Dystopian Teen Lit as Cultural Hero and Heroine

22 March 2012


Part One: Abandoned House

Rusted Gutters of Abandoned House, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Roof of Abandoned House, March 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Part Two: Abstracts of Fire

Abstract of Fire # One, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Two, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Three, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Four, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Five, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Six, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Seven, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Abstract of Fire # Eight, 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Photographs in Part One were taken on a half-day photo shoot with my grandson. We ventured along a scenic creek and into the woods, where we spent much time mesmerized by an abandoned and decaying house as well as a nearby dilapidated building the size of a spring house. These two images remind me of the dystopian theme, which often emphasizes destruction and the hope for renewal (budding trees). Part Two has eight images that are experiments with fire. I’ve purposely created non-objective photographs to suggest the qualities of fire, which has some elements and symbolism of a dystopian society. Let me know which images are your favorite in Part One and Two.


I’m an optimist (my mother called me Pollyanna) who is fringed with skepticism, but I’m always on the search for the uplift. In today’s world it’s a continual sobering task to find the golden edge in the ripple effect of global hardships. We’re surrounded by pollution of various kinds: environmental, light, noise, economic, political, and technological. For me these are significant indicators of our society gone south. Without question it’s emotional pollution that causes just as much inner turmoil. So it’s not surprising that dystopian literature has infiltrated teen’s lives and at record pace. Still, the art of the word has been a savior that aids our escape and perspective in hard times.

Since I’m that person with the glass filled-to-the-brim-type thinker, I’d go for Thomas More’s Utopian slant rather than the dystopian worldview. While dystopia vs. utopia are not true opposites, the former registers a point so much better through its futuristic drama. These fictional worlds are severely torn asunder in so many areas of life–a life that seems constantly threatened.

As I perused the notable books for last year, it was not a surprise to find George R.R. Martin’s fantasy/science fiction book, A Dance with Dragons, among the selections. My introduction to Martin’s books came from my teenage grandson whose school librarian presented this author to him The selection prompted me to distill his age groups’ reading lists.

Among the memories that his generation and my granddaughter’s (two years younger) will store in their mind’s cache are the sweeping array of dystopian and post-apocalyptic lit circulating through their adolescence. Regardless of gender there is a story to appeal to all.

On some level writers have been creating dystopian worlds since they put pen to paper. I certainly was familiar with many writers (such as William Golding, H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, Ayn Rand, Kurt Vonnegut) known for their singular or additional dark novels. But the surprise was to find other well-known authors (e.g., Jack London, E. M. Foster, C.S. Lewis, Francine Prose, Sinclair Lewis) who have succeeded at the genre.

Characteristics of dystopian fiction were evident in Victorian literature, but the real emergence came the 1960s and 70s. Social problems began to be included in the storyline, and literature for teenagers began its true alterations. In the last few decades this fiction has become more and more a part of young adult literature. It created a book-in-hand, I-cannot-put-it-down situation. What could be better for our youth? Standing in line to get the next in an author’s series. And it’s terrific for the publishing industry (and many thanks to the Harry Potter series–dark in its own right).

Some of the elements that stir the storyline are: theatrics, heroes and heroines, arcs in the stories, juxtaposition of utopia to dystopia, time travel, light vs. dark, nature vs. human nature, good vs. evil, yin and yang, culture vs. politics, government vs. humanity. The authoritarian pulse of a government rearranges itself to control its citizens. Writers imagine monochromatic landscapes that produce scary tales of teen survival; they combine fantasy, science fiction, time travel, environmental issues, and technology as tools to entertain the reader.

Classics such as Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders continue their hold on young adult readers. Newer bestsellers such as Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” trilogy and “Leviathan”series or M.T. Anderson’s Feed are among dystopian books now included in middle school and high school reading lists.

Whether it’s the influence of marketing via cellphones, computers and tablets or an adolescent’s metamorphosis or social controls (school, home and society) or conflict in the world’s stage, these narratives are serving a purpose for teens. And authors are becoming really famous as they claim fame as a young adult novelist. Fans are kept pumped with a constant stream of new publications such as S.D Crockett’s After the Snow and Julianna Bagott’s Pure.

Teenagers are lured by scenarios that mix action, adventure and relationships. These stories are built on complex or even simple elements that give the characters a world turning upside down and inside out: a tale where the greater good turns into an even greater negative.

Maybe our kids are fortunate that literary artists are producing sinister lit. It’s certainly grabbing droves of twenty-first century adolescents, and giving them a platform for discussion.

Just maybe this forum with its young cultural heroes and heroines is an apt outlet for their own angst and questioning. While they do not provide the answer, dystopian teen lit does show how things might be if the proverbial “we” would spin too far off our axis.

Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or any part of my blog. Oh, and if there is a teenage fan of dystopian teen lit in your life, I’m sure that you already have tickets for this weekend’s opening of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. ****For a good list of dystopian lit for teens, go to Goodreads athttp://www.goodreads.com/list/show/14579.Wonderful_Dystopian_YA_Novels/

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14 Responses to Dystopian Teen Lit as Cultural Hero and Heroine

  1. I like Abstract of Fire #4. I hope you get this comment!

  2. niki says:

    Those abstract images look really awesome! I would love to see more 🙂 I like the second one and fourth.

  3. I like the Rusted gutters and the second flame pic.

  4. Fire #2 is my favourite.

  5. icetealover2 says:

    I think my favorite photo is Abstract # 2. I love the example of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, as it reflects how many young people feel. They want to belong and feel worthy but sometimes they are programmed to believe that just because you live in a certain area or look a certain way, you may not be good enough. The struggle that the main characters had in the book, along with the narrative by one of the guys, just says it all. Excellent work!

  6. laz says:

    Love abstract fire#2…

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