One of my favorite genres to read is dystopian fiction. Ever since my eighth grade English teacher recommended The Giver by Lois Lowry, I’ve been hooked.
You’ve probably heard of utopian fiction (ie: Brave New World by Aldus Huxley, Lost Horizon by James Hilton, etc.). Dictionary.com defines dystopia as “a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.” So, if a book takes place in this type of setting, it can be considered dystopian fiction. However, there’s a second type of dystopian fiction where a person or persons fight against the utopian society, against control and gentrified society. This is the kind that I like. I think the reason I’m so attracted to these books is that I see myself as the heroine in these stories, that I would be among the first to fight back should an elite group decide what’s best for society (in the most extreme case, that is).
There’s been a plethora of dystopian fiction put out the past few years, at least for teens (although I’ve sold plenty of them to adults). Currently, one of the more popular titles, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is being made into a movie. While I have a copy of the ebook, I have yet to read it. Instead, I’ll review three other dystopian fiction books, all of which have been published within the past year, over a series of posts. There will be spoilers so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Matched by Ally Condie (book one of a trilogy)
Cassia does everything the Society tells her, from what music to listen to, to who she’ll marry. But a mistake with her match makes her question if the Society really has her best interests in mind. She starts seeing Ky, a guy from the outside now living in society. He knows and has seen things that Cassia hasn’t even heard of. As they continue to see each other (not in private – nothing is private with the Officials always looking on), her feelings for him grow deeper. Her feelings toward the Society also changes. While on the outside Cassia continues to do as she is told, inside she rages. Once Ky is sent away, though, Cassia decides it’s time to fight harder.
There are many parts in the book that are my favorite. One is where Ky teaches Cassia to write her name. Within the Society, people use electronics for communication so handwriting is not known. Ky, who’s from the outside, learned how to use his hands, not only with handwriting but also with drawing. This especially piqued my interest for two reasons. First, when I write, the process begins with me handwriting a rough draft. The act of physically writing down the words, pen to paper, helps my creative juices flow. I also prefer it to a first draft on a computer because once you erase something on the screen, you can’t get it back again. Sometimes I have the perfect word or phrases and then I decide to cross them out. Later, I can look back on these “deletions” and see if I can use it again in a better place, or something close to it. I can’t do this on a computer. Second, beginning next school year, Indiana will stop teaching cursive writing in its schools. While children will still learn handwriting, they will no longer be required to know cursive. While some may say, “So what?” to me it’s just one step closer to the world turning into one of these gentrified societies.
Another great part of the book is the little bit of interaction between Cassia and her grandfather. Near the beginning of the book, Cassia’s grandfather is about to have his 80th birthday. It’s bittersweet to reach 80 in the Society because while you get to have a party with any food you choose (rather than the regulation food), that is the last time you will see anyone. You are killed off quietly with pills. As Cassia is saying goodbye to her grandfather, he gives her a gift. It is an old compact, or an artifact, as they call it. He shows her a hidden chamber where Cassia’s grandmother had hidden a piece of paper. The paper contains two poems, but not ones that Cassia knows. The are not one of the Hundred Poems the Society kept. Cassia soon memorizes the poems and gets rid of the evidence before getting in trouble.
One of the poems is by Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked to lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Later, she has an epiphany that the reason this poem had not been kept by the Society was because it told the reader to fight. I must admit that when I read this part, I cheered, and hoped that Cassia would indeed fight.
The book ends with Cassia serving out a punishment for disobeying the Society. But as she works the land on the outside, she plots how to break free and find Ky.
The next book, Crossed, comes out in November.