Saying that dystopian novels make up a popular branch of young adult literature is akin to saying the sky is blue or water is wet. It is obvious. Dystopians are everywhere and people are devouring them left and right. If we stop to think about it, their appeal makes sense. They are suspenseful, exciting, and engrossing. However, it is important to note that they have more to offer than just pure entertainment.
Dystopian novels both affirm the role of the individual and highlight the importance of looking out for the larger community. Through the hero or heroine, they remind us that the individual matters and can make a difference. Though dystopians allow us to recognize and applaud an individual, they also put things in a wider perspective. They give us a world where the main characters must juggle not only their own concerns, but also the interests of their entire society. They help us see the individual as an important part of the whole.
Perhaps the most important thing that good dystopian novels do is make us think. They invite us to evaluate our opinions and beliefs. They make us ask questions and acknowledge the fact that life usually refrains from giving us easy answers. They prod us to ask important questions like, “Are there causes worth fighting and dying for?” and “As a society, where are we headed?” They also ask us step out of the confines of our own perspectives and contemplate important ideas and beliefs—for example, the role of the individual within society, the responsibility of government, and the ethics of war.
The fascination with dystopian novels comes as no surprise. They are engaging, and as readers we love to feel that we are part of a broader conversation. Books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Legend by Marie Lu remind us that moving forward in time is not synonymous with making progress. They invite us to think and engage in active conversations with ourselves and with others. All in all, I say that at the very least, dystopians provide us with food for thought and I think we can all agree that a starving mind is a horrible thing indeed.
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