Dystopia for all ages

What's not to love about angsty romances set in futures stripped of pink, and without the niceties of traditional fast-paced fiction?

Dawkins, Gladwell, Atwood. Guha, Mishra, Bhutto.

As the end of the year approaches, the list of Big Titles You Can’t Ignore grows longer and longer. The festive season is good for retail sales, whether you’re celebrating Diwali in India or Thanksgiving/Christmas in the US. Publishers across the world unleash a torrent of must-read books in the last quarter of the year and the Mint Lounge team does its best to stay afloat (we hope you enjoy the quirky excerpt we selected from historian Ramachandra Guha’s latest book this week).

Of course, the title I’ve just pre-ordered—and I know I should be embarrassed to say this but I’m too old to worry about whether or not you approve of my reading list—is unlikely to be featured on our books pages. I’m just starting to discover these books thanks to a teenage family member whose mostly-black bookshelf is courtesy this genre.

Now while I’m familiar with the works of Philip K. Dick, I’ve never read Alan Garner, George R.R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, or even Neil Gaiman (I hope Mint editor and Cult Fiction columnist R. Sukumar is not reading this), so you can skip the rest of this piece if you’re a “real" sci-fi/fantasy fan. The only two J.K. Rowling books I completed didn’t feature a poor little magician boy.

Yet I rushed out to buy Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season the day it hit bookstores in August and this was even after Mint Lounge dismissed it as “oppressively predictable". It was, but I loved it nevertheless. I have already pre-ordered 25-year-old Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, the concluding part of a super successful trilogy due out later this month, to know what eventually happens to the on-off puppy love of Tris and Four set in a divided, dystopian future. I recently read Unwind by Neal Shusterman, which conjures up a future where parents can “unwind" their troubled, difficult-to-handle, teenagers in an organ harvest camp. On my list is Wither by Lauren DeStefano, about a world where death comes in your 20s because of a failed experiment to create the perfect race.

Of course, the phenomenon of adults altering their reading lists began with the Twilight and Hunger Games series (read the latter, saw the former) but their success spawned a multi-million dollar business.

A 2010 editorial in the Los Angeles Times noted that “increasingly, adults are reading YA (Young Adult) books with no ulterior motives. Attracted by well-written, fast-paced and engaging stories that span the gamut of genres and subjects, such readers have mainstreamed a niche long derided as just for kids".

These past few months I’ve realized that my niche in this gamut is less vampire, and more teenage dystopia, preferably the kind that uses words like abnegation repeatedly. What’s not to love about angsty romances set in futures stripped of pink, and without the niceties of traditional fast-paced fiction?

Other analysts have attributed all sorts of motives for why oldies read young adult fiction. YA author Marie Rutkoski said in an essay that one reason grown-ups enjoy this genre is that “readers are drawn to stories about first experiences, and YA literature is rich with it".

She also argues that readers are addicted to themes of transformation. “First experiences draw us in because they are the crucible for change. And while of course, we expect adult characters to cope with change…it is not patently the essence of the adult experience in the same way it is of youth."

Me, I’m just waiting to see if Tris can overcome her fear of intimacy.