So one of the big trends in YA books recently has been Dsytopian societies. Futuristic worlds that instead of being a paradise are seriously sick and disturbed in their belief systems. Honestly I have only read a few, but as with Utopian stories, the basic concept will be the same: there is something vastly wrong with society that must be fixed, which is usually a result of the current civilizations history. Essentially we right now, are in these books blamed for destroying our own futures. Our wars, our disregard for nature, whatever, seem to be the end of civilization as we know it and spawn a time that is considered "better" in regard to whatever the author thinks we are doing wrong and of course are worse because of the inherent humanity issues that we can't seem to escape.
One of the most well known series of these books is The Hunger Games. Now let's be clear, I love these books. I find them entertaining, engaging and fun as well as being thought provoking. They question our standards of violence and wonder just how low we might be capable of stooping to gain power. In part these books are hard to read. It is hard to accept the horrific things that some of the characters endure and I naturally question how realistic some of it is, even in a futuristic setting. One thing I really like is that these books are very real. There is a touch of teenage romance, but it really works into the character of the main heroine and how her experiences change her. It's a lot about coming to know herself and then having to deal with the consequences of her choices. Also, there is lots of moral, ethical debate stuff. So, all in all, good, not for young children, but good thought provoking books.
I just finished another series that started out well, but let me with a sour taste in my mouth. Uglies, Pretties, and Specials. Throughout the whole series there isn't much character development in that the main heroine spends each book being manipulated by those around her. This dysfunctional world is one in which everyone has government mandated plastic surgery when they turn sixteen, so they can then party, drink and goof off for the next section of their lives. While the books don't specify how long I get the feeling it is for the 20s and 30s. So the ages during which our current society expects people to goof off and do dumb things before "settling down" by age 40 or so. Clearly is does not extend to the whole population, but there certainly is a portion of it that lives this way. The heroine spends a lot of the three books just going along with whatever everyone is telling her to do. Most of the choices that she makes on her own are very self centered, even though she thinks she is doing something for someone else.
Once the girl manages to decide against becoming "pretty" she ends up that way anyhow in an attempt to help scientific research. Now that she is pretty and basically a "blonde" she has to break out of it. So the jump start to becoming aware, (which the author annoyingly calls "bubbly") is kissing. It is made clear through the second book that the key to becoming "alive" is to get an adrenaline rush. When that ends up not being enough for some they begin cutting themselves. This is where it all started to unravel for me. Very dark and disturbing, and while viewed as such in the second book, it becomes accepted by the "heroine" in the third book in order to be "icy". If nothing else were there to deter me, the authors persistent use of stupid words like these and adding -la and -wa to the end of peoples names when characters are talking to each other is sooo annoying! That would be enough to recommend that no one else read these.
Aside from the author's obvious opinions about beauty, plastic surgery and teenage morons, there are bigger issues. One the biggest deals that weaves itself through all the books is how we, affectionately termed "rusties" destroyed everything, most especially nature. We cut down trees! We ate animals! How could we do such a dastardly thing! Seriously? I'm sorry I never have been and never will be an environmentalist. I recycle. I turn off lights when they are not needed. I turn off water during teeth brushing. I clean up litter. I take care of the little bit of planet I live on, however I do not freak out about cutting down a tree, (especially if it could fall on my house!) nor do I ever spare a thought for my "carbon foot print." The authors agenda comes through loud and clear to me, but I am not sure it will be obvious to everyone.
My concern here is that young people who are impressionable will accept this as truth. They will read this and say to themselves, hmm, preserving nature and saving animals is more important than human life. Humans are bad. "Humanity is a cancer" (that one is actually in the book). The main character agrees with this statement and since that is who people are meant to identify with, I think that's a problem. Of course she is under the influence of messed up brain surgery at the time, but she never gets that fixed, she "thinks" her way out of it. Everyone else needs an injected cure to get better, but she can think her way out. Really? She is manipulated over and over, tricked by people she trusted and she is supposed to have some monumental brain powers to control her own mind? I don't buy it. Anyway, she goes through all of these surgeries, tries to help a rebellion against the government that is controlling everyone, accidentally starts a war between two large cities, then when she has fixed that, she goes off to live in the "wild" and threatens that if the people push out into the wild to far she will be there in her scariness to stop them again. So she ends up as the self proclaimed police of the world. The book ends with her little speech about how she'll be there if civilization every goes too far. It is such a jaded and obvious agenda! Nature should be cared for, but used, that is why it is there. It should not be wasted, but preserving animals and nature does not come before human lives.
So this is the big concern that is brought about with this type of book. What are the young and impressionable youth learning from dystopian stories? Is war bad? Yes. But is it sometimes necessary? Yes. Are there problems with our current society? Yes. Are we the root of all evil with our little societal issues? Um, No. I am scared that young people will be swayed to believe that. They will grow up with a view of revulsion towards humanity as a whole. They will be a part of a growing trend who has animal babies instead of human ones. I'm sorry but saying I have a new baby at home, should only mean a human one. There are too many people who seem to view people as a bad thing. To me that is just as disturbing as possible future dystopian societies. The difference is that the futures people come up with aren't real. The slanted view of humanity is. Maybe we should fix today's problems before we concoct tomorrows.