How do you define dystopia (or other dystopia term: utopia, anti-utopia)? How does combining dystopia with another genre (sci-fi, romance, apocalypse) affect your definition? How does combining dystopia with Young Adult literature (YA) change the genre? You may use examples from class books or your own research book and to take our class discussion in an original or more in-depth direction.
There are two basic words I would use to characterize a dystopia: futuristic and bad. This is just a surface-level definition, but to me, dystopias take place in a future worse than our present times, and almost all feature an oppressive/tyrannical government. It is linguistically the opposite of a utopia, which the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature defines as an, “imaginary paradisiacal places, it has also been used to refer to a particular kind of narrative, which became known as utopian literature” (Claeys 4). But, while the setting of the books mostly follow the guidelines I have illustrated above, dystopias often have the theme of revolution and hope in overcoming seemingly impossible odds. In the Hunger Games movie, we hear President Snow remark that, “Hope. It’s the only thing stronger than fear.” Similarly, this is very strongly the main theme in my other favorite dystopian series, as a character remarks, “I will put my trust in hope once more, and perhaps this time, it will be enough” (Kagawa 335).
However, The Immortal Rules might be categorized in the post-apocalyptic genre along with dystopian. While these don’t have to be mutually exclusive (see: The Hunger Games), not all books that take place after an apocalypse are necessarily dystopian. The Immortal Rules takes place after a devastating plague eradicates much of humanity and, after mutating, turns the rest of its victims into mad, rabid vampires. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity mostly lives in cities ruled by non-rabid vampires who require tithes of blood in exchange for the scarce food left in the world, and they will take your blood even if you are on death’s door. They rule with an iron fist. The Lunar Chronicles is a sci-fi series that takes place in a less ravaged future, but it is on the brink of dystopia as a plague has arisen in the population. When these books deviate more from the dystopia genre (i.e. The Lunar Chronicles) it may lose some of those themes of oppression and hope to overcome.
Young adult is a genre full of tropes. Examples include the best friend group against the world, insta-love, The Chosen One, the speshul snowflake, the Mary Sue, and, of course, the much reviled and yet omnipresent love triangle. Of course, not every book has all of these (and a rare few have none!), but a YA book will have at least one. If an author chooses to write a YA dystopia, he or she faces an uphill battle in the fight to be recognized as a genuine, profound author, because many view YA literature as a trope-filled, unnecessarily light genre only able to be consumed by airheaded teens (maybe a bit dramatic, but as a YA lover, I’m frustrated). Making the protagonist a teenager also oftentimes requires the author to put their characters on a journey of self-discovery as they come of age.
(After finding so many funny YA dystopia memes, I do believe I will post one with all of my blogs)
Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, performances by Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson, Lionsgate, 2012.
Kagawa, Julie. The Eternity Cure. Ontario: Harlequin Teen, 2013. Print.