- Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers ed. by Balaka Basu, Katherine R. Broad, Carrie Hintz
Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults, edited by Balaka Basu, Katherine R. Broad, and Carrie Hintz, is a robust and comprehensive anthology. While the young adult (YA) dystopia is a relatively recent phenomenon, many of the texts covered in this anthology already have been subject to critical discussions centering on similar questions of self, politics, and gender. It is a testament, then, to the rigorous construction of the collection that each chapter offers incisive, fresh insight into this burgeoning field of academic study.
In their introduction, the editors set out a comprehensive framework for the essays to follow: defining YA dystopian literature, examining the genre traditions it draws upon, and reviewing the genre’s central themes. Throughout, the editors draw attention to three main discussions that unite the anthology: the dynamic between didacticism and escapism, political radicalism and conservatism, and hope and despair. Acknowledging the many contradictions within the genre of YA dystopia itself, the editors make it clear that they do not seek to achieve consensus or to draw any overarching conclusions. Rather, the “aim” of the collection “is to enable a prismatic understanding of the genre as a political, cultural, and aesthetic phenomenon” (9), opening new forums for academic dialogue and pointing toward possible new readings within this recent spate of texts.
The collection is divided into four thematic sections. The first, “Freedom and Constraint: Adolescent Liberty and Self-Determination,” examines the interplay between maturation and dystopia. This section includes some of the strongest essays in the collection; particularly noteworthy is Basu’s “What Faction Are You In? The Pleasure of Being Sorted in Veronica Roth’s Divergent.” Aligning Roth’s novel with the “anti-utopia,” Basu notes Divergent’s ultimate push toward social complacency, an idea that is reinforced in marketing campaigns for the Divergent film, which encourage fans to “sort” themselves into the factions so central to dystopia within Roth’s world. Another striking contribution, Carissa Turner Smith’s “Embodying the Postmetropolis in Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron and Sapphique,” employs Edward Soja’s notion of the postmetropolis in a reading of urban dystopias. Uniting discussions of coming-of-age, embodiment, and spatial theory, Smith suggests an elucidating link between “social anxieties” caused by the “unstable geographies” of the postmetropolis and the cultural anxieties that surround the adolescent body (62).
The second section, “Society and Environment: Building a Better World,” focuses on ecological dystopias and post-apocalyptic narratives. Its essays examine the interplay between nature and technology in a wide range of YA dystopian fiction, and effectively question the ways adolescents are often [End Page 234] linked with destructive technologies and dystopian decline. Elaine Ostry’s “The Role of Young Adult Culture in Environmental Degradation” draws together the many strands of this section, exploring whether ambivalent endings might push young readers toward environmental activism. Acknowledging the tension between “somewhat forced and infantilizing” happy endings and the otherwise bleak narratives that precede them, Ostry posits that “despair and inconclusiveness may encourage adolescents to face inconvenient truths,” particularly in a world that is “becoming increasingly urban,” where adolescents no longer “have the luxury of thinking of nature as a utopian escape” (111).
The essays grouped under “Radical or Conservative? Polemics of the Future,” explore the kinds of social critique proffered by recent YA dystopias. Broad’s “Utopia as Romance in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games Trilogy” stands out as a thought-provoking reading of gender and feminism in Collins’s series. Positioning Katniss’s romantic interest, Peeta, as a figure of utopian change, Broad argues that the end of The Hunger Games taps into the more conservative impulses of the romance genre, undercutting protagonist Katniss Everdeen as feminist icon. Kristi McDuffie’s “Technology and Models of Literacy in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction” offers an innovative take on the dynamic between technology, social decline, and adolescence, pointing toward the impulse to associate traditional reading and writing with nostalgia and positive change. McDuffie ultimately argues...