Dystopian and post-apocalyptic mean the same thing to me. Both are the after-math of some great catastrophe, which is the end of life as we know it presently. Although many authors have been writing about these issues in adult novels for decades, the Young Adult genre is overflowing with them now. This is not to say that there have not been dystopic YA novels in the past, but if you look closely at the most popular YA Lit novels right now you will see that they have taken over the top spots on the best sellers list.
What comes to mind when you think of post-apocalyptic America? Do you see war, plagues, droughts, floods, or just mass death? I personally have no definitive answer to this question. My thoughts change as the war goes on and as new sicknesses arise. What world will my son live in when he is my age, and what about his children? The following novels may give you a few ideas about how the world may turn out. Each one has a realistic vibe, and a possibility of happening. Maybe civilization would be a little more cautious in how we handle one another if they looked closely into the YA novels of today.
*** WARNING — SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT BLOG. IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THESE NOVELS, YOU MAY WANT TO SKIP THIS POST ***
The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
The first book in the trilogy is The Hunger Games, which was first published by Scholastic Books on September 14, 2008. This novel was originally aimed at middle grade to high school students, but recently has crossed over into the adult sector of interest. The second novel is Catching Fire published September 1, 2009, and the third and final novel in the series is Mockingjay published August 24, 2010. This series was later picked up by Lionsgate to be made into a movie, and the first one was released on March 23, 2012.
Katniss Everdeen is the sixteen-year-old main character whose voice and story we follow throughout the entire series. The world of Panem is where America once was united as a country. During this novel we learn that there was a great war, and that now the country is divided into districts. Each district is a representative of the resources we get from them in current or past times. This novel carries heavy political tones, and is a great reminder of why we have a democratic society today.
The Hunger Games begins in District 12, which today is the Appalachian mountain region of America. The citizens of District 12 are said to be dark-haired, with grayish blue eyes, and all have a rough lifestyle of working in the coal mines, or maintaining those who do work in them. Katniss is one of two girls, living with their widowed mother, struggling to survive day to day. Katniss goes outside of the fence to hunt and gather daily to help her family survive. In the first chapter we meet Gale, Katniss’ partner in hunting, who is eighteen, and soon to be of age to work in the mines. They both have to hunt and gather for their families, and Gale openly despises the Capitol.
We are introduced to the concept of “reaping day” immediately. Reaping Day is when the tributes (12-18 year old girls and boys) are lined up in the town square for the Hunger Games tribute drawing. One girl and one boy are drawn out of a large glass bowl to see who will represent their district in the Games. The Hunger Games is the Capitol’s way of showing the districts that they are still in control, and to remind them of the up-rise or “The Dark Days” that happened and that can never happen again. Twelve districts remained after the uprising while the thirteenth was destroyed by the Capitol’s army. The Hunger Games consist of 24 tributes thrown together in a controlled outside environment, to fight their way to victory. The worst part, is that only one person can win the games, and therefore must kill everyone else to succeed.
Each tribute’s name is added once if they are twelve, twice if they are thirteen, and so on until the age of eighteen. The catch to this is that if you choose to take a tesserae (one person’s year supply of oil and grain) your name is entered once more. The more tesseraes you take, the more times your name is entered in the Reaping. The year that this is taking place is during the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss has been entered twenty times and Gale’s name has been entered forty-two times.
At the town square we are introduced to Haymitch Abernathy, District 12’s only living Games winner, and Effie Trinket, District 12’s “manager” of tributes. Effie begins her speech and drawing of the tribute names by saying, “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!” (17). Effie announces ladies’ first and then pulls out a name. She announces Primrose Everdeen, which is Katniss’ twelve-year-old sister, and immediately Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place. After a bit of a commotion, the crowd grows silent and takes their three middle fingers on their left hand, touches them to their lips, and then holds them towards her (21). This is an old tradition that is rarely used, it means thanks, admiration, and goodbye to a loved one. *remember this gesture*
Next the boy tribute is chosen, and it is Peeta Mellark, the Baker’s boy. Katniss has a brief flash back, which fills us in on how she knows Peeta. He saved her life once by giving her bread, and another time by offhandedly reminding her that dandelion greens are edible and that other plants can help feed her family if she finds them. Back to the current time and Peeta and Katniss are taken to the Justice Building and put into separate rooms. Family members and friends are allowed to visit briefly, and Katniss’ mom and sister come to visit first. In this meeting Katniss reminds her mother to stay present, and to not fade away like she did when father died. She tells Prim how to make money off of her goat, and to not worry about her. Katniss then promises to Prim that she will, “really, really try. I swear it” (29).
Next the Baker visits and gives her a package of cookies, and then says he will keep an eye on Prim for her and make sure she is eating. This relieves Katniss, and makes this “experience” a little easier. The Baker leaves and the next guest is Madge, the mayor’s daughter. She asks Katniss to wear a golden pin, a bird, and the fixes it to her dress. Madge asks for her to wear it in the arena, and then asks if Katniss promises, she agrees and Madge leaves. Next visitor is Gale, he hugs her, and then tells her to get a knife, and to make a bow. No matter what the conditions are, there will be wood. They are interrupted by the Peacekeepers and she yells to Gale to take care of her family, he replies but is cut off.
Next, Katniss and Peeta take a short cart ride to the train, and she is thankful for not crying, the TV cameras are everywhere and she does not want to present herself as week to the rest of Panem. However, Peeta is sniveling like a baby for all to see. Once upon the train and it begins to move, the story of Katniss’ struggle truly begins.
*I will break from the story-telling here and let you read the rest if you are interested. Collins has done a phenomenal job of setting up the mood of this world, and letting us all feel what Katniss is feeling. As the story continues, the world building is done so amazingly I felt as if I was in Katniss’ shoes. The food, the prepping, and the people of the Capitol are all described in great detail. While Collins has set up this world in the future, she has also made it realistic in how the people react to the Games. My favorite part about this series is how even after the United States has crumbled and Panem has reformed in its place, where there is still a strong sense of regionalism. The speech of each district is noted, and so are the habits of the tributes.
Collins has made this a believable dystopian world, which could indeed happen if the fighting and weather keep going as they are now. Collins says that her major influences for this series were the War on Iraq and one of the reality survival shows. She blended these two elements together and created this possibility of political control and lack of free speech. I suggest reading this book every few years as you age, and reevaluating the messages being told. I feel that this series is great for all ages, and as younger kids grow up they will see a difference in their opinion about it.*
May the odds be ever in your favor!
The Divergent Trilogy –
The first book in this series is Divergent, which was first published by Katherine Tegen Books, which is a small division of Harper Collins, on May 3, 2011. The second book, Insurgent, is being release on May 1, 2012. The third book is not named as of yet, but is due to be published in 2013. This series has also been picked up by Summit Entertainment to be made into a movie series. Just like The Hunger Games, this novel has become a cross-over novel from YA to the adult sector of interest.
Beatrice Prior is the sixteen-year-old narrator and main character of Divergent. We meet her on the morning of the aptitude test that will determine which faction she “belongs” to. On Choosing Day, the sixteen-year-olds will choose which faction they will initiate into and possibly become a member of. If they fail the initiation they will become “Factionless” and must go live with the rest of the “Factionless”.
In order to understand the aptitude test and Choosing day, I must familiarize you with the concept of factions. After a great uprising between the populations in the past, the nation has elected a board, and divided the nation into five factions.(The interesting part about this setting is that it is in Chicago, so technically it is a city within a fence. Nothing is said about what is outside the fence as of yet.) They are listed below with some of their traits.
Abnegation – the selfless – this reminds me of the Mennonite or Amish in the United States.
Amity – the peaceful – I don’t recall much discussion of this faction, hopefully more will be discussed in Insurgent
Candor – the honest – these people are brutally honest and do not lie, even to protect other’s feelings.
Dauntless – the brave – this faction reminds me of the alternative community, such as hardcore rockers and the X-games community.
Erudite – the intelligent – this faction is the educated, like the librarians and the scholarly of the nation.
Beatrice was born into the Abnegation faction, and feels like she hasn’t always belonged. Her brother, Caleb, seems to be the perfect Abnegation member, and is always correcting her on her actions. Caleb and Beatrice both go through the aptitude test, and have very different results. When Beatrice is given her test, she has “inconclusive” readings, and is told to keep quiet about her results. She is “Divergent” and this is considered dangerous during their times. Beatrice’s father is one of the council members, which are the leaders of each community.
When Caleb and Beatrice both choose to leave the Abnegation faction, all hell begins to break loose. Caleb chose Erudite, and Beatrice chose Dauntless. Both must go through an initiation process and the first one for the Dauntless is to jump onto a moving train. Once in the Dauntless sector all faction members must jump from the moving train over a gap and land on top of a tall building. After landing on the building the only way to go down is another leap of faith. Beatrice jumps first and lands in the large net at the bottom. This allows her to choose her own name and she decides to be called Tris.
If you are interested in the rest of the story, I suggest you pick up this novel and read the entire thing.
Veronica Roth has done a great job at creating a post-war society that may indeed collapse upon itself again. I could see this also happening to our society, but hopefully our world won’t come to this. This was another case of a previous war deciding the fates of the next generations. This book can be a handy look into another possibility of how the government can be wrong about segregation.
The Legend Trilogy –
The first book in this trilogy is Legend by Marie Lu, published by Putnam Children’s (Penguin Group), and released on November 29, 2011. The second book in this trilogy is Prodigy and will release sometime in 2013. This book has also been purchased to be made into a movie by CBS Films. This novel has not made as big as an impression on the adult community as it has on the YA community, but I personally loved every minute of this novel.
Legend is a dystopian novel that is set in Los Angeles told from two different characters point of view. Each chapter switches who is telling the story, and from one side of the war to another. The war is fought here in America after it has divided into two prominent regions. June and Day are both15-years-old, and fight for what they believe is right. It just so happens that June is on the wealthy, “privileged” side of the war, training to fight for the Republic, while Day is the country’s most wanted criminal.
Day’s family is in a poor sector of town and he looks over them from a rooftop. He no longer lives with them because of a past event, but still secretly gives his family money, food and medicine when possible. He has a female companion that helps him throughout the entire book. Neither are aligned with the Colonies, but both despise the Republic. Day is thought to be a ruthless criminal, but no one is able to point out what exactly he looks like.
June is the daughter of a former scientist, and she resides with her only living relative, her brother Metias. He is an officer in the Republic Army,and gets killed during a confrontation with Day. June is attending the academy that trains the highly intelligent on how to become officers and other skilled Republic Army minions. June is the smartest, fastest, and youngest Cadet in training,Unbeknownst to anyone, June becomes a special agent, after her brother is killed, and starts tracking Day, going undercover, in the outer cities of the Republic.
The two end up finding each other, and find out some secrets about the plague that has been migrating around the outer cities of the Republic.
These two, although from different sides of the war front, join forces against the Republic. June has many inner struggles to fight against, and must reevaluate everything she has been taught, and the life she lives. By learning to trust in Day, June becomes a force to be reckoned with. Day must also reevalate his beliefs, and often reveals the truth about the Republic to June.
This novel has a fast pacing story, and I didn’t want to put it down once I had started. Not only does this novel discuss the bad sides of war, but it also ties in one aspect of plague. With the government having complete control over the Center for Disease Control, this could be a possibility, paranoid albeit, but a real possibility. I suggest anyone who is interested in dystopias and government corruption should read this book.
Starters Series –
The last series I will discuss is by Lissa Price. The first book in the series, Starters, is published by Random House Children’s Books, and was released on March 13, 2012. The second and last book in the series, Enders, will be released later this year.
This novel begins with the introduction of Enders and Starters through Callie Woodland’s point of view. Society, in America, has been wiped out by a plague that had a vaccination, but only the privileged, elderly and children received. This has caused a significant amount of parentless children, who if not claimed by a relative, end up in the custody of the government. Callie and Tyler, her brother, have been squatting with a neighbor of theirs, Michael.
The first chapter introduces an agency called Prime Destinations. This agency secretly links elderly people with the unclaimed teenagers brains and bodies. The Enders can rent the Starters bodies for a high dollar amount for a month at a time. This is possible because both participants have a surgery that implants a device in their brains. The Ender’s body remains at Prime Destinations while they are able to take the Starter’s bodies out and continue experiencing life. The reason this company has come to be is because the life expectancy has extended, which has left many physically unable Enders who have the active minds and wants of the Starters.
With technology advancing, as fast as it is, this is a possibility for the future of Americans. To be able to walk around in someone else’s body, only linked by a transmitter in their brain, is rather scary. The fact that the plague is no longer around is another consideration of how the government may have used it to clear out the over population of the nation. This could be seen as a survival of the fittest type evolution, where only the strong survive the plague, even though vaccinations were distributed through the creator of the plague. Read this novel to find out more, I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns because believe me, they are totally worth reading on your own.
I chose this current events topic because I am very interested in the Young Adult genre, as well as the latest trends in all of literature. Dystopian and Post- Apocalyptic themes have become the most recent rage on TV, in the movies, and even in music.