Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D for dystopian

I was on the phone with my mom the other day and we were talking about her e-reader. She finished her latest Danielle Steel novel and commented how she needed to get some new books. Sensing an opportunity, I tried to tell her about the books I've been reading.

See, I've been kicking around a story idea for this year's NaNoWriMo. I'm still working out the details in my head, but I think it will be a first person YA dystopian novel. And in order to better understand the genre, I've been reading some recommended dystopian books.

But can someone help me explain to a 65 year old woman what dystopian means? I tried to sum it up as books that deal with the loss of individual freedoms, or take place in a repressive "utopian" society, or involve some futuristic genetic or medical related issue, but I'm not sure if that's necessarily right.

Do any dystopian books end happily? Have you found any that give you a sense of hope, or is the main purpose to make the reader grateful for our current society, warts and all? I have a hard enough time reading these books, I'm not sure about how my psyche will handle writing one.

I've read The Giver by Lois Lowry, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, and The Diary of Pelly D by LJ Adlington. And though I prefer stand alone books to multi book stories, I also read The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

How do you define the dystopian genre? And if you have any recommendations on YA dystopian stand alone novels, please let me know.

P.S.--Sommer, no worries. I'm working my way up to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.


  1. Hah! The Road is one of the most disturbingly depressing books I've ever read. Very well written though. I mean, it does the job it sets out to do.

    I believe the main theme of dystopian novels isn't about being depressing and oppressive and horrible. It is about asking the big "What if" questions that follow our current world down a path of self-destruction, exploring the reasons why and how we could get ourselves in that position and then discovering the strength within ourselves and within our society to find a new way.

    It doesn't have to be society changing, exactly, but it is about finding a spark of hope that moves beyond the main character and infects everyone they come in contact with. While the setting and story of a dystopian are crushing and depressing, the flicker of hope at its heart is the true essence of a dystopian story.

    Sadly, contrary to popular believe in a lot of the more recent YA dystopians, it has almost nothing to do with romance.

    I've recently finished several very good dystopians, but unfortunately they are all part of a series, although all three stand perfectly well on their own. Wither by Lauren Destefano doesn't read like a dystopian, which is why I loved it, XVI by Julia Karr was just excellent and also not typical for dystopians, and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi which I could have swore was a stand alone until more than a week after I read it. It is a more traditionally written dystopian, but really good.

  2. It's been a while since I read it, but I believe Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury has, not exactly happy, but satisfying ending. Animal Farm by George Orwell doesn't end happily, but I think the last line is really powerful!
    I think I'd have the same trouble trying to explain dystopia to my mom. She and her sisters are into their romances (paranormal and non), I'd like to get them into something else, but haven't figured out how yet.

  3. Have you tried Logan's Run? (the novel not the film)

  4. Ah, I see Sommer beat me here. I saw the blog title and made the mental note to send her over. No one can talk dystopian like Sommer can, so I won't even try to improve on that greatness.

    And thank you, Tricia, for that image of trying to explain dystopian to my mother. It made me giggle out loud, and I needed that. :)

  5. I often think of dystopia like you do. An oppressive authoritarian regime. Along with the usual suspects, I often think of Zamaytin's We and Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    As for YA dystopia: Feed by MT Anderson, The Shadow Children by Margaret Haddix

  6. I LOVED the hunger games, they felt like one book the way I torre threw them. I also enjoyed
    The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

    The Declaration by Gemma Malley and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow are both on my to read when I finish school later this month, they are both getting a lot of buzz right now


  7. My favorite dystopian novel is 'Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood, but I'm not sure it's classified as YA (read: it's not).

    There are a few YA dystopian novels that I've heard good things about, but haven't read myself:

    Little Brother
    The City of Ember
    House of Stairs
    The Guardians (maybe?)
    The Declaration
    Bar Code Tattoo (maybe?)
    Noughts and Crosses

    And...here's a link to some more:


  8. Thank you for all of the recommendations! I am now armed with two index cards filled with book titles to take with me to the library!


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