Dystopia: Choose to Read Like Your Life Depended on It

Cassia has to decide between her match, Xander, whom the "Society" chooses for her or Ky, a mysterious teenager from the unprohibited area of town.

Dystopia is hot. Where vampire protagonists seethed, these ones sizzle.

That is because conflict is key and all stakes are life or death. The popularity of the dystopian YA novel soared when the first Hunger Games book came out and quickly became a movie. Further installments of the series led to more films. (I brag about being instantly enamored with the first book before people knew about the brilliant writing of Suzanne Collins. I knew about its awesomeness way before the craze).

Being a teen means questioning. The dystopian genre is all about questioning. The main character, usually between the ages of 15 to 17, lives in a near-future society. Often (though not always), the teen has been loyal to ideals perpetrated by their society. The controlling society in each novel comes to power in the aftermath of widespread tragedy, like war or an epidemic. Something happens to cause the central characters to question what they always believed. The facade of a perfect society cracks. If the protagonists choose to rebel, will they succeed? Will they survive? Will they be with those they love?

That is another facet of this genre: the love triangle. There is frequently a choice that the main character has to make between two love interests who represent the society or the rebellion. In well-written novels, though, people grow and change. The way that people define themselves, and with whom they choose to align, frequently changes.

You can access the Novelist database from www.kclibrary.org. (Find it under Research Resources > Databases). In an advanced search, you can tell it to look for the subject "Dystopia." If you then select Audience= Teen and check the box to only show award-winners, the resulting list has 69 titles. As much of this genre as I have read, I was floored by how many on this list I have yet to read.(I actually checked one out before even sitting to write this).

Here are a few of the titles on the list that I have read and would recommend:

Matched by Ally Condie: Society promises peace for its people. They take a great deal of information into consideration before creating "matches." At age sixteen, adolescents attend their match banquets and find out who they are to marry. Cassia is thrilled when she finds herself matched with her best friend, Xander. At home that night, When she views his data-card, something strange happens. For a moment, a photo of Ky appears. He is another local boy. Was this a fluke? Ky is from a rebellious family and therefore considered unmatchable? Does that have something to do with this? What will Cassia decide? In any event, she can't unsee what she has seen.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver: Love is a disease, Society teaches. Society strongly "protects" children from falling in love. For safety reasons, children and teens must wait until they are 18 for "curative" brain surgery (a.k.a. The Treatment). The operation frees them from desires. Lena longs to be cured until she meets Alex. Does she really want a future of passifity followed by prescribed procreation? Is she becoming sick? Can she avoid having the operation? How and at what cost?

Divergent by Veronica Roth: Different factions make up society. All most highly value a particular trait. The factions (directly quoted from the book description) are "Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent)." At sixteen, adolescents choose their own faction. Most stay within their family's faction. Tris has grown up in Abnegation, leading a very simple life. Yet, she chooses to become Dauntless. Is she really moving to a faction that reflects her true nature? Is she someone who fits a bit into multiple categories but completely into none? If so, she can't let anyone know. People like that find themselves out of society, left to die. What is predetermined for Tris, and how can she shape her own future?

If you want something that leads you to question, try a dystopian novel. These books make for great discussions (and debates)among friends. If you already like this genre, check out the Novelist database to find more. After all, this is the time to define yourself. If you want an example of where "simple" ends, check these out.

About the Author

Anna Francesca Garcia Back when people could pursue higher education, Anna Francesca Garcia earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her Master of Library and Information Sciences degree from the University of North Texas. People used to have access to information without approval from the Ministry of Appropriate Thoughts. During these years, Anna helped people find them at libraries in the states previously known as Nevada and Missouri (from 2004 to XXXX). She may or may not have a six-year-old daughter.

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