Monday, July 5, 2010

Distopian YA Novels

My final post before the residency. Check out this link for a great, very thorough New Yorker article about past and present distopian YA novels.

It opens with this thought about one of our common books this residency.

"Rebecca Stead chose to set her children’s novel “When You Reach Me”—winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal—in nineteen-seventies New York partly because that’s where she grew up, but also, as she told one interviewer, because she wanted “to show a world of kids with a great deal of autonomy."

The article goes on to discuss that kids today don't have the same kind of adventures because of their limited freedom due to safety concerns, thus their interest in experiencing life through the reading of distopian novels.


  1. Great to alert us to this article Claire! I heard Rebecca Stead give her speech at ALA and she did touch upon her reasons for her setting. I doubt Harriet The Spy could wander around NYC today the way she did in the 60's, too.
    It is important to let our characters in children's literature solve their own problems (sometimes the worlds'), yet increasingly more difficult to find ways to do this in the age of helicopter parenting. However I think that many teens still make mistakes and find solutions without their parents interference--hopefully they will always manage to have their secrets.

    I wonder, too if the distopian/fantasy craze has to do with the current world political climate.

  2. I'm glad to finally read a great explanation of this genre. Dystopia as in the opposite of Utopia. I've always called these-- "apocalyptic literature"-- a term from my Bible school days.
    This type of literature is so exciting to me and always has been. Do you think there is an element of exhorting the readers or some kind of prophetic element that has a didactic "change-your-ways" type of message? This would be probably one of of the only ways to present a didactic message to young people, don't you think? And my question is, how do you get a dystopian story out of your head after you read it? It seems to stick harder than others? And is this a good thing?
    I remember Jane gave a critical thesis that seemed to state if a book from this genre is presented without any hope or answers, it takes advantage of it's readers. Maybe she can comment on this and remind us what she said?

  3. I don't know that the explanation of dystopia as the opposite of utopia is completely accurate. I read a better explanation on someone's blog (Carrie Ryan, maybe?). Whichever writer it was, they stated that they believed dystopia was more of a future that LOOKED like a utopia, but you had to dig deeper and look closer to see that it really wasn't the truth. Think The Giver, or Uglies. Everything looked all shiny and happy and peaceful, until you REALLY saw what was happening. Also, I'm seeing that a lot of books that are NOT dystopia at all (Forest of Hands and Teeth, for instance, gets mentioned a lot) are thrown in with the genre. Forest of Hands and Teeth is more post-apocalyptic rather than dystopian, especially with the revised definition, don't you think?

    Sorry. I have a special place in my heart for this genre. *clutches genre to chest, embraces tightly*

    Oh! Found that blog!