What the popularity of YA dystopian stories reveals about teens
Abraham Caro Marin, Associated Press
Combining authoritarian governments, postapocalyptic worlds and non-conforming characters is a recipe for success, as the popularity of young adult dystopian novels and their movie adaptations indicates.
But why is the dystopian genre so popular among teens?
Theo James, who plays one of the main characters in the "Divergent" film, thinks it's because young people are uncertain about the future of our world, according to Emily Zemler at Time.
"The environment is changing. The weather is different. There are things that are very visceral and very obvious, and they make you question the future and how we will survive," James tells Time. "It's so much a part of everyday life that young people inevitably — consciously or not — are questioning their futures and how the Earth will be. I certainly do. I wonder what kind of world my children's kids will live in."
Dana Stevens at Slate believes dystopian stories are popular among young adults because they, like the characters in dystopian stories, are faced with constant change and weighty decisions.
"Adolescence is not for the faint of heart," says Stevens. "The to-do list for the decade between ages 10 and 20 includes separating from your parents, finding your place among your peers at school (and) beginning to make decisions about your own future."
"YA dystopias externalize the turmoil that’s already taking place in adolescent minds, hearts, and bodies," Stevens says.
Some writers question whether dystopian stories — along with other novels and films aimed at young adult consumers — are sending good messages to teens. Linda Holmes at NPR writes that "Divergent," like other YA stories, appeals to young readers and viewers because it seems to promote nonconformity. However, she says "Divergent" actually allows a "conforming kind of nonconformity that's actually hidden superiority" because the main character's "divergence" gives her superhero-like abilities.
"What if you can't demonstrate that you're superior to everyone else and you don't have superpowers? What if you're just different? Are all these stories really saying it's okay to be different, or are they only saying it's okay to be special?" says Holmes.
She adds that teens (and teenage girls in particular) pick up on the message that one has to be special if she is different.
"Teenagers are constantly aware of the meta-narrative surrounding (a movie like this), which tells them that this is the kind of story people want to hear, and this is the kind of story you're allowed to tell, and this is the kind of standing out that's considered sympathetic," says Holmes.
Other writers, like Laurie Penny at the New Statesman, describe the positive aspects of the dystopian genre's popularity, saying books like "The Hunger Games" got rid of "Twilight" and its unhealthy depiction of love.
"Sparkly chauvinist vampires are finally falling out of fashion," says Penny. She says "The Hunger Games" "elbowed aside wilting reactionary female leads literally dying to be abducted by floppy-haired, cold-blooded aristocrats" and left readers and viewers with a spunky, arrow-shooting heroine.
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