Monday, April 4, 2011

A Cup of Coffee with Reggie (4) - Dystopian & Controversial Topics in YA

\A Cup of Coffee with Reggie is going to be a discussion post feature in which I discuss anything book-related. They're just normal (sometimes random) discussion posts that are named A Cup of Coffee with Reggie because it's like having a cup of coffee with me and listening (or in this case reading) about my bookish opinions. It will be a random feature here at TUBL that can pop up anywhere from twice a day to twice a year. Most likely, it will be a tri-weekly post feature on my blog.

Today's Topic:

What do readers like about dystopian novels? What is the place of controversial subjects in YA today?

So I always wonder, what do people like about dystopian novels? What makes a good dystopian novel for you? Well, I never really used to read dystopian, up until it started gaining attention-momentum (I'm so good at coming up with terms! Haha!) in the young adult world. The first dystopian novel I read was probably Matched by Ally Condie, but that was followed by Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Enclave by Anne Aguirre, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, etc.

Aspects that I Like in Dystopian Novels:

1) World-building - This is the very first thing I look for in a dystopian novel. If the idea or the world of the novel is original and consistent, then it makes me excited to read it. Books with great world-building include Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Enclave by Anne Aguirre, and Possession by Elana Johnson. While some of these books aren't perfect, their world-building truly pulls you into another world.

2) A touch of realism - The reason why I like the books I like is because of the realism incorporated in them. If I don't empathize with the characters at all, I won't like it. Sometimes, I like to imagine me doing the things a character does but if the character is apathetic, then I won't be able to do that. For me, a touch of realism, no matter how small, is always important not just for a dystopian novel, but for any novel.

3) Romance - It doesn't have to be a concept that runs or paces a dystopian book, but if a dystopian novel is going to have romance in it, then might as well make it good! I have yet to encounter a dystopian novel completely void of romance so until I read one, this is a good addition to them. Novels like Divegent by Veronica Roth and Drought by Pam Bachorz are really good at this!

4) Well-developed characters - In dystopian and in any genre, well-developed characters are always a must for me. Without depth or layers, the character will remain flat and lifeless to me. If a character grows throughout the book though, it's even better. Books like Enclave where Deuce is an amazing warrior-woman type protagonist, are made of holy awesomeness!

5) Originality - Without originality, I wouldn't bother to read dystopian books. That's the reason why I'm loving them right now! Because of their originality! Even based on the blurb, if the concept of the book is original, nothing will stop me from reading it! Some upcoming books that I can already name solely based on the originality of their ideas are The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Legend by Marie Lu, and many others!

Whew! That was some list! And that's only half of this cup of coffee with me! Now it's time for to touch on the place of controversial topics in young adult literature!

A few weeks ago, I finally read Wither by Lauren DeStefano after much debate. The reason why it took me so long was because I knew that the concept of polygamy was incorporated into the novel and I was kind of unsure whether I'd like such a book. Boy, I was right to read Wither! It was amazing.

People say don't judge a book by its cover, and I say don't judge a book by its topic; controversial or not. Polygamy, for me, is an intangible concept because I'm Catholic, but I'm not against reading it. I found it interesting how Lauren DeStefano used the concept and how she really integrated it into the whole world of Wither. It's a total win for me.

I've read other books that broached on controversial topics; the classic example being Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson that discusses the topic of rape or the recent example of The DUFF by Kody Keplinger. Many people think that this is too adult to be young adult, such as Wesley Scroggins. It's these people who don't think that young adults can't handle it, but in fact, they are handling it and are being exposed to it physically and emotionally in everyday life. These books give a strong message and if people choose not to read them, it's their loss. That's my opinion.

What's your opinion? What do you like about dystopian literature? About controversial topics in YA? I'd love to see what you think!


Zombie Girrrl April 4, 2011 at 11:02 PM  

Firstly, I really like this feature. It's nice to see some real discussions going on.

One thing I like best about the dystopian genre is that it holds a mirror up to society, or one particular aspect of it, and makes plain what is wrong with a certain mindset or situation that we might be too entrinched in or too desincitized to noticed. Case in point: XVI by Julia Karr which shows some of the dangers of depraved sexualization, something that happens everyday through the media (half-naked perfume adds come to mind, as do clothing companies that flash more skin than fabric, etc.) and popular culture (premarital cohabitation veiwed as the norm rather than waiting to actually make the life-long commitment of marriage; the view that "teens will do it anyway, so why not expose them further?"; "love" and "lust" being so readily interchangeable in the modern vocabulary and mindset).
I'm not so much about the technical aspects of writing as I am about what moral or spiritual truths that can be gleaned from a story, and I feel that, properly handled, the dystopian genre has the most potential for this.

As for controversial material in YA, I say:
1) so long as the parent is aware of what the child is reading and
2) has a mature understanding themselves of the topic it covers and
3) actually discusses with the child what they are reading, then books like Speak are valuable.
But it not only depends on the parents being responsible for what they allow their children to form their conscience with, it also depends greatly on the maturity of the child in question. Another important thing to consider is whether the controversial book will have any possitive effect. There's no point in reading this kind of book, or in allowing a kid to read it, if there's no right moral growth gained from it. It's like never swallowing your food; you can't be nourished by that which you can't digest. And in worse cases, it's like ingesting poison; if the controversial book doesn't have anything possitive to gain from it, than drop it. End of story. Literally.

Unknown April 4, 2011 at 11:52 PM  

This was amazing. I also agree that dystopians need a touch of realism in them. If the world is so off base that I can't even imagine it happening at some point, I have a hard time getting into the story.

I think controversial topics are a great addition to YA books. Teenagers go through these things every day and if they have a role model they can look up to (or someone they know NOT to look up to) in a book, then that is perfect.

Thanks for the great post!

Rhianna April 5, 2011 at 12:59 AM  

Dystopian literature in general has appealed to me since I was a teen. A lot of it had to do with what was happening in my real life... I quite literally was feeling like I was in a dystopia of my own. You'd think since I was so unhappy and incapable of escaping the bad sitch I was in I would want to read happy fluffy stuff to kind of have that mental escape and to a point I did. But... one of the big things with dystopian literature is that the hero or heroine usually has hope and finds a way to change the world or at least escape and for me that inspired a similar thing.

As an adult who enjoys reading YA I like that authors are touching on controversial subjects. As a parent I think it is very important for young adults to question the world around them, to know that there are scary/dangerous/bad things that happen or could happen and be motivated to make decisions about where they stand on controversial issues. I also feel that no one should be able to tell a teen reader that a subject is not appropriate for them, not even their parents. Even so if a parent has an issue with a book's content I see no harm in the child and parent discussing the issue (controversial or just something the parent has a moral/religious/whatever) at length. Reading opens minds, allows young readers to explore issues and topics that may be only indirectly relivent to them and encourages imagination, curiosity... I could go on.

I hate doing the "storyteller" commentor thing but since this relates slightly I wanted to mention it...

A few months ago my 11-year-old called me from school to tell me I had to handwrite a note for his school librarian so he could check out The Hunger Games. I was absolutely baffled what it was about (and really angry because it's a book I own so I saw no reason to even deal with it, he could read my copy). When I went into the school to let the librarian know I was livid she explained that other parents had complained about it having cannibalism in it. Seriously. That was the big stink. It mentions cannibalism. I made sure the librarian was aware that my child was allowed to check out anything he wanted (the incident couldn't have happened at a worse time since he never wants to read and finally showed interest in something!) and I better not hear this BS again. It wasn't her fault (the whole school district has been doing this with many books parents have whined about) and she was as frustrated as I am but what can ya do?

Okay, slowin' my roll here. lol Great discussion topic Reggie! I'm curious what other readers (esp. actual young adults) think.

Jenn April 5, 2011 at 1:29 AM  

I LOVE dystopia! Never really considered why, just always found them fascinating reads. Thanks for the post and making me consider what I love about them so much. :)

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