Saturday, August 14, 2010

oh dystopia!

I read discussions on a nameless listserv that includes some pretty bright people involved in reading and the book biz, and recently they had a topic pertaining to the current popularity of dystopian science fiction in YA literature.

I don't post things on their board, but I thought it was an interesting discussion -- not just because of the overt attempts by some to promote books by personal friends -- but because a common sentiment that was expressed was a question about why all the pessimism about the future, why do these novels tend to be so dark, and why can't someone write a rosier forecast for the future?

That's kind of silly and naive, if you ask me. In fact, although I will admit to not being exceedingly well-read in the genre, I can't think of any sci-fi that predicts a comfy, cozy future for mankind. Aren't all sci-fi novels dystopian? I mean, human versus machines, versus aliens, versus the environment, asteroid collisions, diseases, totalitarian state structures... you name it.

And this is part of the problem with the grown-up YA junkies out there. They get so caught up in cheery, whimsical, tra-la-la portrayals of the teen experience that they ruin it with their ridiculous expectations of what YA should be about.

First and foremost, YA needs to provide a connecting experience for "Young Adult" readers. These are kids who are looking for the expression of feelings they share, of experiences that they can connect with. The truth is that a lot of kids have had some unfortunate, scary, and crappy things happen in their lives. The more the ethicists of YA push the positive, happy, self-fulfilling ending as the reasonable conclusion for Young Adult literature, we keep telling these kids that there's something wrong with them -- that they're screwups -- for not living in the tra-la-la world.