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Dr. Thomas Morrissey, SUNY Plattsburgh – Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Thomas Morrissey of the State University of New York Plattsburgh explains the growing popularity of the young-adult dystopian novel.

Thomas Morrissey is Distinguished Teaching Professor and Chair of the English Department at the State University of New York Plattsburgh. His teaching and research interests include science fiction and Irish literature. He earned his Ph.D. at Rutgers University.

About Dr. Morrissey

Dr. Thomas Morrissey – Young-Adult Dystopian Fiction

What accounts for the enormous popularity of Suzanne Collins' ”Hunger Games” trilogy and books like them?  Collins' novels are outstanding examples of young adult — or YA — dystopian fiction.  Like their adult counterparts, these books critique the social flaws and irresponsible behaviors that mar the lives of billions and threaten our species' very survival.  

Unlike dystopias for adults, the YA versions must offer at least a ray of hope. They most often do this by positing dynamic characters like Collins' reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen — teens who reject, resist and reverse the ignorance and cruelty of their adult rulers. Sometimes young rebels like Katniss topple unjust authority; sometimes, as in M. T. Anderson's brilliant satire ”Feed,” the resisters' failure nevertheless suggests to readers a plausible pathway to a better world.

Katniss lives among the coalfields of District 12, a powerless region ruthlessly ruled from the Capital; her nation Panem is built on the ruins of what was once America.  Social injustice and the misapplication of technology are major issues in the trilogy. YA dystopian authors (more often women) often suggest that our most successful evolutionary adaptation — intelligence — will lead to misery and even extinction unless we employ the greater wisdom and enhanced ethical awareness that their young protagonists often display.  

At their best, YA dystopias pre-write a better future by conveying to teen readers a sense that some adults actually get it, that they too reject the status quo and that, most of all, it is not too late for the young to enact humane values that could alter the course of history. YA dystopias are being read by adults as well as teens. These fictions attract older readers who want entertaining and positive alternatives to the often hopeless dystopias written for adults. If you hunger for ”The Hunger Games,” you are in good company.   


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