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The Year of My Dystopia

Are middle schoolers ready to handle the topics presented in the dystopian classics?

I spent seventh grade in a dystopian haze, haunted by thoughts of totalitarian regimes, privations, curtailed personal freedoms, ubiquitous surveillance technology, and nuclear war.  Oh, and those awful utilitarian jumpsuits everyone had to wear.

And why, you ask? Well, it was like this…

Back in the 70s, young adult fiction as we know it did not exist. I read series like Trixie Belden and Sweet Valley High, which meant I was one step off from reading books about bunnies and rainbows.

But that year in English class, we were assigned Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, On the Beach, Fail-Safe, Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon, the bulk of the classics in the dystopian genre, with a science-fiction chaser and a couple Cold War propaganda novels and their film versions thrown in for good measure.  (Thank God they didn’t assign Clockwork Orange until high school.)

I was twelve, and I was terrified by what I read. I’d never seen a scary movie in my life. I had no frame of reference for the suffering in those books, didn’t connect with the characters, and found it hard to imagine societies and worlds so different from my own. I didn’t see these books as social commentary, as warnings, or as calls to arms. They were English assignments, and dreaded ones at that.

Years later, I choose to write in the young adult dystopian genre. Because now I get it, and I can tell an exciting story to share what I think. Frankly, writing YA dystopian fiction…rocks.

I’ve been re-reading the classics with great interest, and I’ll be taking a look at old v. new dystopian fiction in future posts.

Some of my new favorites:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Matched by Ally Condie

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Gone by Michael Grant

A version of this blog post appeared in 1984 in the 21st Century: An Anthology of Essays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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