CHildren's Book: Apocalypse Now

Teens turn to dystopian novels
By Karen Springen -- Publishers Weekly, 2/15/2010 12:00:00 AM
Sure, teens are still reading about vampires, but end-of-the-world scenarios are bigger than ever.

Happily ever after? Not so much. Ruth Leopold, 15, of Wilton, Maine, loves dystopian books like The Hunger Games (teens fighting to the death in a televised, government-sponsored game), Gone (kids trying to survive in an adult-free world) and Life As We Knew It (an asteroid hits the moon and wreaks havoc on the Earth's weather). “I like the fantasy in it—and thinking about how it would be if I were in the future in those places,” she says. She imagines hanging out with Katniss, the 16-year-old heroine of The Hunger Games. “Sometimes I even have dreams that I'm in that world,” she says. But in the end, she is glad she's not: the gloomy tales make her feel lucky she lives “a good life with my family and everything I need.”

Like Leopold, hundreds of thousands of today's teens are reading future-as-a-nightmare novels—and not just the 1984 and Brave New World classics required by their teachers. Publishers will be releasing dozens of new dystopian titles over the next few years. Among the scenarios: no more gas, no more water, viruses run amok, genetic manipulation gone awry, totalitarian leaders, reality TV gone too far, and so on.

Why now? Newspaper headlines about swine flu, terrorism, global warming, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are inspiring authors—and making kids feel uneasy. Some publishers also point to publicity surrounding December 21, 2012, the end of the 5,126-year Mayan calendar—supposedly an apocalyptic sign.

Still, most editors and authors credit lingering unease from the World Trade Center attacks. “After 9/11, it seemed people started thinking about the destruction of the world,” says Karen Grove, who edited Susan Beth Pfeffer's This World We Live In, the April 2010 release that will end the trilogy that started in 2006 with Life As We Knew It. “Then we got hit with New Orleans and earthquakes.”

Uncertainty plays a role, too. “There's so much mystery about what the future will hold,” says Lauri Hornik, president and publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers and Dutton Children's Books, publisher ofthis season's Incarceron and the upcoming book Matched.

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