Why do so many Kiwi YA authors seem drawn to dystopian novel writing? Do we need a literary canon to match our cinema of unease? Perhaps our geographical isolation breeds introspection of the post-apocalyptic kind.
I have just read two new ,very similar examples of New Zealand teen dystopias: The Bridge by Lincoln University researcher Jane Higgins and August by Bernard Beckett. The Bridge won the Australian literary Text Prize and rightly deserves such attention. Although the setting is pure cliche – a futuristic divided city where the haves and have nots battle for limited life-sustaining resources – the first page grabs the reader and keeps up the pace throughout.
Nik, a privileged city dweller is smart, a mathematics genius; but strangely the military elite corps ISIS don’t recruit him along with his less capable friends. Before he can find out why, his school is bombed. The hostiles from across the river have taken the bridges and are intent on plundering. Nik finds himself commited to crossing over to their side to find his kidnapped friend.
August sings the same tune. Set in a futuristic city where some citizens enjoy privilege and others are shut out to scrabble for a living in the dust. But this is only revealed gradually through the conversation between a boy, Tristan and a girl, Grace, hanging upside down by their seatbelts in a crashed car. Their relationship is slowly unfolded in flashbacks and serves as an illustration of the state of the world they live in. The boy is from a religious order, and this theme of religious regeneration in the face of social upheaval is in both books. Reminiscent of the religious extremism in The Handmaid’s Tale, many writers seem to find it hard to imagine a post-apocalyptic world without some vestige of Christian belief systems.