Teenage wastelands are a hot topic these days. It’s hard to miss the bevy of post-apocalyptic stories populating bookshelves, movie theaters, and pop-culture discourse; most notably, both the wildly popular dystopian Hunger Gamesand Divergent series have been massive commercial successes. They’re fast-paced and well-plotted and, at their best, authors Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth create dynamic and vivid characters whose lives crackle with high-stakes tension. But there are larger—and troubling—issues in the worlds these two series establish.
I love a summer blockbuster. I'll take a dystopic future flick, a classic underdog tale, and all of the explosions you can send my way. When it comes to summer movies, escapism is a major draw; it's nice to sit back and fully immerse yourself in an alternate reality.
But it's hard to immerse yourself in a reality where people like you are relegated to the margins of the storyline. Which was my experience when watching this summer's Elysiumon the big screen.
This is my last post on the Girls of Color in Dystopia guest blog series. I've read nearly 40 books just for this series and was disappointed (but, sadly, not surprised) to realize just how many of them have few to absolutely no girls of color in them.
When I first picked up Nalo Hopkinson's The Chaos last summer, I thought, "Finally! A book with a young woman of color as the protagonist!" Of course, I've since learned that there are other dystopic novels with girls of color, but this hasn't ended my love forThe Chaos even after a second (and third) reading.
The Chaos isn't actually set in a dystopia. It's more of a post-apocalyptic world in which Toronto transforms from its usual racist, misogynist, able-ist normalcy to utter chaos, complete with hoodie-wearing sasquatches, escalators that ask questions about quantum physics, and Baba Yaga and her flying house.
People of color are often seen as the exceptions in predominantly white societies' mass media, like US literature. Let's look at race and gender in two dystopic young adult scenarios in which the exceptional group is not people of color, but clones they've created.
Kat Zhang's What's Left of Me takes the mass suspicion, xenophobia, and hysteria that's become normalized since 9/11 and sets it in an alternate United States where people are born with two personalities inside one body.
The book's society, seen through the eyes of young main character June Canto, is a clear critique of class and race dynamics that exist today. As in our real world culture today, the people at the top of The Summer Prince's society refuse to recognize the oppression that exists their literally pyramid-shaped city.
In Karen Sander's dystopian young adult book Tankborn, the world is a stringent caste system where race and origins determine all status. Tankborn was a hit and the sequel, Awakening, just came out this April, which means now is a great time to discuss the race and gender angle of the book.
I've never been attracted to books set in a world in which women have been stripped of their reproductive rights and function mainly as breeders. After all, I live in a very real society in which women's rights over their bodies are constantlybeingeroded. The right to family seems to not apply to those who are poor, of color and/or incarcerated. So why escape to a world in which all of these injustices have been magnified?
The cover of Dan Well's Partialsdepicts the back of a dark-haired girl of ambivalent skin color looking out over a wasteland. Nothing in the summary indicates that there are people of color in the book. To the jaded reader, Partials might very well be yet another book in which people of color have not survived the apocalypse. I wouldn't have picked up Partials for this blog series on race and gender in dystopia had my twelve-year-old daughter not read and recommended it, letting me know that the main character is <gasp> a girl of color. And she's not the only girl of color who's survived dystopia.