The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction: An Analysis

Hey friends, I’ve been a bit absent from the blog this week. I made a rush down to the Houston area to see my mom who is fighting against forces even more evil than President Snow – Breast Cancer. I should be posting more regularly the rest of the week! Send up all thoughts, prayers, good vibes, and the like for my mom and her healing journey. Thanks!
ain't this a dystopian beauty?

photo via compfight

In this series, “The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction,” I’ve been drawing attention to other novels dealing with a dystopian future (a future based upon the aftermath of some natural catastrophe, nuclear fallout, etc.), where a government takes on an increasingly invasive role in society, and its citizens willingly follow in order to stay safe. On the surface, the society epitomizes perfection and order, yet the cracks in the system soon unravel, revealing the “perfect” society’s flaws.

These types of novels have populated the Young Adult market in recent years; however, the dystopian novel is not exclusive of markets, many adult authors feature these themes as well. However, the Young Adult market (based solely on my keen observations) reveal quite a crossover in readership. I’ve noticed a lot of women my age (and dudes, too) who find these books fascinating and intriguing, and I’ve wondered why.

Last week, I briefly mentioned the time factor: Women and moms my age don’t have a ton of time for themselves. We don’t have a lot of time to read or to find a book. The Young Adult market offers a smaller selection, yet provides options for thrilling entertainment – great writing, depth of theme, and wonderful characterization.

Another factor: Adult post-apocalyptic fiction tends to be more bleak, looking at a world of chaos following a world-wide disaster, ruled by primal instincts or supply-controlling gangs and crime lords. Young Adult fiction imagines a world more controlling and invasive than current teenagers already feel.

Both markets focus on a future of fear – with society completely out of control or completely dominating.

In a February 2011 New York Times article called “Teenage Wastelands,” Charles McGrath proposed this:

“Where grown-up dystopian novels — books like “Oryx and Crake,” by Margaret Atwood; “The Pesthouse,” by Jim Crace; and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy — lately seem to dwell on a vision of a bestial, plague-ridden world where civilization has collapsed, these new Y.A. books imagine something far worse: a world where civilization feels an awful lot like high school and everyone is under pressure to conform. Another popular series, for example, is Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” books, about a world where all 16-year-olds undergo extreme plastic surgery to adapt them to a universal standard of beauty. And in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, so far the best of the teen dystopian novels…adolescence is a kind of life-and-death popularity contest.”

What does this say about the adults drawn to these worlds?

Are we just as tormented about fitting in?

Do we have the same fears of an uncertain future? Or, do our current realities offer no diversity or change?

Are we filling the days changing diapers, doing laundry, paying bills or clocking time in career drudgery, therefore, crave an escape where life and death decisions follow our narrator at every turn? Maybe we feel a bit locked into conformity and routine in our current society, too. Maybe our current status in life feels a bit too…predictable?

Another factor to consider: The adult novels entrenched in dystopia hold more of a “Society is changing and you need to keep catastrophe from happening” message. In other words, it’s the extreme in parental warning (“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!!”)

Young Adult novels stick to the story with extreme characters symbolic of our deepest fears and insecurities – played out in breath-catching narrative (Less preachy and depressing, more shoot-em-up, anarchy). Laura Miller in an article for The New Yorker in 2010 says,

“Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.”

Adult novels with similar themes remove all ounce of hope from the story, many times killing the hero, who puts forth a last-ditch effort to save the world, ultimately failing. They tend to bring light to our current mistakes (i.e. trying to cure all disease, invasive technology, global warming).

In contrast, the Young Adult novels bring a rebellious group of misfits together, battling out a fight to the death, looking for the ultimate way to “stick it to the man” and restore hope to humanity.

Perhaps the glimmer of hope keeps those of us who have already grown up coming back to this market. We want a chance to join in the fight rather than bear the responsibility of the current world we are ruining.

Check out the rest of the series here:

The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction (part 1)

The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction: Matched by Ally Condie (part 2)

  1. #1 by Libby King (@libbyking) on July 12, 2012 - 5:47 pm

    I know it’s weird to jump on to other people’s blogs with links, but I’ve thought lots about this too and wrote an article about it here:

    I love your Hunger Games Guide – I’m not sure I’d thought of the difference between YA and adult dystopian fiction as anything particularly different to any other genre, but I see your points. Also, I think that Margaret Atwood got away with a bit more in The Year of the Flood based on her reputation. The Handmaid’s Tale, on the other hand, was an adult dystopia that flies with readers of YA. In terms of the stuff that is more depressing, I certainly find post-Apocolyptic work more depressing, maybe because it is all out of our hands. The Road was a trial to read … omg … took weeks to get over it.

    Thanks again – loved your posts.

  2. #2 by kellywiggains on July 12, 2012 - 7:50 pm

    Thanks so much for your comments. I love Margaret Atwood!

  3. #3 by Sarah on December 3, 2012 - 9:21 am

    First of all, technically speaking a future after a nuclear fallout or catastrophy would fall under post apocalypse, not dystopia. Stalinist Russia was a dystopia for example. Just thought I’d add my two sense.

  4. #4 by Sarah on December 3, 2012 - 9:24 am

    By the way, I’m not disagreeing a dystopia can certainly be established after a post apocalypse. But that would be a Post Apocalyptic dystopia. Generally in dystopia there is some form of society still left.

  5. #5 by Sarah on December 3, 2012 - 9:27 am

    I guess that means I’m writing an Adult dystopian novel.D: I mean yes it stars teenagers, but its almost a world completely without hope. Or rather, in this case I remove hope, give it back to them, then snatch it away like a cat and mouse game.:3

  6. #6 by kellywiggains on December 3, 2012 - 10:52 am

    I think my post lacked clarity. Yes, a future after a nuclear fallout or catastrophe would be considered “post-apocalyptic.” In my post, I was referencing the sub-genre of dystopian fiction, where a dystopian future occurred after a catastrophic event. I know I’m probably splitting hairs, but wanted to offer the clarification to look at the novels featured: Matched Series, The Hunger Games, Delirium trilogy, etc. as examples of a dystopian future following calamity.

  1. — Coming of Age at the End of the World 2012

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