Perhaps the most defining feature of YA dystopias, and other young adult stories set in cruel and unjust societies, is revolution. Unlike non-YA dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale, these are not mere personal stories of grief and suffering, but stories about changing the world.
It’s easy to see why these books have such appeal to teenagers. Teens are, after all, stereotyped as constantly rebelling against authority figures like parents and teachers, and to an extent this stereotype is justified and even developmentally important; teenagers push the boundaries when the consequences are mild and by so doing learn to control themselves and make decisions.
More significantly, teenagers have virtually no political power. Too young to vote, their voices are unheard by politicians, and books like The Hunger Games give a vicarious outlet where teenagers effect real change in the social and political spheres.
This also goes some way towards explaining why these books are so popular with millennials, too. Though we vote, we still often feel powerless in a society whose politicians and largest voting population are a generation older, many of whom look down their noses at ‘the youth of today’ and assume we’re self-entitled because the job market is worse than it was in their day. We, too, find some vicarious satisfaction through reading stories of other young people who hit back at the reigning regime.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. While we may choose stories that feature young people taking control of their political situation because of our own impotence, those stories we choose are also inherently hopeful. They’re stories where change is possible, where unjust societies are made more fair. Moreover, there’s a sense of social responsibility; readers of these stories are not satisfied with a personal victory for the protagonist, but want to see this social change happen. It reflects a growing concern with social justice and fairness. While these books tend to be told from a close POV, they are not focussed solely on the individual, but on the collective experience.
As we read, so we think. Teenagers and millennials care about combating the kyriarchy that underpins Western society, and this is reflected in books about fighting unjust societies. This is by no means unique to our generation – one only need to look at the suffragettes and the American civil rights movement to see otherwise – but our reading choices show that a sense of fairness and desire for equality is a characteristic of our age group.
So don’t worry if the teenagers in your life are reading stories of rebellious teens fighting social norms. It might just mean they care.