s survival. But in the eyes of an ordinary teen, they are something else. And so, let the love triangles and mocking-jay rebellions commence in a young adult adventure we now label as dystopian literature.

Although popular now, dystopian literature did not always dominate the young-adult shelves. When the genre gained popularity in the first half of 1900s, authors such as Ayn Rand and George Orwell targeted adults, criticizing socialism and authoritarian systems. As World War II raged and the Cold War arrived, readers could escape to the dystopian worlds in novels like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 and even felt glad about their current societies.

In 1993, Lois Lowry published The Giver, one of the first dystopian books for children, sparking a new trend in Young Adult literature. Adolescents are a step away from adulthood, and thus long for more independence. Thanks to restrictions implemented by parents and society, they develop a rebellious side. This is one of the reasons that prompt many teenage readers to turn to novels like The Hunger Games or Divergent in which the protagonist revolts against an oppressing government or faction. No matter the plot, teenagers can relate to the underlying core to fight for their rights.

Why the sudden increase in popularity? Teen angst is not new. But our current reality is.
The 2008 economic crisis has resulted in drastic budgets cuts causing schools to cut classes and lay off teachers. As college tuition fees increase, so do the number of college graduates struggling to find employment. Our government is discovered to have a massive spying program that collects all phone conversations and emails from everybody from children to adults. In a way, these teens are living in their dystopian world.

Recent books can reflect their frustrations that things need to change. For teens, dystopian literature is not only an escape from reality, but also a beacon of hope. The characters in these stories face incredible odds and while some may not prevail, they always put up a fight. Whether it’s fighting in the Hunger Games or against budget cuts, these stories show that despite teenagers’ seemingly powerless situations, they too can make a difference.

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