Adult vs YA dystopias - A Question of Hope

Science fiction asks the “what if” questions, like ‘what if there was life on mars” or “what if little green aliens attacked earth”. Dystopias ask “what if society was really, really frakked up?” – how would people live and what would they do about their situation?” Authors build fictional dystopian societies as a device to criticize some hot button cultural issue of the day and to show us what our future might be like if the human race doesn’t get their act together.


Dystopian novels written for adults tend to have unresolved and/or depressing endings while novels written with a teen audience in mind tend to have more uplifting or inspiring endings. If the teen protagonist doesn’t find a way to overthrow the society completely, he or she at least carves out some measure of freedom within or outside the society.

George Orwell wrote his dystopian classic 1984 in 1948 and publicly asserted that it was written as a response to the oppressive communist and fascist regimes of that time. 1984 ends with the protagonist broken after experiencing the horrors of room 101 - hardly something that inspires hope.


YA dystopias explore issues that are (or should be) on teen's minds and feature societies built on everything from marketers abuse of consumer privacy – such as in MT Anderson’s Feed – to government mandated plastic surgery – such as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games can be seen as a criticism of reality TV, Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island is a criticism of extreme environmentalism and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a criticism of the termination of human rights in the name of national security. None of these end as bleakly as 1984.

Post apocalyptic fiction is a very similar and often interchangeable subgenre which explores the question “what if there would be a complete breakdown of society due to some cataclysmic event?” Books in this category include The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Life as We Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

YA post apocalyptic novels tend to be less brutally realistic than their adult counterparts. The Road is unflinchingly dark, putting mankind's most vile acts in full display and ending in a real downer of a way.  In Life As We Knew It, Miranda and her family are holed up at home and trying to survive after a meteor hits the moon and pushes it too close to Earth, causing massive societal disruptions. There are no more food deliveries so people are starving. At one point, Miranda’s cat goes missing. Had this been an adult dystopia like The Road, the cat would have been roasting over a fire and in some starving belly by day’s end. But no. The cat comes back! And he even has enough dry cat food to last him until society can get back on its feet again. I found this unrealistic in the context of a post-apocalyptic landscape, but there is no denying that such a scenario offers up a great deal of hope.



How do you like your dystopias? Hopeful or hopeless? Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day ;)



13 comments:

Heather Sunseri said...

I must say, I'm for the hopeful endings of the YA dystopian. I like the rebellious nature of the characters, the attitude that teenagers can make a difference.

Zoraida Cordova said...

Spot on, girl!

LM Preston said...

I guess so, but when I read The Dead, The Enemy, Rot & Ruin, the zombie take on dystopia is way more brutal in YA when geared towards males.

Lenore Appelhans said...

LM - I haven't read any of those. Are the endings hopeful?

Mike Mullin said...

I was so mad at Miranda. Not so much for not eating the cat, I can see how that might be emotionally impossible. But the cat food? That has solid caloric content. Really, you're going to feed the cat while your family is starving? Really?

The Guilded Earlobe said...

I agree that many adult post apocalyptic novels are brutal, but they are not all hopeless. I think The Stand and Swan Song, two incredibly brutal PA novels, had hopeful endings. Even The Road, while the ending was tragic, there was a bit of hope at the end.

Adult Dystopian's I think are more likely to have a hopeless ending. I thing WE and 1984 had two of the most hopeless endings ever.

I personally like a mix of endings. I am Legend has one of my favorite endings, and it's arguably quite hopeless, from the human perspective. Yet, I don't mind the cozy catastrophes either. I love The Day of the Triffids and things there we quite hopefull.

Melody said...

Not gonna lie, I need an element of hope. It doesn't have to be glittery and wonderful and omgosh the world is now perfect! But there needs to be *something*. Something that inspires. I appreciate the what-if questions, but to read a book without hope would be like Elizabeth ending up with Mr. Wickham. In other words, wrong. :)

Lenore Appelhans said...

GE - You're right. They're not all hopeless, but they do tend to be more so than YA. There was a tiny, tiny glimmer of hope at the end of The Road. And don't get me wrong - I LOVE The Road.

I need to read some of these "cozy" adult dystopias - lol. Still love that term.

Lenore Appelhans said...

MM - I don't want anyone to eat their own cat. Or to eat anyone else's cat for that matter. But it's bound to happen isn't it? If you're starving? You're definitely going to steal the cat's cat food.

Peter DeHaan said...

Since I liked The Hunger Games and disliked 1984, I must be a kid at heart.

John G Nelson said...

I like a book that isn't wrapped in a pretty bow and everyone lives happily ever after.
I like an edgy tale where you don't know where you'll go.

I think you shouldn't get that "it feels good to feel good." feeling with a dystopian novel. It should take you out of your comfort zone and leave you thinking....

John Nelson
Author of the dystopian thriller Against Nature.

JustSarah said...

What is a dystopian novel if you have any amount of hope?:D

In all seriousness I prefer bittersweet or downer endings. but at the very least, i don't want an ending that tastes like Diabetes.

Actually if the first acts are extremely dark, I actually think a happy ending is more of a downer, but its not the kind of downer I go for.

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