Less sexualised than Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the new wave of dystopian fiction gives the perfect excuse for why, despite being desperately in love, the protagonists can’t have sex: as Meg Rosoff says, “in a survivalist love affair, you don’t have to worry about having a boyfriend or what clothes you’re wearing, because you’re saving the world.” Meg Rosoff, whose own 14-year-old daughter Gloria is addicted to the genre, says that what teenagers respond to is “having big events happen in a world which is completely familiar.They see adulthood glimmering on the horizon and that’s as scary as the apocalypse.” Imagining that you’re living in a place in which millions have starved to death (The Hunger Games), been drowned by melting ice-caps (Julie Bertagna’s Exodus), been killed off as surplus because eternal youth has been discovered (Gemma Malley’s The Declaration) or been dried up due to climate change (Moira Young’s Blood Red Road) does tend to make fears about having spots and tests less terrifying.But many of the talented writers producing these stories never set out to write in the genre.
“At least we’re thinking about politics, and the future.” Gemma Malley sees that dystopias not only magnify what teens go through in terms of bullying and the struggle to make their own decisions, but feed “their appetite for adrenaline.
I’m very aware of my mortality, but a teenager doesn’t feel that,” she says.
Teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic can’t get enough of this stuff. Are they sunk in existential gloom caused by the recession, university fees and the prospect of never getting a mortgage?
Although it has always been a bridge between children’s fiction and adult novels (think of Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 or John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids) dystopia used to be part of the SF genre – and, crucially, written by men.
“I don’t know anyone who isn’t talking about wanting to have plastic surgery.” The futuristic setting (and the sinister consequences of the Uglies’ surgery) made it easier for them to discuss this.
The other new feature of Uglies which also made it attractive to this new female readership was romance between its heroine and two heroes.
“We had Hermione in Harry Potter and Lyra in His Dark Materials as children.
If you’ve got a brain, vampires suck.” “Girls aren’t waiting to be saved any more,” Malley says.
The Hunger Games, set in a future America, now called Panem, concerns the ultimate TV reality game show, in which there can be only one survivor.
Fantastically violent, the novel has sold 10 million copies world-wide, and is likely to be the hit movie of 2012. This year, Moira Young’s best-selling debut, Blood Red Road, a kind of Mad Max for girls, won the Costa Children’s Award, and has been bought by Ridley Scott for film; Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is about to start shooting with Saoirse Ronan as the lead in a story of underage passion in a future England plunged into war.
Furthermore, Katniss pretends to be in love with her fellow contestant Peeta in order to manipulate the millions watching them on TV.