Dystopian YA Display

This past Saturday I was working the reference desk at the SPL (Surrey Public Library) when a teen girl approached me asking for “books written at the end of the world”. She wasn’t familiar with the term ‘dystopian’ but her close friends had recently become obsessed with a book about a “hungry game”. She needed something immediately, as the book was for a school project, so waiting on the library request list for the Hunger Games was not an option.

Fortunately, my supervisor and recent SLAIS graduate overheard my reference interview with the teen girl and enthusiastically informed us that a dystopian book display had recently been set up in the YA department. The display included “Extras” (the sequel to “Uglies”), “The Maze Runner”, and several other contemporary dystopian fiction titles which I’m now interested in reading.

The teen girl, who had admitted to being a reluctant reader, happily left with four or five titles from the book display. It was obvious that her interest in dystopian fiction had been guided by her friends’ interests. Either way, it was very nice to see a successful book display in the SPL teen section.

Maria Tatar, in her op-ed with the NY Times, notes that “many authors of more recent books for children and teenagers have similarly crossed over to the dark side, and we applaud them for it.” On the other hand, some adults still believe that too much dystopian fiction can be harmful. These negative attitudes are often supported by prevailing assumptions about children growing into young adulthood. I’m specifically referring to the assumption that children are influenced by what they read and therefore should only be exposed to books with a positive message. As aspiring librarians, many of us support the belief that literature written on sensitive topics provides young adults (and children!) with an opportunity to cope with the issues before being exposed to them in real life. Well written dystopian fiction can be uplifting as it slowly brings the reader down into the trenches and pulls them up to a place higher than they were at the beginning of the story. In her article published in The Observer, Moria Young argues that dystopian fiction should always leaves the reader with hope.

Boredom and YA

In the first week of this course we discussed a few myths surrounding young adults. The negative assumption that teens are seemingly bored, apathetic, and self-absorbed may alternatively be seen as the initial steps in a new stage of the developmental process. For instance, last semester a student in LIBR 521 recalled the bonding experience when reading children’s literature with her mother. Looking back, her reading experiences became increasingly intimate as she matured into her teen years. She believed that this transition was a valuable turning point in her reading development.

Harvard Psychologist Adam Phillips addresses issues of boredom in chapter 7 of his book On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored (1993). He believes that “the child’s boredom starts as a regular crisis in the child’s developing capacity to be along in the presence of the mother. In other words, the capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child” (69).
Framed in this way, we have a different way of understanding a teenager’s actions (or lack thereof).