The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction: A Guest Post

Hey friends, this is my friend Lauren. We go way back. We talk books, coffee, and our children’s weird habits. She’s hilarious, and we’ve both been reading YA dystopian lately. She has a ton of recommendations for you. I’m excited.

Hello! I’m Lauren, and I blog over at The Housework Can Wait. I’ve known Kelly since college, but we actually became friends on Facebook after we graduated and moved to opposite ends of the country. Isn’t life weird?

Kelly asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in writing a guest post on dystopian literature, and why it tends to appeal to us grown-up types. Of course, I agreed. Not only would I get a chance to address Kelly’s lovely readers, but that also gave me an excuse to read ALL THE DYSTOPIANS. Which I attempted valiantly.

Observation: It is impossible to read ALL THE DYSTOPIANS in two weeks. There are just too darn many.

But I did read a bunch, and after receiving a thorough reality check and realizing I did not in fact need to hoard my food because I do not actually live in a dystopian society, I now feel at least semi-qualified to post on this topic.

First off, what is a dystopia? It’s a word that has come up a lot lately, ever since The Hunger Games sent people into a frenzy, but I’m not sure everyone’s using it correctly. So I consulted the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, and here is its definition:

“A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, and various forms of active and passive coercion. Ideas and works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity’s spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens.”

So, to be clear, post-apocalyptic literature is not dystopian. Stories of humans surviving an alien invasion are not dystopian. Stories where the Earth self-destructed and rained down natural disasters upon the characters are not dystopian. Nowadays, people are using the word “dystopian” to describe any kind of negative futuristic scenario, but that’s not accurate. To be dystopian, a story needs to meet the following criteria:

1. Society is oppressed by some form.

2. The oppression is deemed to be “good” for the society, but is in fact bad.

So “dystopian” is a pretty broad descriptor, just not as broad as we sometimes make it out to be. Now, a dystopian can be post-apocalyptic or sci-fi or follow a natural disaster, as long as society has somehow [d]evolved to this state of oppression-for-the-greater-good.

That said, why do the plethora of current Young Adult dystopian titles appeal to me, a 30-something SAHM of two small kids? I can’t speak for all mom-dom, but for me, the answer is threefold:

1. It’s fun. This may seem a cop-out answer, but it’s truthfully my #1 reason. I like books that get my pulse pounding and my imagination churning. I like escaping to new worlds that sometimes only slightly resemble our own. I like the creativity of the authors in coming up with all the ideas of what the future could hold. I don’t get a lot of “me” time after all the kid-wrangling, and when I read, I want it to be fun.

2. It makes me think. Yes, sometimes dystopians are so far-fetched that it seems there’s no way this would ever happen, but other times they hit kind of close to home. The Hunger Games may have been action-packed and teen girls may have been swooning over Gale and Peeta, but Suzanne Collins wove in her own commentaries on reality entertainment, war, and PTSD. Even in the most outlandish of dystopians, there tends to run a grain of truth that keeps me thinking long after the book is over.

3. I love a good underdog. And seriously, dystopians are always about the underdog. One lone person or ragtag group of rebels attempting to change the world for the better. And most of the time, they succeed. And an underdog who wins has always appealed to me, ever since Bilbo defeated Smaug and Edmund destroyed the White Witch’s wand and Charlotte convinced the world that Wilbur was “Some Pig.”

So with all that said, here’s a brief rundown of a few dystopians I’ve enjoyed (other than The Hunger Games and Delirium, which I love, but Kelly has already covered):

1. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Truthfully, it’s a little bit of a stretch to call this one a dystopian, but I think it still technically falls into the category (barely). I loved the mystery, the suspense, and the breakneck pace of this book. It kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. You can read my full review here.

2. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. The world of this book is so different from ours, it’s more of a dystopian-sci-fi hybrid. But the world is incredibly unique and interesting, and I loved the unique relationship that evolved between Aria and Perry. You can read my full review here.

3. Divergent by Veronica Roth. This one’s a true dystopian. There’s no weird sci-fi elements. There’s no aliens. There was no apocalypse. Society has simply changed, where people are now divided into factions according to their personality. Divergent is fun and exciting, albeit not too deep. Truthfully, the main reason I’d recommend this one is for the sequel, Insurgent, which I thought was fantastic. Here are my reviews for Divergent and Insurgent.

4. The Selection by Kiera Cass. (Sorry, Kelly told me to highlight two or three books, and here I am listing four. I apologize! All this talk of dystopians has turned me into a REBEL). This book is proof that dystopians don’t have to be dark and violent and action-packed. This book is more dystopian-light. It’s a fun, fluffy romance that is much more Princess Diaries and The Bachelor than it is Hunger Games. I thought this was a light, refreshing read after all the heavy dystopians I’d been reading. You can read my full review here.

And in case you still need more dystopians in your life, here’s my reviews of some others:

Frost by Kate Avery Ellison

The Glimpse by Claire Merle

Glitch by Heather Anastasiu (teaser review)

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Legend by Marie Lu

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

And then here’s some I haven’t read, but I’ve heard are great:

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Partials by Dan Wells

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Starters by Lissa Price

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Kelly! Happy reading, everybody!

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  1. #1 by Andy Dunham on June 6, 2012 - 4:36 pm

    Welcome, guest poster! Super job; I hope we hear (see) more from you in the future.

    Are you sure you haven’t read all the dystopians? I’m very impressed by the number you have read.

    It’s not a dystopian, but have you guys read the Kingkiller Chronicles? They are super great, and you will enjoy them if you like escaping to a far-away place and rooting for an underdog.

  2. #2 by Lauren@The Housework Can Wait on June 6, 2012 - 4:58 pm

    Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it! As you can see by my links at the bottom, there’s still some I haven’t read (and of course, these are just the YA dystopians – as Kelly mentioned earlier, there’s also lots of adult dystopians out there) – but maybe someday!

    I’m halfway through the second book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, but actually my problem with them is that Kvothe isn’t an underdog. I mean, he is in the sense that he never seems to have enough money, but he’s one of those protagonists that’s just good at everything and that kind of irks me after a while. I love the world building and Rothfuss’ writing style. It’s just Kvothe himself that annoys me. But I’m going to persevere and I will read the last one when it comes out. Maybe it will change my mind.

  3. #3 by Kate Andrews @ Dystopian Literature on July 3, 2012 - 2:44 am

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve watch it on a bigscreen. Indeed, Hunger Games is a great example of dystopian literature.

  4. #4 by kellywiggains on July 3, 2012 - 10:15 am

    Thanks for your comment Kate, and welcome to the blog. We are big dystopian lit fans around here!

  5. #5 by Singapore Hawker Food Challenge on July 14, 2013 - 10:42 am

    I relish, cause I found just what I was looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

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