Reading Passage 1
A Recent years have seen a barrage of dystopian Young Adult novels grow in popularity almost overnigh t- from The Hunger Games to The Maze Runner, Divergent, and The Knife of Never Letting Go. These novels, set in postapocalyptic, totalitarian or otherwise ruthless and dehumanising worlds, have gained such momentum that the trend has seeped into the film and TV industry as well, with multimillion dollar movie adaptations and popular TV series gracing the big and small screen. But what is it about dystopian stories that makes them so appealing to readers and audiences alike?
B Dystopias are certainly nothing new. The word “dystopia” itself, meaning “bad place” (from the Greek dys and topos), has been around since at least the 19th century, and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s 1984 (1949), commonly regarded as the first dystopian novels that fit firmly into the genre, were published more than 75 years ago. Even the first YA dystopian novel is older than 20 – Lois Lawry’s The Giver, which came out in 1993. While these are individual examples from previous decades, however, one would be hard-pressed to find a YA shelf in any bookstore nowadays that isn’t stocked with dozens of dystopian titles.
C According to film critic Dana Stevens, it is the similarities that can be drawn between dystopian settings and the daily lives of teenagers that make YA dystopian stories so captivating: the high school experience involves the same social structure as the Hunger Games arena, for example, or the faction-divided world of Divergent. Teenagers might not literally have to fight each other to the death or go through horrendous trials to join a virtue-based faction for the rest of their lives, but there’s something in each story that connects to their own backgrounds. The “cutthroat race for high school popularity” might feel like an “annual televised fight”, and the pressure to choose a clique at school bears a strong resemblance to Tris’s faction dilemma in Divergent.
D Justin Scholes’s and Jon Ostenson’s 2013 study reports similar findings, identifying themes such as “inhumanity and isolation”, the struggle to establish an identity and the development of platonic and romantic relationships as alluring agents. Deconstructing a score of popular YA dystopian novels released between 2007-2011, Scholes and Ostenson argue that the topics explored by dystopian literature are appealing to teenagers because they are “an appropriate fit with the intellectual changes that occur during adolescence”; as teenagers gradually grow into adults, they develop an interest in social issues and current affairs. Dystopian novels, according to author and book critic Dave Astor, feel honest in that regard as they do not patronise their readers, nor do they attempt to sugar-coat reality.
E All of this still does not explain why this upsurge in YA dystopian literature is happening now, though. Bestselling author Naomi Klein, offers a different explanation: the dystopian trend, she says, is a “worrying sign” of times to come. What all these dystopian stories have in common is that they all assume that “environmental catastrophe” is not only imminent, but also completely inevitable. Moral principles burgeon through these works of fiction, particularly for young people, as they are the ones who will bear the brunt of climate change. Young Adult author Todd Mitchell makes a similar point, suggesting that the bleak futures portrayed in modern YA literature are a response to “social anxiety” brought forth by pollution and over-consumption.
F The threat of natural disasters is not the only reason YA dystopian novels are so popular today, however. As author Claudia Gray notes, what has also changed in recent years is humanity’s approach to personal identity and young people’s roles in society. Adolescents, she says, are increasingly dragooned into rigid moulds through “increased standardised testing, increased homework levels, etc.” YA dystopian novels come into play because they present protagonists who refuse to be defined by someone else, role models who battle against the status quo.
G So, how long is this YA dystopian trend going to last? If The Guardian is to be believed, it’s already been replaced by a new wave of “gritty” realism as seen in the likes of The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Profits have certainly dwindled for dystopian film franchises such as Divergent. This hasn’t stopped film companies from scheduling new releases, however, and TV series such as The 100 are still on air. Perhaps the market for dystopian novels has stagnated – only time will tell. One thing is for certain, however: the changes the trend has effected on YA literature are here to stay.
Reading Passage 1 has seven paragraphs, labelled A-G. Choose the correct heading for paragraphs A-G from the list of headings below.
List of Headings
I Teens are increasingly urged to conform
II The dystopian model scrutinised
III Dystopian novels now focus on climate change
IV The original dystopias
V Dystopian literature’s accomplishments will outlive it
VI A score of dystopian novels has taken over YA shelves
VII The roots of dystopia can be found in teenage experiences
VIII Dystopia is already dead
IX Dystopias promote ethical thinking
Answer the questions below with words taken from Reading Passage 1. Use NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.
8 According to the writer, what was the first dystopian novel?
9 According to the writer, which author initiated the YA dystopian genre?
10 How does Dave Astor describe dystopian novels?
11 According to Naomi Klein, which element is present in all dystopian novels?
12 According to Claudia Gray, things like increased standardised testing and homework levels are a threat to what?
Choose the correct Letter, A, B, C or D.
13 Which is the best title for Reading Passage 1?
A A history of YA dystopian literature
B The wane of the dystopian phenomenon
C How dystopian fiction has shaped the world
D The draw of YA dystopian fiction