Teens and dystopia

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My husband and I spent today visiting friends whose bright young kids (ages 11 and 13) alternately awe and delight us. We like to keep tabs on their enthusiasms so we asked them what they're reading these days. Immediately they both mentioned a book we'd never heard of: "The City of Ember."

They gave us a quick summary of the plot (apparently involving a post-apocalyptic underground world whose time is running out) and we commented to each other on the way home that kids today seem to love a dark breed of sci-fi fantasy. Frankly, we wondered why.

We were both keen readers when young but never would have found such books appealing.

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Then I got home and saw this piece in today's Salt Lake Tribune: "Teen readers are eating up slew of post-apocalyptic tales."

The story specifically mentioned (among numerous other titles) "The City of Ember "by Jeanne DuPrau – a particular draw for "tween" readers just the age of our young friends.

(Also mentioned was "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, reviewed today by the Monitor.)

Some interviewed for the Salt Lake Tribune piece suggest that these books simply reflect the fearful thoughts of our era. The future of the planet looks dark, the theory goes, and teens are smart enough to know that.

Teens are also rebellious and open to alternative views of reality, suggests another interviewee.  That makes "what if" type of literature very appealing.

Most interesting to me were the comments of David Levithan, editorial director at Scholastic Inc. (publisher of "The Hunger Games.")

Levithan called dystopian novels for teens "hopeful books, or at least constructive books," in which their characters confront choices that symbolize the natural soul-searching of adolescence. "Teen novels," said Levithan, "are primarily about figuring out your identity and your place in the world."

That, at least, was something to which I could relate to.

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