I was browsing my Facebook timeline this morning and I stumbled upon an article shared by Chuck Palahniuk‘s page: Hurts So Good: Why We Love YA Dystopias by Lit Reactor. It basically said everything that I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while now. And she wrote it better! 😉 After finishing The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, I finally acknowledged the pattern appearing in a lot of YA dystopian fiction that I’ve been reading. And I realized that that particular YA subgenre didn’t bother me as much as the vampire and paranormal types. I found that I rolled my eyes less and looked forward to the next books more when I’m reading YA dystopian. But like with everything, I had to take a break or else I’d have too much of a good thing.
A common thread with YA dystopian, at least with what I’ve been reading, is having female protagonists. Katniss, Tris, Paige… all 16-year-old girls that somehow end up being a figurehead of a wide-spread revolution. What were you going when you were 16? I was a wide-eyed slightly eager, slightly jaded college Freshman while Katniss is literally fighting for her life. I took a Buzzfeed (or was it Zimbio) quiz about how I’ll do in the Hunger Games and it says I’ll be the first one to die. Pffffft. You win the games and get a Peeta. You’re it, K. Everdeen, you’re so it.
But I digress. The article pointed out three points: We love to see young things suffer; We need hope; and We want to be young again. It makes it all the more heartbreaking to see the young ones suffer. The older people too, don’t get me wrong. I cried for Mags when she sacrificed herself not once, but twice in Catching Fire. And for some reason, I enjoy watching heroines triumph. Guys are guys… they’re strong and they’d always win. They won’t back down from any fight. But girls… we run the world… sorry, lol. Tris is one unlikely hero. Coming from a faction known as being meek, weak, and submissive, she finds it within her to embrace her divergence and push back. While I also liked The Maze Runner, the male protagonist didn’t leave any doubt in my mind that he’s going to succeed. Chuck it up to gender stereotyping, go ahead. But compare that to the complete distress from Katniss when she was in the games or when she was told that Peeta was captured. Yep, emotional.
Hope. Well, I said it in a previous weeklies post, I wouldn’t want to live in any of the dystopian worlds. Today’s world is hard enough. For some reason, these girls come from being struggling nobodies to Mockingjays. Paige Mahoney was a thief and syndicate member before being captured and chosen by the head (and hottest) guy of Sheol I. She then became the hope of a whole race. To me, the Chicago Tris is living in is not much different than the world today, if not, worse. To be separated into factions based on “what you are”… uh, that sounds awfully familiar. And it’s not what you are OUTSIDE anymore; it’s the INSIDE that matteredm, and still they were being segregated. This is all for another post… probably after I watch Divergent. Tris was able to figuratively break out of that glass wall and fight for actual equality.
You’d think that Katniss has the world on her shoulders because she has to take care of her mom and Prim. You know, something like that is happening in reality right now. Again, this is a reflection of reality. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia. Dystopia is undesirable. But some parts of the world today can be considered dystopia already.
For the third point that the author made, I think, branches for our desire for adventure. We read so we can live another person’s life. YA is not just for young adults anymore. I know of more “adult” people reading YA than individuals in the actual YA age bracket. Sure they’re living in less than ideal environments but they have adventures (and Peeta, lol). Take away the awful “killing people and starving” aspect and just consider the stuff they do vs what you did when you were 16. And even in that kind of world, they remained naive and innocent. They grow up fast due to their circumstances but they never lost that purity of heart.
To me, another reason why female protagonists resonate so well is because of the audience. A lot of girls and women read YA and I’m pretty sure that you can see yourself in one or two of these girls. I see myself as Katniss, not because I’m brave and shit… I just want a Peeta, basically. And oh, I can do her hair. *shrugs*
Escapism is one of the most popular reasons why people love reading. In reading these YA dystopian novels with strong female leads, we can be heroes… at least until the book ends.