YA dystopian fiction

All posts tagged YA dystopian fiction

A dystopia is the idea of a society which is too bad in some way to exist, typically due to tyranny and/or government corruption. This is basically a fallen utopia, a society which is too good to be true, and in many cases, dystopia can stem from utopia. Many will argue that utopia will always lead to dystopia, as a society which is “perfect” must be under significant control by some sort of government, and thus corruption and tyranny is implied. However, while this is often the case, I would argue that there isn’t necessarily always this connection between the two.

Examining dystopias from the viewpoint of different genres allows us to see the concept through a new lense, opening up different common themes and perspectives. For example, with romance dystopian novels, you often see recurring themes of sacrifice and silver linings, while with sci-fi dystopian novels, the idea of the dangers of technology is typically prominent. This doesn’t usually change our definition of a dystopia, but it does add to it for different genres and often reshapes the main ideas of the depictions of dystopia.

More recently, there’s been a rise in YA dystopian novels, those that are geared towards young adults. Dystopias in these contexts don’t change in definition, but do become limited in the content that they can offer, often sparing the gory details and explicit nature. However, this can often means we see more in depth character development, and the path to maturity is a theme that’s more predominant throughout the subclass of dystopias.

While there’s quite the range of subcategories throughout the dystopian novels, they all share the basic definition and a variety of similar themes. I’m looking forward to discovering the nuances of each genre as we read and learn more throughout the semester, as more reading into the topic will certainly 

Works Cited

The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.



The definition of dystopia is quite complex and it is often confused with those of utopia, science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse, and several others. One online definition is “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.” This is a very negative view of a place. Propaganda is used to control the citizens of the society and the citizens do not know what the world is like outside of their society. There is constant surveillance, and the citizens are to conform to uniform expectations where individuality is frowned upon.

While dystopias and utopias are complete opposite, the perspective taken on a society can change whether something is categorized as a dystopia or a utopia. A utopia is “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place; a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.” For the ruler or government in charge of the place, the society can seem like a perfect and ideal place, a utopia. The citizens, on the other hand can be poor, miserable, and living a harsh life and view their society as a dystopia.

Dystopias are often confused with other genres. One big misunderstanding is that dystopias and science fiction are often confused with one another. In many dystopian societies there is advanced scientific technology and they are usually set in the future so it is easily confused as being a work of science fiction. Even in my experience with the dystopias that I have read, including The Hunger Games, and The Divergent series, they all included some kind of science fiction aspect.

Dystopias are often combined with the YA genre, which creates a more relatable storyline, since it does not limit the audience to a certain age group. YA novels usually include a protagonist in their age range who experiences similar things that a young adult would, including first love, family relations, and competitions. Older people can also relate to these stories, since they were young at one point in their lives. YA dystopia makes the problems relatable to a large audience in an easy to read format for everyone to enjoy.

“Utopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utopia.
“Dystopia.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, English Oxford Living Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dystopia.
“Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.” ReadWriteThink. NCTE/IRA, 2006, http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson926/DefinitionCharacteristics.pdf.

The “formal” definition of a dystopia according to Merriam-Webster, is “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” Although this is correct, perhaps a better way to look at a dystopia is the opposite of what one would include in a utopia, which is why the definition of dystopia is open to interpretation.

“Utopia,” written by Thomas More dating back to 1516, created the ideal society of perfection–for the year 1516. Over time, our values and policies have changed, and with it, what we view as an “ideal” society. In fact, with this change in ideologies came the existence of the “dystopia,” and as such, authors utilize the concept of dystopian society to express their personal views on the worst version of society and humanity.

Although classic dystopian novels do exist (e.g.  Animal Farm by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, etc.), most modern day novels are written in the young adult genre. A simple Google search of “young adult dystopian novels” will yield 33 different titles, all written within the past decade.  In modern times, dystopian novels seem to reflect the fears that the current generation may anticipate for the future–hunger, depression, end of the world, etc.–so most current dystopian novels are written in the young adult genre to reflect growing concern and appeal to the audience that would relate to it the most. Furthermore, combining dystopian literature with young adult content allows for a larger fanbase of young adults that can take their appreciation with them as their generation grows older.

Most dystopian novels have another genre combined with them–horror, sci-fi, romance, apocalypse–that allow for an appeal to a certain audience. Some readers enjoy romance, so having a dystopian world where everything goes to hell except for the love of a couple is appealing and appreciated. For example, the popular series The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins holds many themes, but the overarching characteristic of it is the love between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, and we follow their ups and downs as lovers which seems to be the only aspect of the dystopian society that remains consistent. Other genres combined with dystopias allow for the double-appeal to young adult readers: 1) the appeal to a generation with fears of a dystopian world, and 2) the appeal to fans of other, more specific book varieties. In general, the success of a dystopian novel rides on its ability to appeal to the audience it was intended for.



Definition of a Dystopia: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.

From reading The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature and participating in in-class discussions, I have determined that a dystopia can be simply defined as the downfall of a utopia. More complexly defined, they typically embody the idea of a controlling government gone wrong-often times emphasizing the usage of propaganda to brainwash people. Going along with the idea of a utopia, a dystopia is a seemingly unattainable place on the opposite end of the spectrum. Often times, the people of dystopias are convinced that their lives are indeed perfect.

When combined with another genre, the background of the dystopia is often explained. In other words, the addition of concepts from the genre usually help to unveil the origin of the society. For example, Huxley’s Brave New World uses science-fiction concepts to highlight what will ultimately result from man becoming overly invested in technology. Simply put, it presents technology as a buffer that disables man from feeling emotion. Overall, it serves as a warning sign to future generations to come as well, letting them know how government-regulated technology is capable of degrading a society.

Combining dystopia with Young Adult literature enhances the genre by making it more applicable to the audience that will most benefit from it. People tend to learn the best at a young age. Therefore, making dystopian literature relatable to this age group gives them a glimpse at what their futures may hold if they allow unregulated technological advancements to take hold. Moreover, making young people aware of this possibility has proven to be more effective than trying to sway the older population. Elders in any society typically have already developed their own opinions over time, especially in terms of government and politics. Consequently, they are much less likely to change these long-standing opinions.

Ultimately, making millennials want to care about a pressing issue is the key to preventing its occurrence. After all, the youth of today eventually will be the bosses, politicians, and leaders that society will be looking up to for guidance. In addition to being a form of entertainment, Young Adult Dystopian Fiction serves a vital role in preparing young people for the future.


According to Merriam-Webster, a dystopian society includes elements of misery, disease, depression and overcrowding. In looking at Thomas More’s definition of utopia and anti-utopia in his own Utopia, it’s definition also includes that it is an unreachable or even non-existent place. Although dystopias are usually futuristic, they are imaginable. Often the government is totalitarian and oppressive. This social control, though it is evident to the reader is often faded by the illusion of a flawless society. The science fiction genre is similar in multiple respects. It is also defined as an imaginable and futuristic world, according to Merriam-Webster. But, the focus of these novels and pieces stays on major technological, social, or environmental changes on a society. While these two genres are often mismatched, it is important to recognize that dystopian fiction is often recognized as a sub-category of science fiction. Therefore, dystopian novels can be labeled as science fiction while not all science fiction novels are necessarily dystopias. But, there are others who do not necessarily categorize dystopias as particularly science fiction novels or want the two to be combined. Michael Solana of Wired argues that the creation and popularity of dystopian science fiction has a certain capacity to entertain and shape the way readers view and understand the future of technology. He further presents the idea that manmade technological advancements in many novels often lead to disruption of lower order societies which is something to be feared. This specific combination of dystopia and science fiction allows a reader to believe that mass technological and environmental revolutions in the real world may lead to a dystopian society. This is where the combination of these two genres can overlap and cause confusion and even panic in a reader. While the two genres are certainly similar in many aspects, it is important that a reader or viewer recognizes the ability of science fiction to be independent of a dystopia.


“Stop Writing Dystopian Sci-Fi—It’s Making Us All Fear Technology.” Wired, Conde Nast, 14 Aug. 2014, www.wired.com/2014/08/stop-writing-dystopian-sci-fiits-making-us-all-fear-technology/.

“Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.

“Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science%20fiction.

In my past experiences reading dystopian novels, I have come to define a dystopia as place designed to be unpleasant and bad in order to explain how we should change our current lifestyle. While this description is widely agreed upon, I believe that a dystopia can also be a place that on the outside seems good. In this case the world may seem fair overall, but as you take a deeper look into the society you find that basic human rights have been stripped from the population. In a dystopia that on the outside looks like a utopia (a good place), people who seem happy and equal are not allowed to think and move freely. They must act in the way their government wants them to. For example, in The Giver, the world the government has created seems happy enough in its uniformity until one finds out about everything the government has withheld from them.

Although dystopias are commonly defined as a place where everything has gone bad, the definition of dystopia can change depending on the type of novel you are reading. For example, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins takes place in a dystopian society, but it also involves aspects of an action/adventure novel and aspects of a romance novel. That being said, The Hunger Games version of a dystopian society might be defined as a society created bad by the interference of government, which ultimately results in a rebellion lead by the people. The action/adventure part comes in to play when the government makes children kill each other during The Hunger Games.  This violence can be seen in the GIF below. It also comes in to play in the series as a whole, when the games cause an uprising in the districts.

In addition, combining the dystopian genre with Young Adult literature changes the definition as well.  A Young Adult novel is aimed at an audience between the ages of 12 – 18. In my past experiences reading young adult novels, I have found that the majority of protagonists have been young adults in these books. With that in mind, when one combines dystopia with Young Adult literature, the rebellion that comes during dystopian novels is usually lead by a young adult. I might define a Young Adult dystopia as a place in which society has been constricted by the government or some other factor, a rebellion occurs to change this, and that rebellion is led by a young adult.






A dystopia is defined as “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” The term originated from the word “utopia” which first appeared in a work by Sir Thomas More in 1516. This general genre of writing has been implemented in a variety of different ways, though it often is presented in a sci-fi or post-apocalyptic setting. By the definition, you would view such a world in a negative light, however that’s not necessarily the case. While this may be true in a show like The Walking Dead, where no one remains unaffected by the zombie outbreak, there are cases where a dystopia can be also considered as a utopia. The Giver by Lois Lowry is such a novel where this ‘selective dystopia’ is present. The society itself is presented as utopian, where the citizens live without even the memory of hunger, war, sickness, etc by submitting to very strict regulations by the government and having a single individual bear the burden of negative memories. This begs the question – is a utopian if those living in it is unaware of the dystopian aspects?

YA Dystopia

Young adult literature is made to be consumed by an individual going through a possibly troubled or confusing time in their life as they make the transition out of childhood. YA dystopias often feature individuals similar to ourselves, allowing us to connect to them as they undergo a turning point in their life. The Giver is once again the first novel that comes to mind, as we read about Jonas make the same transition from his utopian childhood to understanding the underlying dystopia in which he lives. A secondary aspect of YA dystopias is that the main character often goes about trying to change or escape the dystopia that they enter into. This could be viewed as an appeal to the minds of the intended audience to not simply accept the world around them, as so many less important characters in the novels appear to do. It encourages them to take control of their lives, and strive to make a change rather than being just another sheep in the flock. Such novels also maintain a sense of ‘light in the darkness’ – no matter how bad the situation is, there is a ray of hope to cling to, perhaps another indication to us readers that no situation is ever truly hopeless. All in all, YA dystopian novels appear to nurture young minds and prepare us for one of the hardest and most drastic transitional periods of our lives.

Works Cited:

“Dystopia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia

“The Giver” Sparknotes, Sparknotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/giver/context.html


A setting of systematic disparities and restrictions; typically exists in the future or in fictional places.

It’s difficult to concretely categorize the settings of novels/movies as dystopias, because how each citizen of that society is affected by society as a whole is unique. Take the citizens of Panem (the fictional setting for The Hunger Games), for example. If you asked a Capitol resident whether or not they lived in a dystopian society, the answer would be “no”. Everyone they come into contact with seems to be well taken care of, and all seem to be living comfortable lives. However, if you ask a citizen of the districts, their answer would be much different. Because of this reason, I use the term “systematic disparity” to describe a dystopia – not everyone must be suffering in order for their society to be considered a dystopia. Another aspect that is often associated with a dystopia is the use of futuristic technology in order to reinforce the society’s status quo. It is because of this aspect that dystopias are often combined with the science fiction genre, creating dystopian science fiction. Dystopias often exist in the future, so it would make sense for new technology to have been developed in the time between now and the story’s time period.

To me, what differentiates between the genres of “dystopian literature” and “dystopian science fiction” is how prevalent that futuristic technology is in the story. Science fiction focuses on the technology and its use, while standard dystopian fiction may include it but not make it an important factor. Star Wars, for example, isn’t often touted as a dystopia, yet it shares many elements of a regular dystopia. This leads me to classify it as dystopian science fiction.

Replace these Storm Troopers with Peacekeepers and the Alliance’s logo with Panem’s and you could easily mistake this for a Hunger Games screencap  http://www.starwarsnewsnet.com/2015/04/star-wars-celebration-anaheim-the-force-awakens-gets-a-new-trailer.html

Combining dystopia with the YA genre results in more relatable storylines. The YA genre is so popular because it isn’t limited to one age group; people of all ages can relate and enjoy the stories told in an easy-to-read YA format. Everyone over the typical age cap of the YA genre can relate to these YA storylines because they were young adults at one point in their lives as well. By utilizing universal experiences and feelings (whether it’s a first love, sibling relations, or competitions with others), YA dystopias make their more outlandish settings and problems more common and relatable. Because of this, they can reach a larger audience and have a bigger impact on the world. Utopian literature/media is made better because of its close association to the YA genre.

Dystopia is a form of literature that has a definition that’s often confused with that of utopia, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, etc. Dystopia is different than all of these listed, kind of. If you google the definition of dystopia, it says dystopia is a noun: “a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.” This definition is entirely negative, and has nothing that could be considered optimistic. Dystopias are not happy places. That is a fact. But, from different points of view, what some consider a dystopia might actually be a utopia to others. A utopia is “an ideal place or state.” While dystopias and utopias are virtually opposites of one another, the people in power would view a world where they hold totalitarian control as a utopia, while the poor, starving, and miserable citizens of this very same world view their nation as a dystopia. Point of view matters.

Image result for dystopia vs utopia 

The genres of post-apocalyptic, science fiction, horror, etc. are easily confused with dystopias because they are all sub-genres of dystopian literature. The difference is in the details with these genres, as post-apocalyptic comes after a world ending event, science fiction is more unreal situations, etc. Dystopian literature implies problems with our world today because of how realistic the dystopian society is portrayed. The characters have normal problems that we have today, and the literature is attempting to warn us of what could happen in the future. While these genres are different from dystopias, they are often combined in YA literature. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and dystopian literature and it all blends together in my head because of how similar the genres are to one another. The difference is in how realistic dystopian societies are to our present one and how sometimes they even parallel one another in environmental, social, or political conflicts. Including all these other genres in the general definition of dystopia changes it a little bit.

Dystopian literature includes stories that are almost completely controlled by one government-like power that took control after a disastrous event and has attempted to rid the world of previous problems. When put into YA literature, the dystopias try to capture the problems of young adults and how they overcome what the higher powers have been forcing upon them. Most dystopias I think of are YA literature, I’m sure you can name a few.



Works Cited:

  1. “dystopia”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Jan. 2017. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/dystopia>
  2. “utopia”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Jan. 2017. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/utopia>
  3. “Utopia Vs. Dystopia – Lessons .” TES Teach with Blendspace, TES Teach, 21 Jan. 2015, www.tes.com/lessons/IqvoCi7f3FbUWg/21jan2015-utopia-vs-dystopia.
  4. “Young Adult Dystopian Novels……..How Do I Analyze Them??” Let’Slearnwithfun, WordPress, 3 July 2015, letslearnwithfun.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/young-adult-dystopian-novels-how-do-i-analyze-them/.

My definition of the word ‘dystopia’ is defined by the word’s history and roots. According to The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, the first use of the word, ‘dystopia’, dates back to the 1860s. It is in this era that ‘dystopia’ is distinguished as “the idea of utopia gone wrong” (Viera 16). The prefix “dys” derives from a Greek word dus, which “means bad, abnormal, diseased” and reverses the good nature in the meaning of the word, utopia (Viera 16).  In literature, dystopias and utopias are both imagined places, which are too evil or pure to exist. I believe that the difference between dystopia and utopia in literature thus lies in the underlying mood. Fátima Viera says, a dystopian literature “predicts that things will turn out badly; it is thus essentially pessimistic in its presentation of projective images,” in contrast, utopian literature follows a more optimistic point-of-view (Viera 17). Furthermore, I believe the core of dystopian literature lies in the imperfection nature of the environment. Therefore, the “moral, social and civic responsibility of the citizens” are imperfect elements (Viera 17). This idea is the reason why many scholars and I believe that a dystopia is an anti-utopia.

Through the introduction of sub-genres like science-fiction, romance or apocalypse, the definition of a dystopia doesn’t change drastically, rather the practice of dystopian literature changes from writer to writer. Each literary sub-genre when used in a dystopian novel strengthens a different core element of dystopian literature. For instance, Suzanne Collins utilizes romantic elements in her acclaimed dystopian novel, The Hunger Games. According to Fátima Viera, “…although the images of the future put forward in dystopias may lead the reader to despair, the main aim of this sub-genre is didactic and moralistic…” (Viera 17). The romantic elements of Collin’s book humanize the main character Katniss Everdeen and through this allows her to become a moral character and symbol. For instance, when Katniss falls in love with Peeta during the Games, she begins to protect, trust, and care for him. It’s through moments like this that Katniss becomes the symbol for morality because it so vastly contradicts the actions and emotions of the other members of the Games and the Capitol people.

When geared toward young adults, dystopian literature can hold a much more powerful message. Gregory Claeys says, “‘Dystopia’ is often used […] to describe a fictional portrayal of a society in which evil, or negative social and political developments, have the upper hand, or as a satire of utopian aspirations which attempts to show up their fallacies” (107). The youth of today hold the power to change the world tomorrow. Therefore, if literature geared toward them is social commentary on the world, it can be very impactful. As dystopias tend to point out the “fallacies” of the writer’s present, the literature is a call to action, a call for change (Claeys 107). By highlighting the wrongs of today in Young Adult literature, it can persuade a generation to change tomorrow.


Works Cited

Claeys, Gregory. ” The origins of dystopia: Wells, Huxley, and Orwell.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 107. Print.

Vieira, Fátima. “The concept of utopia.” Ed. Gregory Claeys. The Cambridge Companion To Utopian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010. 16-17. Print.