Hi everyone! I’m Ms Atifa, an English teacher at Lil’ but Mighty.
Have you ever heard of the ‘dystopian’ genre in books and movies? Although this term may sound unfamiliar to some of you, it’s a genre that you might have actually seen before, whether it’s in a blockbuster movie or a popular video game.
A ‘dystopia’ refers to an imagined society where the worst ways of living are depicted, and is often portrayed in a future setting. Often, the root cause of a dystopia’s undesirability is the denial of its people’s free will and decision-making. I’m sure that this might already ring a bell to some of you. You might be thinking of movies you’ve seen before, such as The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Some of you might have even read the novels they were based on, by Suzanne Collins and James Dashner respectively.
So, what is it about a dystopian society that makes it such a common depiction in the fictional world? You might wonder why people are drawn to negative depictions of what a society could look like in the future.
Well, dystopian books remind us about what exactly makes a society undesirable, and how we could prevent that from happening. For instance, in The Hunger Games, underprivileged young people are ‘volunteered’ to fight for their lives in a game of survival. This influences most members of the society to view each other purely as competition that they have to eliminate for their own survival, instead of human beings they can connect with. A dystopia such as this not only reminds us of our right to free will, but also of the importance of treating each other with empathy to prevent such a reality from emerging in our own world.
Perhaps people also find dystopian fiction so interesting because it often expands on or exaggerates concerning issues that already exist in our reality, causing the reader to reflect on the ways these issues could escalate. Similarly, these three dystopian books explore how a human being’s free will and empathy are important to maintain a society that does not spiral into organised chaos.
Have I piqued your interest to pick up and read a dystopian novel for yourself? Read on to find out more about my top 3 recommendations!
1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Age Rating: 13+ (implied death, disturbing scenarios)
In The Giver, an eleven-year-old boy, Jonas, grows up in a walled community. Everyone in the community sees in black and white, and colour is unfamiliar to them. Think of it as a ‘neutral’ community where there is no such thing as pain, war, and emotions— both positive and negative. Everyone’s life is planned out for them and even simple things like making decisions is something they do not need to worry about.
Although this seems ideal and everyone appears to be content with their lives at first, the novel reveals the undisclosed and disturbing way the society is run in order to maintain neutrality. (No spoilers!) Furthermore, through Jonas’ perspective, the novel explores how the neutrality of his society is not as ideal as he once thought because everyone is denied the emotional experiences and individual agency that we, the readers, have the privilege of.
2. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Age Rating: 12+ (references surgical processes, some violence, mentions harmful expectations of beauty)
Much like its name, this novel delves into a dystopian society where ‘ugly’ children live in a town named ‘Uglyville’ until they turn 16. At this age, they’re obliged to undergo surgical procedures to enhance their beauty before living in ‘New Pretty Town’. The 15-year-old protagonist, Tally, is herself deemed an ‘ugly’. She eagerly anticipates the surgery she can get to become ‘pretty’ and reunite with her best friend. However, after some developments in the story, she soon discovers a group that rebels against the system they grew up in, and decides to join them.
The novel explores the expectations of beauty that are already quite prevalent in reality, and gives us a glimpse of what a future society that is obsessed with beauty could look like at its worst. This is the first novel in a four-part series, and there is also an upcoming Netflix movie adaptation based on it in the works.
3. Legend by Marie Lu
Age Rating: 13+ (some violence, disturbing scenarios, death)
In Legend, a futuristic society called the Republic maintains a clear segregation between the rich and the poor. There is a rampant disease called the ‘plague’ which hangs over the heads of the Republic’s people. Those who are less wealthy do not have access to the medicine that would help them cure the plague, if they ever contract it. The novel switches perspectives between Day, a rebel from the streets, and June, an elite student who is also the Republic’s shining prodigy. The deadly plague soon befalls Day’s family member. In desperation, he attempts to steal plague medicine from the hospital to help them.
June and Day eventually cross paths when Day becomes the prime suspect for the murder of June’s brother. The novel soon reveals the secrets that the Republic has been concealing, which include the brutal mistreatment of the poor people in the society. Legend is the first book in a three-part series.
I hope you pick up one (or all) of these books to read during your spare time! Don’t forget to take the time to ponder upon their themes and talk about them with your loved ones.
*A note of caution for parents: The books I have recommended are suitable for children between age 12-13 and up. Do look closely at the separate advisories and age rating recommendations that I have included for each book.
With a variety of Primary 1 – Secondary 3 on-site class options over 5 centres (and online classes via Zoom!), there’s definitely something for everyone. Our thematic approach to spark interest and engage our students in discussion makes learning strategies for examinations fun and shows how learning English is relevant to the world around us.