Virginia Tech scholars Ostenson and Scholes of The Alan Review present their publication “Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction” as a dissection of YA dystopian literature into parts that describe and help better understand why this genre is so compelling. These scholars have observed the trend of an increasing interest in the genre, and have conducted a study to better understand which themes specific to YA dystopias compels the reader. The hope is for these trends and patterns to be understood and utilized in a way that allows for the construction of a more interactive and interested audience in the classroom. As seen below, the survey conducted specified which themes are most prevalent in these novels which then indicated which elements were most important in order to draw in the targeted audience.
Through a thorough investigation of 16 novels, Ostenson and Scholes narrowed their research down to the most prevalent themes including inhumanity and isolation, agency and conscience, and relationships and how these relate specifically to adolescents. Teens can relate to the first of these topics in their quest to understand society through personal growth. Secondly, a protagonist’s search for their responsibility in their society relative to the greater good mirrors an adolescent’s desire to understand how and why they should function in the grand scheme of their own world. Finally, modern YA dystopian novels often include romantic or platonic relationships that interest the reader and allow them to place these novels and ideals within the realm of their own lives.
The dissection of these themes does not stand alone but is aided by Ostenson and Scholes through their inclusion of examples of these elements as seen in over eight popular YA dystopian novels. The scholars’ use of these examples makes their argument better understood and more credible. These examples from popular books in addition to the quantitative data about common dystopian themes allows for readers to easily utilize this information in arguing about the popularity of modern dystopian fiction.
Here’s a quick preview of my research. Enjoy!
Here’s the article by Bill Joy I talked about if you’re interested.
Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us
How are authors of YA dystopian fiction able to captivate and entertain a young adult audience? Why, as readers, are we interested in stories about societies that are so corrupt, oppressive, and unfair? Somehow, authors of our age have been able to write novels, sequels, and even trilogies that capture the attention of the reader and can even lead to a deep or emotional investment in the novel. Through research and observations, we are able to point to multiple common themes that appear across the grid of dystopian literature that specifically target and intrigue the YA audience that is so desired. Point of view, relatability, and nonconformity are common aspects of dystopian fiction that appeal to the younger audience and allow them to become interested in the genre.
These themes are found in many contemporary dystopian novels, but are exemplified especially in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Program by Suzanne Young. First of all, both of these novels are told from the perspective of a teenager living in their own dystopian society. In the novels these protagonists are straddling childhood and adulthood and are required almost prematurely to define their role and their responsibilities in society. Adolescent readers can surely identify with these struggles and are therefore very likely to relate to and attach to these characters, following them through their journey as if it is their own.
Secondly, YA dystopian novels prove to present concepts and themes that are familiar to the reader yet slightly too far out of the reach of being realistic. Astor of the Huffington Post presents the idea that readers are interested in the corruptness of the society and misuse of governmental control because we are reading about rather than actually living through the “bad stuff” that is happening. These interesting ideologies and events can range from that of being in the hunger games arena which is seemingly more fantastical to bring put in a Program to cure depression or suicidal thoughts. Although these stories are fictional, there are elements of al dystopian novels that the reader can find parallels to in their own world.
Lastly, the adolescent characters in dystopian novels challenge authority and resist pressure to conform to societal norms or presented ideologies. This is relevant to young adult readers as youths are typically thought of as more rebellious and independent in nature. Reading novels about young characters can be empowering and can call the reader to action in their own society. Both Katniss and Sloane are examples of non conforming characters that allow readers to identify.
In order to learn more about common themes that attract young adults to YA dystopian literature, stay tuned on the blog! More topics include that of defying gender roles, understanding movie and media publicity and its influence in the realm of literature and the relevance of romantic relationships in these novels. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you back next week.