As a teenager (I still just count!), I’m partial to reading young adult fiction. Over the past five years or so, I’ve noticed (along with most other readers of this genre, I’m sure), that there has been a definitive trend – dystopias and apocalypses. The popularity of The Hunger Games, and other novels such as The Maze Runner, Warm Bodies, Uglies, Divergent, not to mention their film (or imminent film) counterparts, is undeniable, as well as TV shows like The Walking Dead. These dark and bleak futures dominate teenage fiction and the sci-fi and fantasy genres. But why are teenagers so attracted to these terrible visions?
Although many dystopian novels have terrible settings, the stories that they tell are what attract the readers. In a world where things are out of their control, the characters stop the evil, learn the value of friendship, find love, save what they’ve been fighting for and ultimately achieve everything from their own actions. In a mirror of society today, where teenagers want to be taken seriously and yet cannot be, dystopian worlds where the teen characters are allowed to be both teenagers and powerful individuals appeals hugely to the audience. In a way, the popularity of the genre indicates that more than ever teenagers want to be able to have a serious impact on the world in which they live, yet they are too trapped by the social power structures of the established society to achieve this. In dystopian worlds, everything is turned around, and as long as you are strong and courageous, you can achieve anything – no matter your age.
The dystopian genre provides a warped mirror of our own world. While here, many teens feels trapped by rules and parents, desperate to define their identities and independence, and unable to change what is around them. In the world of a dystopia, suddenly teens have the power to change. While many of them have violent or complex political tones, the teenage audience should not be underestimated. The immense popularity of The Hunger Games, which when you strip it back is a story about a government making children kill each other for entertainment, combines both of these, yet audience are coming back for more and more of this. The teen reader, perhaps in a subconscious effort to be seen as more adult, is reaching out for darker and more complicated stories – while also wanting incredible action, heroic characters and a story of desperate teen romance.
Teenage audiences also have more power as media audiences than they realise. The teenage market is huge exploit for producers, as teenagers are more likely to be engaged audiences than older ones. They will reach out for merchandise, websites, social networks and can do all of this with much greater ease (and less fear of peers finding their behaviour strange) than other audiences. Teenage audiences are one of the few that you can completely utilise all tools of media, both old and new, to reach out to them. Their marketability is endless, and this makes them a very valuable resource to media producers. With the current economic downturn, making profit from teenagers by giving them endless books about dystopias has a certain irony, even if it makes economical sense.
Teen literature, now often referred to as Young Adult literature as befits the more adult themes and wishes of the market, shows no sign of moving away from the dystopian genre. However, in a world where the future is more uncertain everyday, being able to pick up a book where the world is already ruined but the characters have the power to save it will only continue to grow in popularity. I for one am constantly on the lookout for new dystopian novels. I love the dark futures and trials and tribulations of the characters as they fight back in their worlds. Whether this implies that I feel trapped by my own world, I cannot say. All I know is that I, like many other teen readers, am gripped by the novels and love the stories, and maybe that’s all we need.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 2008, Scholastic
The Maze Runner, James Dashner, 2009, Delacorte Press
Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion, 2010, Vintage
Uglies, Scott Westerfield, 2005, Simon & Schuster
Divergent, Veronica Roth, 2011, Harper Collins
The Walking Dead, 2010-present, Frank Darabont, American Movie Classics, Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Motion Pictures