Dystopian Rites of Passage (Part 2)

Last week I talked about rites of passage in dystopian lit but couldn't fit everything in one post. This week I'm pondering what makes the difference between a YA and MG rite of passage.

Let's take an example of each.  In Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember (MG), 12-year-olds face a wonderfully daft  rite of passage called Assignment Day. It marks the end of their schooling and the beginning of their working (adult) life. The kids literally draw a job out of a hat. The protagonists, Lina and Doon, eventually get the jobs they've been wanting (after a little trading) and joyfully embark on the next phase of their lives as contributing members of their society. There is a little training period but it amounts to learning the trade.

In Veronica Roth's Divergent (YA), all 16-year-olds must choose which faction they want to live and work with for the rest of their lives. After the selection ceremony, though, the real rite of passage begins--the faction initiation and basic training.  Those that don't pass end up homeless (or dead).  During the training / testing, the protagonist, Tris, questions whether she's made the right choice. Is she one faction or another, or is she something else altogether?

To me, it seems like in YA, the protagonist questions, avoids, and/or transcends the rite itself.  The teen years are about exploring your identity—and cultural expectations for it. If you’re choosing a faction to be with, for instance, you have to think about whether this is where you belong—and more importantly is that all that makes you you. In other words, the story is really about defining yourself despite cultural expectations as well as the ability to think beyond your programming.  (Tally in the Uglies series is another good example.)

In MG, though, the protagonists seem to embrace the next stage of growing up.  For instance, Lina and Doon don't question their new roles in the society of Ember (well, until they realize it’s doomed, of course.) Ditto with Jonas in the Giver. He too plunges into (though a tad reluctantly) the role of Giver (in training) until he learns how flawed his Utopian society is.

So maybe that's the key difference. Both YA and MG protagonists ultimately question their dystopian societies. However, YA rites of passage are more identity-driven whereas MG ones are more about belonging. 

What do you guys think?


The ARC Vixen said...

Sum great food 4 thought you have posted up here! It seems to me as though you are rite.

But let me go read my ACRs of City of Ember and Divergent so I can make a nother infomred comment.

Have a ~blessed~ day.

Matthew MacNish said...

I think that makes sense. I mean obviously there will be exceptions, but it seems normal that an older character would question more, and have more doubts.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I think you explained that perfectly! I write MG, and I love when the differences between YA and MG are explored, because it seems to make the answers so much more concrete.

Angie Smibert said...

Thanks all. Peggy - I've been thinking about the differences between MG and YA lately b/c my WIP (not Forgetting Curve) is leaning more MG. What else do you see as differences between the two age groups?

Becky Mushko said...

Having taught both middle school, high school, and college freshmen, I've observed that teens do indeed explore their identities (and question everything!) and middle graders—ready or not—do want to move to the next stage of growing up and they really want to belong.