Young Adult Lit and Dystopia

I’m currently working on a few assignments and thought, hey, why not just write up some thoughts here on it for easy access.

One of my projects this semester is YA science fiction, and the depictions of technology in those texts, and how the texts perpetuate the liberal humanist self and why that’s problematic. I’m trying to work it into one cohesive idea and a real question. This will be looked at mostly with Feed by M T Anderson and Uglies (book 1) by Scott Westerfeld (great books! Go buy them from your local indie store).

Firstly, I need a reason as to why I was choosing these books in particular:

  • Both texts establish the technological world and future dystopian society as completely ordinary. For the narrators, there are no memories of how society or humanity used to be.
  • The dominant institutions do not offer ways in which to resist. To be without this technology is equivalent to not existing. Rejecting the mainstream is not just alienating, but dangerous.
  • The main characters are faced with the challenge of freeing themselves from a repressive system and thus isolating themselves from the majority, or to continue in a world in which they know to be a mere illusion.

Of course, after my proposal, I read Braithwaite’s article, which examines the narrative functions of post-disaster fiction, and defines three main sub-genres (of which a text can have one or combine all three styles). The texts I’m looking at are very much social order texts. As with my above criteria, the narrator has no personal experience of pre-disaster life. The perceived disaster is brought about by attempts at improving life, and the struggle is against restrictive and controlling societies.

One of the things I love about these books is how the world to Titus and Tally in the beginning isn’t dystopian at all. There’s a whole technological paradise awaiting them. The thing that marks these stories as disaster is how the technology has transformed and undermined humanity, from our perspective. Their past is our present, and our present is stupid, wasteful and limited to their present. In Uglies, you have the decaying Rusty Ruins: “On school trips, the teachers always made the Rusties out to be so stupid. You almost couldn’t believe people lived like this, burning trees to clear land, burning oil for heat and power, setting the atmosphere on fire with their weapons”. In Feed, you have the character of Violet’s dad who still holds to proper English and ‘old’ languages, unlike Titus and his friends (think about the outrage of internet speak, or whatever you want to call it, where it’s all ‘totes’ and ‘adorbs’ and ‘OMG’). One of the more startling points for me was when Titus is describing School (TM) as to how it didn’t teach anything before, but now it’s run by corporations which is “pretty brag”.

In these social order texts, the power structures of the dystopian society are called into question by the narrator (and/or friends). The idea of the young adult rebelling against authority isn’t unique to this subgenre of course, although it might be more extreme in these situations. The young adult, of course, is the hero, a hope for societal wide change. The thing that strikes me as weird is that technology itself is almost an enemy, particularly in Feed. Again, nothing new in science fiction (or horror!), but it’s strange that, for books aiming at an audience of ‘digital natives’, technology is demonised. This is what I will explore further in the next blog, and then after that I’ll bring it all together with a post on posthumanity.


Recommended Reading

  • Braithwaite, Elizabeth. “Post-disaster Fiction for Young Adults : Some Trends and Variations.” Papers 20.1 (2010): 5–19. Print.
  • Kennon, Patricia. “‘ Belonging ’ in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction : New Communities Created by Children.” Papers 15:2 (2005) 40-49. Print.
  • Ball, Jonathan. “Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre.” Jeunesse: Young people, texts, cultures 3.2 (2011): 162–174. Print.

2 thoughts on “Young Adult Lit and Dystopia”

  1. Looking forward to your post on posthumanity… I’ve been thinking a lot about apocalyptic and dystopian horror fiction and posthumanism in my own research recently.

    1. It’s a really interesting topic, and I’ll try to show both sides of the argument. This is something I love about research and why I want to do it, because it opens us up past everything that is just blindly accepted as normal (in this case for me, it was questioning ‘the human essence’.) That, and I get to read all the good books XD

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