Click on the photo below to view my VLOG on the applications of The Program as a dystopia to current debate and dicussion:
Young, Suzanne. The Program. New York, Simon Pulse, 2014.
This course is based around young adult dystopian literature, and how over the years, its origin as a utopia has changed and evolved into bestselling books, comics, and even movies. For me, my primary focus of research is the role that social taboos, which can include (but are not limited to) sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, abuse, and mental health, in young adult literature; specifically, in young adult dystopian novels. Narrowing down even further, I decided to pay close attention to the role that the social taboo of mental health (specifically, teenage suicide and depression) plays in young adult dystopian literature; or rather, the lack of role it plays thereof. In order to do this, however, its important to understand why dystopian literature is so appealing to young adults in the first place.
The source I’m highlighting is an analysis published Virginia Tech in the Alan Review (see Works Cited). Essentially, the researchers determined what themes could be appealing to young adult dystopian readers, and divided them into several categories including (but not limited to) platonic relationships, media manipulation, limited freedom, pressure to conform, etc. Then, they devised a list of dystopian novels that were published in 2000 or later and were considerably popular and best-selling, and determined the common themes that each of these novels had with each other. After having a list of themes with supporting novelistic evidence, each theme was analyzed even further with recurring trends in plots and twists of the respective novels.
The review established the role that adolescent development plays, whether it is isolation, the brink of adulthood, or relationships (platonic and romantic). Although the biggest takeaway from the review was to advocate for the necessity of young adult dystopian literature in the classroom, it makes a sound argument with a good indication of what themes, in fact, classify a piece of literature as not only dystopian, but successfully dystopian. For me, the purpose of this article was to support the fact that popular dystopian novels do not discuss mental health as a recurring theme, despite the role it plays in teenage lives on a regular basis. However, for those looking at the rise in the appeal of dystopian literature, or the role that technology or romance play as recurring themes in dystopian literature, this can prove to be an equally valuable and useful source.
Scholes, Justin, and Jon Ostenson. “Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction.” Scholarly Communication Department, Research & Informatics, Virginia Tech Libraries, Scholarly Communication, Virginia Tech University Libraries, scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.
“Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon is an article that addresses the effects of dark content featured in Young Adult novels. Gurdon begins the article by providing a real life example of a concerned parent. The mother in this situation fears the extremely violent and dark content in a large majority of the books targeted towards her daughter’s age group. Gurdon then goes on to discuss how Young Adult novels are crude. She mentions that life is often portrayed with misery and depression, and she questions the effects of these themes on the reader. She argues that while reading a book may not necessarily make teens depressed, it certainly will have some effect on their brains. Gurdon then provides specific examples of YA novels with dark storylines. She uses several examples over time to demonstrate how the books have become more and more violent and dark over time. Gurdon then briefly discusses the argument that books such as these should not be banned. Her reasoning is that the readers could find comfort in these storylines if they have gone through something similar. However, her counterargument is that the publication of such novels normalizes dark behavior. She also discusses the fact that profanity in such storylines has been normalized over the years. She closes the article by discussing several points about book censorship and how it affects readers. She states that many librarians are against censorship as young adults should have the freedom to decide what to read.
This source provides much needed support to my argument. The author provides both a counter argument and support to my thesis. My research is about the effects of banned books and censorship on young adult readers, specifically banned dystopian novels. Dystopian novels frequently contain dark content that parents do not approve of for their children to read. I can use this source to discuss parental concerns, and also discuss the benefits they believe censorship has. In addition, I can use the material about why censorship is bad in my argument.
Gurdon, Megan Cox. “Darkness Too Visible.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 4 June 2011. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303657404576357622592697038
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.
This article discusses a study conducted by Jon Ostenson, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University who teaches courses on young adult literature, and Justin Scholes, a high school language arts teacher. As the title suggests, the goal of the study was to analyze popular young adult dystopian novels written in the 21st century to see what they had in common in hopes of explaining what made these books so popular. Among the books studied are many we’ve discussed in class or had the option to read in our independent readings, such as the Hunger Games, Divergent, Little Brother, Feed, and a few others shown in the tables below.
Ostenson and Scholes then go on to explain how the dystopian fiction genre is great for developing adolescents because of its ability to introduce deeper and more complex societal issues that adolescents are beginning to understand and become interested in. Then specific elements that they believed to be attractive to young adult readers are grouped into 3 categories and discussed.
The first of these categories is “Inhumanity and Isolation.” They found that many of the novels in the study involve protagonists that see some kind of inhumanity in their society and feel isolated from friends and family that don’t share their views. Ostenson and Scholes believe many young adults can relate to this feeling of separation as they develop their own viewpoints on controversial issues.
The transition to adulthood is discussed more in the next category, “Agency and Conscience: The Brink of Adulthood.” In this section, Ostenson and Scholes discuss how in many popular young adult novels, the protagonists realize their roles in society and are able to greatly contribute to reforming their respective societies, a concept that is very empowering for young adults as they begin to experience the responsibilities and power of becoming independent adults. For example, in the Hunger Games, Katniss goes from taking care of her family to becoming the figurehead for a revolution that results in the end of an oppressive government as her influence on the society of Panem increases.
The final category is an interesting one that hasn’t been discussed too often and is titled “Relationships: Platonic and Romantic.” The development of the protagonists discussed in the previous sections are often facilitated by a relationship the protagonist has, either platonic or romantic. The relationships developing young adults form influence their beliefs heavily and vice versa, an idea reflected in many popular young adult novels. For example, Marcus’ decisions in Little Brother are influenced by his friends and his love interest, Ange.
Judging from the presentations I saw this week, this source could be useful for a lot of different research topics since it analyzes what popular young adult dystopian novels seem to have in common, and many presentations I saw this week dealt with these kinds of novels and how they relate to young adults in our society, such as Young Adults: The Key to a Dystopian Hit, Dystopias and Depression: The Implications of Social Taboos in Young Adult Literature, and A Diamond From the Rough: How reading YA dystopia benefits our society.
Scholes, Justin and Jon Ostenson. “Understanding the Appeal of Dytopian Young Adult Fiction.” The Alan Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2013, https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html. Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.
Here’s a quick preview of my research. Enjoy!
Here’s the article by Bill Joy I talked about if you’re interested.
Throughout this semester, we’ve been reading and discussing countless elements of Young Adult Dystopian literature, from timelines, to love stories, scientific advancement, and so on; but, have we ever stopped to ask why specifically young adult literature? Is there something special about these characters that defines an entirely different genre? In my conference presentation and research paper, I’ll be discussing why young adults have acted as powerful enough characters to make this genre as popular and profitable as it is.
As visible in this graphic, following the publication of The Hunger Games in 2008, the percentage of literature with a dystopian theme skyrocketed, many of the most popular of these publications containing young adult characters, such as M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent. These stories showcase young adults, which I’ll refer to as 15-24-year-olds, facing similar problems and pressures to what we face in our everyday lives. They fight for what they believe in in a world that is different, yet not completely unrecognizable from ours OR impossible for ours to become. What draws such a connection between these characters and audiences of all ages are the relatable aspects of life that readers can relate to through their youth, and how relevant many of the issues the characters face are to the youth population today.
One interesting aspect of young adult literature that I want to elaborate on in my argument is how intensely the following of such a relatable character can influence trends in the genre. For example, the Divergent series was profitable enough to be turned into a movie, even though critics speculate that the book’s plot was so poor that it must’ve been written merely for money-making purposes (Dean, 48-49). This book wouldn’t have been able to connect to so many people had they not become attached to the main character and the challenges she faces, and even though it was not necessarily critically acclaimed, it did its job of connecting to people of all ages through a young character. My presentation is not a case study on Divergent, however, but rather it is a study of how characters similar to those in the aforementioned texts are shaped around their environments to become characters that everybody seems to want to read about.
Brown, Patrick. “The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games [INFOGRAPHIC].”Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
Dean, Michelle. “Our Young-Adult Dystopia.” New York Times Magazine, Feb 02 2014, pp. 48-49. New York Times; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Newsstand; Research Library, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.prx.library.gatech.edu/docview/1495412558?accountid=11107.
I have always wondered why young adult dystopian literature clicked so well with its modern readers and I have come to the conclusion that it is because the novels understand what teenagers are going through in their daily lives and utilize that in their works. I decided to specifically look at Francine Prose’s novel After. The argument of my presentation is this: How Francine Prose’s young adult dystopian novel After, or a YA dystopian novel in general works as an exaggerated reflection of the trials and tribulations teenagers face in their lives. The title of the presentation will be called YA Dystopias: Distorted Mirrors of Teenage Life.
Although the possibilities are endless in answering this question, I narrowed my main points to four. The first one will be about the parent-child relationship found in the novel as well as young adult books in general. This, by far, is my strongest point because all the other sources I have read seem to overlook this. I will be talking about how this already tumultuous relationship will be tested even further by the exaggeration of circumstances. Prose uses this idea of these bonds being tested by cutting them loose entirely as the parents of the students in her book remove themselves away completely from their children.
The second point will be how the dystopian world described by many young adult dystopian novels actually reflect the harsh environment of high-school. Although this point has been repeated by several of my sources, the interesting twist in After is that it is set in a high-school turning into a dystopia. The writer becomes almost literal with the idea of exaggerating all the old rules the school had before and implementing new ones to show the link.
My third point is about how the dystopian world in the novel impedes another goal many teenagers have: discovering the adult world. Again, this theme is prevalent in many YA books but here, what I found interesting was how the main character had to peel the layers of deceit presented by his school. His frustration is very real as it reflects the feelings of modern-day teenagers who are trying to understand the illogical world around them, also filled with lies and deceit.
My last point would be more of a contrast to the other points since the others were more about how dystopian novels reflect but exaggerate real-life issues. However, they keep the idea of teenage mentality of newfound emotions very real. In the book I am studying, the reactions the characters have to their environment is very real despite the absurdity of the situation. Their rebellious adventures are not well planned and daring while a romantic story is playing at the side. YA dystopian novels are still YA novels and therefore the echoes of teenage life are still rolling in the background.
My aim is not only to show common, recurring tropes in the genre, but to highlight why After is such an unique book despite heeding to them. It seems like Francine Prose is taking the idea of Dystopian novels as mirror images to our daily lives and making it more literal. The dystopia slides into the modern world and not vice versa.
M.T. Anderson’s Feed takes place sometime in the (hopefully) not so near future, with a main emphasis on social media and corporations taking over everything in America, from School^TM to private instant messaging. Subtly, underneath all of the advertising we see clogging Titus’s (the main character) mental feed, we also catch glimpses of a future in which the Earth is nearly too toxic to safely inhabit, and in which America goes to war and cuts off ties with other world powers without much explanation. In this grand scheme of events, the novel focuses on a group of (mostly) uninformed teens who have little to no life experience without a chip in their brains telling them almost everything they could ever need to know. In this dystopia specifically, I’m most interested in the development of technology, how separated the young adults are from the world around them, and how the young adults develop with such a connection between the internet and their brains.
Following these interests, one possible main research question of mine is: What traits do young adults pose that make them so well-suited for the dystopian genre? In Feed, the sheer amount of time spent on social media is strongly emphasized, which is incredibly reminiscent of complaints by parents about their kids in America today. This makes young adults an incredible audience for a story like this because of how well they can relate, perhaps even more so today than when the book was originally published back in 2002. Alternately, another question of mine is: How does the development of technology impact in YA dystopian literature? The impact of technology in Feed is rather intense, as the function of one’s feed chip directly correlates with their brain and therefore their physical and mental health. Are teenagers just rebellious enough naturally to fight back against the system that makes their world a dystopia in the first place? Are young adults better suited to understand world problems when articulated through ways in which they can relate? This is just a taste of some of the questions I’m hoping to answer and understand throughout the ongoing and upcoming research process.
Vlog is here.