Anyone who spends time with books and teenagers spends a lot of time in dystopias. Novels like Matched (Ally Condie), Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Little Brother (Cory Doctorow), the Uglies series (Scott Westerfeld), Truancy (Isamu Fukui), and Unwind (Neal Shusterman) inhabit stage-directed worlds in which nothing is quite what it seems and dark secrets abound. These are eerie, dangerous crystal kingdoms set up to be shattered by their teenage protagonists.
Because of their popularity, the nation's top literary critics just can't avoid these stories, mostly crafted by adults to be devoured by teenagers. What do these books say about the way teens view the adult world? What does it say about their dreams of the future? What does it say about their anxiety in the present? Last year, Laura Miller wrote a brilliant review of The Hunger Games series in the New Yorker. I'm re-posting it here.
Charles McGrath, acknowledging that these stories might find even larger adult audiences in movie theaters as film adaptations, says in the New York Times Magazine today:
"Where grown-up dystopian novels — books like “Oryx and Crake,” by Margaret Atwood; “The Pesthouse,” by Jim Crace; and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy — lately seem to dwell on a vision of a bestial, plague-ridden world where civilization has collapsed, these new Y.A. books imagine something far worse: a world where civilization feels an awful lot like high school and everyone is under pressure to conform."
Read the rest of Charles McGrath's story here.
I love that these stories are getting the attention that they deserve, but I disagree with the idea that these books are a lot like high school. The conformity is the potential nightmare of the adult world, an existence teens might be heading for if they're not alert. Kids are not afraid of the lives they are living, they are afraid of living the lives of their parents.