Has teen fiction taken a nasty turn?

The Hunger Games, a story about children killing children, is currently breaking box office records. Some adults agonise over its violence and cruelty, and wonder if it is bad for their children.

CoverThere has been a run of popular books in the same vein, many of them prize winners.  The Carnegie medal winning Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness for example and last year’s Costa Award winner Blood Red Road, as well as popular books by Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld and Philip Reeve.

So popular are they, that a quick search in our catalogue for booklists of dystopian fiction brings up  twelve pages of lists, mainly for young adults and including one for our own library network by Zackids .

Arguments abound as to why this is so. Does it simply reflect a need by teenagers to deal with their anxieties through literature? Are their anxieties worse than ours were? Or is it a backlash against the tight control which has enveloped this generation of children? Is it redemptive, or an indication of despair? Or is just about a good exciting story?

Some point out that dystopian fiction for this age group is hardly new. Previous generations have enjoyed classics like Salt by Maurice Gee, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L Engle and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

What do you think? What do your kids think?

6 thoughts on “Has teen fiction taken a nasty turn?

  1. zackids 30 March 2012 / 3:41 pm

    As someone who reads a lot of Young Adult books, especially dystopian and science fiction, the reason I love these stories is that they’re so exciting. They grab you from the first page and don’t let go. I don’t think the violence is excessive, but necessary to tell the story these authors are trying to tell.

    I’ve been reading lots of articles lately written by adults about The Hunger Games and the violence in these books, and I think they tend to get a bit carries away and analyse the stories far too much. I read fiction because I want a good story, not to have some message thrown in my face. If a story gets too preachy I’ll stop reading.

  2. purplerulz 30 March 2012 / 3:45 pm

    As an adult who loved science fiction as a teen, I love dystopian fiction, the Chaos Walking Trilogy my favourite so far of the most recent efforts (an absolute page turner). I read classic sci fi, such as Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids by John Wyndam or 1984 by George Orwell, certainly the classic dystopian novel.
    I also devoured others such as the Time Machine by HG Wells, Lord of the Flies by William Golding and as time went by, I also loved two of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian’s, The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake.
    I mention these because there are many who love this type of book for many generations, it’s not new, just rediscovered for a newgeneration and perhaps better marketed! i’m not sure they have more angst – it’s just different.
    My sons have loved them too.
    It is usually still the classic good triumphs over evil, the young leading their oppressors or leaders to a better way and they need to have strong characters. I also like the increase of strong women / young girl characters in the new crop of books.
    And of course a good exciting story helps.

  3. LemurKat 30 March 2012 / 4:18 pm

    Dystopia has always been around. Although I think now it is more violent. I love ’em!

  4. Laraine 30 March 2012 / 5:12 pm

    I can’t comment on The Hunger Games because I haven’t read them and haven’t read anything else by Suzanne Collins so I therefore can’t comment on her writing ability either. Joanne Rowling makes up for rather pedestrian prose with her plotting and characterization skills.

    I had a bit of trouble imagining St Paul’s Cathedral being trundled around on huge caterpillar tracks without being shaken to bits in the Philip Reeves series, but once I was able to suspend my disbelief I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought The Giver was an exceptionally fine book, if a little lacking in background detail. But there was enough for the story’s purpose. I haven’t managed to finish the Chaos Walking series yet but thoroughly enjoyed the first two books.

    While it’s not particularly dystopian, I can thoroughly recommend Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Stones Are Hatching. I love McCaughrean’s writing style. I also loved the writing style of Catherine Jinks’s Pagan series (set in the violent times of the Crusades). Eye to Eye was also very good (though not dystopian). Exodus by Julie Bertagna was a great read and definitely dystopian. Another recommendation (which I actually got from this blog) is Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I enjoyed this book so much I didn’t want it to end so I eked it out as much as I could. I found that rather strange; usually when I’m enjoying a book this much I’m more inclined to keep reading long after I should be asleep.

    Young readers are obviously drawn to these dystopian stories because they feature youngsters like themselves as the heroes–as the ones who show the adults the way to a better life. Young readers love to feel they are being empowered. At school the teachers are the bosses (or should be) and at home its the parents (or should be). By escaping into stories like these young readers can imagine that THEY are in charge.

    Some people have criticised the Bartimaeus series for not having “good” characters as protagonists–for featuring all magicians as evil. But imagine if some humans could actually summon demons to do magic for them. I’m guessing the skill would be used more for selfish purposes than to do good. Besides, I didn’t find Bartimeaus downright unlikeable. Most of the time I was on his side.

    I also loved the His Dark Materials trilogy.

  5. Dave 1 April 2012 / 9:08 pm

    John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy was all the rage when I was a teen in the 70s. Instead of a selected few being taken and given a fighting chance in a reality show as in the Hunger Games, in this post-apocalyptic world all teens were taken and brainwashed into slavery to their alien overlords using surgical implants, often dying in the process or as a result of their slave duties, or being hunted down for sport. So, plus ca change.

    • HJ 2 April 2012 / 12:58 pm

      I’m glad someone else mentioned John Christopher – his Sword of the spirits trilogy had similar post-apocalyptic themes, and violence was a big part of it, including some deaths engineered by the Seers. I’ve read the Hunger games (first book) and thought it married current reality tv trends well with some traditional dystopian themes.

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