Why Teens Like Dystopia

January 2, 2018

I’m often asked by parents why I recommend dark novels to students.  My 8th grade book club tried to read one novel in particular, Ember Burning by Jennifer Alsever.  I asked for permission slips because the book does include many young adult themes that might be better suited to high school, but we discussed those elements and used them as an opportunity for instruction.  A parent wrote on the permission slip, “Sounds dark — teens need uplifting literature to read.”  I agree.  But my readers usually don’t.

Why?  My theory is that they are increasingly bombarded by messages that say the world is messed up — the world is about to end — global warming bring impending doom — you’ll never have enough money for college — your adult life will be riddled with financial worry if not World War III — and so on.

I truly believe the “zombie apocalypse” is their embodiment of all fears rolled up into one fantastical fear that can’t actually happen.  That makes it easier to deal with.  But all kinds of real disasters can and do happen, and that’s what keeps them intrigued. That’s also what keeps them reading.

Here’s a great article, mostly from the mouths of teens themselves, that explains why teens are so attracted to dark novels.

For now, my job is to get them hooked on reading.  If reading about future disaster is what gets them there, it’s OK with me.  And who knows … maybe reading about disasters that won’t really happen will help them to deal with the little disasters in their lives that really might happen.  I like to think that literature has a very definite power to do so.




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