Dark Materials: Reflecting on Dystopian Themes in Young Adult Literature

In December the New York Times ran an opinion peace regarding Dystopian young adult fiction and the reasoning behind it. The opinions expressed by writers and educators are as follows:

Paolo Bacigalupi, author of 'Ship Breaker', believes that the obsession with dystopia is because young people see the truth in the world around them and want that honesty and truth-telling in their fiction.

Maggie Stiefvater, author of the 'Shiver' trilogy differs in her opinion, stating that rather than truth, teens are looking for escapism. These dystopian worlds are not theirs and for that reason, they are enjoyable.

Jay Parini, poet and novelist and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College says, "They [teens] feel trapped, forced into a world of tests that humiliate and unnerve them. And so we have "The Hunger Games” books by Suzanne Collins, or any number of young adult novels that eerily reflect aspects of our current world -- or the least attractive aspects of this world."

Scott Westerfeld, author of the 'Uglies' series and 'Leviathan' is under the impressions that teens are intrigued by the idea that the "system", the very thing that gives them rules and regulations, may fall apart. What an idea that in the end, all those tests and rules don't matter because it is about survival in the end.

Andrew Clements, author of 'Frindle' and most recently 'Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of School' series believes that in a world where we have video game death and constant news feeds, the world is darker and in consequence, so are readers. It is the same as reading horror stories, we live in a scary world, therefore we create and read stories that are even more terrifying.

Lisa Rowe Fraustino, an associate professor at Eastern Connecticut State University proffers that we as humans find some kind of comfort in the darkness. "The more we understand how small and powerless we really are against the immense forces that control our existence, the more we yearn to feel meaningful."

Finally, Michelle Ann Abate professor and author of 'Raising Your Kids Right: Children's Literature and American Political Conservatism' raises the questions "Is the role of these books to educate young people about the world in which they live, including its unpleasant aspects. Or, is it their responsibility to shield children from such elements?"

As for this blogger and writer and lover of Dystopia since I was twelve, I think that it is that Dystopian sci-fi asks the right questions, or more importantly THE question. What If? It is a question that scientists and philosophers and writers have been asking for thousands of years. The question has spawned great literature, momentous scientific achievements, and allowed people to dream of a future different from their own reality. Dystopian sci-fi is the darker side of that question, but it is still the same one. What if, in the future, we run out of a gas? What if the sanctity of life was completely taken away? What if our obsession with beauty and cosmetic surgery was taken to a point of normality? Teens think about these things all the time. They wonder what their world will be like. In the news we watch the rise and fall of nations and leaders, the destruction from a bomb, the constant talk of climate change, and teens wonder, what will their reality hold. Dystopian sci-fi is not a truth, it is one author's answer to one question, but is a question that must be asked and my favorite part of being a fiction writer is that I can answer that question.

Why do you think Dystopian sci-fi is so popular?