It’s not a mystery why so many young-adult best-sellers (and the lucrative movie franchises based on them) would take place in post-apocalyptic societies governed by remote authoritarian entities and rigidly divided into warring factions. The word dystopia comes from a Greek root that roughly translates as “bad place,” and what place could be worse than high school? Adolescence is not for the faint of heart. The to-do list for the decade between ages 10 and 20 includes separating from your parents, finding your place among your peers at school, beginning to make decisions about your own future, and—oh yes—figuring out how to relate to the world, and yourself, as a suddenly and mystifyingly sexual being.
The strong link between YA and dystopia is no trendy post–Hunger Games phenomenon. Grim allegorical tales about dysfunctional futuristic societies have been staples in popular books for young people at least since Lois Lowry’s The Giver series in the early ’90s (a film adaptation of the first volume is set to come out this summer), if not as far back as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, published in 1954. But since the massive success of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy about a bleak futuristic society that pits teenagers against one another in a televised gladiatorial fight to the death, young readers—along with the many not-so-young readers who are now consuming YA lit in mass quantities—can’t seem to get enough of projecting themselves into the future. And that’s despite the fact that the future, as presented both in the real-life media and in the entertainment we consume, looks to be fairly awful: a bare-knuckles struggle for survival in the ruins of a civilization laid waste by war and/or environmental disaster.