Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dystopian Discussion: Part Two

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily recommend every book I mention.

All right, so last week I discussed (briefly), THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth, LEGEND by Marie Lu, THE GIVER by Lois Lowry, and MATCHED by Ally Condie. Now for this week’s dystopian selection.

In many ways, Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM reminds me of both THE GIVER and MATCHED, in that the societies they present are a softer dystopian. Or, to put it another way, the bad guys look a lot like good guys which makes them—in my opinion—much scarier. As I said last time, it’s worse when you don’t even know you have an enemy.

With DELIRIUM, were you to tweak just a few details, you would find yourself in a society much like ours. As in DIVERGENT, those in charge have highlighted what they consider to be humanity’s Achilles heel—in this case love—and have discovered a way to eliminate that issue (how coldly terrifying). Unfortunately, this is like slapping a Band-Aid over a person’s eye when they really just stepped on a nail. If they weren’t cranky before, they’re cranky now. Curfew and regulations aside, that’s what this book boils down to—a failure to understand one of the most basic human emotions, and a failure to diagnose the true problem. Despite the fact that other books have used similar themes (including THE GIVER), I still feel Lauren Oliver added a unique touch.

With all this talk of dystopian literature, it’s high time that I mentioned ANIMAL FARM and 1984, both by George Orwell. (Note: These are adult novels, and 1984 contains some content inappropriate for younger people.) These books are valuable for their historical perspective, as well as for the needed dose of horror they offer as a warning for the future. Basically, Orwell wanted to depict how awful this sort of government could be—and while YA dystopian novels can be adventurous and exciting, Orwell paints a far bleaker picture than any other I have found. His society introduces the famed Big Brother (who is always watching), and delves into brainwashing, revisionist history, torture, and more.

I reviewed DOVE ARISING by Karen Bao a while ago, but it fits with the context, so I’ll mention it again. As I said before, DOVE ARISING seems to share a great deal with DIVERGENT, 1984, and THE HUNGER GAMES (though not as much for that last one, and I’m not saying all of this was intentional—but some of the similarities are rather striking). Aside from the lunar setting, it is not especially unique, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t feel it added anything to the current dystopian cannon. *sad face*

Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD is perhaps even more disturbing than 1984 or THE GIVER when you consider that the characters will never have a chance to fight back. In giant labs, babies are grown in bottles and engineered for various levels in the social strata. Some are allowed to become intelligent; others are stunted—even poisoned—in order to dumb then down. As they grow up, workers brainwash and condition them until they cannot think any other thought but what they have been trained to. Humanity has sunk so low, there is no climbing out of that pit. But it gets worse. They have no regard for life, morality, or family. Those who are not promiscuous enough are frowned upon—ideas like husband, wife, father, mother, etc… are considered obscene and ridiculous. In the end, the people have nothing left worth living for, and when they are not working or enjoying entertainment, they are drugging themselves so as to escape reality. (Note: I love this book for the frightening picture it gives, and it’s definitely well-worth reading, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. As with 1984, it’s an adult novel with some content that would be inappropriate for younger people.)

Both WOOL by Hugh Howey and THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne DuPrau deal with subterranean civilizations, yet in different and complementary ways. WOOL, an adult novel, portrays the inhabitants of a silo who live out their lives ruled by fear, protected from the polluted air but not from the secrets that threaten to destroy them all. THE CITY OF EMBER, a children’s book, follows Lina and Doon as they discover the original purpose of their underground city. I would label both these cases as pre-dystopian, because while the governments have grown a little big for their britches, the situation doesn’t feel as extreme as it does in THE HUNGER GAMES and 1984. Also, both novels delve into the various issues that arise when small groups of people are dependent upon each other for survival.

In Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451, the government does not bother to restrict everyone’s liberty; instead, the people have taken it upon themselves to do away with literature and wisdom and thinking and all the things that would make them truly free. So many dystopian novels, it seems, feature oppression from above, so I find it refreshing to read a story where oppression comes from within. (And Bradbury’s writing is so beautiful, I could cry.)

Finally, we come to THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness. Excuse me while I pause for a moment to contain my fangirling. When I bought it, I told myself I was going to take it slowly and make it last—you know, maybe fifty pages a day, or something. Of course, that didn’t happen—I scarfed that book up like it was the last chocolate bar on earth. Since I’ll be reviewing it soon, suffice it to say my cold Vulcan heart wept a little when I came to the end. TKONLG (not the most attractive abbreviation ever) is dystopian, but not in the way you might expect. After all, a dystopian society is just a society that is considerably less than perfect. Which means you aren’t limited to writing about a Socialistic government or a president that makes children kill each other or an emotionally-deprived people group.

In THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, the men and animals of Prentisstown can hear each other’s thoughts (all their women are dead), and there’s no way to block out the constant stream of sound. The information overload is nearly unbearable. But amidst the maddening chaos, Todd Hewitt stumbles upon a patch of silence—a girl whose mind he cannot read—and soon he begins to realize he knows far less about his planet and his people than he previously believed. (I mean, how cool is that? If I could, I’d PAY you to read this book.)


I realize this post was long (actually, most of mine are), and perhaps a little dry. But now that I’ve covered all the books I’d planned to, I’m on track to wrap up this dystopian discussion next week (it’s about time). I’ve also been nominated for the Unpopular Opinions tag, so I’ll do that the Wednesday after next.  And, just as a heads-up, my goal is to post a book review each week (along with my usual Wednesday Weirdness), starting next Monday, so we’ll see how that goes.
All book photos from Goodreads.


  1. Ugh, I haven't read any of these! Wrong, I've read City of Ember... maybe? Maybe it was read to me. Definitely seen the movie. It was okay. I definitely want to read Brave New World, though, and I've been compared to Big Brother in 1984 too many times to not want to read it. Both sound really good, so I look forward to reading them! Thanks for your thoughts on dystopias, Liz! (Though, of course, it's hard to say when I've only read the MG novel. :P Blah.)

    1. WHAT? *dies of sadness*

      I actually saw the movie for City of Ember first, and then I read the book. I'll admit, I like the concept and the story more than I like the execution. And, so far, I do thing the movie improves on the book. And yes, Big Brother, you should read Brave New World and 1984. (I wish MY friends would compare me to Big Brother. *sulks*)

      You're welcome, and thanks for reading!

  2. WOOL was amazing, well, at least the first story was - the rest were amazing as well but not as chilling as the first one when they were let out outside to their deaths, thinking what they were seeing was paradise only to realize later they were walking to some kind of polluted hell. I have Patrick Ness' book but I have never ever cracked it open O_O Well, not yet anyway. I'll definitely have to check it out.

    Faye at The Social Potato

    1. Oh goodness, WOOL. That first story was the best, and the most powerful, and the most terrifying. Even without the rest of the novel, it would have been brilliant. I spent the rest of the book just reeling from the shock of that first scene.

      And yes, you need to check out Patrick Ness! See, these are my big eyes, begging you to read The Knife of Never Letting Go. @__@

  3. I actually haven't read any of these except City of Ember and Delirium. I NEED to get The Knife of Never letting Go, though.


    1. YOU NEED TO READ THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO. Like, what are you even still doing here--go read it!

      As for the ones you haven't read, I really recommend Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, and Wool. 1984 and Brave New World are very good as well, but they have some adult elements in there, so I'm always slower to recommend them. But they're well worth the read, if the issues don't bother you.

      Thanks for stopping by!