I Think, Therefore I Read and Write (Dystopia)

There's been some discussion (here and elsewhere in the blogosphere) about why dystopian literature is becoming so popular. I could link you to a bunch of places and we could probably theorize on it forever.

But for me, I think it comes down to this: Dystopian novels make you think.

Let's explore.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. I'm not going to ruin it for you, but this is what the School Library Journal had to say about the book.

"Pearson has constructed a gripping, believable vision of a future dystopia. She explores issues surrounding scientific ethics, the power of science, and the nature of the soul with grace, poetry, and an apt sense of drama and suspense."

I adored this book, not only for the great characterization in Jenna, but the way it made me stop and think.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Again, no spoilers, but here's what Publisher's Weekly had to say about this dystopian.

"Gripping, brilliantly imagined futuristic thriller...The issues raised could not be more provocative--the sanctuary of life, the meaning of being human--while the delivery could hardly be more engrossing or better aimed to teens."

And again, from the School Library Journal:

"This gripping, thought-provoking novel is guaranteed to lead to interesting discussions about abortion, adoption, organ donation, religion, politics, and health care."

As I turned the pages of this book, I found myself not only riveted by the characters and plot, but often I found myself pausing to examine my own thoughts on particular issues.

I think Scott Westerfeld (author of the UGLIES trilogy) says it best in his review of Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth:

"Zombies have been metaphors for many things: consumerism, contagion in an overpopulated world, the inevitability of death. But here they resonate with a particularly teenage realization about the world--that social limits and backward traditions are numberless and unstoppable, no matter how shambling they may seem at first.

And yet we must try to escape them anyway, lest we wither inside the fence.

His thoughts "that social limits and backward traditions are numberless and unstoppable, no matter how shambling they may seem at first. And yet we must try to escape them anyway, lest we wither inside the fence." are EXACTLY why dystopian novels are riding the tidal wave of popularity. And not just with young adults, but with anyone who dares to think.

What do YOU think? What novels have made you stop and think -- about life, love, the apocalypse?


JoLynne Lyon said...

Hunger Games did it for me. I think dystopian writing gives an author the freedom to point out distortions in society without naming names or specific events in today's world. Collins made some great observations on the things a corrupt society will do for entertainment. Uncomfortable subject, excellent writing.

Anna said...

That is exactly why I love reading dystopian novels, because they make me think. After I read Unwind, I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. I immediately made everyone I know read it so that we could discuss it. I LOVE books that make me feel that way.

Jana said...

I love so many dystopian books. The Giver and it's sequels probably made me think the most. Especially The Giver. I love The Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson Haddix, those are all well done and easy to read. Kids always seem to like them as well.

Heather said...

I've always loved dystopic literature, and for me it's all about exploring those "What if?" questions. I like dystopians that are rooted in a bit of truth, that take some issue or problem that we're facing today and explore what would happen if we let it ride. That's why I think the genre is becoming more popular recently, especially in YA. YAs are totally aware of the crappy circumstances in the world, and want to know what will happen if we let it ride. There are a TON to choose from - the environment, disease, hunger, big government, and on and on - and a thousand different potential outcomes that an author could dream up. The possibilities are truly endless, and I think people like to read about it since they know they won't be around 500 years from now to find out for themselves how it all turned out.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The first dystopian book that really stuck to me was The Handmaid's Tale. I recently read Atwood's Oryx and Crake and, once again, was struck with the power of her writing. I believed her bleak world where genetic tinkering for profit turned into the end of the world as we know it.

Tere Kirkland said...

Reading The Handmaid's Tale at an impressionable age really got to me. I'd have to say it's had the greatest impact on me as a person, not a writer. Made me think. Still makes me think. Nolite te bastardes carborundum.

As an adult, the books that make me think the most are often YA dystopians like The Hunger Games and the Uglies series. I've got to read Jenna Fox next, but I didn't see it last time I went to Borders.

Great post!

Kristi Helvig said...

Jenna Fox is on my list and The Handmaid's Tale impacted me greatly as a youth. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are my recent faves, and made me think a lot about possible futures, which led to my current ms. :)

beth said...



Julia Karr said...

Great post, Beth! Ayn Rand (though not strictly dystopia) had a huge effect on me when I was young (like 18) - as did 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.

If we don't have these tales to show us what could happen - then the worst may happen and we've been derelict in our duty as thinkers.

Angie said...

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller was the first dystopian work that made a big impact on me--as did Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Canticle made me think about the nature of religion and the cyclical nature of history.

Jen Chandler said...

Confession: I've yet to read a dystopian novel. *shame* I always thought they would be depressing, end of the world stories. Looks like I was wrong (not the first time, mind you...hey, I'm confessing here, right?!?) These sound fabulous. I support anything that helps people think more!


Karen Lange said...

To stop and think, a good thing! This is what I want to do when I write. Thanks for making me stop and think today:) Happy weekend!

Marcia said...

It's a combination of thinking and feeling. Dystopians are so often thought of as "really good books" because they have the power to chill, to make readers think "Wow, that is such good imagination" AND to make one ponder issues and the logical consequences of carrying certain developments to their limits.

Nishant said...

I recently read Atwood's Oryx and Crake and, once again, was struck with the power of her writing. I believed her bleak world where genetic tinkering for profit turned into the end of the world as we know it.
Adsense Alternative

Olivia Carter said...

I love dystopians too!

I LOVED and was really moved by Jenna Fox & Unwind. I didn't love the Forest of Hand & Teeth (i'm probably the only one who didn't like it!)

You are totally right, Dystopians make you think. And I love to not only be entertained but also THINK as I read.

Jemi Fraser said...

My first taste of dystopian lit was in high school - Fahrenheit 451. It blew me away. Completely. Then we read Chrysalids, Brave New World & 1984. I don't exaggerate when I say entire worlds opened up for me.

"It was a pleasure to burn" - 1st line of F451 still gives me shivers.

Christina Farley said...

Hmm... interesting thought but you're right. Dystopian novels tackle tough issues but if they are done right, they are so effective. It's like a safe way to look at ourselves without really pointing fingers. We're pointing fingers to that futuristic person.

Nichole Giles said...

I have to agree that the Hunger Games really made me think, as did Uglies. I think it's easier to tackle some of the hardest issues through distopian literature, because while the issues are close to home, the thought process is hidden under the guise of a false world.

It's harder to think about some things in context of reality, which is why we need the metaphorical societies through which to see the realities that plague us.

JMO. This is especially true for teenagers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, E!

doctorcrankenstein said...

Not dystopian but...

Anything and everything by Isaac Asimov has made me stop and think about something... And he has written so much!

ClaireLines said...

My first exposure to dystopian fiction was The Hunger Games, reccommeded to my by a good friend. After having read it only once, I had nightmares for weeks - and I'm twenty. I kept finding myself thinking about ways in which I would save myself or my hypothetical children from entering the arena, and when I reached the point where I thought, "I could just tell them my child has cancer", and realised that they wouldn't care, as the child would die anyway, I was struck by the pure shock value that dystopian fiction has to offer. But it is shock value which balances on the understanding that what is socially acceptable, and therefor what common society is based upon, would topple in the face of extreme upheaval, change or disaster. From here, I was prompted to investigate other dystopian texts, to examine the way in which other authors perceive the end of society as we know it to look like. This is an endlessly fascinating subject, and one which has me firmly in its grip.