A definite pattern of interest in dystopian literature can be seen over the evolution of novels throughout the years of humanity. Typically, popularity of such literature peaks following a tragic event in our history such as World War II, the Civil War, or 9/11. This theme raises questions about what exactly society gains from reading dystopia and how the younger generations might be affected by reading such themes of horror in their own literature.
A common concern that people share is the potential negative consequences of our youth being exposed to themes of disaster and oppression in dystopian literature. This thought process stems from the known stereotypes of a dystopia being a hopeless “hell-scape” with no hope of redemption. Although this may be the conclusion in adult dystopian novels, this is not the case in majority of the young adult dystopias. Instead of ending the book on a note of depression, showing no escape from the deplorable actions of humanity, authors in YA typically end their story with a touch of utopian hope. By leaving room for social change, the author prompts an active thought process in the reader that they too can make a difference in our modern society before it reaches the point of dystopia. The dystopian themes generate a response from the reader that could ultimately lead to change for the better in society.
The characters in a novel can also influence the reader for the better. Most YA dystopias share a common theme of the search for an identity. They follow along with a young protagonist that displays the all-important “coming of age” trope. Take Delilah Bard, a no-nonsense thief from A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Although she begins the book a little rough around the edges, when paired with a stable friend she ultimately displays loyalty, perseverance, and strength – all outstanding characteristics. As readers are exposed to positive role models that, like everyone else, are just trying to find their way in the world, they absorb some of these characteristics into themselves. Reading through the eyes of a strong, independent character can ultimately improve your own self and maybe even introduce you to qualities you did not know you could possess.
Overall, YA dystopian novels are popular following times of hardship for a reason: we look to them to better ourselves. Reading such literature can open your eyes to new ideas, help you discover qualities in yourself that you did not know existed, and prompt change in society before disaster strikes. Dystopian novels may follow along with certain stereotypes, but there is no doubting the effect they can have on a population.
Schwab, V.E. A Darker Shade of Magic. TOR, 2015.