I just read a book about Iran, set during the early 1980s revolution, and 2011 (The Children of the Jacaranda Tree), and it occurred to me that this book sure reads like a dystopian novel, even though it's partly historical (recent history but history nonetheless) and not in the future at all. Most dystopian novels are considered to be futuristic (although some, like 1984, have gone from the future to the past). But in a lot of ways, they present societies that seem to have devolved, not evolved.
A major theme in YA novels is presenting teens with big issues that can happen in life, allowing teenagers to prepare (preparing to deal with death and sexuality and adult relationships are mostly what we think of in those areas.) Sometimes the preparation is simply seeing another person (character) go through the bad thing and how they deal with it. Other teens might truly think more deeply on the topic and figure out what they themselves would do in the character's shoes. Some might read a lot of books on a particular topic to see how different people deal with it.
To an average American adult, the worlds in contemporary dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and The Giver seem so distant from our current world, that they feel like fantasy. Adults often dismiss these dystopian novels as too unrelated to our modern world to be useful, that kids are scaring themselves unnecessarily or that they are extremely pessimistic views of things that could only happen way, way in the future. But are they? Or are dystopians yet another novel type that is preparing young adults for a possible big issue they could face in the future?
In certain parts of the world, it's not unheard of to wake up one day and be afraid for your life if you listen to Madonna or wear blue jeans (just read Persepolis). We've seen first-hand a modern society of well-educated and involved citizens stood on its head by a small religious sect that uses torture and fear to control the population. That's not a fantasy that could
never happen--it's happened. In Iran and other places.
The popularity of dystopian novels (which is waning--realistic is the current rising trend in YA) perfectly coincides with the second Gulf War... coincidence? Or does it reflect what's in the news every night? Are the teens reading these books much smarter than we give them credit for? And is the waning of this genre's popularity due to natural cycles and trends, or is it due to the U.S. pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan? We often don't look deeply enough to give understand the reasons behind the trends, particularly when the trends involve teenagers.