I think the most interesting thing about dystopias is what people are willing to do in order to do what is right for them or what they need to do in order to stay alive. Seeing people make these sacrifices and risks to save the ones they love or themselves truly opens your eyes to the type of people humans can be when put into certain situations. Let’s take The Summer Prince example. My independent reading is about a place ruled my queens that can serve up to two five years’ terms. Every five years, a king is chosen to take the throne for one year and then dies in a bloody sacrifice. This reminded me of the TV show the 100. In the show, people were sacrificed in order to protect the queen just like what they are doing in my book. In their minds, the queen is sacred to their people and is the leader. She knows what needs to be done because she has the power to remember her other lives. Another thing I realized is that most dystopias I have read or watched before has some type of love in it. Whether it’s between a brother and his sister, a mother and her child, or two people who will do anything for each other, love has a strong will of making people do things they never thought they could do before. An example can be Lincoln and Octavia in the show the 100. Lincoln is a grounder and Octavia is a sky crew. Their love puts them in danger with their people and yet, they still want to be together. Lincoln gave up his home and the will to live with his people to be with his beloved Octavia, even though some human does not trust him because he is a grounder. Their love is just one of many examples that most dystopias show. I believe by having that type of mood in a dystopia can make its audience seem like the film or book is more relatable and interesting.
Why are we as readers interested in dystopias? Is it the fact that we are prideful in our societies and are able to laugh at the imperfect and impossible dystopian societies that we read about? Or, perhaps it is that we fear for the future of our society and see these novels as plausible futures. It might be that we read these novels as precaution. Whatever the reason, dystopian novels, many of them YA dystopias, have become increasingly popular throughout the past decade. A timeline of dystopian popularity is shown below in the infographic by goodreads. It shows that dystopian novel sales are as high as they have been since The Cold War.
It would seem that the increase in popularity of this genre is in response to tighter government controls and security threats. Often times dystopian novels are written in response to these changes in society and present commentary and a new perspective on societal and governmental flaws. These criticisms are often displayed as underlying themes in dystopian novels where the plot of the book is often to overcome an obstacle. Many times, these books present challenges to the characters that are extremely intense and often deeply saddening. These challenges range from killing 23 children in an arena as seen in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to fighting to keep your memories as seen in The Program written by Suzanne Young.
My question still remains: why are young adults so interested in dystopian novels? Many scholars have devoted time to researching this interest including Justin Scholes and Jon Ostenson of The Alan Review at the Virginia Tech online journals. These scholars suggest that teenagers are able to relate to the characters in these novels because most are written from the teenagers perspective. They also explain that the protagonist’s willingness and ability to assert him or herself and to bring about change in a place that dampens individualism and rebellion appeals to and empowers the reader. The Program clearly demonstrates this stolen individualism through the program itself. As there is a depression and suicide epidemic across the nation, this program is instituted in order to reduce the number of suicides by taking away all painful and potentially damaging memories. But, the protagonist Sloane does all that she can to fight the program and regain her memories from before, although they may be painful. When the government tries to suppress her, she resists. This quality is found in most protagonists of dystopian novels and the idea of defiance and independence of rule may be what attracts so many young adults to these types of books.
Though the reason behind the attraction to YA dystopias has been speculated, there are many other factors ranging from gender roles to youth empowerment that also play into this interest. The Program as well as other popular dystopian novels are great examples of rebellion within an oppressive society that allow readers to imagine themselves in such a position to defy their own authority. But, what exactly rallies thousands of young people around these similar stories? Stay tuned to find out.