Friday, March 30, 2012

Confessions of a Dystopian Reader










This post is part of the blog hop for Teach Mentor Texts


What is it that is so appealing about Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian adventures? It certainly isn’t the depression of having a world collapse, leaving only a handful of survivors. It can’t be the oppressive government regimes, bent on taking away all vestiges of free choice and self-determination. No, what makes both of these genres appeal to me is the focus on the human spirit; the scrappy unwillingness to let go, to give up, to just stop trying and die.

Here are a few of my favorites. I’m skipping the “Young Adult” bracket because so many others here have done an excellent job sharing those books.

Upper Middle Grades: In this age bracket, it’s important to be cautious about the details of the disaster and the struggles of the adults. It’s equally important to have a main character that kids feel strongly connected to.

City of Ember  This is the perfect introduction to the genre pairing for younger elementary students. A world has been set up – the world of Ember – to help humanity survive. But what happens when that very world begins to die around them? The notions of fairness, of misplaced clues, and of children struggling to solve a riddle and save their families are so appealing to this age group.

The Giver. On the surface, the society seems peaceful, kind, and benign. Yet slowly, page by page and clue by clue, we begin to sense that something just isn’t right here. The discoveries are chilling, and just right for introducing the concepts of free will and the importance of having your own choices to make to a student in their preteen or early teen years.

Adult (maybe upper high school on up):  If you haven’t read these, proceed with caution. The first one is exceptionally bleak. Through the bleakness, though, shines forth the vital connections of family and tribe.

The Walking Dead – This is a comic series, and it is NOT for the faint of heart. It is a violent, disturbing look at the post-apocalyptic future tackled by so many movies. What happens if the dead reanimate – mindless, soulless, and looking to eat? Yes, it’s horror. Yes, it’s gory. Yet it’s also a deep look at what really motivates us. If we were down to nothing, what would we do? Who sticks together? Who goes off on their own? How would we choose a leader of that straggling group of survivors, and how long would we follow him? What would we do to save our child? The comics are ongoing, and I’m only through the first two volumes so far. Yes, I do also watch the television series.

The Gate to Women’s Country  by Sheri Tepper- This book is an all time favorite. Take a post-apocalyptic world. Add in a heavy dose of feminism and sprinkle it with references to ancient Greek theater. In this novel, one of the societies has split their culture into “Women’s Country” and “Warriors”. Within the walls, women have made a life filled with agriculture, medicine, and peace. Outside the walls, the men are allowed to continue with their warrior ways to help protect the walled cities. Boys are raised with their mothers, and then their fathers. After they have experienced both, they may choose. Return through the Gate or remain with their warrior fathers. The main character also gets a chance to experience another society that is extremely oppressive to women. Masterfully written, thought provoking, this is a book I’d love to do with a book club!

Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic literature shows us that humanity will never “go quiet into that good night”. Heck, no. We will struggle; we will rebel; we will fight ravening beasts for bits of sustenance. We’ll create new governments, and we’ll tear them back down. We’ll do whatever we need to do to survive; to thrive; to be true to ourselves. As readers, we learn about what makes humanity unique, and what we value as a culture. We also get the chance to experience vicariously that level of courage and spark as a rehearsal for the days that we face problems of our own, even though they pale in comparison. That is why I love these stories. 

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