Success breeds imitation.
Ten years ago, you couldn't walk past a children's new-releases shelf in the library or bookstore without seeing at least half a dozen Harry Potter knockoffs. Five years ago, you'd have the same experience in the teen section with Twilight imitators. My favorite was the rebadged Wuthering Heights that sported a cover that made absolutely, positively sure readers knew they were supposed to make the connection: In addition to the iconic sexualized red item on a black background—in this case, a rose—there was the notation that it was "Bella and Edward's favorite book." Gag me with a clove of garlic.
Now it's dystopias, fueled by the tremendous crossover success of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. As fans count down the days till the movie opens on March 23, publishers are churning out dismal futuristic romances by the truckload.
Find more dystopian romances for teens to read while you wait for Hunger Games' opening day.
Some, mind you, do interesting things with the dystopian convention, specifically as it affects romance. Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, and its sequel, Pandemonium (publishing just a few weeks before the Hunger Games movie), paint a compelling picture of a future in which the capacity to love is medically excised when citizens come of age. Ally Condie's Matched and Crossed depict another futuristic society that controls love; in its case, all marriages are strictly controlled by the state. And yet another grim future is plagued by a virus that destroys reproductive capacity in anyone over 18, turning teenagers into broodmares; Megan McCafferty's Bumped will be followed by sequel Thumped in late April, for those whose fascination with the genre continues.
Interestingly, these dystopian futures are almost uniformly hetero-normative. To my knowledge, only Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows, in which the same one million souls are constantly recycled through apparently infinite reincarnations, explicitly acknowledges same-sex love matches. Its central romance, though, is an unremarkable male-female one. I once heard Paolo Bacigalupi, author of the spectacular, Printz-winning Ship Breaker (a post-apocalyptic pre-dystopia), remark that right now is already a brutal dystopia for gays and lesbians. A homophobic dystopia wouldn't provide any twist on our present reality, the way an effective dystopian story must, if it wants to shock a complacent reader and have a social impact. Nevertheless, they do offer a depressingly one-size-fits-all vision of love taken en masse.
This rash of dystopian novels has engendered the usual handwringing among adults: Just what is it about a miserable future that seems to draw teens like honey draws flies? Psychologists and social scientists can wag their chins ad nauseam over questions like this. Don't teens perceive that they live in their own personal dystopias at home? With parents and/or school controlling virtually all aspects of their lives, is it not liberating to see teens taking on rigidly paternalistic societies and winning? Seen this way, teen fascination with dystopia is a coping mechanism, a way of vicariously busting out of their parents’ control.
Of course, it may just be because that's all they see available to read.
Vicky Smith is the children's and teen editor of Kirkus.