Friday, February 15, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Finding the Common Elements in Teen Dystopian Novels

Dystopia: an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives. (Merriam-Webster)

At the beginning of the week, I rolled a blank sheet of butcher's paper across the table, and asked the kids to use it to brainstorm out the elements they thought were common to all the young adult dystopian novels they've read or heard discussed (since they've each read different novels or series from the genre).

We scribbled about 25 different ideas across our paper, and then started filling book titles under them that contained those elements to see if we could narrow down the distinct features of teen dystopians that might set them apart from other genres, such as fantasy (Harry Potter, for instance) or Gothic (like Wuthering Heights).

Once they had filled our "chart" in with 8 books from the genre - The Hunger Games, City of Ember, Maze Runner, Divergent, The Giver, The Selection, Matched, Ready Player One, and Mortal Engines, and a couple out of the genre to test against (Harry Potter, Wuthering Heights, and Star Wars) we went back through and circled the items that had the most books under them (there was some heated debated for the inclusion of titles under some of the headings).

We ended up with a list of 13 common elements of YA dystopian novels:
  • odd or decaying setting
  • set in the future
  • post-war or ecological disaster
  • restrictive rules
  • strict divisions of people
  • walls or obstacles trapping characters in place
  • strange or intrusive technology
  • monsters
  • loss of family
  • lost or unknown knowledge
  • a journey for the protagonist
  • deprivation
  • a threat of death for protagonist
I thought we would end up with a metaphor for coming of age (leaving home, finding a job, getting married etc).  It turns out that modern young adult dystopian novels are saying that whether a protagonist is good or bad, they will face a corrupt and unlivable world that their parents, whether loving or abusive, will be powerless to protect them from. Even when they think they've battled and escaped their manipulators, someone/thing equally bad will rise in its place or will have been there all along.  The best they can hope for is to grab a little love or friendship along the way, and hopefully enjoy a few hours of a broken and wounded peace before (or maybe when) they die.

Dystopia indeed.

It's great to be a homeschooler.


Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

It looks like a perfect recipe for making a story :) I wonder why dystopian fiction is so popular with teens, perhaps because our own world looks quite good by comparison?

Dawn said...

What an excellent exercise. My kids adored the City of Ember. We also read The Hunger Games and The Giver.
Blessings, Dawn

Ticia said...

This gives me ideas, and has me wondering about this. It also added a few books I'd missed in my massive redo of my books made into movies list. It's amazing how many YA dystopian books are out there all aimed at middle school kids.

Joyful Learner said...

K read most of those books when she was going through the dystopian phase and your lessons of creating their own list is much more interesting than her online class which used a checklist system. Next step is to write their own dystopia which should be fun and interesting to see what their own versions look like!