Today I have a guest post from the lovely author Liesel K. Hill!
The Intersection of YA and Dystopian
By Liesel K. Hill
Do you ever notice that most dystopians today happen to be YA novels? Not all, of course, but the vast majority. Or that many writers of YA novels are venturing into dystopia? Why do you suppose that is?
When Jordon asked me write a guest post, she suggested I focus on either YA/New Adult themes or Dystopian themes. I started thinking about the intersection between the two. Why do YA and dystopia go so well together?
YA: Young Adult fiction or literature that is marketed to the twelve to eighteen-year-old age group.
NA: New Adult fiction or literature reads much like a YA but the characters are a few years older (usually early twenties) than the characters in typical Young Adult literature.
Dystopian: Literature set against a society characterized by poverty, squalor or oppression. Most authors explore the reasons the society is that way, and dystopians are often read as political warnings.
So, why do YA and Dystopian go together so well? Dan Wells, author of I am Not a Serial Killer once said something that I think applies here. His book is about a boy that has all the signs and tendencies of a serial killer, but really isn’t one. Dan said he figured that most teenagers are pretty sociopathic anyway—just a trait of adolescence—so why not write a story where that happens in the extreme?
I think the same parallels can be drawn for dystopias. In the land of teenager-hood, every conflict seems bigger than it is. Every let down seems like the end of the world. Every triumph feels like it will last forever. In other words, a teenager’s world can feel very dystopian.
For example, if zombies are a metaphor for our society becoming too brain-washed to recognize or respect human life anymore, most adults would acknowledge that as a real problem. They would discuss it at length and resolve not to fall into this trap. But to teenagers, every conflict feels like it’s out to get them. The problem isn’t a political one to be discussed around conference tables, but an epic, immediate, pull-your-hair-out-and-scream-like-a-girl problem. Hence zombies to illustrate an intangible world view.
Not to mention, adolescence is a time of heightened passion, heightened adrenaline, and heightened emotions. No matter how much we try to deny it, these things just make for a better story. They equal more compelling conflicts and more attention from our readers. We all like to feel that rush again: the rush of adrenaline from a physical fight, the tingling sensation of a first kiss. As adults, we are above lusting after these sensations, but teenagers are discovering them for the first time, so we feel justified in experiencing them vicariously through YA eyes.
To tell a dramatic story, we want dramatic characters, and who’s more melodramatic than a teenager? Teenaged characters have built-in angst that compliments the physical dangers of dystopian worlds very nicely.
Now, I’m willing to bet most of you don’t know what New Adult is. Just new-to-the-market adult literature? Uh, no. That’s what I thought for a long time, too, but that’s not what it is. New Adult simply means the characters are a few years older.
The distinction is made because generally ‘adult’ literature has R-rated content. There are plenty of people who want a clean read, but don’t care for teenaged angst. I happen to be just such an individual. There are a few teen books I love, but overall I get fed up with teen drama VERY quickly. I think the reason I loved Katniss Everdeen so much was that she was a drama-free teenager. She took what happened in stride and moved forward. She didn’t spend time agonizing over whether Gale was at home crushing on her, or what—OMG!—Peeta’s glance could possibly have meant.
Basically many of the same themes that apply in YA also apply in New Adult. They’re fairly clean reads with a slightly older character age. Just FYI. Happy Angsting, Everyone!