I spent all my brain candy reading in the last few weeks on far too many of the recent fad of dystopian YA novels. Dystopia in YA is hardly new. The Giver is nearly twenty years old, for example. Scott Westerfeld’s imaginative Uglies series has been around for several years. However, the wild success of The Hunger Games has clearly made publishers green light everything that takes place in some sort of nonsensical, overly controlling fascist society.
I’m not sure what’s so appealing about dystopia right now. Perhaps something about how pessimistic we all are at the moment, what with the state of affairs in the world economically? Regardless, bleak futures are all the rage.
I think anyone who reads this blog’s book reviews already knows I didn’t think Ally Condie’s Matched series about a society that catalogs and controls your every move was very good. The second book, while it had some moments, just didn’t make any sense. Add to that one the book Wither by Lauren deStephano, which has a sequel out later this month. Wither is about a future where everyone, except for the older “first generation,” dies young from a mysterious virus. The (unfortunately named) Rhine is kidnapped to become a child bride to a privileged young man whose father is extremely creepy. The whole thing just didn’t hold together for me at all. Every continent except North America is completely destroyed? Beautiful young women are alternately really valuable and really expendable. And, most unbelievable given the course the plot takes, Rhine’s marriage remains completely chaste, without any real explanation as to why. The only reason I can think of is that it’s a YA novel, but the novel shows other sexual situations (in fact, it may be the most risque of all of these in that sense), meaning that any parent or reader objecting to that is still going to object to this book. Finally, I also gave the book Birthmarked a try. In this book, midwives must bring children to a secret enclave for mysterious purposes. I couldn’t even finish it, it moved so slowly.
There were two more I thought were so-so. One was Delirium by Lauren Oliver. The sequel comes out later this month. In Delirium, young people are basically lobotomized by the government to remove their ability to experience love, which is seen as a terrible disease. The future world suffered the same problems as many of the books I didn’t like in that many of the elements didn’t make any sense. The basic purpose of the cure for love isn’t ever really revealed and some of the things that still exist in this future world (like brand names we have now!) didn’t seem to make sense. Like Matched, the world has a nonsensical mix of old-fashioned technology and futuristic technology we’re not even close to developing. However, the opening chapter was so good that it drew me in fully. The writing and the characters were compelling enough to overcome my doubts.
I also kind of enjoyed both of Beth Revis’s Across the Universe books. In this series, earth has sent a ship full of frozen people, along with a group of people to watch over them and maintain the ship, to a mysterious planet they hope to colonize. Taking the action off earth and putting it on a closed ship helped eliminate some of the world-building problems the other books I read had. The ship, which is practically a character itself, gives everything a closed, clear feel and works as a literary device. The action of both the first book and the sequel unfold like a mystery novel, revealing clues slowly. There are still a lot of unanswered questions that the final book will presumably answer. While I didn’t think the writing was outstanding, the storytelling and the mystery kept me reading.
There was one book I liked wholeheartedly: Divergent by Veronica Roth. The cover just screams “read me after The Hunger Games” but I actually think it is the book I’ve read that is most like The Hunger Games without feeling like a rip off. Divergent is about a future society where every person must chose a faction based on their personality. Individuals are tested to see what faction would fit them best. While not every aspect of the dystopian future world made sense, Veronica Roth filled the book with details that made it feel believable to me as a reader, much the way The Hunger Games did. More importantly, the action takes over very quickly as main character Tris trains to join a new faction, where she must learn how to be a complete daredevil and seasoned fighter. There was a mystery and a plot about how the factions are beginning to turn against each other. Oh, and an obligatory romance, of course. However, the main draw in the book was Tris’s strong character and that quick action. A sequel comes out in a few months, so there’s something to look forward to.