The Hunger Games: Dystopia in YA Lit

First up, some news for those who asked. Back when I started this dystopian thread, a lot of people asked about The Hunger Games. This was understandable, given that its a modern take on dystopian sci-fi, and currently very popular since it’s being adapted into a movie. In fact, I got so many questions about it that I had to add an addendum to one of my posts, warning readers that it wouldn’t come up, so not to ask. However, somewhere along the line I also promised that I would tackle and review it at some point.

Well guess what? I just bought a copy! Yep, just as soon as I’m done my most recent reviews and posting chapters of my own upcoming novel (Data Miners), I will get around to reading this modern take on the classic dystopian novel. And, as a preamble, I thought I might include an article that I recently read in MacLeans. There, the author sought to shed some light on the issue of YA dystopian fiction, with particular attention being given to The Hunger Games. It raised some very interesting points before getting into the story, and so I thought I’d share them here.

Excerpt from ‘The Hunger Games’: your kids are angrier than you think by Brian Bethune:

“Imagine a life where possibilities are opening at a speed that veers unpredictably between exhilarating and terrifying. The familiar, precisely because it’s familiar and safe, still tugs at you, but even so, you want out because your old life constricts as much as it comforts. Besides, your social milieu, which often feels like an endless struggle to achieve, or resist being slotted into some arbitrary niche—pretty, ugly, smart, dumb, athlete, klutz—is changing fast. You feel driven—by inner need and outside pressure—to make choices. Meanwhile, the manipulative, often harsh, powers that be, who created the larger world they’re busy shoving you into, have clearly not done a bang-up job of it, either in their personal lives or as part of society. And they want you to get out there and fix their mistakes—just at a moment when worry over the imminent demise of their entire socio-economic structure is never far from the surface. It can be cruel and scary out there. Dystopian, even.

Chances are, anyone not imagining this life, but actually living it, is a teenager. And living it in an era of economic uncertainty, conspiracy theories and fear of environmental collapse. Western civilization used to produce literary utopias, but in the past century of world wars, financial panics, murderous totalitarian regimes and nuclear threat, dystopias have outnumbered sunny projections by several orders of magnitude. Pessimistic depictions of the future are now everywhere in popular culture. Teens and teen books are not immune to larger trends in society.”

Wow. Quite the preamble. What I liked best about it was the way it summed up the origins of dystopia. In my own posts on the subject, I noted that dystopian literature was recent compared to utopian. But I failed to note that the truest examples of the genre only really emerged around the turn of the century. And the particulars of what inspired it seemed to have everything to do with the trends of industrialization, rationalization, class conflict and the increasing pace of change. These things have only become more pronounced as time has gone on, and with the addition of such issues as environmental destruction, gender equality, and racial bigotry.

Or, as the case appears to be with The Hunger Games, issues of age. Here we have a story where the young fight for the entertainment of the old. Or at least, that’s one angle to the story. The issue of authoritarianism, reality TV, violence as entertainment and environmental catastrophe breading totalitarianism – these all appear to be present throughout, either as part of the background or as running themes.

I look forward to reading it. Review to follow, just give me some time! And here is the link to the full article (spoiler alert!):
http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/04/02/dystopia-now/

8 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: Dystopia in YA Lit

  1. I wished you’d included the link to the Maclean’s article, but I did find it.

    I’m glad you’re checking out The Hunger Games! YA dystopian books are all the rage with adults and teens right now (I’m a YA librarian, and parents are just as eager to read the series as their kids). While there are lots of titles out there, THG is the best one I’ve read.

    The excerpt you quote gets to the heart of why teens are so drawn to these stories. Even the more romance-driven of these modern dystopias, like Delirium by Lauren Oliver, prompt readers to ask questions about society and their role in it, like the great dystopians I read as a kid such as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984.

  2. I work in a movie theatre and so The Hunger Games was for about two weeks the bane of all movie theatre employees’ existences as well as their reason for being (I was lucky/unlucky enough to be on vacation and thus missed the worst of it). But the flick was actually pretty enjoyable and the books are too (though by no means good). I hope you get a little enjoyment out of them; they’re easy enough where you can have something to read that won’t take time out of what I’m sure is your very busy schedule right now with your book being released.

  3. Ms. Collins has a point–we are being thrust into a world with stringent definitions and within those definitions we’re supposed to make up for the mistakes of the older generation.

    It sucks.

  4. The YA genre has traditionally been a very rich one as far as dystopian fiction and are often looked to by Hollywood for inspiration (The City of Ember comes to mind as another example of this). Hope you enjoy the read, whenever you find time to take a crack at it!

  5. First off, thanks so much for sharing the link to the MacLeans’s article. I actually giggled at the the article’s title a bit because, yes, YA are actually a lot angier and more aware of issues going on around them than some adults give them credit for. They might be a bit biased or inexperience, but they can definitely be very, very passionate. I can totally see why Collins would draw a large group of follower for her books with this kind of settings.

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