In the past decade, the setting of many young adult novels has shifted to a dystopian future. While these types of novels are not new or unique, this setting was not often found in young adult novels because the subject matter was considered too dire or dark. Now, however, many authors are finding that many of the same themes from dystopian novels function as allegories for the changes teenagers feel as they transition into adulthood.
Studies have shown that the teenage years are incredibly difficult developmentally. Along with the biological and hormonal changes occurring in their bodies during this time, teens struggle to find their identity and discover what makes them unique and different from their family and friends. This is uncomfortable to navigate at times. Teens begin to feel the pressure of adulthood but don’t feel equipped to handle the brevity of their choices or actions.
Story arcs in dystopian novels often follow the same path, mirroring late adolescence: the main character is living in happiness and bliss, but the world immediately becomes harder to navigate. For these main characters, survival and even social change is thrust onto their shoulders. The world pushes back, but they must barrel through and find a way to persist. While the protagonists must undergo rigorous physical tests of endurance, there is a similar psychological journey where the character must make impossible choices while learning how to deal with the outcome of those choices. It is easy to see how many teenagers can relate to the situations that dystopian novels present. Adulthood is terrifying, but failure is not an option. Teenagers must find their own way to survive the scary world of adulthood.
There is also another similarity where both teenagers and characters in dystopian novels are constantly monitored by authority figures. The Testing, The Hunger Games, and even classic dystopian novels like Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 have governments that spy on the citizens in order to watch over and control what the citizens do in their daily live. Teens will all attest that they feel watched by their parents, like they have no privacy or personal space. While the reasoning behind adults monitoring teenagers is a hotly debated issue, it is still true nevertheless that this theme will resonate with teenagers.