YA, dystopia, and economic uncertainty

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NPR has cottoned on to the economic insecurity that’s pervading YA literature these days, it seems.

Dystopias are nothing new. They’re an excellent form of allegory, haunting and cautionary tales about where we might end up if we’re not thoughtful and careful in our actions and interests. In YA terms, they make a whole lot of sense – young adult literature is all about figuring out who you are and how to express yourself, and dystopias are very often about oppression and conformity. Big Brother wants you to be one thing; you want to be another. Ready-made conflict that also happens to let you address bigger issues.

So, really, it’s no surprise that current bestsellers are YA dystopias with a strong thread of economic uncertainty and class fear in them. The struggle between haves and have-nots, between classes and roles, and the fear of the unknown are all classic tropes, regardless of what age group you’re writing for, and the rise in popularity of YA lit just means that we were bound to see more action-packed tales that include young protagonists and big dystopian dramas – especially in the atmosphere of economic uncertainty in the real world these days.

Divergent, The Hunger Games – even Candlemark & Gleam’s own Extrahumans series by Susan Jane Bigelow includes a hefty dose of economic uncertainty. Broken and Michael worry about where their food is going to come from if they’re not careful with the little money they have; Dee struggles to hang on to her job in the city in The Spark. That thread of economic uncertainty is a way of making these futuristic worlds a little more relatable – and a little more frightening. It’s one thing to talk about alien races and corporate-government megaliths and strange technology; it’s another entirely to talk about being hungry or jobless. That is a fear that so many of us, teens included, can relate to, and that makes the dystopia just a little easier to understand, a little easier to lose yourself in.

What do you think? Why is economic uncertainty such a big deal in YA sf/f these days? Is it going to be replaced by something else as the recession recedes, or is it here to stay – just like the economic downturn?

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