Dystopian novels have been the new hoard of books pulverizing our field of vision for the last couple of years. Like an avalanche, after reading or even mentioning just one, there’s more to come. With Dystopian novel sales booming with no end in sight, the Dystopian subgenre appears more conducive under the umbrella of Young Adult Fiction than in Adult Fiction. In reading books belonging to both subgenres, I’ve picked up on the nuances between what YA Dystopia and Adult Dystopia contain, which is rendered in their interpretations.
Although it’s clear that both subgenres analyze an ostensible utopian world and use it as a backboard to our own society, YA offers a heavy, pointed, if not, absolute, complaisant critique, while its counterpart, Adult Dystopia, holds to having an open discussion fostering polemics. Adult Dystopia challenges the concept of universal freedom by prompting us with scenarios that make it hard for us to easily disagree with the politics of the idealized world. Of course, that’s the point. We’re supposed to be just as susceptible and uncertain as the characters are about this world and learn what makes the world ‘not a good place’, except it seems that’s not what we really want to read.
YA Dystopian novels are constructed by a concept of innate desire for freedom. The seeds of liberation are sprung at the beginning of the novel by a single character usually by the story’s protagonist. The YA genre itself consists of stories focused entirely around the protagonist that make it impossible for anything else to happen without the protagonist intervening. Following one of YA’s popular tropes, these stories rely on an individual being special who will be placed on a pedestal at one point seen with characters such as Jonas from The Giver or Katniss in the Hunger Games, the first possessing the rare ability to store humankind’s memories and the other with impressive, esoteric survival skills. What these protagonists share is almost clairvoyance; they can view the distorted world almost immediately. There’s a compulsion to rectify the world and change things to the status quo, which they abstractly but unconsciously know. The story is contingent on the guidance from the protagonist that, without him or her, the story decomposes. It’s also what creates a story where the individual’s actions shape the world whereas Adult Dystopia is more so about the influence of the world on its people.
Adult Dystopia is a quandary; it wrestles with the dark undertones and myopia. Unlike YA Dystopia, Adult Dystopian characters usually have no precedent of freedom. The world and/or government has already conditioned the people and subsequently dehumanized them into thinking of no other alternative. Not that YA Dystopia lacks mature or dark content, with the premise of some of them nightmarish, but there’s usually a subtle hint of hope, even if it’s shoehorned into the bleakest of pieces. Adult Dystopia makes no such concessions, ergo opening a typhoon of unfavorable imaginings that’s not wide-spread entertainment. Turns out, people want happy endings! Go figure.
And these happy endings found in YA Dystopia are usually extended into multiple books contrary to Adult Dystopia novels that are limited (or fully realized) in stand-alone books. YA Dystopia has the advantage of expansion, quintessentially creating new subplots in the overarching story. Adult Dystopia rarely expounds on its stories; however, that’s starting to change.
Although both genres offer a reoccurring recalcitrant theme, it’s undeniable that YA Dystopia is more popular amongst its targeted audience. Built on a semi-fictious world and characters, YA Dystopia ends up actually being more relatable to its young adult audience versus Adult Dystopia. The themes in dystopia resonant with young adults, who feel locked away in schools, their lives dictated by their teachers and parents. It’s no surprise young adults can relate. Adult Dystopia touches on these issues too, but they’re not as palpable to adults who, for the most part, have a choice and ultimately are responsible for their decisions (yay for adulting…) And adults reading YA Dystopia isn’t new. As I noted previously, YA Dystopia is a pithy and usually promises some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, whether it’s a moral lesson or a small patch of happiness amiss the rubble. Compared with Adult Dystopia, which can be equally as entertaining, it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending and may just decide to leave you alone at the bottom of a well of despair.
But this isn’t to say that one is superior over the other. Each subgenre is simply but differently conveying stories set in worlds and societies seemingly perfect that are not. The overwhelming demand for Dystopia is not curtailed to only one domain. Each subgenre just meets different needs. And if Dystopia isn’t meeting your needs or you’re exhausted with the barrage of enslavement-scientific-experiment-gone-wrong- genetically-modified reductive plots, fear not, this will pass. Or if you’re crazy about Dystopia and cannot get enough of it, ride the oversaturated market as long as you can, but also, fear not, Dystopian novels won’t disappear entirely.